Techstars NYC and Boulder baby…

It’s going to be a fun year for me!

First of all, I’m thrilled to say that I’m looking forward to another great class in NYC in 2014, as I’ll continue to head efforts there.  We’re committed to another 4 programs in NYC, and it just keeps getting better.  Plus I’m about to make some changes that will enable the teams to get even more out of the program.  Next program dates will be announced soon.

I’m ALSO thrilled to say that I’ll be running Techstars Boulder in 2014 too.  Boulder has been my home for 13 years, and while it was good to take a year off and learn from the amazing Luke Beatty, I’m excited to be back (and we wish Luke the best of luck!).

So you’re about to see a whole lot more of me…

Gut wrenching decisions

Yesterday we made final decisions for the next TechStars NYC class.  It was absolutely gut wrenching.  We had over 1700 applications, we narrowed it down to about 40ish, and then picked the final class from there.  It took us FOREVER to decide this round – lots of debates back and forth between myself and Eugene.  There were so many teams we fell in love with, there were so many projects we fell in love with, and I think today I just realized what my least favorite part of my job is.  SAYING NO.  I absolutely hate telling an entrepreneur no, I really want to help all of them.

I take these decisions very seriously – and for those that were not selected for this next class – know that I love what you’re doing, I think you have what it takes.   I deeply and sincerely thank you for your time and energy.  And my best outcome for you (other than landing in another TechStars program!) is that you kick total ass and prove my decision wrong.

While this should be a joyous day for me… looking forward to what the future holds… today I’m going to just be sad and disappointed for a while.

Welcome to TechStars, Eugene Chung

I’ve been serving as Interim Managing Director for TechStars NYC since November-ish while we look for a permanent replacement there.  Well today, I’m thrilled to announce that after interviewing over 35 candidates, Eugene Chung from NEA has agreed to join us as the permanent Managing Director for TechStars in NYC.

We have a rule around TechStars, that when meeting candidates, the meetings would get better and better.  And with Eugene, he just continued to impress with each additional meeting.  His passion for the space is undeniable.  His insight into the market is envious.  His energy and enthusiasm are inexhaustible.  I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to work with him and learn from him.

I’ll still remain in NYC for this next program, working alongside Eugene as he gets up to speed on the TechStars way.  So those joining us for this next program will have TWO managing directors (plus David Cohen will be there for a month, and Brad Feld is spending a whole week with us as well).

But watch out NYC, he’s a hugger! (I’m from Boulder, we hug trees.  Eugene hugs founders.  It’s great)

Welcome Eugene!

How to get into TechStars – a tutorial

We just completed TechStars for a Day in NYC, and I was overwhelmed with the number of requests from teams that wanted to come but didn’t get an invite.

Don’t worry!  If you didn’t get an invite, it’s not a cut.  It was simply a reflection of how much time and mentors we had at the event – I wanted to make sure we connected with each team there.

Anyhoo – we’re down to the last week for applications, and if you’re looking to get into TechStars, (or any program really), we’ve put together a SkillShare class.

For those in the NYC area, come in person!  It’s this Tuesday, Jan 15th at 530pm. For those that can’t be there in person, we’re attempting to livestream it (and there will be a recording of it on SkillShare).  It’s $5 to attend, but we don’t keep any of it.  100% goes to HackNY.

Click here to learn more and to enroll.



TechStars early application deadline for NYC is today – why you should apply now and not wait

I’m spending about 95% of my waking hours right now on TechStars – reflected so in this blog!  Bare with me as I get through this.

Early application deadline for TechStars NYC is tonight at 11:59:59 ET.  I’ve complied an awesome list of reasons why you should apply TODAY and not wait until the final deadline.


TechStars for a Day Opportunity!
Applying by tonight makes you eligible for a TechStars for a Day invite.  TS4AD is a 3 hour min-camp, featuring a handful of awesome speakers, alumni, and mentors.  It lets you get a small glimpse of what TechStars is really like, hopefully you’ll walk away with great feedback on what you’re doing, new ideas on how to think about things, and maybe even a contact or two.  This year’s TS4AD features some amazing people including Ben Lerer, Joel Spolsky, Patrick Keane, David Cohen, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, Jay Levy, David Tisch, Ben Siscovick, me, and more.  It’s a power-packed few hours, designed to add value to your startup and let us get to know you better.

I need time to get to know you
The earlier you apply, the more time I can spend on your application, watching your videos, perusing your website, playing with the demo, etc.  25% of our applications come in the last day – and if you do the math, there’s no way humanly possible I can get through them all with any sort of quality.  I end up skimming and skipping – and that’s just not how you want me interacting with your application.

You need time to prove what you’re capable of
If you’re paying attention, you know that an awesome team is our #1 criteria.  One of the critical aspects of the team is selecting a team that knows how to execute like mad.  Execute Execute Execute!  If you apply early, you can prove to us how quickly you can execute.  I remember working with the founders at Orbotix, before they had even conceptualized Sphero.  Every day, they’d show me a new device they built to show off their talents.  So go thee and execute – get your alpha launched, get users, improve your design – show me that you can build this thing you say you can build.  Pro:tip – A little used feature of the application is the ‘update’ capability.  Simply by sending an email to appupdates at from the email that was used to create the application, you can update it with any progress you’ve made.  I go in frequently and look for which applications have been updated with great stuff.


