Boston

TechStars Boston: the Right Place, the Right Time

Last Friday, members of the Grad Tech Club joined forces with our undergrad counterparts to visit TechStars Boston in their headquarters downtown.  The visit was a great experience where we learned a lot about one of the most prestigious accelerators out there.  Like most accelerators, TechStars provides space, resources, and mentorship for the 1% of applicants it accepts as well as some upfront capital and the promise of more in a convertible note should the company get funded later on.  More than just great companies, however, Techstars is committed to producing great ecosystems.  One way they do this, which I found to be particularly interesting, is by bringing on not only startups but also coders and young business professionals as Hackstars and Associates.  These people serve as floaters so to speak, and resources available to the different Techstars companies.  This gives an on demand labor force for the companies and the opportunity to plug in to the Techstars ecosystem for the Hackstars and Associates.

We also got a good glimpse into what sort of startups Techstars is looking for:

  • Team first–Since most companies have some kind of pivot it is important to invest in good teams.  If you invest in an idea and then the idea changes…what did you really choose?
  • Very rarely take single founders, instead look for 2-4 person groups with at least one business and one technical co-founder–A Hustler and a Hacker
  • Look for founders who are passionate about what they do, where at least one has significant domain expertise
  • Ideally, the founders will have acute experience suffering from the pain point their product is trying to solve
  • Companies that already have traction in the form of a working prototype, some revenue, an established user base, and a functional business model
  • Companies that get shit done
  • Since Techstars is an accelerator they are looking for companies that are primed for that growth curve.  They often take companies from incubators or more early stage accelerators like Mass Challenge, and sometimes even take companies on their third or fourth time applying

TechStars

The real highlight of the visit, however, came by happy accident.  One of our group asked a question about hardware startups.  As we were sitting in the open, various people had been shuffling by all afternoon and at that moment, our host stopped the gentleman walking by and asked if he had a moment to answer a question about hardware startup.  The guy turned out to be Harish Kamath, cofounder of Headtalk the makers of Magnet.  In the next 5-10 minutes Harish managed to give us a succinct and anecdotal summation of the real value of doing Techstars.  His product, Magnet, is a bracelet with a pair, designed for long distance significant others.  When you tap your bracelet, it lights up and vibrates its counterpart to let your significant other know you are thinking of them, regardless of the distance that separates you, helping people stay connected.  Although they had a crude prototype, Harish and his co-founder are engineers not designers but one of the mentors Techstars paired them with was the design firm IDEO.  With the help of this mentor, they learned to understand their users better and develop form factors that really met their users needs and preferences.  The next task however, was to produce multiple prototypes for testing and time was in high demand.  Founders juggle a million and one tasks at a time, as Harish put it, “they don’t call it an accelerator for nothing!” and therefore assembling the prototypes was a task that was hard to find time for.  Once again, Techstars could help!  Techstars has a 3d printer and one of the Hackstars had an interest in hardware and was happy to help, assembling dozens of prototypes so that Harish could focus on other aspects of the business.  Finally, there is the value innate in being part of a cohort.  The Magnet team decided to do a Kickstarter campaign and needed to create internet buzz about their product.  Once again, however, these guys are engineers and not web marketing experts.  It turns out, however, that fellow Techstars cohort members Fortified Bicycle had already successfully executed two Kickstarter campaigns and social marketing was literally Mavrck‘s product!  This gave Harish and his team the resources and advise they needed to tackle the digital world, even with a hardware product.

We could not have had a better case study in the value Techstars brings and the reason for doing an accelerator.  BC already has some strong ties to Techstars through previous hackstars and associates and we look forward to an MBA startup slingshotting out of the program sometime soon!

A Zillion Things Home (And the Data Behind It)

Last week, I was lucky enough to join BC’s Grad Tech Club on their visit to Wayfair. I was excited for the office visit for a few reasons. First, it was due to Wayfair’s unanimous rank as one of the best places to work for. Because of that, I have been keeping a keen eye on their job board for any potentially openings. I wanted to get a good sense for the culture and work environment before submitting an application. Prior to BC, I worked in a very early stage startup in San Francisco’s SOMA district at a shared workspace with several other startups. After working in an environment like that, it’s hard to me to think about going back to a strictly corporate office environment. Wayfair, although now a public company with thousands of employees, they have somehow managed to maintain the vibe of a startup. It was incredible walking around. They have maintained the culture and environment of their early days while growing into a billion dollar company. After our visit and seeing what they were about and what really drives them, I’m 100% going to apply for a job at Wayfair and would be thrilled at the opportunity to work there.

