Last summer, we were fortunate enough to be brought into the TechStars extended family - a close-knit family that is defined by the generosity and energy of the experienced entrepreneurs and technical geniuses who give up their time to mentor the fledgling companies accepted onto the program.
On arrival we were painfully aware of our relative inexperience and tender age compared to your average TechStars company, and this often left us in literal awe of some of the mentors. We were eager to please, eager to learn, and eager to take on all the feedback possible. As a result, when the onslaught of mentor meetings began, we were literally drowning in opinions for the first few weeks. They don't call it 'mentor whiplash' without reason. Many times there were dramatic highs and lows within minutes of each other when someone loved what we were doing or conversely when it fell totally flat.
The torrent of feedback didn't ever slow up and nor would we have had it any other way. We valued every moment and learnt to filter frantically. Like gold hunters sifting through sand we grasped at ideas and stored away little nuggets of advice.
This dramatic improvement in our ability to filter and process feedback turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons we learned at TechStars. It is not possible to take action on every single piece of feedback, even when those who hand it out are almost invariably smarter and more experienced than you. To quote our director Andy Sack,
With this in mind, we learned that setting out to please everyone is a a sure way to fail. The mentors are there to challenge, to question, and to guide, but at the end of the day, as they are so fond of saying themselves, 'it's your company'.
And what a phenomenal job the mentors did. They whole-heartedly embraced David Cohen's Mentor manifesto - giving up their time without the expectation of anything in return, and being there when we needed them most. We are indebted to so many people - for introductions, for product feedback, for pitch advice, and so much more. We are grateful for the support and encouragement from every single one of you during the program, and each of you played an important part. Thank you.
In this post we will give special thanks to those of you who had a particularly profound impact on our time in TechStars.
Andy Sack for making TechStars Seattle the enormous success it is today. For introducing us to the timeless 11.11 pm tradition of drinking a shot of whiskey every Wednesday evening and sharing the highs and lows of the week. And don't be fooled by his tough love exterior or shrewd business acumen. Andy is actually all heart. He used to crank up 'Call me Maybe' in the office every Friday morning to pump us up. Thanks for believing in us enough to accept us in the first place. Oh and by the way, Andy also gives the best hugs.
Rand Fishkin for helping us find the space to think when things were overwhelmingly frantic and for being a great supporter and advocate of Maptia. We aren't sure what on earth we have done to deserve it, but are truly grateful. In fact, Rand actually started mentoring us indirectly though his blog about 6 months before we met him in person. His inbound marketing presentations were a firm favourite of Jonny's and we were inspired by his TAGFEE philosophies at SEOMoz. We were absolutely thrilled when we received our first email from him. In an old interview Rand mentions that the following is one of his favourite quotes.
This is fitting because Rand has one of the most generous spirits of anyone we know. He is the kind of guy who suggests 'help me to help you' dinners and sends spontaneous boxes of cupcakes to the TechStars offices. His enthusiasm for Maptia was so infectious that we actually started referring to our early user evangelists as '1000 true Rands'. We could go on, but to put it simply - if we can create even 1/10th of the TAGFEE culture Rand has created at SEOmoz we will be extremely proud!
David Cohen for giving us permission to have confidence in our own opinions. It wasn't until approximately 20 minutes through our first mentor meeting that he understood what we were aiming for (or even quite what we were talking about). However, when he finally did understand he became just as enthusiastic as we were, and encouraged us to be more bold in our own ideas. We know we still have a lot to prove, but your confidence boost made all the difference in the world.
Chris DeVore for always having a bulletproof answer and for kindly humouring all of our questions. There was no problem we had that he hadn't already thought about and no question too small for him to take a moment to answer. We started audio recording mentor meetings with Chris simply because we couldn't write fast enough to keep up with all of his rapid fire wisdom.
Adam Doppelt, Patrick O'Donnell and Brenda Spoonemore for being there to meet us every thursday morning like clockwork. There were some stressful patches during TechStars, but you always encouraged us to keep our cool and saved us from several would-be-meltdown situations. Your patient encouragement and pragmatic advice kept us steady and thanks for backing us all the way.
Joel Espelien for being our Yoda in disguise. The first time Dorothy met Joel she was expecting a 20 minute coffee. It turned into a 2 hour long walk and an eye-opening, inspiring discussion. She came back with 25 pages of madly scribbled notes. Joel thinks in depth about the way people feel about places more than anyone we've met, and his ideas and insights were a constant inspiration to us throughout the program. Before every meeting we would tell ourselves that Joel couldn't possibly come up with another hour long contribution of wisdom and ideas of how we could develop Maptia, but, invariably he always did!
T.A. McCann for going above and beyond the call of duty as a mentor, and turning up on Wednesday evenings (with pizza) to offer exceptional pitch feedback. He is the king of shipping products and agile development and we have done our best to learn as much as we can from him. He gave Jonny the idea to write our FullContact API post which has been by far our most successful to date. T.A. also inspired us to write this post with his own 'It's good to say thank-you' post.
Dan Shapiro for saying from the outset, "I never trust entrepreneurs with a vision!", but still giving up his time to share his experience and for always challenging us with great feedback. He called us more than once in the early hours of the morning to help us through some tough decisions, and took real care in helping us learn and grow.
Matt Shobe, who welcomed us to Seattle even before we were part of Techstars, and who, along with Jenny Lam and Michael Leggitt, set the bar high on user experience and went out of their way to give us critical and thoughtful design advice every Friday. Greg Gottesman for giving us an insight into an investor's perspective and for his patient encouragement. Tom Laramee for sharing his wealth of technical experience. Jamie Miller, Pete Baltaxe, and Matt Feldman for always chipping in with passion and great advice whenever we asked. Scott Dodson for sharing his thoughts on sustained engagement through gamification. Rebecca Lovell, Buzz Bruggeman, Jonathan Sposato, Aviel Ginzburg, and Keith Smith for kindly making time for us to share their advice ...the list could go on.
Bruce Rosard, a TechStars mentor in Boulder, definitely deserves huge thanks for showing us the ropes in the travel industry and for being a great friend and supporter right from the start.
And we haven't even got started on all the amazing people beyond the TechStars community. We'll save that for another post!
Yet in the end, what we appreciate most of all is the mentors' enthusiasm and belief in us, even when it was clear that we had (and still have) a long way to go to be 'successful' in the conventional sense. Their irrational desire to see us do well, and the kindness that was reflected in this, is what meant the most in the end.
Thank you TechStars!
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