The last four months have been pretty intense, and not just because we adopted a pregnant momma dog, but also because I’ve been mentoring some amazing companies as a part of the TechStars Cloud startup accelerator program. Today marked demo day, the final day for the 2013 class, and the presentations were amazing.
I spent the last couple months of the program as a lead mentor for San Antonio local startup TrueAbility, founded by some former Rackers. I got an e-mail saying that they’d like me to introduce them on Demo Day, but only if the mayor said no first! Thankfully, (or unfortunately) Mayor Castro was already introducing the “second act” of demo day, so our friends at TrueAbility got the best of both worlds. (Thanks guys, truly, for the honor of introducing you on Demo Day, it means a lot to me to be asked.)
Hindsight being 20/20, I was reflecting on the past four months and what I would do differently as a mentor, what advice I’d give now if I could go back and start it all over. I wanted to share these three tidbits of wisdom to future and former TechStars alum.
#1 – You Are Awesome!
I can’t tell you how many times I saw new CEOs struggle in the belief of their own excellence. You don’t get into TechStars unless you have a great idea, and I felt like some days the best advice that I could give to some of these companies was either a big hug, or a swift kick in the ass! Don’t doubt yourself, you’re awesome!
Fortune favors the bold, and if you’ve been accepted into an accelerator like TechStars you have to get out of your own way and make the most of that time. There is no room for doubt in a startup, get the work done, get it out there, leave the could-haves and would-haves to the historians.
#2 – Ignore Everyone, Trust Your Gut
One of the biggest liabilities of doing a startup accelerator is the sheer volume of voices and opinions that you will be exposed to, this is a huge opportunity, but eventually it can become a curse. Make a decision to start limiting who you listen to, who you let under your skin, and surround yourself with the key mentors that you best click with.
These mentors might not be there six months from now when you’re out in the real world kicking ass and taking names, so don’t set out to make the company someone else wants you to make, make YOUR company. It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, what magazine they were featured in, how much money they’ve already raised or any other little detail you might get hung up on. Tune it out, focus on you.
#3 – Build Your SEO Authority Early
Time is the biggest roadblock to marketing, so start the countdown as soon as you can. This includes buying your domain name and getting at the very least a website online that talks about what you do. Google doesn’t index every new website instantly, and it can take months before you start to show up on Google at all (if not longer) so the sooner you put that “Google Bait” out into the world, the sooner you’ll have that marketing traction that you’ll wish you had at the eleventh hour.
Create a blog, not in a sub-domain or on WordPress.com but at yourdomain.com/blog/, update it frequently, talk about your progress, talk about your frustrations, talk about your wins and your losses. There are people out there who believe in your cause, and the sooner you invite them to share in your brand, the sooner you’ll have brand allies who are out their marketing your product for you!
Every chance you get for someone to link to your site, jump at it, build the references, build the links.
To The 2013 Graduates: Become a Mentor
You have just gone through one of the largest startup accelerators in the world, not many people can say that (even I can’t). You have a lot to teach the next generation, and much in the same way that you learned from mentors this year, it’s now your responsibility to pass on what you have learned.
Being a mentor, helping these companies come into their own, it is always one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Today, Demo Day, seeing all of these founders discard their fear and deliver perfect, on message, audience focused pitches, it completely fills me with pride. That feeling, that energy, will carry with me into my own work, it’s worth it.
I was speaking with a Founder after their pitch, and I won’t embarrass them by naming them here, but they told me that a small piece of advice I’d given them on the very first day of TechStars was the seed that grew into their eventual presentation. This was a team I hardly worked with after that, but your smallest contribution can be an absolute game changer for a future founder to be.
Today was an amazing day, I’m very proud of everyone, but most of all I’m honored to have been a part of it. That energy is contagious, and all the advice in the world cannot repay the gift of that excitement, that energy, and that hope for the future.
Here’s to the crazy ones! See you next year!