Taking a tour of Wayfair's offices with other members of the GgradTech Club.

Taking a tour of Wayfair’s offices with other members of the GradTech Club.

At first glance, I wasn’t sure what to think of Wayfair. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a home furnishings enthusiast, so was weary at the thought of working behind a product or business that I wasn’t sure I could get 100% behind. But we had a chance to sit down with BC alum David Aaron and his colleague Chris Roe who really broke down the business intelligence and data science that really gives them a competitive advantage. I saw, firsthand, that the passion David and Chris have is not necessarily for home furnishings, but rather for understanding and predicting user needs and behavior. They are 100% behind their work and their enthusiasm was obvious. Combined with their talent and that of the rest of the Wayfair crew, this passion for data is clearly what has driven Wayfair to be at the forefront of ecommerce analytics, giving them a clear competitive advantage.

I’m thankful to Grad Tech for not only allowing me a sneak peek into working at such an awesome company, but also for giving a rare peak under the hood of a thriving company. It’s a unique experience that we MBAs have access to, and I encourage others to take advantage of future BC Tech Club outings.

-Emmett Shipman is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and a member of the Grad Tech Club

2014 Annual Report

Dear Grad Techers, Alumni, Friends, and Supporters:

It is with pride that I look back at the past semester for the Grad Tech Club.  In less than four months, we have accomplished a ton, always toward furthering our mission of equipping our members with the knowledge and skills necessary for success in the tech industry, raising the overall profile of the BC MBA program within Tech, and getting our members hired!

Toward the first goal of building hands on skills we have had several initiatives.  Each Friday, MBAs led by GradTech VP Kori Kenerson, plug away at CodeAcademy’s Python course for Code & Coffee.  Likewise, on Thursday evenings, the Product Team gets together to ideate, test, and release a real tech product.  We are currently in the proof of concept phase with a few very interesting ideas.  You can check out our progress here and here.  Finally, each month we take on a new Digital Marketing Channel to explore its options.  So far we have tried Facebook and Linkedin and we are currently exploring promoted tweets on Twitter.  In addition to these, GradTech members are gaining html and web development skills from using WordPress and A/B marketing skills from experimenting with Mailchimp.  We will continue these initiatives as we move forward so that BC MBAs won’t just graduate having done case analyses with hypothetical solutions but will also have applied the skills we learn to real tools and real products in the Technology space.

Our biggest initiative to raise the profile of the MBA program in Tech has been our website and social programs.  We do lots of cool things and then we blog, Facebook, and Tweet about them. From a previous best year of just over 200 visitors, we now get hundreds per month and we hope to break 1000 MAUs in 2015. Among our members we enjoy a sky high Net Promoter Score of 75 and we have had alumni express interest in getting involved, companies reach out to partner with us, and prospect students cite our club as one of the main reasons they are interested in BC for an MBA.  All of these are indications that we are pushing forward but the biggest differences will come from placing our people in meaningful Tech jobs and helping out future Eagles.

To that goal, we continue to push forward.  We have attended job fairs and industry events put on by Microsoft, the Boston Product Management Association, and even sponsored the Startup Job Fair.  We have visited the Cambridge offices or Microsoft and Facebook by ourselves and many more including Spotify and Paypal in conjunction with the Undergrad IS Academy through the TechTrek Boston program.  Furthermore, on campus we hosted Alum Arnie Sookram from XBox and four MBA Alumni from Google, LogMeIn, Hubspot, and Wayfair to talk about the different careers and cultures within the Tech space.  Well attended and highly praised, the Careers in Tech Panel has already led to a number of connections and we hope to hold a similar event featuring even more functional areas in the spring.  Finally, we continue to drive alumni to help our cause through our Alumni Central and Hire an Eagle Page.  We already know of some jobs coming out of these initiatives and we hope for many more.

As we move into the spring we will continue to move forward towards the three pillars of our mission.  Off campus we will visit as many industry events, offices, and career fairs as we can, and on campus we will host another Careers in Tech Panel, an event on What Every Manager Needs to Know About IT, a discussion on Women in Tech, and a Digital Marketing Dinner.  We will continue to develop our product and hope to host a rousing Launch Party in April.

I thank you for all your support thus far and look forward to a fantastic 2015!

Sincerely,

David LoVerme

President, BC Grad Tech Club

David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club