Company Updates

Surf’s Up! The TechStars Journey

By Michael Keoni Defranco

I love surfing. I may not be the best because of my lack of access to the ocean living in NYC but my blood is from the native soils of Hawai’i and wave riding runs through my veins.  Surfing is such a large part of where I come from, that in ancient Hawaiian times, a surfing competition between two rival chiefs could end long and bloody wars once and for all.

There is a sense of calm you experience as you patiently bob in the water- waiting for the perfect wave.  Many times a great wave comes through and you think “this is it” but just over the horizon, in your soul, you feel the next one coming is going to be bigger.  It comes and just as you begin paddling out, you take one last look over the horizon and in your heart of hearts know and feel that the following wave is going to be the monster of the day.  You use the knowledge of the ocean you’ve developed through a combination of personal experiences, mentorship and advice you’ve received along the way.  Advice is never 100% correct- but when it comes from the right place- the heart- there is always something valuable you can extract from the conversation.

While you were waiting for the perfect wave, you watched as others around you paddled out on that first wave.  But you passed.  You also passed on the second wave as many more took it.  But now- all your training surfaces within, you take all your personal knowledge and advice you’ve been given, and most importantly- have faith that this is in fact the one, and you’re off.  You paddle up on the crest, close your eyes and stand.  You rock this wave, you cut it and ride through the tube- you kill it! When you finally hit the water you feel a sense of relief that you listened and absorbed knowledge from those around you but ultimately trusted your gut.

As David Cohen would say- “In TechStars, it’s your company.”  It is you who picks the wave to ride.

The mentorship program in TechStars is a lot like waiting patiently for the perfect wave.  You have the unbelievable opportunity to meet hundreds of the world’s most qualified CEOs, CTOs, investors and entrepreneurs – all with a broad range of knowledge to share.  In the first month of the program, you sit down with each of these mentors for 30 mins.  You experience “Mentorship Dating,” where TS founders and TS mentors spend time on your product, business, scaling, and much, much more.  If your conversation goes well, you follow up out of office—but the onus is on you.  A few days into this, you start experiencing what is referred to as “Mentor Whiplash”.  Simply put, everyone has a different opinion on how you should run your company and in which directions you should take it.  It’s incredible to learn from so many talented individuals, but it can be exhausting and confusing at times. No one has sat in your shoes and no one has spent days, weekends and nights making critical decisions about your product.  They haven’t been in the room with your clients and they don’t live and breathe your vision.  Everyone is telling you which wave to ride and how to ride it.  One can’t get good at surfing without a combination of practice and advice.  But in the end, you are the one who picks which wave you are going to ride.  You need to build that confidence.

You need to “OWN your space” as David Tisch would say.

This is what TechStars taught me; something that was already in my blood.  They just brought it out of me and empowered the entrepreneur within.  And they have this effect on each and every TS founder I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.  They help you find yourself.  They help you find the soul of your company and teach you how to share it with others (how to pitch with passion, conviction and long term vision), and maintain that soul (improving the way you operate your company).  These skills are lifelong and priceless.

My 100 days in TS completely transformed my personal and professional life forever.  It gives you the confidence to believe in your vision and convince those around you not only why your company is going to be massive, but why you’re the right person to build it.

They create the perfect storm- it’s your job to keep your ship afloat. Weather the storm and ride that monster that curls for miles.  With a smile on your face : )



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