EQ for Entrepreneurs: Why the Most Valuable Investment You Can Make is in Yourself

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

Every day, it seems, there’s a new headline about a tech founder resigning from his or her own company after some kind of emotional blowup or major management bungle. The fact is, trying to scale oneself in order to keep up with a growing company is one of the hardest journeys anyone can take. It’s not surprising that under this kind of pressure, many entrepreneurs begin to crack. The job of going from founder to CEO of a rapidly growing company requires you to grow up- in public – and demands a massive investment in building your own emotional intelligence in order to do that.  

Research suggests that EQ may in fact be TWICE as important to business success as general intelligence, or IQ. In the startup community and in particular the tech world, we have developed a culture that values hard skills. Ironically, the soft skills are probably harder to train for and more important than the hard skills. We’ve just released a Techstars workshop I developed as a free online mini-course looking at EQ. This new unit of the amazing Techstars Toolkit focuses on tools you can incorporate immediately to access your own emotional intelligence and build this essential skillset. 

So what exactly is EQ? 

We define EI or EQ as the ability to:

  • Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions
  • Recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others

In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and learning how to manage those emotions – both our own and others – especially when we are under pressure.

We can look at EQ in four quadrants. This definition of EQ is based on academic research and popularized by researcher and author Daniel Goleman.  

Self awareness is having an accurate understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses, your core values, and your triggers. What are the things that you are great at and the areas you are working on? What really motivates you – what’s your why? And maybe most difficult, what are the things that set you off and get you into a spiral where you are acting on emotion rather than logic? Being self-aware means understanding all of this. 

Self management includes staying calm and positive in a crisis, and being able to recognize and detach from feelings rather than letting them drive behavior. Good self-management allows us to focus under pressure and be adaptable, to be in a state of continuous improvement and to set high goals and reach for them.  

Social awareness starts with empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The next level of social awareness is reading the room – seeing the overall mood and the dynamics between people. It doesn’t take a big leap to understand how that might help you do everything from make more sales of your product to raise money more effectively.  

Then in the fourth quadrant we have social skills – which includes everything from being able to give and accept feedback, to being able to build and inspire trust, the ability to use your understanding of someone’s perspective to influence their opinion on something, and the ability to be an inspiring leader.  

Many investors, myself included, ask a question like is this someone I would be excited to work for? before making an investment. That question goes directly to EQ and in particular this fourth quadrant of social skills. 

What we are really trying to do in building EQ is to connect the two parts of our brain so they can work together. Our feeling brains are wired to unconsciously keep us safe from harm. A lot of the actions we take are driven by impulses that are deep wired and that we may not fully understand. 

As a leader you’ll want to become fluent in EQ so you can use all the tools to be a better leader, build better teams and companies, and have a positive impact on those around you. Bonus, your partner and even your dog will like you better.

I developed this material with my colleague and friend Robyn Ward, who coaches entrepreneurs and high growth management teams at Founder Forward. Robyn and I are both certified executive coaches and share a mission to help entrepreneurs become the best version of themselves. I’d love your feedback on this new resource so feel free to drop me a note here on Linkedin if you check it out!  Want to work with me on your startup? Applications for Techstars LA 2020 open on January 6.

Leaning in to a Strong SoCal Startup Scene: Techstars LA Preps for Year Four

Now that we’ve swept up the tinsel from our Techstars LA holiday party and tacked our resolutions to the wall, we are excited to announce that applications for Techstars LA are OPEN for 2020!  We are entering year four of Techstars LA with a lot of momentum. Over the past three years, we’ve invested in 30 companies – 24 of which are based right here in Los Angeles and including local standouts such as Slingshot Aerospace, Blue Fever, Stackin, Fernish, PRZM, Liquid, Dash Systems and Finli.  

And what a few years it has been in LA!  Anchored by recent exits by companies such as Dollar Shave Club, Snap, Cylance, Beyond Meat and now Honey, the LA venture ecosystem is healthy and growing.  Capital is flowing into LA, including a record number of new LA venture funds.  Techstars itself has a big footprint here with over 80 local alumni companies (many with open jobs).  It’s an amazing place to live and significantly more affordable than the other big markets, at least for now.  