So stop reading this blog post and get your damn application in already!



This week’s TechStars application tip: The Team

Happy 2013!

This week’s application tip comes near and dear to my heart.  The Team.

We put a heavy emphasis on team.  In fact, we like to say that we look for 5 things in an application:

  1. Team
  2. Team
  3. Team
  4. Market
  5. Idea

So, spend some time crafting an AMAZING team section.  I’m looking for telltale signs that you’re passionate about what you’re doing, you and your co-founders are capable of weathering storms together, and you have a demonstrable ability to execute.  (either on this idea, or on past projects).  I’m also looking for roles in the company, so I can see who does what and where the holes are.

Here is a checklist of stuff you can include to highlight how awesome your bad-ass self is:

  • Your full name, role in the company, and links to linked-in, twitter, and github.  If you’re a coder and you’re not on Github, WTF?
  • Highlight why you’re working on this company.  What was the inspiration?  Keep it short!
  • How you met your cofounders.  Keep it short!
  • Highlight any accomplishments in the past.  Successful exit?  Say so!  Won the chess championship in high school?  Awesome!  Tell me!  Big failure?  Awesome, tell me (huge learning here).  Started coding when you were 6?  Cool!  This can be in bulletpoint format (read, I prefer bulletpoints!).  I’m just trying to get a sense of who you are and what you’re capable of doing.  Totally cool if you have a lot of bulletpoints.  If you don’t have a lot of bulletpoints, then I can’t really get to know you and might even erroneously make the assumption that you haven’t done anything with your life yet.

“But Nicole!”, you might ask.  “What if I’m a single founder?”  Single founders are a very rare breed in the TechStars eco-system.  We have funded single founders in the past, but it’s really tough on them in the program.  The program moves 1000MPH and its often too much for even 2 people to manage, much less 1.  BUT, we have funded single founders in the past that an execute like a madman (or madwoman).  So just talk to me about your history, show me you can build stuff, fast, and I’m interested.

Also – use the team video!  Keep it short, like to < 1 minute.  Just sit yourselves down in front of your webcam or smartphone, and shoot.  No need for production quality.  But please, show me some personality.  Sing, dance, beatbox, be creative… Just standing there and telling me what you’ve done in the past isn’t the most fun way to pass the time (especially when I’m on application #782).

For those astute readers, you’ll notice how many times I’ve alluded to brevity.  Efficiency of words and video goes a long way for me.  The shorter it is, the more likely I am to read the whole thing instead of just scanning it.

Early application deadline (to qualify for TechStars for a Day in NYC) is Jan 4th, that’s in just 2 days!  Don’t procrastinate and apply now.


This week’s TechStars application tip: The Video

Part of the TechStars application lets you link to a business video and a team video.  I love watching your videos because they give us more insight on who you are and the vision of your product.  Videos often are my favorite part of the application.

So here are some tips to make sure creating a video is time well spent.

1.  Do it in < 1 minute.
Last year, I read over 1200 applications in about 10 weeks, most of those coming in the last day or two.  Most of those applications had videos, many of them had two videos (the team video and the business video).  So do the math with me.  Let’s say there was a total of 1500 videos in total that I had to watch (I’m probably not off by a ton).  And each video averaged 2.5 minutes (some were 15 minutes or longer! very few were less than 2 minutes).  That’s 3,750 minutes of videos, more than 60 HOURS of videos… and that’s just watching the video, it’s not reading the app.  If you’re video is longer than 1 min, I probably won’t watch the whole thing.  I’ll skip around trying to find the good part.  Or if its longer than about 2.5 min, I probably won’t watch ANY of it.  It’s just takes too long to load and it will be impossible for me to find the good part.

How long do TV commercials last?  30 seconds.  They get only 30 seconds to convince you to buy the product.  Treat your video(s) like a commercial. 

2.  Demo your product!  There’s no better way to communicate the value of what you do better than a demo.  And 1 minute is perfectly long enough for a good demo.  Use the biz video to demo.  Don’t worry about login/password… just dive right into the good stuff.  I see lots of people use Presi and similar type applications to highlight what their idea is.  And that’s okay if you don’t have a product yet.  But if you do have something to show, DEMO IT.

3.  Be creative.  Use humor, or at least show some personality.  Be bacon, not white bread.  I watch a lot of videos.  Entertain me.  It helps when I’m on my 900th video and my eyes are crossing.  You don’t need humor to have a good video, but it’s amazing how much more I like a candidate when they make me laugh or show me some personality.  I’m a sucker for creativity.  Plus, it shows me you can think creatively, which is critical for entrepreneurs.

