Posts Tagged 'Mentor'

April 3, 2014

Sprint Accelerator Spices Up Silicon Prairie

As part of the community development team here at SoftLayer, I get to travel the world and reach into cities to help local, born-on-the-Web communities grow and prosper. Last week, my travels took me (and my rock star team) to Kansas City, where we were invited to mentor startups in the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator powered by TechStars (PBTS).

I know when you think of KC, you might not think of a technology startup community. As part of Silicon Prairie, where startups and tech are thriving, KC is taking its place amongst US tech communities, as companies like Sprint, Garmin, H&R Block, and Hallmark are investing in the local startup community.

Through the course of the days I spent in KC, we talked to 10 startups and held technical office hours. What we learned is that the startups in this accelerator had all of the qualities we hope to find: grit and determination coupled with brains and insane talent. (And some of the teams we met with are growing so quickly that they even have open positions.)

What struck me most from my trip was the sheer fact that even though I live in the epicenter of all things tech startup, I can see with my own eyes that the rest of the world is catching up––and they are doing so quickly. Most of the teams at Sprint PBTS are not from the startup mega cities like New York and San Francisco. They are from places off the beaten path. I’m happy to see it, and I’m even more excited for my trips later this year to other parts of the country like Memphis, Detroit, and Okanagan, where I’m sure to be as impressed as I was with KC.

True, for the time being the venture capital and investment communities will likely still steer startups toward the Bay Area, but I’m not convinced that is a trend that will continue forever. I’m more and more certain that as we advance technologies—and as SoftLayer maintains its edge in building the best platform on which to create them––geography will become a secondary factor in the success of startups.

Our Catalyst Startup Program provides that platform for early stage startups around the globe. Members have innovative concepts that need reliable infrastructure to support their growth from idea to enterprise. Recently, I sat down in front of a camera to share an overview of the program and it's benefits from the perspective of Catalyst member HAUL. Here is a crash course on Catalyst:

I believe in a year, a few of the teams from the Sprint Mobile Health Accelerator will combine forces to create one company that will eventually become a household name. Their evolution will be fun to watch from the beginning to end. And we are going to watch them closely. They’re going to do it, and we are going to be with them every step of the way.

-@joshuakrammes

March 26, 2013

Should My Startup Join an Accelerator/Incubator Program?

As part of my role at SoftLayer, I have the opportunity and privilege to mentor numerous entrepreneurs and startup teams when they partner with us through our Catalyst program. One question I hear often is, "Should I join an accelerator?" My answer: "That all depends." Let's look at the five lessons entrepreneurs should learn before they decide to join a startup accelerator or incubator program.

Lesson 1: The founders must be committed to the success of their venture.
Joining an accelerator or incubator comes with some strings attached — startups give up between 6 to 10 percent of their equity in exchange for some cash and structured program that usually lasts around three months. Obviously, this kind of commitment should not be taken lightly.

Too often, startups join accelerator programs before they are ready or mature enough as a team. Sometimes, a company's idea isn't fully baked, so they end up spending as much time "creating" their business as they do "accelerating" it. As a result, that company isn't able to leverage an accelerator's resources efficiently throughout the entire program ... The founders need to establish a vision for the business, begin laying the groundwork for the company's products and services, and be 100% committed to the accelerator program before joining. If you can't say with confidence that your startup meets all three of those requirements, don't do it. Take care of those three points and proceed to the next lesson.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to leverage what you are given.
Many startups join accelerator and incubator programs with unrealistic expectations. Participation in these programs — even the most exclusive and well-known ones — by no means guarantees that you'll raise additional money or have a successful exit. These programs provide startups with office space, free cloud services, and access to mentors, investors, recruiters and media ... Those outstanding services provide participating startups with a distinct competitive advantage, but they don't serve up success on a silver platter. If you aren't ready work tirelessly to leverage the benefits of a startup program, don't bother.

Lesson 3: Take advice and criticism well; mentors are trying to help.
"Mentorship" is very tough to qualify, and criticism is difficult to take ... Especially if you're 100% committed to your business and you don't want to be told that you've done something wrong. Mentors in these startup programs have "been there and done that," and they wouldn't be in a mentorship position if they weren't looking out for your best interest and the ultimate success of your company.

Look programs that take mentorship seriously and can provide a broad range of expertise from strategy to marketing and business development to software architecture to building and scaling IT infrastructure. Then be intentional about listening to the people around you.

Lesson 4: Do your research and make an informed decision.
With the proliferation of startups globally, we're also seeing an evolution in the accelerator ecosystem. There are a number accelerators being positioned to help support founders with ideas on a global, regional and local basis, but it's important to evaluate a program's vision with its execution of that vision. Not all startup programs are created equal, and some might not offer the right set of resources and opportunities for your team. When you're giving up equity in your company, you should have complete confidence that the accelerator or incubator you join will deliver on its side of the deal.

Lesson 5: Leverage the network and community you will meet.
When you've done your homework, applied and been accepted to the perfect startup program, meet everyone you can and learn from them. One of the most tangible benefits of joining an accelerator is the way you can fast track a business idea while boosting network contacts. Much in the way someone chooses a prestigious college or joins a fraternity, some of the most valuable resources you'll come across in these programs are the people you meet. In this way, accelerators and incubators are becoming a proxy for undergrad and graduate school ... The appeal for promising entrepreneurs is simple: Why wait to make a dent in the universe? Today, more people are going to college and fewer are landing well-paying jobs after graduation, so some of the world's best and brightest are turning to these communities and foregoing the more structured "higher education" process.

Even if your startup is plugging along smoothly, a startup accelerator or incubator program might be worth a look. Venture capitalists often trust programs like TechStars and 500 Startups to filter or vet early stage companies. If your business has the stamp of approval from one of these organizations, it's decidedly less risky than a business idea pitched by a random entrepreneur.

If you understand each of these lessons and you take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided by startup accelerators and incubators, the sky is the limit for your business. Now get to work.

Class dismissed.

-@gkdog

February 12, 2013

From the Startup Trenches to the Catalyst War Room

Before joining SoftLayer, I was locked in a dark, cold room for two years. Sustained by a diet of sugar and caffeine and basking in the glow of a 27" iMac, I was tasked with making servers dance to the tune of Ruby. The first few months were the toughest. The hours were long, and we worked through holidays. And I loved it.

If that work environment seems like torture, you probably haven't been on the front lines of a development team. I was a member of a band of brothers at war with poorly documented vendor APIs, trying to emerge victorious from the Battle of Version 1.0. We operated (and suffered) like a startup in its early stages, so I've had firsthand experience with the ups and downs of creating and innovating in technology. Little did I know that those long hours and challenges were actually preparing me to help hundreds of other developers facing similar circumstances ... I was training to be a Catalyst SLayer:

Catalyst Team

You probably know a lot about Catalyst by now, but one of the perks of the program that often gets overshadowed by "free hosting" is the mentorship and feedback the SoftLayer team provides every Catalyst participant. Entrepreneurs bounce ideas off of guys like Paul Ford and George Karidis to benefit from the years of experience and success we've experienced, and the more technical folks can enlist our help in figuring out more efficient ways to tie their platforms to their infrastructure.

When I was forging through the startup waters, I was fortunate to have been supported by financially reinforced walls and the skilled engineers of a well-established hosting company in Tokyo. Unfortunately, that kind of support is relatively uncommon. That's where Catalyst swoops in. SoftLayer's roots were planted in the founders' living rooms and garages, so we're particularly fond of other companies who are bootstrapping, learning from failure and doing whatever it takes to succeed. In my role with Catalyst, I've effectively become a resource for hundreds of startups around the world ... and that feels good.

