PillPack (Techstars Class 22) Acquired by Amazon

On the same day that PillPack founders TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen started in the Techstars Boston 2013 class, they also formally started the company. On that day, they hadn’t yet raised the $4 million they would take in during the 3-month mentorship-driven  accelerator program or the $117 million as they jumped from Series A, Series B, Series C, to Series D. They weren’t on Forbes 30-Under-30 list. They didn’t have pharmacy licenses in all 50 states.

They certainly hadn’t been bought by Amazon for almost $1 billion.

Neither they nor we knew that any of these things were going to happen–but we had a feeling they might. That’s why we bet on them. On the day that TJ and Elliot started PillPack and joined Techstars, we knew they had a great team and they were passionate about a great idea. From that day on, they also had Techstars’ engaged mentors and our worldwide network dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed.

In the Techstars announcement of that Boston 2013 class, the description for PillPack is just two words long: “Pharmacy Simplified.” Today, if you google PillPack, along with all the articles announcing and analyzing the acquisition, you’ll still see those two words. This is a company that always knew its mission, and was laser-focused on helping people with a timeless problem. PillPack lets users order their medications online, and receive them in pre-made doses. Users love the company for exactly that simplicity, which shows up in the clean design and pleasing customer experience.

Amazon also loves them for these same reasons: “PillPack’s visionary team has a combination of deep pharmacy experience and a focus on technology,” says Jeff Wilke, Amazon CEO Worldwide Consumer. “PillPack is meaningfully improving its customers’ lives, and we want to help them continue making it easy for people to save time, simplify their lives, and feel healthier. We’re excited to see what we can do together on behalf of customers over time.”

From day one to a nearly billion dollar acquisition, the Techstars network is here to help entrepreneurs–like TJ and Elliot–succeed.

Techstars Alumni Plated Acquired by Albertsons

It was 2013, I was running the Techstars NYC program and was on the lookout for great founders to accept into the next class.

I remember meeting Nick and Josh in an interview for the Techstars accelerator program in New York in 2013. I walked away thinking, “Wow, these are two driven entrepreneurs, that are also dear friends that want to change the way we eat. They have a big idea, they have respect for each other, and they have a tremendous ability to execute. I’m sold. Let’s get them into the program.”

That was four years ago. When they started at Techstars, they had a small refrigerated warehouse and a handful of employees. They barely had any customers yet, but they did have a big vision of what this could be. And four years later, they have sold Plated to Albertsons.

That 2013 NYC class has developed into a great one, with companies like Bluecore, Sketchfab, Jukely, Dash, WeeSpring, Faithstreet, Placemeter and more. Collectively the class has raised over $131M, not including this major acquisition. We worked hard together, we played hard together – and while we can’t take any credit for all the hard work that Plated has done the last four years, we were all part of that initial Plated journey.  

So to Nick, Josh and the entire Plated team – from your entire Techstars family – we salute you. Congratulations on a well-deserved outcome. And to the rest of the companies in that 2013 NYC class – who’s next?!?! Don’t make me throw ping pong balls at you!

Techstars + UP Global: One Year Later

It was just a year ago that Techstars acquired UP Global and its programs, Startup Weekend, Startup Week, Startup Next and Startup Digest.

When we made this announcement, our intention was to leverage each other’s areas of expertise and combine resources to provide more sustainable support for startup communities and entrepreneurs around the world.

The first year for us was one focused primarily on observation and listening. We onboarded and integrated the incredibly talented UP Global team. We talked to a lot of you about what was working and what you’d like to see improved.

We’ve learned so much from this experience. It went better than we expected, it was harder than we thought, and we are still working hard. Startup Program Community Leaders continued their powerful work by putting on over a thousand events in more than 600 cities last year. We launched our nonprofit, the Techstars Foundation, as well as adding eight new accelerator programs bringing us to a total of 22 worldwide.

Now is the year of action and improvement.

We’ve aligned global summits with our annual founder conferences (FounderCon) in the US and Europe, updated startup program websites, increased transparency, and are connecting Community Leaders to the Techstars network.  

We are working to improve communication as well as to build better connections and tools for Community Leaders and the communities they serve.

We are still on a mission to build a world where entrepreneurs can find like-minded individuals who share a passion and community for entrepreneurship. We’re moving into a new phase to bring even more value and resources to the Entrepreneur’s Journey across our Startup Programs and Accelerator Programs.

Thanks to everyone who’s been a part of this so far. Stay tuned for more!

Techstars Acquires UP Global Including Startup Weekend and Other Programs


Today we are excited to announce that Techstars has acquired UP Global, including the organization’s Startup Weekend, Startup Week, Startup Next and Startup Digest programs.

Techstars and UP Global have a long-standing relationship dating back to 2007 when the idea for Startup Weekend was born out of the Techstars basement in Boulder, CO.  Startup Weekend was created as a community event for the first Techstars class to get to know each other — we’ve always had a close relationship and share a similar vision of empowering entrepreneurs worldwide.