But the three things that are most distinctive about Los Angeles are: 

    • The inclusive community that we are working to build in LA.  We know that we need to build a diverse tech community that includes and benefits all Angelenos.  Through initiatives like PledgeLA, the tech community is working as one to make this happen.
    • The culture here is imbued with Givefirst – people genuinely want to help and support each other.  There’s no sense that in order for me to win, you have to lose. That goes for founders, investors, everyone.  Visitors from other places often comment that people here don’t seem as jaded – they’ll show up for events, as an example.  They’ll take a meeting with someone who emails them out of the blue. It’s an open culture.
    • The incredible range of companies being built.  From consumer-focused standouts to deep tech companies, from the world’s best szechuan chili sauce startup to a logistics company that drops your packages out of a plane, LA’s startups have something for everyone.

So what are we looking for in 2020?  I’ve written before about what makes a strong founding team, and this is the most important factor when we are interviewing for Techstars LA.  We look for rapid learning, coachability, focus, grit, humor and diversity of thought. Techstars LA has not only backed some great local companies, we’ve invested in a diverse set of founders and teams, and this is one of the pillars or our approach.  Companies with diverse teams not only have a wider variety of perspectives but they also statistically outperform other teams. Diversity is a good business practice and we look for teams that embrace that philosophy.  You tend to get a wider range of ideas from people of different experiences and backgrounds. A company with people from different backgrounds, ages, genders, and perspectives is going to be more successful over the long run than a homogeneous team. 

On the idea side, we are looking for transformational ideas, not incremental improvements. While your company doesn’t have to be big, your vision for the future does.  If you are working on a moonshot idea, we’d love to hear it. What excites us right now: 

    • the consumerization of education and healthcare
    • micromobility and smart cities
    • sustainability and climate change solutions

Some continuing themes we’ve invested in before and are still excited about: 

Read about our companies and mentors here.  Ready to apply?  Go for it.  We look forward to meeting you. 

Announcing the Class of Techstars LA 2019

I’m beyond excited to share the ten companies that will be part of the third Techstars Los Angeles Accelerator—the class of 2019—which kicks off today and concludes with a Demo Day on October 15, 2019.  

Continuing our LA ecosystem investment focus, eight of the ten companies selected for this year’s class are based in the greater LA area.  During our selection process, we met with hundreds of Southern California based startups and were incredibly impressed by the quality of the companies we spoke with. The momentum of our local SoCal ecosystem is really outstanding.  

Our 10 companies are solving for issues across a variety of categories with five companies touching the payments or financial transaction space, a trust-based social network for women, the leading P2P motorcycle sharing marketplace, a mental health platform for kids, and the creator of delicious Sichuan chili crisp. Oh, and a team that drops packages out of planes so you can get your chili crisp in remote Alaska.  

The Techstars LA 2019 selected class also represents our commitment to investing in diverse teams, with 80% of the companies being led by founders who come from underrepresented communities, including six female CEOs.

As in past years we have founders from both USC and UCLA,  and companies that have graduated from local programs Grid110 and Make in LA.  Particular thanks to mentors and investors who referred companies we’ve accepted this year: Elaine Russell, David Waxman, Ivan Nikkhoo, Miki Reynolds and Techstars Boston Managing Director Clement Cazalot.  

The ten new companies are joining the 20 Techstars LA alums who have gone on to cross meaningful growth milestones and attract significant follow on capital—with all 20 companies in the portfolio raising additional capital post-program, a total of $65mm raised.  

Thank you to our sponsors, partners, mentors, and Techstars alumni who help to make Techstars LA successful. Please join me in welcoming the Techstars LA Class of 2019!


AlgoPay is transforming financial access in the Middle East with the region’s first P2P transfer network designed for the unbanked.


DASH Systems

DASH Systems is an aerial logistics company directly connecting cargo airplanes to customers by landing the package not the airplane.



Fabrica is on a mission to make buying and selling real estate easy by combining cutting edge technology with established legal tools to create solutions that empower property owners. 


findSisterhood Inc.

findSisterhood is an anonymous social network for people identifying as women to share stories and ask questions, creating a safe and judgement-free space. 