Five days before my official start date, I receive a call from Josh telling me that we'd be spending my first official week on the job in Seattle with Surf Incubator and Portland with Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). While the trip did not involve carving waves or stuffing our faces with baked goods (bummer), we did get to hear passionate people explain what keeps them up at night. We got to share a little bit about SoftLayer and how we can help them sleep better (or fuel them with more energy when they're up at night ... depending on which they preferred), and as I headed back to Los Angeles, I knew I made the right choice to become a SLayer. I'm surrounded by energy, creativity, passion, innovation and collaboration on a daily basis. It's intoxicating.

TL;DR: I love my job.

-@andy_mui

November 20, 2012

Community Development: Catalysing European Startups

SoftLayer works hard and plays hard. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Dallas for the first "Global Catalyst Summit"* where the community development teams in Europe, Asia and the United States all came together under one roof to learn, strategize and bond. What that really means is that we all experienced a week of hardcore information flow and brutal fun.

The onboarding process to become a part of the SoftLayer's Community Development (Catalyst) team is pretty rigorous, and traveling to Dallas from Amsterdam for the training made it even more intense. In short order, I learned about the roots of the Catalyst program and why SoftLayer is so interested in investing in helping startups succeed. I got the low-down on the hundreds of companies that are taking advantage of the program right now, and I was inspired by the six incredible people who focus exclusively on the Catalyst program at SoftLayer ... And Big Tex:

SoftLayer Community Development Team and Big Tex

When the whirlwind week of orientation and training came to an end, I came to a solid conclusion: I am working at SoftLayer for a reason. I believe SoftLayer has the most kick-ass global on-demand technology platform out there, and our focus on innovation and automation is reflected in everything we do. On top of that, we give that platform to startups to help springboard their success. I get to work with a community of world-changers. Needless to say, that's an amazing conclusion to come to.

As a member of the Catalyst team in EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), I can provide signficant resources to entrepreneurs who are building awesome new applications and technologies that are making a difference locally, regionally and globally. Anna Bofill Bert and I work out of SoftLayer's Amsterdam office, and we are fully dedicated to helping startup and developer communities in our region.

As a review exercise and a way to educate the audience that may be unfamiliar with Catalyst, I thought I'd bullet out a few of the main ideas:

What is Catalyst?

The SoftLayer Catalyst Startup Program provides:

  • A generous monthly hosting credit toward dedicated, cloud or hybrid compute environments for a FULL YEAR (Ideal for dev-ops/next generation startup compute applications who want high performance from the start).
  • Direct connection to highest level programming team at SoftLayer — Our Innovation Team. Participating companies get help and advice from the people that are writing the book on highly scalable, global infrastructure environments.
  • Connection to the SoftLayer Marketing and PR Team for help getting spreading the word around the world about all the cool stuff participating startups are doing.

We reach startups by listening to them and meeting needs that all of them express. We are telling the SoftLayer story, networking, making friends, drinking too much and travelling like mad. In the course of a month, we went to Lean Start Up Machine in Rotterdam, Structure Europe in Amsterdam, Pioneers Festival in Vienna, HowToWeb in Bucharest and we managed to complete a quick tour of startup communities in Spain.

Like our peers on the US team, we partner with incubators and accelerators to make sure that when startups look for help getting started, they also find SoftLayer. We're already working with partners like Springboard, Seedcamp, GameFounders, Startup Sauna, the INLEA Foundation and Tetuan Valley, and the list of supported communities seems to grow daily. When the portfolio companies in each of these organizations are given access to the Catalyst program, that means SoftLayer's Catalyst customer base is growing pretty phenomenally as well.

What I actually like most about how we help startups is the mentorship and office hours we provide participating companies as well. SoftLayer was founded by ten guys in a living room in 2005, and we've got hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue as of 2012. That success is what the SoftLayer team is excited to share insights about.

Hustling is a major part of startup culture, so it's only fitting that I feel like I had to hustle through this blog to get all of my thoughts down. Given that SoftLayer EMEA is a bit of a startup itself, I'm happy to be practicing what we preach. If you'd like more information about Catalyst or you want to apply, please feel free to hit me up: esampson@softlayer.com

We want to be part of your company's success story.

