Company - Sep 7, 2022
With Techstars Miami Accelerator kicking off this week, we decided it was time to impart some words of wisdom as recent Techstars accelerator alumni.
Picture this: 4 pals gathered around a very small table in a rented basement apartment in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington DC. They have all quit their old jobs and are working full-time on their newest business called Freeflow. Which is a talent marketplace for blockchain developers to connect with freelance projects for crypto startups.
To give an idea of the timing, we were coming off of the quarantine pandemic days, most people have had their vaccines and even a booster. So many of the accelerator programs are experimenting with hybrid working styles but the introduction meetings were still mostly over Zoom. The pandemic prevented gathering in person but it did open the door for applicants to apply to the accelerator programs from all over the world. Making them even more competitive than they were previously. Despite that, we were feeling pretty good about the state of the company. Freeflow had some nice early traction, a large addressable market, and a lot of potential growth- but all 4 of us were first-time founders and could benefit from a community of others who have gone through similar pitfalls of being an owner of a startup. With that, we decided it was a good time to apply to a few accelerator programs. So we began networking.
It started with sitting in on a few of the introduction calls and meeting the managing directors. Techstars makes it extremely easy to put time on the calendar with any of the staff because they understand that choosing the right program for your company and co-founders’ needs is integral to success. Berk Serbetcioglu and Ramiro Sugranes from the Freeflow team chatted with Amos Schwartzfarb from Techstars Austin, as well as Malte Witt and Andres Barreto from Techstars Boulder. Both conversations led to the Freeflow founders having some of the best whiteboarding sessions we had ever had, making it abundantly clear that these programs were going to be a game-changer for us. Ultimately we decided as a team that Techstars Boulder was a better choice for us out of the Techstars programs because Andres and Malte combined had experience with talent marketplaces and working with developers as users. We also decided to apply for Y Combinator alongside Techstars Boulder.
Freeflow Tips: On these calls don’t be afraid to ask questions about the events, the community, and the perks of each program. Pretend like you are speed dating, this accelerator will be with you for life! Choose wisely.
You crack open the application and it seems like straightforward questions about you and your company, but don’t rush it! Spend time on it and make even the founder profiles a shared effort. The Freeflow team put it all in a Google document and chipped away at answers for a week at least. Also, we used the resources that Techstars has shared out on how to best complete the application and prepare for the interviews. Here are a few of those good reads:
Freeflow Tips: Play games! Walk around with a ball and throw it between the founders and ask questions about the company. After each question, reflect on how it could have been answered better.
There are tons of online tools for other accelerators that you can use to test yourself. Like a random question generator with a timer from Y Combinator alumni https://jamescun.github.io/iPG/ (we particularly enjoyed this one).
We also did so many mock interviews. With sites like Pioneer App we connected with advisors, subject matter experts, people who have also gone through this application process, and more.
Join communities of like-minded individuals. Shipping Friday is a Discord server of other startup founders that you can bounce ideas off of, that will do user testing, that are also completing applications to join accelerators, and overall wealth of knowledge.
You finished the typed application, you have prepared for the interview, it is GO TIME. How you feel before an interview changes from person to person. I like to pretend I am about to run a marathon, I have the shakes and feel a little sick but I force myself to eat a protein-filled breakfast (no coffee until after, or else I get anxious) and drink a whole glass of water. Breathe in, breathe out, try to crack a joke beforehand with your teammates, remember you know your business best, and it will be great!
Overall the application and interview process can be boiled down to one phrase; know your business inside out. Know what is working, know its weaknesses, know what kills it, know what makes it explode with success, know why you are the team to do it, and even try to know the unknowns. KNOW IT ALL!
CONGRATS! You made it! If you applied to multiple accelerators, now is the time to make a decision. The Freeflow team was not accepted into Y Combinator by the time Techstars shared with us the news that we got in. Y Combinator moved us forward to the interview process, but it was in two weeks, and we needed to make a decision on Techstars before then. So, as a team, we weighed out our options. We came to the conclusion that how positive our interactions were with Andres and Malte and the attentiveness of the Techstars staff thus far outweighed any of our experiences with Y Combinator. So we accepted the Techstars Boulder Accelerator Winter Class of 22 offer.
Our program kicked off with an online intro call. We got to meet the founders of the 11 other global startups and begin Techstars for life. There were a few other companies in our cohort exploring the world of web3, which we knew would be a helpful asset while we go through the ever-changing challenges in the crypto space.
Then in early January, we all flew out to Boulder, CO to begin the in-person program. The first week was a rush of learning together, tasty meals, working on our individual businesses, hikes, and becoming close friends and confidents with the other founders. That first week was so amazing we wished that we could have been in Boulder the entire 4 months of the program- it set the tone for how valuable this experience was going to be.
Take advantage of this time together! This first week is full of introspective moments and team building. IT GOES BY QUICKLY. Soak it all in. Participate to the fullest with the understanding that sometimes every team member won’t be able to make it to every event (because you still are running a business after all).
The excitement you feel from the newness of being all together on this journey in person doesn’t wear off when you start the remote programming. That is because you start Mentor Madness. This is basically 1.5 weeks of pitching your business, sharing your challenges, and narrowing down a pool of 60ish mentors to 3 that will be dedicated to helping your company. Make sure you do your research on each potential mentor and go in prepared. It is tiring, don’t get me wrong, and going through the copious notes you took takes almost just as much time as the interviews themselves, but it is all worth it because having great mentors that you can reach out to is the ultimate resource.
The rest of the remote programming is a consistent routine of meeting with the Techstars team, your mentors, fundraising planning, and educational events. You also have the educational events provided by Techstars with other programs so you can meet more like-minded individuals and have the ability to hear from big names in the startup world. Our CEO, Berk, even started a weekly meeting between the web3 founders from Techstars Boulder that they still attend long after the program ended. While you are in-program BUILD 👏 THOSE 👏 CONNECTIONS 👏.
There are a lot of learning moments, but one of the greatest resources is having one Techstars staff member dedicated to helping you create a fundraising plan. This asset was huge for Freeflow as first-time founders.
The months fly by and you are coming back together. There was a buzz in the room because of the upcoming Demo Day event. For those who don’t know, Demonstration Day has been a longstanding tradition of accelerators. It is an event where companies share a 3-minute pitch of their company (which includes its progress, the team, what it does, etc) to a room filled with industry leaders, potential investors, all the mentors, and other Techstars alumni. Support your CEO while they practice, pump up the others in the cohort giving their presentations, at this time you are more of a unit than ever.
This is your last week in the program, your last week with this group of people in the same room, the only time to do a demonstration to such an esteemed crowd, it is a lot of emotions! Try to take things one task at a time. If you have a larger team, delegate tasks to make sure folks have time for everything.
Our team moved from Washington DC to Miami and continues to build our company. Because of Techstars Boulder we have a lot of continued practices like;
We will be forever grateful for the experience Techstars Boulder has provided us. And we can’t wait to support Techstars as much as we can as proud alumni!