Together, we’ve built programs and resources for every stage of the entrepreneurial journey – from community catalysts who are focused on early stage grassroots community development to entrepreneurs looking for more formal opportunities that provide education, a powerful mentor network, acceleration, funding and beyond.

All UP Global programs will now become part of Techstars but will remain open and independent in their execution at a community level. The programs will continue to run as they do now, and we expect additional expansion of these programs, as well as our existing accelerator programs, in the future. We’re excited that Google for Entrepreneurs will continue to partner with us by powering the Startup Weekend and Startup Next programs. Furthermore, effective immediately, fees previously associated with Startup Next, UP Global’s pre-accelerator program, have been eliminated – enabling more entrepreneurs to take advantage of that resource to help them scale.

By joining forces with UP Global, Techstars can continue to accelerate the pace of innovation by strengthening the path for entrepreneurs, providing better support for entrepreneurial communities, and helping to grow the worldwide entrepreneurial ecosystem. We will also continue to collaborate with other accelerators in the UP Global network, as we believe this will benefit all startups, not just those that are part of Techstars.

We are excited about the newly merged organization and the injection of top talent. Marc Nager, CEO of UP Global, will continue in his role as leader of the UP Community as Chief Community Officer. Marc will continue to lead most UP employees, with other core functions (marketing, IT, finance) combining teams.

The combined organization is global in reach, diverse in makeup, broad in expertise, and rich in startup experience. We are stronger together.

With today’s announcement, the entire team at UP Global will be joining Techstars and will continue supporting the community so that we can remain focused on managing and expanding our existing accelerator programs. Techstars will remain the high quality network and programs we know and love today.

We are committed to the lifelong impact that entrepreneurs have on the world, no matter where they choose to live. We believe this partnership is great news for entrepreneurs everywhere. Together, we will leverage each other’s areas of expertise and combine resources to provide more sustainable support for communities and the entrepreneurs within those communities.

To everyone in the UP Global Community — welcome to the Techstars family! Techstars is for life. We are proud to be joining forces with you and look forward to working together towards our combined vision of creating the world’s first truly global ecosystem for entrepreneurs to bring new technologies to market.

For more details, here is a link to UP’s announcement.

To learn more about UP Global’s 1,800 worldwide events, check out their impact report.

If you have questions about TS+UP, please visit http://www.whaTSUP.community/ for FAQs and more information.

Acquisition is not a business model, is it?

We’ve got 6 or 7 (depending upon how you count them) would-be consumer internet companies at Techstars this summer. Some will morph and become something else, so who knows what the final count will be. The others are making on-demand applications for businesses. The latter often get made fun of by the former. I defend the B2B guys, of course, having come mostly from that ilk.

With the consumer web startups, most of them started the summer thinking about advertising (selling, hosting, or building inventory) as their business model. And they got called out on it, perhaps correctly, right away. Especially those for whom this was a default answer more than a real answer. Then again, perhaps some of them were thinking about the 16 billion dollars spent for online advertising last year. That money is going somewhere.

Now before we get too deep into the whole business model discussion, let me be clear. By this, I mean simply “how they will make money.”

In week one at Techstars, Brad Feld explained that there really are no new business models on the internet. He cited “advertising” and “getting paid for your software one way or another” as the only business models that have ever existed on the internet, and the only ones that ever will. Keep in mind that we’re talking here about companies that have only internet based products, not those that really sell “goods” via e-commerce or simply exist to extend their brand onto the Internet.

A few hands went up to ask about the fact that many companies that don’t have “business models” (and/or have never made much money) have recently been acquired. Just build something people will like, and you’re all set, right? The rest will take care of itself. I suppose – but you had better build something people love instead. Either lots and lots of people, or at least one acquisition hungry company.

After being pressed on this some in the past, I now like to say that you better build something people will love and flock to in droves, or you had better build something people will pay for. It’s best if you can do both, of course.

It’s completely possible that some of these startups will build something really compelling, never make any money beyond a trickle of advertising dollars, and yet still have a successful exit in a strategic acquisition.

But I’m not counting on it. Hopefully, neither are they.

While “attempted acquisition” technically fits my description of a business model (“make money”), the problems with this approach are apparent. First, people are overly influenced by a combination of The Law of Truly Large Numbers and the massive publicity associated with notable exits that match their ideal scenario. Put another way, you are in reality much more likely to actually be acquired if you are building value (i.e. “making money”) because it’s simpler math for a larger company with a strategic stake in what you’re doing. As nice as it looks, in the universe of exits viewed one at a time, YouTube is statistically insignificant.

So, maybe you could argue that “attempted acquisition” is a business model, especially if you understand the risks. It’s not an impossible feat, certainly. I have friends and acquaintances that have done it with enormous success. But almost none of them set out with this plan and instead were just trying to make something hugely popular. And they did it. But armies of entrepreneurs who you’ve never heard of and some you have, many of whom are just as smart as you, tried and failed.

So no, acquisition isn’t a sensible business model. More accurately, it’s a wish.