Episode Summary

– Techstars Toronto has a team of 4
– The Managing Director is Sunil Sharma
– 77 companies have done Techstars Toronto since 2018
– Investment thesis about Toronto being one of the most global cities
– Inkblot, flow.ai, Flipd, and Mayday stick out
– Doubled to two batches per year (24 investments per year)
– The challenge of “mentor whiplash” where you get a lot of advice that may be accurate or not
– Month one is mentor madness and workshops, month two is growth and month three is preparing for demo day
– Expectation is to raise money and is a metric that Techstars reports on and optimizes for
– Half the batch is Canadian founders
– A heavy focus on mentors and preparing for mentor madness
– A lot of meetings were set up during this period to understand the program and how to get the most value out of it
– Bringing quality people together (for example Brice Scheschuk from Globalive/MindFrame Connect)
– The Techstars team works hards to build relationships between people and companies in the cohort
– Techstars helps manage the program with Notion and Discord
– Meetings most often take place in the morning to open up time in the afternoon
– Share a Lookbook of the mentors in Mentor Madness to research, connect and prepare for meetings
– The end of the week concludes with an open sharing of KPIs and progress
– Our KPIs are around software revenue, user sign-ups and free-to-paid conversion rate
– Push for us to do a more diligent job on outbound sales and documenting results

YouTube Video

Resources

Techstars

Techstars Toronto Accelerator
https://www.techstars.com/accelerator-hub
Accelerator FAQ
Techstars
https://www.techstars.com/accelerators
Techstars (@Techstars) / Twitter
Techstars: Overview | LinkedIn
Techstars – Wikipedia
Techstars – Crunchbase Investor Profile & Investments
Techstars Toronto’s all-international cohort prompts discussion on role of city-based accelerators | BetaKit

Techstars Portfolio Companies

Email Delivery, API, Marketing Service | SendGrid
Send or Transfer Money Abroad Online from Canada with Remitly
DigitalOcean – The developer cloud
DataRobot AI Cloud – The Next Generation of AI
ClassPass | Book Fitness Classes & Salon Appointments
The Blockchain Data Platform – Chainalysis
Techstars Startups
Techstars Companies

Sunil Sharma The Managing Director of Techstars Toronto

Sunil Sharma | LinkedIn
Sunil Sharma – Managing Director @ Techstars – Crunchbase Person Profile
Sunil Sharma (@SunilSharmaCo) / Twitter
Techstars nabs $42M to expand its global presence | TechCrunch

Affiliates

Shure MV7

Shure SM7B

Hashtags

techstars,techstars accelerator,techstars toronto accelerator,techstars toronto,sunil sharma,techstars demo day,#givefirst,venture capital,startup accelerator,y combinator,500 startups,david cohen,brad feld,david brown,jared polis,techstars boulder,techstars boston,techstars seattle,techstars new york city,techstars portfolio,techstars network,techstars global,techstars interview,techstars alumni,techstars demo day 2022,techstars demo day boston

Automated Transcription

Ohh hello Tyler Bryden here. I hope everything is going well. I’m dating this. I’m putting this on Friday, September 23rd, 2022, and what I want to talk about today is the first week of the Techstars Toronto Accelerator program, and I do have. I realize I’m jumping into this without maybe answering some of the questions that you might have. What is tech stars? How is tech stars? Or how does tech stars make money? I’ve read a whole list of questions and things that I think are worthwhile. To go over in relation to Techstars. But in this video what I want to talk about explicitly is the first week, the structure of it. You know, my sort of early reflections on it after, you know, coming out of many meetings throughout the week, including our last final wrap up meeting of the week.

And hopefully whether you are interested in tech stars, whether you’re applying, maybe you just started the program and you’re in sort of the same cohort kickout kickoff time as me. This is sort of like an insightful perspective on the 1st week of the Toronto Techstars Accelerator. In my case, that’s the specific locale of the program. But generally this I believe can be, you know, extended to many of the tech stars accelerator around the world. There’s a lot of them have the number somewhere here.