Finli empowers friends and family to contribute directly to child-related expenses like tuition, after-school care, and camp with ease and transparency. 


Fly by Jing

Bringing diversity to the landscape of healthy eating in America by making deeply flavorful, all-natural Chinese food products convenient and accessible to all.  


Liquid, Inc.

Liquid reimagines traditional HR and finance software solutions for the liquid workforce.  Use Liquid to streamline the way you onboard, manage, and pay freelancers, contractors, and vendors. 



LunarCRUSH leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze cryptocurrency-focused social trends, search behaviors, and news to deliver real-time insights to investors. 



Manatee empowers families raising children with behavioral or developmental disorders to democratize mental health care and streamline communication. Manatee uses AI and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) methods to gamify treatment and track progress.   


Riders Share

The first U.S. peer-to-peer motorcycle rental and sharing marketplace.  


Our Techstars LA 2019 Vision

As we kick off the third year of Techstars LA, I’ve been excited to see the continued growth and maturation of LA’s tech ecosystem. According to Crunchbase, venture dollars invested in LA in 2018 topped $6B.  The overall tech industry is booming, with tech employment in the area growing 15% in 2017, and many large foundational tech companies signing big new leases.  Some are even talking about LA’s “second mover advantage” as it poises to become the new Silicon Valley.  

The Techstars community here is growing along with the overall community, with over 75 companies and hundreds of active alumni and mentors.  Since the launch of the LA program two years ago, local program alumni have seen success in securing additional capital, with 20 companies raising a total of more than $60 million.  We’re planning to build on the program’s great track record in 2019 across a wide swath of verticals.

What Interests Us In 2019

E-commerce and retail: The way we buy everything from staples to furniture to clothes is rapidly transforming. We’re ordering replenishables online instead of picking them up at the store, powered by companies like PRZM (Techstars LA 2018).  We’re expanding the applications of last-mile delivery networks well beyond food, with the help of companies like Shipsi (Techstars LA 2018). We’re seeing a vending machine revolution with companies like PopCom (Techstars LA 2017)  We’re buying from digitally native fashion brands like Blackstock & Weber (Techstars LA 2018) rather than incumbents. And in some cases, we don’t even want to own things anymore—as the rapid growth of Techstars LA 2018 alum Fernish has demonstrated.  LA is at the center of this commerce revolution: in Q4 2018 in LA, e-commerce was the top category in announced seed investments. We’re looking for other companies disrupting how and what we buy to join Techstars LA in 2019.  

AI: LA is home to a host of interesting AI startups working on everything from mobility and healthcare to enterprise decision making and happiness. Blue Fever (Techstars LA 2017) is creating an AI BFF that communicates via text and video message.   DirecTech Labs  (Techstars LA 2017) uses AI to increase revenue for gig economy workers and the companies who employ them. Slingshot Aerospace (Techstars LA 2017) applies AI and computer vision to satellite data for defense and security clients. Trellis (Techstars LA 2018) uses AI to give trial lawyers an advantage in court and Netcloak (Techstars LA 2018) is helping enterprises with sensitive data prevent spear phishing attacks. Maslo (Techstars LA 2017) is working on a moonshot idea—building the first universal emotionally intelligent AI.  

Media: Los Angeles is the center for innovation in how we create and consume content—from film and television to gaming and social media. Venice company Heartbeat (Techstars LA 2017) has created the leading platform connecting brands with a community of over 250,000 brand ambassadors in social media. Catalog (Techstars LA 2018) is helping DTC brands and small businesses produce studio quality online content at a fraction of the cost. In 2017, we backed mixed reality startup Liv.tv (Techstars LA 2017), a platform for VR content creators to connect with and monetize their audiences. Stackin (Techstars LA 2017) has employed its media company DNA to help hundreds of thousands of millenials invest their money more wisely—or just start investing.  And it may not be a media company, but as the market-leading booking platform for barber shops, the Cut (Techstars LA 2018) has serious Instagram game.  

