Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hacking at TechStars

I recently changed jobs and I joined the TechStars incubator program in Boston as one of the "HackStars". This is all the result of a long story which started last year when I joined up with William Ho and created Stix in May 2010. And since then my life has drastically changed. We found out we got into TechStars right before New Years, after they decided that our company would not be a TechStars company, but they still wanted us as individual hackers but also as a company. So we get to work on HackStars half time and try to build our company, along with the help of all the same mentors and entrepreneurs the other TechStars companies have.

So here we are; today was the first day of TechStars. Some of us had been there for a few days or weeks already. And the rest of us were there since yesterday when we had our official HackStars orientation which wasn't really anything interesting. But today for all the companies, we got to hear Katie, Reed, and Aaron talk about their backgrounds, then all the companies got up and gave their elevator pitch.

Everyone is a genius. Especially Reed.

Well, more that the whole place has such a techie atmosphere that it practically makes you exude creativity. Just hearing about everyone's technology and knowing that they'd all been working on this to such an extent was a spur. but not everyone's elevator pitches were super fine tuned...i seriously think that our practice in bars and parties with Stix has made us more aware of what kind of content is good for capturing a random stranger's attention in 30 seconds, and we could really see what worked and what didn't in the other companies' pitches.

However, one thing Katie said during the session really resonated with me, and I could feel my understanding of the business increase, and I could feel myself learning entrepreneurship. That's the one moment when I suddenly felt like I was back in school again; like when I joined MIT and realized it was a way better place to be than Harvard, Princeton, or even my high school; when I joined taekwondo and realized that each practice was contributing something to my knowledge and physical ability; it was (almost) like joining Hogwarts where I'd actually willingly go to each lecture, because literally they were teaching us MAGIC.

Basically, Katie said that it was vitally important for everybody to give feedback. Initially I wanted to just listen to other people give feedback because it seemed they all knew what it was like to be in the startup business and what kind of feedback was good and useful to the guy giving the pitch. But then Katie got mad at us and said that it was vitally important for everyone to learn how to give feedback. And that it was important for a founder to know how to listen, because most people will just try to respond and give more info to an already overloaded audience. And finally, we must understand that when we give feedback we think we are right, but often we will be wrong. And that a founder must realize that of 6 pieces of advice, only two will be right and good for his company. And he has to be able to listen and process that feedback. For some reason this all resonated with me, with the history of trying to work with Stix feedback and beta users, and with our own limited experiences as founders.

Next, Reed gave a talk about precision question answering. It is exactly how it sounds. But when Reed gave an example of precision answering it sounded so much better. Some of the founders will constantly have trouble bringing their explanations into a form that everyone can understand; they have trouble stopping their explanation when it makes sense, without using buzzwords. Reed turned one description of a company into a simple yet captivating catchphrase that even the founders themselves ended up adopting it. And it really made me realize how much experience helps you simplify things...almost in the exact same way that the best poomsae actually makes a form look more simple, not more complex.

And finally tonight we had a mentor dinner, which was basically meet the mentors and eat leftover chinese food and drink beer and wine. It's great that the TechStars office is about 3 blocks from my house because we were there until 10:30 and basically it felt like I could stay as late as I wanted at a local party, and just walk home and crash whenever I needed. But also we met a few random mentors, grizzled veterans of business and entrepreneurship, and a few got quite a good laugh and reaction out of Stix. Hopefully we will be able to sell our product as much as any other TechStars company, and get some incredible feedback from them as well.

Finally, a few faux pas came out of my mouth that night, like saying that our audience is geared toward a younger female demographic in this way: "We need more 12 year old girls." And in comparing our app to instagram, something to the point of "Instagram makes your photos artsy. We make your photos fartsy." That's the new slogan of Stix.

No comments: