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techstars1“Should I apply?” = Stupid Question

I almost didn’t include the “Why you should apply to TechStars Seattle” part of this post, because in my mind it’s just a ridiculous question.  Somehow it still comes up.

We started at TechStars Seattle last fall with about three months of cash in the bank.  Within three months we had been mentored by the best entrepreneurial minds in the Northwest, made huge progress on our business, and closed a $1.7 million venture capital round led by Madrona Venture Group.

It would have taken us much longer than three moths to accomplish this without TechStars.

Now, here’s the key question: Was it worth giving up 6 percent of our equity?  I lobbied (and failed) for the Seattle teams to give an additional two percent back to the mentors in the form of a “kid’s college fund.”

That should give you a sense of how valuable I found in the program.  If you’ve got this startup thing all figured out and you don’t need any help, don’t apply.  ‘Nuff said.

The early application deadline for TechStars Seattle was Friday and because of this, I (along with many other alumni) have had many inbound requests from entrepreneurs asking: “How can I get in to TechStars?”

Here are my tips:

Focus on Getting Help, Not Getting In

Getting into TechStars may be a top priority right now (I can definitely relate). But focus outreach on answering the question: “How can the alumni/mentors help me grow my business?” rather than just “How can the alumni/mentors help me get into TechStars?”

This approach will lead to the best outcome.  All startups are in need of lot of help.  Seek out the people from the TechStars community that can help with your most important issues.  This is really what TechStars is all about and you can start seeing benefits from the program today before it even starts.

This will help your business grow AND give you the best chances of getting into the program   Imagine if by the time they have to make the decisions, many of the mentors and alumni are already mentoring you and helping you grow your business.

That would be the ideal situation for you because: 1) This will give you the best chances of them not being able to say “no” 2) If they do so no, at least you extracted the most possible value from the mentors and alumni during the application process.

Follow this process:

1. Identify something specific you need help with, and identify people in the TechStars community that have domain expertise in this area.

Let’s say you have some specific questions around marketing your product to non-profits.  Find TechStars mentors and alumni that have specific experience with that.  Dan Todd for example is a mentor in Seattle and he ran Global Mojo (which marketed to NPOs).

2. Work your network to get an intro to this person.

LinkedIn’s common connection graph is great for this.  If it’s an alumnus, you may be able to cold email them.  I don’t recommend cold emailing mentors.

Learn How to Use Mentor’s Time Efficiently

This skill is crucial to being successful in TechStars, so start demonstrating your ability to do this now.

Aaron Bird

When you sit down (or hop on a call) with this super busy person, the first thing they will say is: “How can I help?”

Make sure you have specific things you want help with that are in their domain expertise.  This will ensure your conversation is the most productive for both of you.

If your answer is: “Can you help me get into TS?” — it won’t go all that well.  If you have a really good set of questions that are facing your business right now and they are able to help you with them, you both will have extracted the maximum about of value from the conversation.

Remember that they have a WEALTH of experience and their ENTIRE goal of being a TechStars mentor is to leverage their experience to help companies like yours.

If you help them reach that goal by bringing well thought out issues to them, you will stand out.  This also shows that you are good at using the mentors’ precious time to maximize a positive outcome for both of you.  These are the type of companies they want to accept into TechStars , because they will get the most out of the program.

Remember to be aggressive, but also be respective of people’s time.  I hope this helps, feel free to ask me any additional questions in the comments.

Aaron Bird is the founder and CEO of Bizible, a Seattle based marketing analytics company helping businesses and marketers close the loop between online marketing and “offline” sales.  He’s a 2012 graduate of TechStars. Contact him via emaillinkedinGoogle+twitter, or his blog.

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