Impact: As Mayor Garcetti commented last year, in Los Angeles “everyone is playing a role in making us the capital of creativity, culture, and a more equal and just future.”  That’s true of Techstars LA alumni Avisare (Techstars LA 2017), an end to end managed marketplace for government procurement, with the mission of leveling the playing field for small businesses. Avisare is already having an impact in Los Angeles and has some exciting announcements for this year.  And Techstars LA 2018 alum Relovv is leading a reuse revolution on college campuses, with its clothing resale marketplace.  We’re looking for founders with a vision to make the world better; there is no better place than Los Angeles for big dreamers.  

Food: The last mile delivery revolution has changed the restaurant business more than any other category, and there’s a ton of innovation in Los Angeles in this area. In the Techstars world, Best Food Trucks (Techstars LA 2018) is connecting hungry office workers with fresh lunches, Ordermark (Techstars Boulder 2018) is streamlining mobile ordering for restaurants, and Playfull (Techstars LA 2017) is gamifying growth for fast casual restaurants.  We know there is more great food tech out there—and we’re feeling hungry.  

Other focus areas we are looking to support this year are digital health (including femtech), future of work, edtec,h and fintech.  As a city accelerator program, we are sector agnostic and open minded.

What Else We’re Looking For

Team:  I’ve written before about what makes a strong founding team, and this is the most important criterion when we are interviewing for Techstars LA.  

Diversity: Companies with diverse teams not only have a wider variety of perspectives but they also statistically outperform other teams. Diversity is a good business practice and we look for teams that embrace that idea. As a founding member of PledgeLA, Techstars is committed to having real impact in the companies we back and the larger community. Of the 20 companies Techstars LA has backed so far, 10 have female founders and 10 have CEOs from historically underrepresented group.  We’re excited to continue to add strong diverse teams to this alumni pool.

Innovation: We are looking for transformational ideas, not incremental improvements. If you are working on a moonshot idea, we’d love to hear it.  

Find Out More

Think you might want to be part of what we are building in LA?  Request office hours, join us for a Meet and Greet. or learn more about the program. If you’re ready, apply to Techstars LA now.

Announcing the Class of Techstars LA 2018

We are thrilled to announce Techstars Class 139 – the ten companies that will be joining Techstars LA for the 2018 program, which kicks off today and concludes in October.  

The new class will follow in the footsteps of the Techstars LA class of 2017, which raised a collective $13mm following Techstars and have created over 50 new jobs in the LA area.  2017 alums include local companies Stackin, Slingshot Aerospace, Directech Labs, Heartbeat, Playfull, Blue Fever and Avisare, as well as SF based Liv and Columbus based PopCom.  

Continuing our LA ecosystem investment focus, eight of the ten 2018 companies selected are based in the greater LA area.  We’ve been impressed by the breadth and depth of talent in the thriving local startup ecosystem. All told, we met with over 400 companies, over half of them local to southern California.

In furtherance of our commitment to investing in diverse teams, 60% of the companies in the 2018 class are led by CEOs from underrepresented communities.  At the company level, every company in the class has women or other underrepresented individuals on the team. Business model themes are marketplace, e-commerce and B2B SaaS, and these companies are building businesses in sectors from digital security to handmade men’s shoes.  

While their businesses and backgrounds are diverse, what we looked for in the founders was a common set of traits: growth mindset, determination, humility, and passion.  These are leaders that have inspired us to share their vision and we are thrilled to have the opportunity to help them accelerate. We’re confident these founders will embrace the program theme of “personal growth drives company growth” and look forward to digging in with them and our amazing mentor pool.  

We received a large number of referrals this year and would like to thank Kara Weber, Gabe Greenbaum, Tami Holzman, Alex Rubalcava, Jenny Fielding, Devin Dixon and Kara Dake for referring companies that will be joining Techstars.  We’d also like to thank all the Techstars alumni, particularly the Techstars LA class of 2017, for being great ambassadors and supporters of the program. Many others contributed to our recruiting process and we are very grateful to you all.

And here are the companies of Techstars LA 2018!  