But there’s a lot. There’s a lot of companies starting overall. I’ll just give a quick brief on tech stars and this won’t be the, you know, the full rundown. I’ll cover that in a video. Maybe even get Sunil, the managing director of Techstars Toronto, to jump on and record a video. I can ask them questions and who can give me probably better answers than I can give you, as obviously he has a lot of experience with the program. So Techstars Toronto specifically, 77 companies have done the program since it started in 2018, companies from 4 continents and 1111 countries.

Have an investment thesis about Toronto being one of the most sort of like global cities and because of that they’ve invested in many places around the world. One of those focuses is actually Africa. And so there’s several African companies in our cohort this year. I think we’re 11:50 companies and it’s been super interesting to not Only Connect with them this week, but then also sort of understand how different the problem space in the country there. And so a lot of the, you know, piece there things maybe we take for granted.

Like logistics of delivery, of transportation, of transferring money, things that we’re really lucky to have here in Canada. And and then you sort of do this comparison of the problems that you know we’re focused on here specifically it’s PKI and that you know some of the companies that we interact with on a more routine basis are dealing with versus companies in a country like Africa. So that’s something super interesting. Overall. The point that I was trying to get to is that there’s 50 accelerator programs across the world. We are just one of them specifically.

Techstars Toronto, they’re sort of large over. Sort of seeing tech stars universal or whatever it actually is Techstars global. They then administer the program and my guess this is not for sure. I’d love to hear if you’ve been through the program or if you’re seeing anything different of. My description here is that there’s consistencies into the in the structure of these programs and the week that we’re experiencing or have just experienced. It’s probably in some ways similar to anyone who is in those cohorts and is kicking this off here. So overall quickly Techstars 3400 companies that they’ve invested in.

Said 140 billion plus combined market cap. They said that that’s expanded since and you know to me they have a very good reputation in the industry. We are lucky enough to talk to you know, quite a few people who have gone through the program. They spoke very highly of it. They seem supportive overall and that’s the experience that we’ve had to date. So I’ll dive deeper into that in another video. Hopefully you maybe have some questions for me. Please feel encouraged to drop a comment, whatever I would love to hear. So I can make sure that that video is as valuable as possible and I shared you shared with you a couple sort of questions that I want to answer.

In other videos, but I’ll talk about this week, right, right now, which is the week is done. This was really a kickoff week, so it’s definitely very heavy in terms of meetings. And some of those were, first of all, just get to know each other. So we did this sort of presentation. I should know how to say it, Petra, could you, I’m sorry, that’s butchered basically, you know, take 20 images at most and introduce yourself personally for myself, that’s what I did.

You know, say 88 pictures each and then sort of then tied our journey together, shared, you know, a little bit about tech stars or sorry about tech stars, about Burning Man, about, you know, how we met the journey, how we’ve been friends and how we’ve lived together, all that stuff. And then it was super interesting to listen to the other companies sort of share their personal journeys. And then that then helps you sort of build this sort of mental model around, you know, who these people are and the companies and why they started, what they done and some super incredible smart people at different stages, some people younger and early in the company, some people. A little bit older with kids and entire families and that’s that. Diversity is something super interesting and something I’m glad to see. I think it’s good too, you know, be around people with diverse experiences, opinions, thoughts, etcetera, etcetera. So.

With that being said, through the program, and this is I’m I’m extending this to Techstars global, but this is the experience with Techstars Toronto. They’re using notion and discard discord, so that manages a lot of the actual communication within the program program documentation. And then communication between people whether that’s you know, people dealing directly with you know, the people who are part of the the the team at tech stars in this case is 4 people awesome people in the tech stars Toronto cohort or the tech Stars Toronto team and then obviously ways to communicate with companies who are in the program and. Generally it seems like there is sort of this theme that. There are sort of um synergies within the companies or that are in the cohort. We haven’t experienced that as much, but it seems like some of the African companies.

