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August 6, 2009 / Boris Mann

The vibe of building businesses at Techstars

Danny and I are down in Boulder, CO, attending the investor demo days that TechStars is having for their 2009 cohort of companies. Danny went to the presentations in SF last year, and we figured it was time to head to Boulder directly to check out the organization, talk to the companies, and compare notes.

Bootup Labs is highly inspired by the structure and feel of the TechStars program, and it is *the* early stage accelerator program that we feel most “spiritually” aligned with. Everything we’ve heard on this trip — from founders taking part in the program, to investors, to the staff and mentors — convinces us that it’s a great starting point for the right model. As Brad Feld and others have said many times, rebuilding a Silicon Valley should not be the goal for any region or local community. Each place has its own strengths and weaknesses and will find its own path for “what works”.

The vibe here is definitely about building businesses. As we suspected, teams that come to Boulder aren’t just at the “idea” stage – the founders have come some distance on their own (in many cases a considerable distance with a medium sized team of 4 – 6 people+) ; they are taking part in the TechStars program because they are fully committed to building fundable *businesses*.

I took the time to meet with many of the teams after the presentations and dig for a little more info on how and why they came here, and what they think of other programs around the company. Some of them we have further connections for, and some might even swing through Vancouver at some point – the reaction to Vancouver was of general interest or saying that it’s on the list of places they’d like to visit. The tech community in Vancouver isn’t readily known here, and things like Flickr’s early genesis here are forgotten or not known. And that’s something we all need to work on, to carry the flag abroad that we’ve got great stuff going on. This is something that the Bootup Entrepreneurial Society is actively working on with other local organizations – a PR campaign to get Vancouver on people’s mental map when the subject of tech hubs comes up.

In any case, below are some short “Tweet-length” observations about the companies that presented today, that got eaten by the SMS gateway.

I also have a rough 4 axis point scale that I used to try and rate my feelings about each company, but I actually don’t think I’ll publish that since it’s very contextual and subjective based on my own experience and feelings. There were companies that were great and there were companies whose *presentations* weren’t perfect, but they all presented well and generated lots of discussions and follow ups.

  • First @techstars pitch is ReTel – video monitoring for retail & chain restaurants to do reporting on employees – feels a bit like @odesk screen caps
  • Everlater next up @techstars – I’m seeing lots of travel related apps lately – v. high energy presenters
  • TimZon is run by a Frenchman from Huntsville, Alabama – visual communications – mainly support / helpdesk focused to deliver email responses as screencast + recorded video messages
  • TakeComics is making me want to buy comics again w iTunes-style interface for reading/browsing/buying comics – even ‘DVD-style’ extra features
  • Next Big Sound is analytics for music industry – very slick presentation incl. live numbers of new bands being found/added in real time; *many* industries could use better analytics
  • Vanilla is open source forums – moving to offer hosted version and commercialize – hey @apeatling, BuddyPress should ditch bbPress and use this
  • SendGrid is up – email delivery for “transactional” emails (e.g. notifications, registration confirmation, etc.) — not like MailChimp, which is promotional emails
  • Spry integrates on top of dev tools to do reporting – interesting to hear they are talking about bundling out of the box with existing web services, which is an interesting angle; feels like an enterprise need, but I don’t see enterprise targeting
  • Mailana visualizes strong relationships in networks (FB, Twitter, email, etc.) – a bit like Zoe (old school IMAP email scanning Java app that I can’t find a link for other than my own post from 2004) and a bit like Gist
  • Rezora is the final presentation – email marketing specifically for real estate, currently targeting brokerages, lots of domain-specific tools and analytics

Congrats to all the companies for getting to presentation day, and thanks to the TechStars team for welcoming us and putting on a great event. We’ve got lots of ideas to take back to Vancouver – look us up when you’re in town.



  1. David Gratton / Aug 10 2009 9:24 pm

    You're doing important work for the Vancouver tech scene. It is appreciated. I am seriously looking forward to the day investors are queuing to come to Vancouver's Bootup Labs to see what our city's entrepreneurs are brewing! You guys are close.

    • Boris / Aug 10 2009 10:07 pm

      Thanks, David. The TechStars event was year 3. I feel like we are at year 0 / year 1, so we have a couple of years to keep improving. There was already considerable interest in coming to check out what's going on in Vancouver, so I'm looking forward to having folks come to town at some point.

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