How I Hacked Into TechStars

Just over two years ago I hacked into TechStars, the company where I now work.

I read about it in the local paper and decided I had to be involved.  I knew three of the four founders, and thought I was a shoe in for funding.

And that funding didn’t happen, I was not chosen to be a TechStars team.  I didn’t have a real team, and all my coding experience was in ActionScript.  Rightfully denied.  I was just not ready.

But I wanted to be involved.  I met with David, and convinced him that he needed a videographer to hang out and capture some of the sessions.  He agreed.  I was ecstatic.  I then went out and purchased a camera.

This week we launched HackStars, which I am pretty excited about.  Traveling around I’ve run into an amazing amount of developers / hackers / coders that were in the phase of listening.  I really find this as key.  Being an amazing observer is key to entrepreneurship, design and startups in general.  They didn’t have a solid team quite yet, but had a general passion for a problem they were trying to solve.  In many ways I wanted to invite them to hang out at TechStars, do what I did, observe, help out, listen, and then capitalize when something pops up.

So I am excited.  And on the road in San Francisco.  And without my laptop (I borrowed Tyler Willis‘s MacBook to write this post at Startup Weekend San Francisco).  And I just read a few less than ecstatic emails and have myself scratching my head…

I hacked my way into TechStars, and it changed the direction of my professional life.  I now work for TechStars, and spend half the year traveling around and volunteering for startups and projects I care about.  I am happy everyday, and truely love what I do.  Taking some time for me to listen, step back, assess the situation and make a plan of action, has turned out to be invaluable.

I wanted to take a quick moment to make sure everyone knows we are listening, planning and really respecting the voices that have been concerned. HackStars will work out if it evolves and creates great situations for everyone.

  • Great post Andrew. It's always good to remember that the best opportunities happen when seek them out and create based on our passions.

  • I was wondering when a post like this was coming, given all the rabble rousing on the techstars blog.

    I think that people need to view HackStars as a true career opportunity. One in which they have an opportunity to meet some interesting people, volunteer for some founders of interesting companies, and maybe with a little bit of luck and hard work land a job or a career changing opportunity.

    Perhaps you could comment on the concerns you have heard and how you plan to mitigate them?

  • Chris Chadwick

    Its nice to see how success is made. Pay attention, get up and make something out of an undesirable outcome, keep following your dreams and allow for the shifts that show up. Great post! Have fun in SF.

    Chris Chadwick

  • About HackStars: I am always annoyed that people want to get paid for everything and are unwilling to work for experience or equity. This seems to be especially true of developers, many of whom come to me not knowing a single thing about business and thinking they should get “VC” money to fund their idea. Here's a wakeup call: money doesn't grow on trees. As an investor in startups, I know that investors like to fund experienced teams. We're not dumb; we know that most new products can be made to work technically, but that's just the beginning of getting a return on our investment. I'm not a cynic, or I wouldn't be working with startups, but if I had to spend my valuable time, shouldn't you? You might learn something.That's a roundabout way of saying Andrew's right, especially in this economy.

  • Andrew

    @hardway – I couldn't agree with you more, I was extremely ticked off when the graphic designer I asked to do our website wanted money. Also, when I got married last year, our photographer also wanted to get paid – what's wrong with these people?

    Sarcasm aside, HackStars is a wonderful opportunity for students or recent graduates, but it was pitched as something for the guru developers. People that have spent 10, 20, 30 years or more working on what they love; software. Now people want it for free – no salary, no equity, not even any kind of reimbursement of expenses – and they want atleast 15 hours per week, that's almost 50% of a full time job.

    Andrew has fought hard on this blog to bring attention to 'Spec Work' – focusing on the value of good designers and how spec work can cause a serious deflation in expected income for designers in general by Spec Work. I believe he even broke down the expenses involved in being a designer and how it's not sustainable with spec work – but now it seems to be okay to ask someone that usually demands $100/hr for their craft to give up a serious portion of their week, for an entire summer, for free.

    It's just not right – atleast in the manor it was pitched.

  • Hey Andrew,

    I've never heard of HackStars (came via hackernews), but sounds interesting. And great way to approach the situation – if you're passionate about the subject and willing to put in the effort, it will almost certainly turn out in your favor.

    So well done, and a nice summary. Maybe you could let us know a bit more about the emotional process turning the situation around, and how long it took to come up with a new approach?

  • andrewhyde

    I love the saying 'prepared to capitalize.'

  • andrewhyde

    As I picture it (from last year having a few folks hanging around) it will be a very relaxed, fun experience.

    I will do my best to reach out to folks that have applied or are thinking about applying and know we will work hard to make it a kick ass experience.

  • andrewhyde

    Thanks Chris!

  • andrewhyde

    I can't believe that I missed you at Web2.0!

    I think there is a balance. I worked with a founder last year that underpaid himself so much that is stressed his relationship out, slowed productivity, and almost folded his company. Upping his pay actually extended his runway.

    I'm with you on sweat equity. There is a balance. If we are asking for 2 hours a day of you working on a team, we should make sure there is a ton of value for the other 10 hours the office is active.

  • Jared K.

    Hackstars was pitched in a mansion?

  • andrewhyde

    Perhaps you have a bone to pick and we are just looking for a convenient outlet.

    2-3 hours a day working for one of ten startups you find interesting doesn't sound like the slave labor to me.

    If you want to hang out TechStars, work for early, early stage startups, see all the mentor sessions, perhaps sit in some meetings and work on the most exciting parts of a startup, HackSpace is for you. You have office space to do a full work day of contract work. This while getting better, with a low risk situation.

    Spec= motivating many with a chance of a monetary prize to get them to do custom work.
    Internship= goal of learning. Give and get.

    Most of the startups that HackStars are working with are raising money at the end of the summer, and the first thing they will likely look to do is hire more technical talent. Guess who would be first in line?

    I know, like you said, they get nothing.

  • andrewhyde

    I think our approach will stay the same (build a kick ass experience) we will just do a better job explaining what the culture is like. You will find nobody near the program was an ounce opposed. They know it wasn't a scheme like some painted it to be.

    I think we should have launched it at one of our monthy hacker nights, where we get the community together to work on projects (or at a BarCamp or Startup Weekend we host).

    It can be done well, and it can be done poorly.

    We will put extra attention to make it quality. And do a good job highlighting the great people that come out for the summer. Boulder rocks in the summer.

  • Steven Rudolph

    We need more superpeople…

    (From Crash Test Dummies “Superman's Song”)

    Superman never made any money
    For saving the world from Solomon Grundy
    And sometimes I despair the world will never see
    Another man like him

    Hey Bob, Supe had a straight job
    Even though he could have smashed through any bank
    In the United States, he had the strength, but he would not
    Folks said his family were all dead
    Their planet crumbled but Superman, he forced himself
    To carry on, forget Krypton, and keep going

    Sometimes when Supe was stopping crimes
    I'll bet that he was tempted to just quit and turn his back
    On man, join Tarzan in the forest
    But he stayed in the city, and kept on changing clothes
    In dirty old phonebooths till his work was through
    And nothing to do but go on home

  • Great post, provides some much needed inspiration and congrats on HackStars

  • “Being an amazing observer is key to entrepreneurship…”

  • “Being an amazing observer is key to entrepreneurship…”

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