FullContact’s CEO Looks Back at Techstars, Two Years and $8.8M Later

8/7/13Follow @bartlorang

This morning I went on a hike up Mt. Sanitas with the founders of Kato.im, Peter Hizalev and Andrei Soroker.

It’s an exciting time for Peter and Andrei—they are presenting tomorrow as part of the Techstars Boulder 2013 class at Techstars Demo Day.

As we hiked and talked about the past summer, Kato’s product, and getting investors, their enthusiasm and energy was palpable. It made me think back to my own Techstars experience two years ago.

It’s been exactly two years since FullContact presented at Techstars Demo Day in 2011. I remember giving the pitch vividly. Afterwards, my co-founder Travis Todd gave me a violent high-five, and feelings of relief and excitement flooded through me all at once.

It was a thrilling time for me personally and a great moment for FullContact.

But looking back, two years is an eternity in the startup world.

In that time, we’ve grown to thirty amazing employees. After 126 rejections, we raised $8.8 million in capital. We launched FullContact API, FullContact Card Reader, and FullContact Address Book (in private beta). And we made big headlines with our Paid, PAID Vacation policy.

It’s been quite the ride. Recently, I reflected on the things Techstars taught us that helped us get where we are today.

The first thing that Techstars taught us was about the power of mentorship.

Mentors are extremely valuable, regardless of your company stage. Mentors ask tough questions, provide guidance and often validate or invalidate assumptions.

Every company should engage in mentoring programs whether they have two employees, thirty employees, or three hundred employees.

After Techstars was over, we never stopped engaging with mentors. In addition, I’ve encouraged my team to develop their own peer mentor groups and actively participate. I find mentoring other CEOs to be a very rewarding and valuable experience—it gives me a perspective that I can’t sometimes find inside my own business.

Simply put, mentorship scales.

Another important lesson we learned at Techstars is that Failure is OK and even a good thing. Failure means that you are making decisions. The key is to fail fast at something, correct it, learn from it, and quickly move on.

In most parts of the business world failure is viewed as a bad thing: something to avoid at all costs. Entire MBA courses are constructed around mitigating risk. But in Techstars, it’s OK to fail.

This prevailing attitude towards failure permeates throughout Techstars and it has an unbelievably positive effect. Founders have no fear. They can focus on the business without worrying about the social implications of a “failure.”

Ultimately, the “failure is good” mantra empowers entrepreneurs to make choices, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.

We’ve taken this lesson forward in FullContact. We’ve failed more times than I can count, but that’s OK. We don’t sweat it. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and try again.

Finally, Techstars really taught us about the power of honest, straightforward feedback. Techstars has a mantra that’s repeated in every program—“It’s just data.”

The “it’s just data” mantra can be boiled down to: don’t take criticism personally. It’s an opinion. It’s one only piece of data.

At FullContact, one of our core values is “We communicate with candor.” When communicating with candor, it’s important to understand that “it’s just data” and to not take feedback personally.

Collect the data. Then interpret it. Then act on it. That’s the Techstars way and that’s how we do things at FullContact.

However, with all the lessons we learned during Techstars, there was one thing that Techstars didn’t teach us.

Techstars didn’t teach us about the difficulty of scaling up quickly. Going from a few founders to over thirty employees in two years is a challenge. We spend an enormous amount of time working on this problem. And given our growth trajectory, I’m sure the next few years will be even more challenging.

Scaling technology is hard. Scaling people might be even harder.

As I attend Techstars Demo Day in Boulder on Thursday, I’ll be proud of all the teams and the tremendous work they’ve put in the past three months. They’ve all done great work, and I’m excited to see what they achieve in the future.

The lessons from Techstars last a lifetime. As Alex White, CEO of Next Big Sound (Techstars 2009) said of his experience: “We’ll always be Techstars.”

Bart Lorang is co-founder and CEO of FullContact, a Denver-based startup developing a cloud-based contact management solution for businesses, developers, and individuals. Follow @bartlorang

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