Twilio Startups talks Accelerators with Techstars CEO David Brown

March 04, 2020
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As you build your startup and try to find the elusive product market fit (amongst many other things), the bustling startup scene will throw many options at you. As a founder who is focussed on building a product or service and solving a problem, these many options can be daunting.

One such option is to apply and join an accelerator program. Accelerator programs are designed to do just that, take your company and ‘accelerate’ its growth. At the end of the day, you are racing against competitors from all over the world. Yes, it is a race and an accelerator can help you find product/market fit faster. 

Programs generally run for 3-6 months, provide curriculum, some seed funding usually in return for equity, and access to a mentor network. Usually culminating in a ‘demo day,’ where you pitch to a room full of investors. 

Interview with David Brown CEO of Techstars

We sat down with David Brown, the CEO of Techstars. If you don’t know Techstars, they run more accelerator programs than anyone on the planet. Interestingly, SendGrid (acquired by Twilio for approx. US $3 billion) went through Techstars in 2009.

Why does an accelerator increase a startups chances of success?

Accelerator programs like those at Techstars provide founders with an immersive learning and concept development environment that allows them to benefit from years worth of learning in just a matter of a few months.

This rapid learning approach helps founders do more faster so they can get to a place of stability and growth that signals the value they bring to the market. When coupled with access to the Techstars global network, founders are able to reach capital and talent to find what works and scale. 

Benefit from years worth of learning in just a matter of a few months

We know the accelerator programs work. We have more than 1,900 graduate companies in the Techstars network, of which 75 percent are still active and 11 percent have exited successfully. The average first raise post-program for Techstars companies is more than $1M. 

What are the most impactful things Techstars offers its founders?

Here at Techstars, we focus on helping companies do more faster by providing resources to help founders gain traction and hit their milestones on their path to success. These resources include:

  • Seed investment to help catalyze concept development
  • Hands-on mentorship that helps founders with network development, product development, market fit and fundraising strategy among many other things
  • Access to a global network of investors, founders, mentors, partners and talent … for life

Graduating from a Techstars accelerator program is not the end of the journey with us. We have and are continuing to create resources and programs to help founders at every stage.

What does Techstars look for when evaluating startups for entry to a program?

Because we are in it with our companies for life, we look for indications that a company has the potential for long-term success, not just immediate massive financial payoff. 

Of course we look at the business model and market opportunity, but we also place a lot of emphasis on the founders themselves - who they are as people and how they work together. The dynamic of founder teams is a key indicator of the potential for success as they navigate the significant ups and downs of the startup journey. 

A lot of emphasis on the founders themselves

What are the biggest challenges startups face post demo day?

There are a few. One is generating and maintaining momentum - in concept development, in fundraising and in growing market share. This is a challenge that founders face consistently throughout their journey. You can’t let your foot off the gas. 

Another is scaling. Getting a concept going and getting a product to a place of foundational strength are huge challenges. But once you’re there, scaling the business presents a host of new and even bigger challenges. Navigating this point in a company’s development requires a strong network of people who can help you continue to learn and develop your company in ways that increase financial performance and customer demand while also building resilience into your business model. 

You can’t let your foot off the gas

So how does it work?

Applications open six times a year, and stay open typically for 12 weeks. Multiple applications do not increase your chances of acceptance, so pick the program that is the best fit for you. During the application period Techstars may reach out to invite you to office hours or hope to meet you on the road at one of our 'Meet & Greet' events.

What should I know before applying?

Our applications are designed to better understand you, your team, market, progress and idea. Take your time to fill it out as best as you can. Your goal is to demonstrate to Techstars your ability to execute on the idea. Don’t be sparse.

We are big on passion. We want our founders to be passionate about their startups. We want our Managing Directors and mentors to be passionate about the companies in the class. With passion being the uniting emotion, we believe magic can happen for a startup within the Techstars ecosystem. Show us your unbridled passion for your team and product.

It also helps to do research - look into each accelerator and the team behind it, and show us you’ve done your homework.

We are big on passion. We want our founders to be passionate about their startups.

Apply to Techstars

Applying to Techstars is a relatively easy process. I actually applied to the program in Seattle way back in 2013. My application was not successful, but I found the process of the application an extremely valuable process. I was asked to justify many assumptions I had made and was questioned in a very different way to pitching an idea to friends and family. 

Check out the Techstars FAQ here.

Learn more about what they look for here and preview and review the application questions here.

Apply to Techstars

Ready to join Twilio Startups?

We hope you enjoyed this article and it has helped you determine if an accelerator is right for your startup. 


You can apply to the Twilio Startups program hereCheck out more posts from the Twilio Startups team here.

Interested in learning more about Twilio Startups? Email Brendan Yell - Director, Twilio Startups, APAC/US West at byell@[at]