There are connections, there’s relationships built there and even opportunities to work together, so I think that’s super interesting. I believe we ended up as only the only AI company in their program and so that then tailors are experienced, the companies that we can work with, etcetera, etcetera. So couple other things that I think have stuck out is, yeah, it definitely was meeting heavy. I did find that it was nice that most of those meetings were contained in the morning so that you can go back in the afternoon, carve out that time to do the customer work that you’re doing, you know the product development, all the other pieces of a business that are necessary. So I’m thankful for that. And some of the meetings, I think out of no one’s real fault. It’s just there’s a, you know, especially that, you know, whether we’re reporting or just sharing. It’s like those meetings can get pretty long. And I have moments where I felt a little burned out in that. And what I realized part right, we were on a zoom call, so we’re managing zoom for communications, and that’s how we’re connecting on live calls. It’s like, oh, I can hop onto my phone and as long as I’m listening to the information or, you know.

Watching, I can go make lunch. I can walk around. And so, you know, I don’t know why that realization hadn’t hit me earlier in the week, but, you know, still participating in a great way, meeting people, understanding what other companies are operating in, understanding your sort of responsibilities throughout the program. You know, that was a, I wouldn’t maybe classify it as a breakthrough, but a lesson for me. I was, I was like, I’ve been sitting at this desk for too long. Even I’ve been standing at this desk for too long. So that’s one thing I think to prepare for if you are going into tech.

Doors, or you’re just interested. There is a lot of meetings. A lot of that in the first week is groundwork, setting, how you communicate, the project management tools that you use, expectations first, building your KPI’s. We had an amazing call with someone from someone wonderful person named Allie from Google who built a company around KPI’s and as someone said in the discord channels like she looked like she runs you know, 5 miles every morning, maybe at lunch too. Super fit. Of like super fit.

Like in terms of everything, mind, body, spirit, soul, the way that she spoke, the way that she articulated things, that’s just precise in everything that she did. And that was like super cool and inspiring, I think. And then to see her experience with KPI’s, see it with, you know, how she, you know, answered questions and then pushed us to answer questions. Those were all really helpful. So you’re dealing with people who are operating at a super, you know, high level and being able to, you know.

Absolutely. You know, work through problems very quickly. Some people, some people would say like. People, it feels almost aggressive, but when you’re a founder and you’re, you know, she has, you know, talked about how valuable your time is. That’s a really good thing to have because you can filter through the noise, you can filter through sort of the the bull poop, the poop, poop very quickly. And so that was super helpful. And just generally you worry if you’re going into a program like that. We’ve had past experiences with accelerator programs and it’s like, you know, when you draw it into meetings, you’re drawn into presentations and programming. Not all of that could be valuable for you. Not all of that could be applicable in this case. What I’ve seen, you know, while there’s moments of that.

Generally, the people are super bright, super, you know, talented. They care about engaging you. They’re taking time out of their day to do it. And that quality of sort of content and conversation is super high. And so a lot of the times where it would maybe be you know, big presentations in the past and in case the experience so far has been, you know, relatively short presentations and if they are, you know, not short, they’re super high impact and obviously they brought these people in for a reason and then generally they’re opening up like.

Q&A’s pretty closely, pretty quickly, so that then you can ask the questions that you want to ask and then make it more relevant to the cohort. And again, sometimes that can, you know, that can fall off because this company is in this stage and then you’re at this stage and that’s different. So the questions are being asked are different or the answers that are being given are different. But generally there’s some sort of value that you can extract from it. So that’s been super interesting. I’m glad that week is over in terms of meetings. I’ve been a person who generally limits meetings in my life especially.