-@EmilyBlitz

*Note: As an homage to Big Tex after the fire, we referred to our meeting as the "Global Catalyst Summit with Big Tex" at the Texas State Fair. We hope to see you back in action in 2013, Big Tex!

December 14, 2011

Startup Series: Tech Wildcatters

Tech Wildcatters is a mentor-driven technology startup accelerator led by entrepreneurs in the Dallas area. The 12-week "boot camp" runs every spring and fall, providing experience and exposure to the 8-10 companies selected to participate in each class. Dennis Dayman, a Tech Wildcatters partner and mentor, explains what Tech Wildcatters is all about and why they chose to partner with SoftLayer:

In the coming weeks, you'll meet a few of the startups that have benefited from the Tech Wildcatters program, and we'll share some of their post-accelerator success with you.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can participate in the Tech Wildcatters startup accelerator, visit http://techwildcatters.com. If you already know you want to take advantage of the opportunities Tech Wildcatters can provide, their simple online application is the only thing between you and your soon-to-be-huge business!

This post features an organization involved in the SoftLayer Startup Program. SoftLayer Loves Startups, so we want to help them fuel their success by providing hosting resources and expertise to new and growing businesses. In this series, you'll meet a few of the startups and incubators SoftLayer supports to learn more about the amazing things they're doing.
October 13, 2011

Fueling Startups with TechStars

One of the coolest things that we get to do as a company is support the growing and thriving community of technology entrepreneurs.

Programs like TechStars provide us with the perfect opportunity to directly plug into some of the best and brightest tech talent anywhere in the world. As the number one startup accelerator in the world, TechStars receives applications from thousands of companies each year, and they only select the best of the best to be members of the program. Member companies receive perks like top-notch mentorship, free hosting, funding and the chance to present their products to venture capitalists and angel investors at the end of the program.

Several SoftLayer executives serve as mentors for TechStars, which allows us to share some of the knowledge (and some of the mistakes) we've gathered along the way. In fact, the inaugural class of the new TechStars Cloud in San Antonio will have access to SoftLayer's CSO George Karidis, our CTO Duke Skarda and me as Mentors. Not too long ago, SoftLayer was a startup, too — just a bunch of guys with a great vision, a few credit cards, and not much more. We understand how important it is to get good help and advice from others who have traveled the road before.

That's why we created the SoftLayer Startup Program. Companies in our program receive more than just advice, best practices and industry insight from us; we also provide tangible resources. Every selected company gets a free year of hosting with SoftLayer. This includes:

  • A $1,000 per month credit for dedicated hosting, cloud hosting, or any kind of hybrid hosting setup
  • Advanced infrastructure help and advice
  • A dedicated Senior Account Representative
  • Marketing support

The selection process for the SoftLayer Startup Program is pretty competitive as well, but because Tech Stars member companies had to beat the odds to get into that program, they are granted automatic admission to our program. Several of the companies who've gone through TechStars and through the SoftLayer Startup Program have become loyal customers, and you can see many of them in our Technology Partners Marketplace, where we spotlight innovative ways members of the SoftLayer community are building their businesses on our platform.

Calling All Startups!

If you're involved in a startup right now, and you're looking to get the help you deserve, email me, and I'll help you get your application submitted for the SoftLayer Startup Program. If you're focused on Cloud Infrastructure or Cloud Tools development, you have an even bigger opportunity: Priority-consideration applications for the inaugural class of TechStars Cloud are due October 21. The first class will run in San Antonio Texas from January through April of 2012. If you need just a bit more time to apply, the final application deadline is November 2. Head over to TechStars Cloud to get more information and to apply to join the latest, greatest edition of TechStars ... And you get guaranteed admission into our program where you'll enjoy all of the SoftLayer-specific benefits above!

-@PaulFord

P.S. If you want some insight into what it's like to work in a technology incubator, we recommend the TechStars series on BloombergTV that has documented the ups and downs of a few of the participants in TechStars New York.

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