Sure looks like I was talking about focusing… 🙂

Springboard is a mentorship-led accelerator programme for startups and member of TechStars Network. It’s an intensive 13 week programme run by Jon Bradford at ideaSpace, part of Cambridge University, UK.

As one of the mentors at Springboard, I got to meet all the ten teams one-on-one on the Day 8 of the programme to exchange ideas and challenge their thoughts. We even managed to squeeze in extra time for me to do a masterclass on Social PR for Startups. Thank You Jon and Jess for the well orchestrated day and for all your hospitality! I couldn’t have enjoyed more my first visit to beautiful Cambridge, in the best company of lovely Katy Turner.

View from ideaSpace in Cambridge. Not bad working environment.

TechStars, a startup accelerator programme founded 2007 by David Cohen and Brad Feld have in four years grown into four cities in North America, TechStars Boulder just recently also being ranked as number one accelerator programme in the United States, with TechStars Boston on eligible fifth place. As David Tisch, Managing Director of TechStars NYC, puts it: (Great interview on This Week In Startups with Jason Calacanis)

“TechStars is about finding great entrepreneurs that will go and create great companies, the crucial thing during the programme being the ability to iterate fast.”

On average, 30-50% of the TechStars teams significantly change what they’re doing, which I’ve noted being the case even with Springboard teams. It’s been great to follow the progress so far via team updates and the daily blog posts.

The Timeless Art of Follow Up Emails

What stroke me most with the Springboard teams was how well informed the teams were on us mentors and the immediate personal follow ups.

Turns out that one of the first things Jon guides the teams in is the importance of follow up and research on the people they meet up with. Considering that the teams meet over 100 mentors, 10 per day during the first weeks, they do get invaluable and intense practice on the craftsmanship. They are also not allowed to send plain copy and paste follow up emails.

Learning #1: It’s exhausting and it takes time.

Learning #2: To build relationships takes time and sincere effort. Real relationships are great for your business and often make or break a deal.

One of the most notable and recurring stories I keep hearing, whether it’s about raising funding or finding business partner, are about founders who came through on the other side because of their ability to stay on the radar and build a relationship: Keep the people you like and wish to have a future relationship with updated on your company progress. Being consistent, persistent, and able to show progress are highly ranked qualities, that will make you and your company rise above the noise. It’s a great way to start building trust and credibility, i.e. building a relationship. Brad Feld, Foundry Group and co-founder of TechStars, just recently summarized it in crystal clear way:

“They [relationships] evolve over a period of time. They don’t require boondoggles or fancy things; they require sincerity and substantive interaction over a long period of time. Then, when there are moments of opportunity, these are the people that I go to (and hopefully who come to me.)”

Keep in mind when approaching people: Everybody is busy. Don’t make people feel bad if they haven’t got back to you within 24h, especially if they didn’t initiate the contact. Instead of sending notes like: “This is the third time I email you”, or “I emailed you last week but you haven’t got back to me yet”, send a nice short follow up note with reference to your previous message.

#Mustwatch. Two great episodes of This Week in Venture Capital by Mark Suster with highly valuable advice and learnings on:

1. The importance of follow up, especially within corporate sales by Gotham Gal, Joanne Wilson.

2. Being persistent, follow up, hiring, branding, pr and marketing with sugar on top: the roller coaster of fundraising and selling a company by entrepreneur and angel investor Matt Coffin

Paula is Digital Product Advisor and Top 100 Women in Tech in Europe, focusing on Product, Go-to-market, and Internationalization strategies. She has to date mentored over 150 digital technology companies, and rated as one of the best startup mentors in Europe. Read more about her work and personal guidelines. Contact Paula to help you build better products and drive growth. “You never learn anything when you speak, only when you listen” – Roelof Botha / Douglas Leone, Sequoia Capital. Connect on Twitter, LinkedIn.