4.  Keep it simple.  Know what a really well produced video tells me?  That you’re a FinalCut Pro ninja, NOT that you have a great startup.  Don’t worry about all the fancy production quality stuff – in fact, it’s the wrong place to spend your time.  Just stand in front of your webcam or use your smartphone.  I’d rather see you spend your time executing, getting traction, and proving out the value.  Keep your video simple and easy and save the hard stuff for executing on your startup.

5.  Include the password!  I can’t tell you how many times I get a video that’s password protected, but the applicant didn’t include the password.  I’m probably not going to email you for it either, I’m just going to skip it (see tip #1 above at how many videos I have to watch).


‘Till next week when we’ll cover The Team section…

Weekly tip on improving your TechStars Application: The 140 character description

I’m in the throws of reviewing applications for TechStars NYC right now, so I’m motivated to help you submit more powerful apps.

When applying for TechStars, one of the first questions is “Describe your business in 140 characters or less”. This is basically your elevator pitch.  Anyone will tell you that your elevator pitch is pretty critical to nail – you have only a few seconds to capture someone’s attention.  Same thing applies to your TechStars application – you have to nail your 140 character description b/c it’s my first impression on what you do, and once that’s set, it’s pretty hard to recover from it.

So here’s a quick tutorial on how to write your 140 character description (and also your elevator pitch!)  You start with a basic formula, then add color.  Formula is

For {customer segment},   with {x problem}  we offer {y solution}.  This is a really rough formula, and I don’t recommend that you use it exactly, but it gives you a starting point.  

The key here is to be specific.  Generic language can be deadly.  I want to know what you specifically sell or do, not who you are.  The best way to highlight this is to give some examples.

Here are some 140 character descriptions from some previous TechStars companies.  These aren’t perfect, and this was before they went through the program, so you’re getting the raw, unedited version.  But they’re pretty good and I have a very clear picture of what they do in only  a few short words.

  • DealAngel’s website uses data mining and pricing analytics to rank online hotel offers.
  • Birdbox is a platform for managing all your photos and videos in one place, connecting everything from Facebook and YouTube, to Amazon and Dropbox.
  • Ubooly is a 6” tall, plush creature powered by your iPhone. It uses wifi to download new content every month.

And here are some examples of BAD 140 character descriptions:

  • We are an internet service that will reshape a dated 27 billion dollar industry thru tech initiating a global movement.
  • Solving life’s problems one app at a time.
  • PalmLing is Google Translate with a Human Touch.  (By the way, this company is VerbalizeIt and did get into the program despite their description)

Notice in this last batch I don’t know what they do.  Even the last one, what is it? A web application?  A device you carry around in your pocket?  What does a human touch mean?

When I read 140 character descriptions like that, I’m left to my own devices to creatively imagine what you do, and I could be wrong.  I probably am wrong.  As I dive deeper into your app, I’m starting from a different mindset on what you do, and therefore am highly likely to misunderstand your whole entire business.  The likelihood of getting cut goes up dramatically.

So spend some time crafting your 140 character description, or your elevator pitch, and test it on people.  Take their feedback, iterate, and test again.  Keep testing until you land on something where people know immediately what you do.  You don’t just need it for your TechStars app, you desperately need it for your startup.

Good luck!  Early app deadline is January 4th – I know what you’ll be doing this holiday season… Apply now!



Hello TechStars NYC!

I’m excited to announce that I’ve been asked to temporarily move to NYC as the interim Managing Director of the TechStars program.  We’re currently in the midsts of sorting through some amazing candidates for Managing Director there, and in order to make sure the new staff executes flawlessly, with all the support they need, I’ll be there, with husbands and kids in tow.  The NYC program runs from April 2-June 28th 2013 and it’s a GREAT chance for us to live in the most amazing city on the planet.
“BUT WAIT!” you say… “That’s during the Boulder program!”
And that’s true.
I’ve been with the TechStars Boulder program since 2009.  And it’s been amazing.  I’m eyeball deep, I love it here, I’m an investor in the program, I have a vested interest in the health and success of the program.  But I can’t run both programs.  SO – I’m thrilled to announce that Luke Beatty, one of our top mentors and an amazing entrepreneur, has accepted the Managing Director role of Boulder.  He and I will work side by side through 2013 to ensure the success of the program while I’m running NYC.  He’ll be on the ground running the day-to-day, and I’ll be here to ensure his 150% success.  And I’ll be back to Boulder after the NYC program ends.   The NYC program will officially be my 6th TechStars program.  4 in Boulder, 1 at TechStars Cloud in San Antonio.
While I’ll be traveling quite a bit, I’ll always be involved in the Boulder program.  This is my home after all!
Wish me luck, and here’s to continue to build an amazing TechStars program in NYC.

Welcome to Boulder!

At TechStars, we’ve been getting a lot of meeting requests around “I’m new in town and am looking to get plugged into the startup community”.  In an effort to get you connected quickly and meet the most amount of people, a few of us have gotten together to host a “Welcome To Boulder” event.  It’s just a simple meet and greet with some of the area entrepreneurs who are well connected.

Feel free to join us for the next one!  Check out the invite.