Best Food Trucks

Best Food Trucks is reinventing the $30B office lunch market with a platform for offices to book & order ahead online from food trucks and mobile vendors.

Blackstock & Weber

Blackstock & Weber is reinventing the men’s footwear shopping experience. B&W offers English made, classic styles that every man needs in his wardrobe at honest prices.


Fernish is a furniture subscription service that creates a flexible and inspired home experience for an increasingly mobile society.


NetCloak is the platform that protects the human endpoint by finding and securing high risk, publicly accessible personal data.


PRZM is an intelligent CRM for direct-to-consumer brands, powered by machine learning. E.g., PRZM Smart Replenishment™—a powerful alternative to subscription—is predictive, frictionless, and more delightful for consumers, unlocking a $100B opportunity for brands.


Relovv is the new, sustainable fashion marketplace that matches buyers and sellers like a dating app to get more items sold and show you the items you’ll really love. #ReduceReuseRelovv. Launching in August, you can join the waiting list on relovv.com for a special gift.


Shipsi enables brands and retailers to unlock instant gratification for their consumers by providing an option at checkout for shoppers to receive merchandise within minutes.

the Cut

With over 1.5mm appointments booked, the Cut is the leading CRM tool and men’s grooming marketplace nationwide connecting barbers with their clients.  

Trellis Research

Trellis arms attorneys with the intel they need to win motions and win cases by unlocking decades of court records with artificial intelligence and machine learning.  See how judges actually think with Trellis.

Unity Influence

As one of the fastest growing content startups, Unity Influence offers e-commerce businesses a scalable process to produce customized marketing photos and videos at affordable prices.


Global Applications for the Techstars Worldwide Network are Now Open!

There’s an often-repeated stat that 90 percent of startups fail. Not sure the source is, but no doubt that it scares entrepreneurs. At Techstars, we see the reverse in our accelerator portfolio – 90 percent of our startups are active or have successfully exited. Which statistic reflects your business? If you’re ready to succeed, take the next step and apply now to the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Our mentorship-driven accelerator programs invest in founders to help them do more faster. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,274 companies grow and raise over $4.4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $11.4 billion. Now, we are excited to start the search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!

We are reaching new regions and verticals around the world with our newest mentorship-driven accelerator programs. Applications are opening for five new programs:

Take the next step in your journey and apply to join the Techstars worldwide network with more than 10,000 mentors, partners, investors and founders.

This is more than a three month program, the Techstars worldwide network is for life. Listen to stories about our founders from Techstars alumni companies like SendGrid, ClassPass, and DigitalOcean.

Application deadline is April 8, 2018 for most programs. We will be announcing details for information sessions and online events where you can connect with Techstars founders and team, as well as mentors who have the experience and proven track record to help you succeed. Be on the lookout for more details soon!

When you apply, you can choose from any of the following locations and verticals:

For tips and resources on the application process, check out our Application Toolkit.

Techstars Roadshow: Los Angeles

Please join local and visiting Techstars Managing Directors from Techstars LA, Techstars Retail, Techstars Impact, Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, and founders on February 20th for an evening of networking and more. We’re inviting a group of successful Techstars alumni companies to share their stories and advice with fellow entrepreneurs and anyone considering an accelerator program. Drinks and light bites will be provided. NOTE: This event is likely to sell out. Please RSVP to reserve your spot.

Techstars Programs Participating:

Techstars LA
Techstars Retail 
Techstars Impact
Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars

Meet Techstars Alums from companies including:

Christine Carrillo, Joany

Sky Kelley, Avisare

Dan Altman, Naritiv

Rahul Sidhu, Spidrtech 

What you can expect:

6:30 – Doors Open
6:45 – Founder Panel 
7:15 – Hear from Techstars Managing Directors
7:20 – Networking, Drinks and Appetizers

More info on Techstars:

Are you ready to accelerate your company? We currently have applications open for Techstars Mentorship-Driven Accelerator programs around the world. At Techstars, we are on a mission to help entrepreneurs succeed. Over the past 10 years we have helped over 1,200 companies grow and raise over $4 billion in funding, with a market cap of $10 billion. Now we’re on a search for the next wave of companies to join our worldwide network!

