The concept of mentorship-driven accelerators is becoming increasingly popular among early-stage investors and venture capitalists. Techstars is a prime example of this model, having established a global network of thousands of people who are eager to help founders succeed. Amos Schwartzfarb, the managing director of Techstars in Austin, has been in the role for almost eight years and has seen the evolution of the accelerator industry firsthand.
Schwartzfarb says Techstars stands out because it cancan assist founders in ways that experience can allow. He believes that Techstars can be a great entry point for companies. Still, it is also essential to recognize that it is not the only option and that other accelerators may be more suitable for a particular venture.
Regarding vetting for passion and founders, Schwartzfarb looks for specific traits that are not always quantifiable. These include how the founders approach their work and react to success or failure. He also looks for signs of discipline, such as whether the founders take the time to continually improve themselves, whether through physical exercise or learning new skills.
Schwartzfarb believes that Techstars is still evolving and that the role of the managing director has changed over the years. He notes that Techstars now has a fixed number of startups — twelve — per cohort and that a venture fund inside the organization makes follow-on investments and does not take board seats.
When asked about the current state of early-stage seed investing and Series A, Schwartzfarb says that the later the stage, the harder it is to raise money. He also believes that this is a great time to invest in early-stage companies and that there is less available capital, which means that only people who are genuinely passionate and obsessed with their ventures will succeed.
Schwartzfarb believes focusing on delivering great products and value to customers is essential to build a long-term, sustainable business. He also believes that good venture capitalists should always be mindful that their job is to make money for their LPs but that focusing on the exit too early is the wrong approach.
Ultimately, Schwartzfarb says that the most important thing for him and Techstars is that the people behind the companies they invest in are good human beings. As he puts it, "If I'm going to have a relationship with a founder for potentially a decade or longer, I would want it to be one that will enhance my life as a human, not just my pocketbook."
These words remind early-stage investors, especially those at the helm of accelerators like Techstars, should look beyond the numbers and focus on the individuals behind the companies they invest in. After all, a business's human element will determine its success—or failure—in the long run.
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