The ListHunt Startup Series: Part Three

December 4, 2015
Henry Vasquez

Accelerate or Die: the Techstars Experience (Part 3)

For part one of this series, “The First Day”, click here.
For part two of this series, “Mentor Madness”, click here.

“A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.”
-Steve Blank


Steve Blank

I sat in my seat, knowing that at any moment, Techstars Chicago Managing Director Troy would call our name to go next. I thought to myself “We’ve done a lot this week. I should focus on the positives.”

My co-founder Sam had worked around the clock to get our mobile web application up and running. This wasn’t a half-baked mobile website. It was fast, responsive, and fun to use. We’d added a new member to our team, Oliver Stahl. And, for the first time in the history of the company, we had a real conversion funnel we could trust.

We lightly touched on our accomplishments and spent most of the time focused on the graphs and data presented behind me. A new concept that was put into place for the first time in Techstars Chicago’s history was the idea of 10x10’s. This was an opportunity for everyone to take a few hours out of their week and share their highs and lows of what was happening in their lives (work related or not). Most importantly, it was a time to share our KPIs (key performance indicators) and receive feedback from our peers. We were encouraged to be honest in the 10x10’s and to drop our guard with the other companies. It was interesting to go behind the scenes and hear that even companies bigger, stronger, or completely different than Tribe felt similar growing pains.


The 10x10’s were a fantastic way to bond with the group. We resoundingly told Troy that we enjoyed the 10×10 aspect of the program. We even had Jason Seats, (now a Techstars Partner) come and tell us that Techstars Austin thought the same thing of the 10x10’s; it brought their group closer together and it was there to stay.

At the beginning of the program, we were asked to pick 3 metrics that we as a company wanted to track, and compare these KPI’s, week over week, to be able to hold ourselves accountable. It was usually a sobering experience to report on what we had done, but it really taught me as an entrepreneur that success isn’t built overnight, and that progress is made in many ways. With our KPI’s in place, we were also able to use data to our advantage to find strengths and weaknesses in our product.

For example: 16% of the people who landed on our site signed up for Tribe. Pretty good. 48% of these signups would create a task. And for the people who used Tribe on a regular basis, they invited on average 4.7 new users to the platform. Hey, that’s great!

Now, what was the 9% I mentioned earlier? Turns out that 9% of the signups actually became fully-activated users. We chose this as one of our KPI’s and it was one that really beat us up every week. To us, this was the ultimate conversion: how many people checked us out, and then became dedicated Tribe users? And we set very high standards for what this number meant. Our definition: an activated user came back to the product another day AND they assigned a task to someone else.

It gave us a great measuring point to look at when we compare all of the different experiments we were running. If the 9% went up then something was working, and if it was below 9% we knew to abandon the experiment and move on. *Entrepreneur Advice* Taught to us by Techstars, even if that number hurts and might at times seem self punishing, use it to learn and not be discouraged.

We measured weekly active users, monthly active users, and new sign-ups. Some weeks felt better to report on than others, but by measuring these KPI’s on a weekly basis, we could accurately tell with data what was working for us.

sexy chart edited

Now, this is my cliche warning: stick to your beliefs, but don’t lie to yourself. You can run across a startup that might have rocketship traction, but don’t really know what the big vision is, or even why they are doing well. Conversely, you can have little traction but have solid numbers that show the physics of your business. You can’t take these numbers as an indictment of your self-worth, nor should you think you’re a genius because something is going well. Unless you actually understand the levers of your business and you can manipulate them in a predictable way, you are still playing in the realm of lucky or unlucky.

Startups are a funny thing to judge against each other. It’s sort of like a middle school popularity contest. Everyone controls their image and some are better than others at packaging their company. At the early stage of so many companies, it’s all about the sizzle associated with each brand. Sizzle affects perception, and perception means momentum, and momentum is your lifeblood. You will need real numbers to back things up, but so many startups go years without solid numbers. We noticed that if we chose to measure things just a little bit differently, we would all of a sudden have a bad day. Then, we’d re-run the numbers with a different approach, and then we would find out things weren’t actually that bad. Be very careful about how you choose your metrics and what they mean.

Now, with all of the above in mind, how did Tribe use our conversion funnel, leverage our momentum, and try and stick to our authentic metrics? We experimented like crazy people and worked on our product-market fit. Next week, in Part 4 of the ListHunt+Tribe series, we’ll dive into some of the tactics we used to validate our model. One of them, it turns out, was taking a contrarian position to a popular belief that “email is dying.”

[Follow along and read more about the Techstars experience at our blog]


Tribe has gotten lots of press, here are links to other posts:

3 Comments. Leave new

[…] third week of our partnership with Tribe and their THIRD post on what it was like going through Techstars can be seen here! They help people who are awful at email (just like us) be more productive and not let any emails […]


[…] For part one of this series, “The First Day”, click here. For part two of this series, “Mentor Madness”, click here. For part three of this series, “Momentum and Metrics”, click here. […]


[…] “The First Day”, click here. For part two of this series, “Mentor Madness”, click here. For part three of this series, “Momentum and Metrics”, click here. For part four of this series, “Silicon Valley wants to Kill Email”, click […]


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