The Magic of Techstars: Maslo’s Journey Through the LA Accelerator

I’m nervous. Public speaking is listed as a top fear among the vast majority of the world, right next to spiders and heights. Good thing there are no spiders around, right?

Standing on stage at the El Rey theater I look out across the venue to see Anna Barber, Managing Director for the Techstars LA program, along with the rest of the founders eagerly awaiting a turn to pitch their startup. We’re at dress rehearsal working out the final kinks before demo day, an event where top venture capitalists will come to see what the inaugural LA class has to offer. In typical Ross fashion, I keep my nerves at bay by being silly.

Hi, I’m Matt Damon… and I’m here to talk about cats.

People laugh, though I get an unamused stare back from Anna indicating that I should stay focused and get through my pitch. I start again, this time for real.

Our industry builds technology for humans, but maybe we forget what that means sometimes.

I forget my next line…

I’ve had my fare share of ups and downs since leaving Google. But Techstars is the best decision we made to give Maslo a proper start. The model for the accelerator is simple: in exchange for six percent of your company, they give you the best resources in the world to help your business start and succeed. Over the entrance, a big neon sign shines “Give First” — and we’d soon come to understand just how much Techstars lives by this principal.

The awesome Techstars LA staff: Jose, Robert, Anna, Ethan, and Olivia.

Give First is the belief that guides the Techstars community in an effort to give startups hands on mentorship from founders, partners, investors, and business leaders, with no specific expectations in return. And their numbers are compelling. In the 10 years Techstars has been around they’ve guided founders to raise more than four-billion-dollars in venture capital, helping entrepreneurs solve important problems.

I’m no stranger to Techstars. As a lead at Sphero, I had the opportunity to learn alongside cofounders Adam and Ian as they went through the Disney Accelerator. The partnership was a success. The Disney connection allowed Sphero to launch more than eight Disney robots, most notably the quirky BB-8 Droid from Star Wars. That opportunity let me see first hand how powerful the experience could be, so I was eager to repeat again, albeit in a much more central fashion as the cofounder of Maslo.

Sphero founders pitch at Techstars Boulder demo day in 2010. That’s me in the blue shirt with a photobomb.

Now, in the LA program, we have an endless amount of work to do and things to learn. Weekends are seen as optional work days where Cristina Poindexter and I dedicate most of our time building a business. We work late into the night as regulars of the ‘late night crew’ — a group of the founders whose interests in their companies cross that line between work and life.

It was in these hours when Cristina discovered my various voice accents, which were often fueled by the 5 hour energy drinks I’d consume. For the record, she charted 7 distinct voices. And I learned that Cristina needed to be outside in nature on a daily basis, even if it was short walks around the Techstars office where she’d return with flowers and leaves I’d never noticed before in Los Angeles.

Hey, can I tell you about my startup?

Starting a business is tough. You become painfully aware of everything you’re bad at. Which is why a cofounder is a must. We keep each other accountable and have a lot of fun in the process — growing and learning. Some of the most valuable lessons were the ones that come from time spent with patient mentors. Mentor feedback is always paradoxical, but memorable, like when Nicole Glaros said to get curious the first week of the program.

As the youngest company in the program, we had a lot of catching up to do. We came with a basic prototype and a big idea. Everything else was built from scratch. In the span of three months, the vision grew and so did our team. The team came from amazing professional backgrounds like Disney, Google, Apple, Sphero, and Vimeo, but more than the logos on our resume was the collective curiosity and love for the creative process. Great ideas are nothing unless you can bring a team together.

Even then, dreams don’t work unless you do.

The founders of Maslo at Techstars LA demo day rehearsal.

I’m on stage searching for my next line and glance over to Cristina who looks at me with a hint of encouragement. I shift my gaze back to the room full of founders and notice them looking on with reassurance. I remember my line.

What if technology could function as we do — with an understanding of emotions, social skills, and psychology?

As I finish the pitch and walk off stage, I feel an intense gratitude come over me. Tomorrow we’ll face an endless amount of struggles that will test us in ways we can never imagine. However, it’s important that we keep pushing. It’s been difficult, but being surrounded by amazing people — mentors, founders, and staff — made the long days feel short and turned three months into an experience I’ll never forget.