Morning meetings, I like to carve out that time for personal routine structure and then some deep work. But you know, when the value is there, it’s worthwhile to do it. And you know, I think especially with the virtual sort of delivery of it. It’s it’s relatively unimpacted full or unintrusive on, you know, the life that you’re having besides maybe some of the length that the conversations can be to do so now. A couple other things that I wanted to touch on are someone, as someone who knows tech star is one of the biggest parts of this program is called Mentor Madness, and it’s called Mentor Madness for a reason.

I’m gonna talk about this topic as a whole some point when I go through the program and I’ll report back on Mentor Madness each week just to sort of like a you know an update and everything that I’m thinking about and it’s basically you’re getting matched with an incredible group of mentors who has a lot of experience. One of the examples that we had, they did a presentation, but as part of Madness Bryce and I’m not going to get his last name so I’m not going to try. But from global life and now mine frame connect and is there super high level valuable people understanding. You’re then matched. You’re doing 6 meetings a day, 25 minutes, and then there are, sort of.

Pairing you with these peoples with different expertise who are all, you know, these people are not paid to mentor. They’re, you know, they’re they like mentoring, they’re getting really good information and insights. They’re, you know, sourcing, deal flow, you know, all these things that sort of, you know, come with spending time with people who are sort of pre vetted and going through these programs like they are at Techstars, you know, you’ve got that 25 minutes to sort of maximize that leverage their expertise. Throughout that you’re expected to, you know, sort of connect with a couple of mentors who you hope are going to be your sort of lead mentors throughout the program. And that focus on mentorship I think is super valuable. I’ve also seen that fall apart in other programs where.

You know, there’s not maybe enough incentive for the mentors, which in this case maybe it is likely because they’re not being paid, but maybe the company quality is so high that it doesn’t really matter and the value is there and so the dedication will be there. But generally, mentors highly successful, you know, and with high, you know, high success becomes high responsibilities in their own life and often lack of time or highly valuable time. And so meeting all these companies, meeting all these people. Looking question you know hey maybe this 25 minute meeting is great, but is there a follow up here? Is there true value that’s going to be you know given outside of this meeting and can I rely on them as say a a lead mentor or someone who produces real value for the program and in the past you know before going through DMZ and Tech alliance and some of these programs and having the experience with mentors and seeing that pattern that’s possible.

I think there’s sort of some naive optimism around that and truth, it’s up for you. It’s up to you to really make sure that that happens and then follow up, make sure you’re producing value for the person who is the mentor. If they’re not learning anything, if their value isn’t created, there’s not a two way streak of value then there is then you know most likely going to be a lack of follow up some challenge in that relationship being strong and continuing. And so that’s something that I’m preparing for and also just I think preparing for that frantic energy which can come from mentor. Madness, which is again, so three weeks, 6 hours, 6 hours a day, six meetings a day, 25. I was just doing some math. 66 meetings a day, 25 minutes each, so 3 hours a day, 72 meetings overall. And throughout that time you’re going to be dealing with people who are in very, you know, different expertise levels, what they want to do to support you, and your goal is to then research them a little bit ahead, do the proper follow up, make sure that you maximize that time and that time.

The other very helpful or wasted, completely depending on how you look at it. And so there was also some sessions throughout the first week of the Toronto Techstars accelerator here to then prepare for that. And make sure you are doing it right. And they had a couple of companies who had done, you know, apparently really good jobs in previous cohorts share how they had maximized that time. So I’m super excited about it. Also super nervous. Again, I limit meetings in my life. I get overstimulated very quick. I know that some of these meetings are going to be, you know, intense, aggressive, hard questioning, maybe questions that we don’t have the answers to. And that’s fine. I love that stuff. And I do like sort of the quick, you know, iteration that can happen when dealing with super smart people like that, super ambitious people like that who are.

