HackStar Boston 2011 (Part 2)

TechStarsIn the first part of the article, I recount my HackStar experience at TechStars Boston. Today, I am going to talk about the impact of HackStar has on me and my current endeavor of doing a startup.

Before joining the program, I had thought that my time as a HackStar would be spent mostly coding, which is something I was more than happy to do. While being a HackStar is a lot of hard work, the truth is that I found that there is more than just battening down the hatches and code. To my surprise, HackStars are actually treated as participants of the program, just like any of the team members in the program. While Hackstars don’t get the one-on-one mentorship (since we are not founders), we like the teams have access and participate in activities like lectures, talks, and workshops led by mentors and guest lecturers. Of course there are times when I had to skip a few of the classes and events as I needed to spent more time working in tasks that may be time sensitive. However, I found these lectures and workshops extremely valuable (more so than the classes on entrepreneurship that I took in business school). TechStars lectures and workshops have highly relevant, useful content for starting entrepreneurs to take their startup to the next level. I would encourage any HackStar to attend these classes as much as possible. At the end of the day, it is all about time management and balancing between working on a project and attending classes. Nonetheless, HackStars at TechStars Boston really have unprecedental access and opportunities.

As an entrepreneur who recently started a startup called Invantory, I regularly seek veterans who are doing or have done a startup before. Conversation with them often bring new insights and perspectives, which adds tremendous value and clarity to what I am doing. The network that I built at TechStars has been very beneficial in this regards. Since starting Invantory, I have met with mentors and alumni asking them for their help and advice. In fact, many of them were enthusiastic about helping me in my endeavor. I have also found it gratifying to see how the teams grew in maturity and confidence during the course of the program. I am happy for the alumni of TechStars 2011, with whom I still maintain close interpersonal relationship. I really enjoyed the camaraderie of TechStars Boston.

I have had a long career working in big firms. Nonetheless I have always contemplated with starting my own company and struggled in pondering what is best for me. Do I choose job security and stability over starting my own startup with no or little money? The HackStar program provided that opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs like me to try out the startup life for 3 months and gain skills that they can immediately apply when they can become real entreprneurs. The program has influenced my outlook, identified seeing what is missing, and discovering what are needed to be done in the context of building my startup.

TechStars’s official HackStars webpage provides a pretty comprehensive list of compelling reasons for joining HackStar. But if you are an aspiring entrepreneur and that your objective is to gain more exposure as well as expanding your network in this space, the choice is a no-brainer. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about the program.

HackStar Boston 2011 (Part 1)

TechStarsIn this blog I hope to share my personal insights to TechStars Boston, a startup accelerator program, from the perspective of a HackStar. The term HackStar is a TechStars slang for a hacker (typically a software developer, a UX designer, or any technical contributor) who provides his/her time and technical skills to help companies selected for the program to become viable businesses by the end of the program. I joined TechStars Boston class of 2011 as a Hackstar in March 2011. For me, I didn’t apply for the program directly or formally. In fact the process happened quite impromptu. I first learned about the program from friends Brent and Eric at Everture, one of the incoming teams, two days before the start of the program. As I already know the managing staff at TechStars, I quickly arranged a meeting to meet with them to learn more about the program before being invited to join the program as a HackStar by the end of the day. The opportunity was great timing since I was transitioning from the industry to the freelance consultancy and entrepreneurship space in the software and Internet space. I already had some spare capacity which allowed me to commit to the program full-time. I also can’t pass up the opportunity of working with the incoming TechStars cohort and learning more about doing a startup. So my decision was really a no brainer. I accepted the invitation and joined the program.

TechStars Boston 2011 WorkshopThere were 12 teams that participated in TechStars Boston 2011. The teams brought a diverse background to the program. Geographically, half of the team were from outside of Boston with 3 teams from the UK, Estonia, and Israel. There was also more female representation in the program with 2 female founders and 1 female co-founder. The teams represent a pretty diverse group of businesses ranging from enterprise software to game to even hardware. I just love the diversity of the cohort. One of the important aspects of TechStars Boston has always been the people. The staff, teams, interns, and HackStars at TechStars Boston are all part of a very big, fun family. Everyone learn from each other. It’s an amicable, highly-collaborative environment. Teams and HackStars collaborated with each other. HackStars have as much to receive and learn from the teams as they do in contributing to the teams. Strong relationships extend beyond the program. TechStars also fosters building strong relationships with mentors, investors, and the startup community. The program invited veterans in the startup space to come mentor the teams or run workshops with variety of topics that are pertinent to the success of the companies.

Skill sets and seniority can very considerably among HackStars. However that didn’t distinguish any HackStar from the others. We are all equals despite our age, seniority, and background. HackStars assist anyone (staff and teams) in every way possible. Nonetheless, it is easy to get overwhelmed sometimes. HackStars could be assigned to a team long-term or be allocated to different teams or projects for quick hacks. There were 12 teams in our cohort and every team needed engineering help in some form or capacity. As a result, it was important to coordinate any work with the managing director. Katie Rae, the managing director at TechStars Boston, often asked for our preference in the types of projects we are interested in working. This helps her to coordinate and manage the needs as well as interests between the teams and Hackstars. The first six weeks at TechStars can be overwhelming for everyone. Something that I learned in my former job is that the busier people get, the more important it is for everyone to meet and sync up on a regular basis. One advice I have for any HackStar reading this post is that you should try meeting with the managing director at least once a week to sync up even if it is for 10 minutes. During the meeting, try to provide some feedback of the teams, update him/her what you are doing, and mention any coming tasks (standard stand-up meeting format from the Agile methodology). In general, there is no right or wrong way of doing things. The HackStar program, just like TechStars is constantly evolving. It’s a startup environment, so don’t be afraid to be a self-starter and be creative, while staying professional (always).

There are more I would want to write. But I have babbled enough (for now). I will continue the second part of this article in the next blog post tomorrow.