When people ask what the experience of being a TechStars CEO was like, I have a nice short answer: “It changed my life.”
I wish I had a better answer for their follow-up question: “How?”
But when the changes are so profound and deep, it can be hard to sum it up in a few words. The quick answer is: it forced us to make decisions that made our company, Testive, as real as to others as it was to us.
The long answer has a lot to do with what came after Demo Day. The next TechStars class has its Demo Day this Wednesday. Today, many people will assure the CEOs of these companies that Demo Day is just another day. Just as many people will tell them that this is the most important day in their company’s life. They are both right. Here’s what, in my experience, they have to look forward after they make their pitch.
1. A raging hangover on Thursday morning.
2. Four to six weeks as the Belle of the Ball.
Everyone will take your call. Meetings will schedule themselves. People and companies with money will respond to you promptly and respectfully. Move fast, take advantage of it and revel in feeling loved just a tiny bit.
3. The realization that no one parts with a large amount of money easily.
Most of the TechStars companies will raise money from investors. TechStars alumni are in as good a fundraising position as any early stage company. Some of them will raise a lot of money, but even the ones that raise smaller amounts will find that trying to get rich and powerful people to move in sync requires every social, emotional and logistical skill they have.
4. A slow discovery that the hard work has just begun.
As part of an educational company, we know that structure helps people grow and learn. It provides a path and a goal. The structure of TechStars means that even when startup life is overwhelming, you are working toward a goal. After the program is over, the team has to set those goals on its own. For most teams, that’s an adjustment. Combine that with the valley that follows every peak in life, and a little malaise is to be expected.
5. The deepest network in Boston, and a responsibility to use it.
If you’re not the type of organization that thinks outside points of view are valuable, you’re not going to end up in a program like TechStars. Why would you subject your company to the mentor-driven accelerator process? It’s just code for talking to several dozen, deeply-insightful people with relevant experience who inexplicably have conflicting opinions. Now that you have taken the time to build that network, it’s part of your job to use it. Call those mentors often. Continue to ask their advice. Continue to be frustrated that the right path is rarely obvious.
6. The feeling of suddenly being alone and realizing that you’re not.
One great benefit of spending three months around 12 other startups is that you never feel alone. Some other company is facing a similar challenge as your team is. Some company already tackled something you never even thought about. After everyone moves on, it feels like it’s just your team against the world again. It’s not. Tap those relationships as often as your mentors, or more often.
7. Now you have the chance to give back. It will make your company and our community better.
The best way to learn is to teach. I benefited so much personally and professionally from the mentorship that I received in TechStars, in school and from a whole slew of people across my career. One reason TechStars attracts mentors is that it is so rewarding to help others confront problems you have already had a chance to think about. The good days I’ve had since TechStars are the days I get to take advantage of the opportunities it gave me. The best days are the ones where I get to help others do the same.
Miro Kazakoff is the CEO of Testive, a TechStars education technology company focused on adaptive technologies and personalized learning. Their test prep tool, SAT Habit, generates customized student plans that help students improve their SAT scores faster. He lectures at MIT Sloan School of Management where he received his MBA.