Growth comes to those who are willing to put in the time and effort.

So get curious.

This was originally published on Medium. 

Why I Didn’t Want to Join Techstars (and How I Changed My Mind)

As a co-founder of Heartbeat, I came into the office each day knowing exactly what to do. Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time. We were building the world’s biggest network of brand ambassadors – all millenial women – and I felt sure about what we needed to do in order to scale the company.  

We started Heartbeat with the idea that real women, not bloggers or celebrities, were incredibly powerful. We believed that the type of word-of-mouth marketing normal women engaged in could be game-changing in the marketing world, as long as we were able to scale.

When one of my co-founders suggested we apply to Techstars, I was skeptical. I had completed my MBA at UCLA Anderson a few years earlier, and I didn’t feel like I needed more education. I also had a huge network – if I already knew everyone in LA tech, how would Techstars help? I just wanted to put my head down and build Heartbeat, and I certainly didn’t need an accelerator program that would slow us down with busy work and trust falls.

Even though I was stressed non-stop, I thought our business was in a good place. We had real revenue, dedicated employees, and from the outside, everything seemed like we were headed in the right direction. In my opinion, we were too “far along” to apply to Techstars – our traction was undeniable.

With hesitation, I completed the application for our team. I actually didn’t mind it because I’m one of those people who oddly enjoy filling out forms. Despite my apprehension, we made it to the next round.

That’s when we met Anna and Ethan.

Have you ever had that feeling where you just know you’re in the right place with the right people? I remember feeling that way when I walked on campus when looking at potential colleges when I was 18, and knowing immediately which school felt like home.

Although my brain told me that we didn’t need Techstars, meeting Anna, the LA Managing Director, changed my mind. She and Ethan, the Program Director, were highly intelligent, and asked probing questions right away. Even during our interviews, they were able to tap into the underlying framework of our business, and clearly saw the bigger picture.

From the get-go, they identified issues we didn’t even know we were dealing with. By the time we completed numerous rounds of interviews, intense questioning from mentors, and a lot of team heart-to-hearts, we knew we wanted to be a part of the program. When we got the offer to join the first Techstars LA class, we accepted on the spot.

As it turns out, joining Techstars was transformative in ways I could never have imagined, and the decision to participate was one of the biggest surprises of my life.

During Techstars, we went through rapid growth and massive change. We were headed full speed ahead with our product, but in the wrong direction. The mentors helped us get back on track, and evolve our technology in a much stronger direction.

We hadn’t focused enough on our culture, and certain people had become toxic. We lost a member of our key founding team during the program, an event that might never had transpired had we not had such strong coaching and mentoring throughout the process.

We left with a thriving, exciting company culture and a newfound energy for what we were building. Most importantly, our business has really broken through, and we’ve seen our highest revenue numbers to date. We also raised another $1M a few months after Demo Day.

We also left with new friendships, new mentors, and an incredible network of investors and advisors. It turns out that I didn’t really know everyone in LA. Today, our business is in a phenomenal place.  

Techstars truly surprised me, and it might surprise you, too. And the biggest secret of all? I actually loved the trust falls.

The Seven Qualities of a Great Founding Team

Running a “city program” accelerator at Techstars LA, we can invest in any vertical – and there are several I’m tracking – but the real draw is always the team. So what makes a “great team”? Below are seven characteristics of teams that I believe contribute to success.

Learning mindset

“That’s surprising. Tell me why you think that?”

A learning mindset, or as author Carol Dweck refers to it, a “growth mindset” is probably the single most important quality in an early stage founder. There is a close to zero percent chance that the plan you have today will be the best plan in six months. Therefore, only the people who are willing – eager – to learn and adapt will succeed.  

Two CEOs in the Techstars Los Angeles 2017 class had multiple prior successful exits and decades of experience, and still showed up ready to ask questions and listen to feedback, including ideas from others younger and less experienced.  That has allowed them access to great thinking from all around them and has strengthened their companies.  

