It’s been about six weeks since we returned to Phoenix after participating in Kansas City Techstars, meaning this post is pretty overdue. I’ve had decent time to reflect on my time in program and wanted to share three Techstars experiences that remain valuable as I continue working at Somatic Labs and in the start-up community.
Having officially joined the team just a few weeks prior to the start of Techstars, I arrived in Kansas City still learning the workflow of Somatic Labs. I was daunted by the prospect of immediately meeting with dozens of mentors per week. I hadn’t practiced the company’s elevator pitch, learned the team’s frequently-used phrases, or familiarized myself with widely referenced investors and VC firms. Yet I didn’t have time to feel as apprehensive as I usually would in a new environment because, true to form, the Techstars program accelerated beginning day two.
The Techstars schedule became my employee training and onboarding process. Attending mentor meetings allowed me to practice and improve my version of the company pitch. Through program workshops, I expanded my start-up vocabulary and learned more about how investors and VC firms operate. Daily debriefs within
our team clarified my technical questions about our platform’s design and allowed me to share my thoughts on product-market fit. My daily Google searches for relevant funding opportunities and potential partner organizations during Techstars outlined what my role encompasses now: writing applications for non-dilutive funding sources, demo-ing our technology to potential customers and partner organizations, and performing market validation. As employee 1 at an early-stage Techstars company, I had, and still do, the privilege and opportunity to outline my responsibilities based on the intersection of what I find interesting and what grows the business.
One of my favorite characteristics about the Kansas City Techstars cohort was the diversity in age and previous expertise among the ten participating companies. Though half of the teams were all male, the average age of our cohort was closer to 30. The company founders had previous experience in corporate operations, construction, education, investment banking, kinesiology, software development, law, and sustainable energy. Because I tend to think first of gender or race as indicators of diversity, I appreciated having the opportunity to learn from cohort friends who were at a different stage of life and in their career. Working alongside PhDs, self-made and successful entrepreneurs, and industry experts who didn’t snub or discount me for being a recent college grad made the start-up community feel more supportive and inviting than I had originally thought.
Figuring out how I could weave my personality, skills, and work style into the co-founders’ existing workflow was hurdle I hadn’t anticipated. I’ve known all three co-founders since 2013 when I started at Arizona State University. We met through the Flinn Scholars Program and became friends at different points in undergrad. Because I was already friends with Jake, Ajay, and Shantanu, adding the professional work dimension to each relationship was a bit of a weird adjustment. This transition wasn’t due to an unwelcoming environment (Jake, Ajay, and Shantanu are kind, friendly, and humorous), but rather because I was used to interacting with them in social settings, not an office space.
Techstars helped me quickly integrate into the team’s workflow and culture because participating in program was an experience the four of us shared. Even though I was the newest addition to Somatic Labs, we were all new to the accelerator lifestyle. All of us had to adjust to the co-working space, mentor meetings (i.e. mentor madness), and program schedule. The fast-paced days and newly adopted organizational habits allowed me to learn and grow with the guys and become a four-person team.
Additionally, the move to Kansas City itself was a bonding experience. Raised in Arizona for most of our lives, we were unaccustomed to Midwest weather and BBQ, and spent many weekends enjoying the outdoors and sampling KC’s many BBQ restaurants. Moreover, having a team to share ordinary life activities was a key component in becoming truly comfortable as identifying myself as part of Somatic Labs. Little things like shopping at the farmer’s market with Ajay, getting an afternoon iced coffee with Shantanu, or going to yoga classes with Jake made me feel more connected to the co-founders and better able to balance being both a friend and colleague.
The final observation I’d like to share from my Techstars experience is one that might have already been made but is still important to keep in mind. The start-up ecosystem is designed for growth, whether it be in revenue, market size, or skillset. Though it’s a competitive and high-risk environment, the time and effort are worth it as long as you perceive the knowledge and experience you gain as continually trending up and to the right.