If you are a founder reading this article at a similar intersection in life where you have been accepted into a Techstars program, the simple answer is Yes, just go for it. You will regret not accepting the offer for life or even worse, just not realize the trajectory in life that you missed out on.
Let me give you a brief background on why I make such bold statements. On the eve of Christmas in 2019, we got a call from Kartik Varma, MD for the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars in London that we had been accepted into the London 2020 batch. We were ecstatic - London calling us, our dreams coming true, all the hard work paying off. That excitement lasted for about a day once we realized what the deal was - $20,000 for 6% of your company (participation fee) and an optional $100,000 as a convertible equity note with $3mn cap/20% discount. Bloody hell we are not giving up that much equity. So what changed?
As a founder, equity is your currency and giving up 6 to 10% of the company is a big ask. Bikram and I debated a lot about whether to accept it. What would we gain out of it? Would we lose focus from an already growing business? Is Techstars really worth it? We were already making decent revenue and could have raised a VC round with our background. We searched the net furiously to form an opinion. There was this one particular article which talked about why they did not accept the offer and we almost bought into it.
Thank goodness we actually went to the source and spoke to no less than 8 different founders who went through the program and a VC friend who all gave an emphatic yes. There was a lot we learned about the program from the conversations with alumni. A week into the program, we can quite confidently say that all those reviews were very true and Barclays & Techstars deliver a lot more than what they market.
Give First Philosophy
Techstars abides by the philosophy of giving first super religiously. In the first 3 days of the program itself, you realise that the whole organisation is working so that you as a founder succeeds. For the first 3 months, you are advised to take as much from the program & network as possible. This is evident from every interaction you have with Barclays & Techstars staff, alumni founders and mentors. This philosophy is quite practical since it pays multifold as the founders become alumni and then give back to the network over the years. In addition, everyone's (Founders, Techstars & Barclays) incentives to are aligned to make the company grow as much as possible as shareholders.
We were super surprised by the support we received from senior folk at Barclays which sponsors the program. It only goes on to show that innovation can come from anywhere and kudos to Barclays to not only realize that point & fund the accelerator but also to put into the structure of the bank to commercialise technologies coming out of the accelerator.
Techstars Global Network
The second thing that amazed us is how Techstars as an organization is structured. As a distributed global network, it is rather surprising to see it work like an always in sync well-oiled machine with 47 programs and over 1000 community events, year on year. This feeds back to the second philosophy that entrepreneurship is a local phenomenon and local networks become stronger over time.
As a company that is building a global enterprise SaaS product for intelligent document workflow automation with the main engineering office & one of the co-founders from Kathmandu, we couldn't agree more. In today's age, you don't need to physically go to a big brand university to be as skilled as your Silicon Valley founder. Online courses are nearly free and what you need is a dedicated effort to skill yourself. You are more likely to be inspired by the successful founder in your friend circle than from Mark Zukerberg. It is a lot more within grasp. So Techstars' philosophy of building a grassroots entrepreneur network in every major city (166 to be precise), is a long-lasting one. And this philosophy adds up to the giving first philosophy as Techstars entrepreneurs go on to build & train a more remote workforce, which in time leads to more entrepreneurs emerging out of the network.
It has been an incredible week for us and we are very excited for what's to come as we head into the main parts of the program - Mentor Madness. So stay tuned!