April 29, 2024

My Experience with Techstars

Cara Marin

Cara Marin

Learn how Techstars helped our company with fundraising and community

My Experience with Techstars

In 2021 my co-founder, Theo Marin, and I participated in the Techstars Anywhere program. Techstars is an accelerator program that has many regional and business-vertical-focused programs.

I absolutely loved the program and was surprised by which parts I found most valuable, especially in retrospect (3 years later). The two biggest values I got from the problem were help with setting ourselves up for success when fundraising and the founder community.

How Techstars helps with fundraising

Many founders consider joining Techstars for help with fundraising. While Techstars provides strong fundraising support, getting funded isn't guaranteed just by participating in the program.

Here's how Techstars helps with fundraising:

Refine your pitch

Techstars helps you refine your pitch to be compelling to investors and answer their most common questions. As part of the program, you get a ton of practice pitching, so you feel confident when it’s time to fundraise.

While many founders use decks to fundraise, I usually prefer to use an investment memo as my primary material that has all of the FAQs that I get from investors. This enables me to go in depth on my business and more easily make updates to my material (without needing to go back through and add formatting). These are the headers I use in my investment memo.

Run a rigorous fundraising process

A key part of fundraising is that it’s meant to be a rigorous process, not a bunch of ad-hoc calls. Techstars taught me how to build an investor pipeline with the appropriate amount of volume. They taught me to “play like a champion” and send thoughtful follow-up emails promptly. They also helped me build a habit of asking potential investors who else I should talk to. This helped create a natural network effect, resulting in waves of referrals to other potential investors.

Leverage the Techstars network

Techstars has a strong network. Between the Managing Director, alumni, and your classmates, you should be able to get a warm intro to many people in your pipeline. The program includes a Demo Day to kickstart your fundraise and a network for warm introductions to potential investors. I actually didn’t start a fundraise on Demo Day, because the timing wasn’t right for us, but I was able to use the network when I started my fundraise later.

When looking for investors through the Techstars network, I start by looking up recent rounds in Crunchbase or TechCrunch of companies in my space and stage. Then I build a list from there of VCs and angels that I’d like to meet. I’ll then share that list with the Managing Director, alumni, and my classmates to add anyone who they can intro us to. If there are one or two investors that I’m really keen on meeting, I’ll ask for help in the Techstars Slack community to find an intro.

Leverage your own network

For me, the biggest unlock for fundraising was that Techstars helped me realize that I could leverage my existing network to find potential investors. For our business, engineering leaders were a great target investor profile. They had experienced the problem around notes and knowledge sharing first-hand, which means I didn’t need to sell them on the problem. They also already understood the impact of this problem from their own experience, so I didn’t need to sell them on that either.

On top of that, they were in a position to help us with our product development by providing feedback and to help with distribution. From my past experience as an engineer, I already knew engineering leaders (some of them better than others). By starting my round with engineering leaders I knew (our first investor was my engineering manager at Twilio, Joosep Koljag) and then expanding from there, we were able to build momentum and close a strong round.

When sourcing angel investors from my network, I start by listing out connectors – these are people who I think are likely to know angel investors that can be a good fit for us. Then I start by asking them if they know any active angels who fit the investor profile I’m looking for. They can often think of a few - and the more specific I am with my ask, the better. E.g. I want to speak with infra engineering leaders that angel invest.

Next, I go on LinkedIn and search “angel investor” with that person as the connector. In the example below, “Theo Marin” is the connector.

I review each profile and add them to a list. Then I send this list to the connector, asking who they know. Here’s an example list.

LinkedIn is noisy and has a lot of loose connections so often out of 10 names, they may actually know 3 well enough to intro. I find that following this practice of sharing names as an idea makes it easier for my connectors to make intros because instead of an open-ended question, they can skim a list and think who would be good. It also gets them thinking along the right lines of who I’m looking to speak to, so they might be able to add to the list that way.

Run investor calls in your own style

As I settled into the fundraising process, I started to realize that the most natural way for me to run an investor call, especially since I was mostly pitching strategic investors, was to treat the call as if we were already working together and run through a challenge I had that they could help with.

For example, I had questions about product design and pricing. I’d start the call by introducing myself and what we do (about 3 minutes) and then based on the investor’s relevant experience, I’d present a challenge that we were working through and workshop it with them.

This gave the investor a better understanding of what it would be like to work with me and how they could help (investors want to be helpful aside from providing $$$ if they can). It also made the pitch less “pitch-y” which felt more authentic and energizing.

Even in cases where investment wasn’t a fit, I felt that my time was well spent and I learned something.

The Value of a Trusted Community

So, Techstars helped a whole bunch with fundraising. But still, the biggest value hands-down from Techstars is the community.

I still meet with the CEOs of other companies from the program at least once a month, even though it's been three years since we completed the program. These meetings have been helpful, allowing us to share challenges and solutions, offer support, and watch each others’ businesses grow.

Whenever we have a challenge, my cohort will brainstorm with me in an unbiased and supportive way and make connections with other people in their network to help as needed. We’ve been there for each other to celebrate the wins, support one another through the downs, and are on this journey together.

We all have very different businesses, but we're still able to help each other out.

Jeffrey Tedmori, who has a marketplace fish for the best quality fish (E-fish)

Darrian Mikell, who creates HR tooling to listen to interviews as podcasts (Qualifi)

Jake Disraeli, who creates second hand marketplaces for clothing brands (Treet)

Garrett McCurrach, who makes underground pipes for last mile delivery (Pipedream)

Liyani Rodriguez, who created an AI-powered meeting facilitator (Raddle)

Alex Damianou, who helps people collaborate with data to tell stories.

We encounter many similar challenges (and some different ones too) and are able to help each other out.

I’d also be crazy to not give a shoutout to our mentors, Scott Schnaars, Andrew Stein, Dave Shor, and Victor Eschevarria. During the program there’s a two week period called “Mentor Madness” where you meet with about 70 different mentors and get feedback on your startup from each mentor. At the end of the process, you’re paired with 3 mentors for the rest of the program.

Maybe we just lucked out, but our mentors are rockstars and continue to be a huge help as we build Stashpad. I still speak with all our mentors regularly. They've helped us overcome challenges we've encountered as our business has grown, pivoted, and evolved. Special shoutout to Scott Schnaars who has been helping us with GTM for 3 years now. Not only does he have the expertise to help us debug GTM issues, but he also generously uses his network to support us in absolutely every way he can.

I'm so grateful for having the opportunity to participate in Techstars, which helped make Stashpad a reality.

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