Melanie Stricklan and Thomas Ashman of Slingshot Aerospace at Techstars LA

A learning mindset across a whole team is even more powerful.  When the team is more interested in the best ideas rather than their own ideas, people can safely challenge each other, ask great questions and develop better solutions than they can individually. The value of a learning mindset increases exponentially when applied across a whole team.


“I really screwed up.”

In this context, vulnerability is the willingness to be wrong and the willingness to expose your flaws and fears to your team and to the world. I saw this all over Techstars LA and would hope it was in part because we kicked off the program with a brutally honest talk I gave, called, “the five dumbest things I did as a founder.”  There’s a shorter and somewhat sanitized version of this talk available here.  

As Brene Brown describes in her excellent TED Talk on vulnerability, there’s great strength to be found here.  And founders need the strength that comes from that vulnerability.  


“Our first product flopped, so we talked to all our users to find out why and went back to square one.”

The ability to press forward in the face of unexpected obstacles is essential for the marathon of building a company.   The innovative researcher Angela Duckworth termed this quality “grit” and founders must have this.  Your co-founder will quit.  Your MVP will fall flat. You will come close to running out of money, possibly many times.  And you will need to go on and to innovate around the impossible obstacle. Again and again.   

Grit sometimes looks annoyingly persistent. It looks aggressive. Sometimes it looks myopic and foolish.  When it works, in hindsight it just looks like patience.    


“Everyone around us thinks we are crazy to still be doing this, but we can’t stop thinking about it.”

My mother was a literary agent and she used to advise people only to write professionally if they felt actually compelled to write – like there was no other choice.  I feel the same way about founding teams.  Is this team as a whole obsessed with the problem they are solving and the product they are building?  Are they waking up in the middle of the night thinking about it?  A shared obsession towards a purpose is the glue that binds together a group of different people and turns them into a team.  And it’s what keeps them going when things become challenging.  


“If we aren’t getting along and don’t feel like the rest of the team has our back, nothing else works.”

Respect for the people above all else is paramount.  Nothing else is more important than the relationships between the team members.  Last summer I watched a pair of co-founders diligently work through their personal relationship and invest a lot of time in listening to each other and talking about feelings. They negotiated their spheres of influence and worked through how to separate the personal relationship from the professional.  Every minute they spent on this painstaking work, there were “more urgent” tasks calling them.  This team came out of that process stronger and better able to address the big market opportunity in front of them. They were willing to “waste time” on things that didn’t feel urgent, for the long term health of their team.  

Great teams know that the team has to come first, before the work, before even the customers.  They respect the importance of the team and the value of each person.  


We laughed a lot at Techstars LA in 2017. We put on dumb costumes, we sang in public, and we made fun of ourselves. Many different people brought the funny and helped us laugh even when we were exhausted.  Humor, I think, breeds compassion and empathy and takes us out of our self-involvement.  Look for that person who is going to bring the levity to your team.  On my team, it’s Ethan Austin.  Thanks, Ethan!  

The Blue Fever team leads Techstars LA in “Mean Girls” style trust falls.


“I see that my communication style isn’t working for you.  Can you tell me more about that?”

Empathy is grounded in seeing and feeling things from the point of view of the other.  “Become the other person and go from there,” the saying goes.  I like to think about empathy as perspective, rather than feeling, although feelings are involved.  It’s about working to turn the lens around so you see things differently, as someone else does.

Empathy allows us to learn from each other’s perspective and inspire one another to be better.  When we are driven by empathy, our interactions become transformative, rather than transactional.  The great thing about empathy is that it tends to spread and yes, you can get better at it.  Empathy can be worked like a muscle.  One simple exercise is active listening, but there are many others.  

Michel Bayan of Directech Labs at Techstars LA

As we kick off the application period for Techstars LA 2018, the first hurdle is the what and the where: we’re looking for transformative ideas addressing large markets, built by teams with hard skills. But it’s the who and the why that really matter; teams with these seven qualities are where we’d like to invest.  

Applications for Techstars LA are now open! If you are working on an exciting idea with a team that has these qualities, we’d love to hear from you!