Trying to help out and in all cases there is this idea what I felt I have felt in this sort of tech stars community where I say tech stars for life and the hashtag that they use this gift first. So that seems to be true in my early stage of this program both on boarding and now after completing the first week. And so, you know, I’m super excited to see that come through fruition next week with the Mentor Madness. So a couple other notes and then I’ll wrap this up because I’m already at 15 minutes and I hope you’ve gotten some insights along the way if you did like comments. Sky but I’m Tyler Bridge and I’ll be documenting this journey at Tech stars. I do think it’s super interesting. It’s something I’ve, you know, been super excited about and then also super hesitant about and concerned. You know, you’re taking investment, you’re diluting your company, you’re starting this path of sort of investment, and you want to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success depending on the goals that you have in life.

And so hopefully some of that is explored throughout this video by the previous videos and subsequent content that I make around Techstars. So a couple other things is like the a lot of the success seems to come from. Who the Managing director is of tech stars. So in this case we have the wonderful Sunil Sharma. I will pull up a screen quick. And so he is the Co host of collision conference and then the director at the Founder Institute as well. So 300 plus startup investments past Canadian and US UN diplomat. Why I’m going to follow you, Jennifer. She just stepped down after investing for a long time.

And you know, what I generally see is he’s definitely a networker, he’s definitely a connector. You know, he seems super motivated and intelligent and a lot of respect for him just because of how much work that he’s in over the years to build that network. And that’s something that I see is, you know, talk about this idea of network is your net worth. That’s I did say that, right. Good, then you know that that’s true. And I think that’s something that Techstars pushes. I think just in general what I’ve seen and I’ll just.

Get us on the screen is Techstars Toronto. I think Texas in general, but compared to other maybe accelerators or incubator programs, really does try to build that relationship between companies. And it’s, you know, obvious that they are doing that. Sunil here, Gabrielle, who’s Alicia should have been, is also on the team here. We’ve got some wonderful mentors who are there. And so I’m going to have all these links. As always, I’ve got, you know, resources for you here. They’ll be in the bottom of the YouTube description, or if you’re on the website, you’ll be on the website there too. Lots of great things, sort of, you know?

Things about accelerator hub some details some stats some frequently asked questions and then I pulled up a couple of companies just so you can check them out. These are you know previous companies who or maybe not even previous their portfolio companies of tech stars who they sort of highlight some of them who have done quite well. One thing that I find super interesting is like oh you can look back at the date like send grid I think is a big company. 2009 is when they started. So it took a long time for them to get where they are and a lot of times I think we think of sort of venture companies they go you know quick pace and then they they burn out and.

What you see here is the ones that are still around and being represented. Obviously a bunch of burned out around the way that they’re still here and it’s been a long slog for them them to make it. So I know I’m just flipping through things here now. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll get off of that and I’ll hop back into my Google Doc just to refocus here. The last thing I’ll say sort of on the 1st week of the Toronto Tech Stars Accelerator.

Ends up in the week with actually two things. One thing is super interesting with this mentor madness. There is a look book that they share that gives you all the sort of links, LinkedIn, e-mail categories of the mentors that you were going to be in the week. So that’s a super helpful resource and allows you to do that research up front and then connect with people after and then focus on people who maybe are you know, more inclined or suited to provide value for your company. Last part I’ll touch on is the end of the week concludes with an open sharing of KPIs and progress.

That was sort of highlighted in the first week or the first part of the week and as you prepare for the program to settle on these KPI’s and then you have an open sharing session on the Friday for. For you were watching the video, that was today, so I’m coming off of that and I think I was super helpful, super help, amazing to see where people are, the different paths in the journey, some of them because they’re doing say, you know. You know, money transfer, the amount of volume that they’re transferring through systems is pretty wild to see. So definitely some lessons there. And I think it really does by, you know, doing that you’re keeping each other in check. You’re wanting to make sure that you’re hitting these metrics and doing a good job. You’re setting ambitious goals. You’re seeing where you know you’re failing and where you’re, you know where you’re succeeding and you’re sort of highlighting those KPI’s and, you know, Red did not happen, yellow some, some what happened or you sort of right there. Green you sort of exceeded. And so, as you know, very obvious.

And, you know, you’re sharing that very openly on that. Hey, here’s what worked. Here’s what damn, they’ll ask you, why did this work or did they? They’ll ask you, well, why didn’t this work? Or, you know, for us that one of the pushes was, hey, it seems like doing a really good job on inbound.

Sort of this idea of product like growth, but can you include some metrics around outbound sales, demos meet it, booked, things like that and now that’s a recommendation? It’s up to you as a founder or business owner to then say hey. You know, yes, I will do that or not. You know, for US product lab growth has been a great path. Inbound has been great through the content that we’ve produced as well as you know, we just do a lot of sort of solution selling and working with customers. We’ve had now for several years to continue to build up the product and make sure that we’re producing value. But overall I thought that part was super valuable, a great way to end the week in a very inspiring way to end the week and keep you accountable and you know, just for your reference, like you might ask me, what are these KPI’s for us?

Software revenue that can be Mr sort of subscriptions kind of based and then also sort of the additional transcription analysis and then implementations and onboarding. So we’re grouping that all we want to see that that number is staying stable at the very least and ideally it’s growing. And then we’re also looking at user signups. Obviously that’s a top line metric for us, but it’s a leading indicator that we’re doing something right on the front end from marketing and content. And then lastly is like the free to paid conversion rate. So out of how many people signed up, how many people those converted into paid users. So that’s obviously super important thing to us to know if we know, hey, here’s how many people signed up, here’s how many people.

And here’s the software revenue. We start to paint this really good picture of, are we making progress or are we not? And we’ve set some pretty ambitious goals with that. 250 signups per per week. So 1000 signups per month, 5% conversion rate. And then, you know, aiming for, you know, to begin with like straight up 10K, you know, monthly.

You know, we’re there in many ways already. So we should maybe even be setting that more ambitious knowing that we’re going to scale that up as we continue to grow and then hopefully getting to, you know, that golden sort of 83 K monthly which is then $1,000,000 in software revenue. That’s the, you know, the dream that you want to see come true. And this program, I think through the accountability, through this, through the open sharing can help you do that as well as sort of the questions to ask for clarity and figure out why is this working, why is this not working. So super excited about that.

Overall, it’s been a great week. I’m excited to have gone through it. Also excited that it’s over. Time moves very quickly, especially when you’re packed in meetings like this. You’re flowing through, you’re getting asked hard questions, you’re producing all this stuff for tech stars specifically, but then also dealing with your day businesses and customers and then also personal life and people that you love and all that. And there was sort of this notice before the program started of, hey, you are going to have to, you know, tell your family and friends that you might not see you as much.

During this program I can see that being true. But I also think that those are important parts of your life. To then make sure that you balance with the program, even if it’s as intense as it is, as it supposed to be. Because you don’t want to burn out and you want to make sure that you’re not sacrificing those relationships and also your own happiness and you know restfulness throughout this program because it is both a, you know, a marathon and a Sprint. You’re basically sprinting a marathon. But as we all know, there are trade-offs. When you do them, at some point you’re going to fall down. You’re going to break down.

If you continue that Sprint and so you need to choose these places to execute and push and then you need to have those times at rest and connection and refueling so. I think that’s pretty good. I think that’s. A lot to cover on the 1st week of the Toronto is already you have any other questions? Anything again, feel encouraged to send me a note. Hope this is something valuable for you with some someone who is interested in this stuff and I’m guessing if you made it this far in the video you were interested. I’ll continue to document this and look forward to sharing more on this and hearing from you. And I hope you have a wonderful rest of the day yourself. It’s a pleasure as always. Been with Sharon. I’m so grateful for anyone who leaves a comment, whatever it is, even something as small as that. A like on the video that makes my day.

And I hope you have a wonderful day. Bye, bye.

 

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