You all know that behind Leka, there is a team of great entrepreneurs who love to share their stories and experiences. This blog post is about our life as a building startup.
About six months ago, we were trying to fit our team of six in front of a small computer screen to have a call with the Techstars / Sprint Accelerator's management team to join the program. Who knew that that was the call when we would have the answer if whether or not we’d be a part of such a prestigious program! It was a great moment for the team.
Being accepted to the Sprint Accelerator (which is powered by Techstars) was certainly one of the biggest milestones since we founded Leka in 2014. It was an opportunity for us as team to discover and learn how autism care works in the America and how likely people in the US are to use and buy an educational robotic smart toy like Leka. But it also meant that we had to move our team - and we were on-boarding three more people at the time! - from Paris to Kansas City.
In just a few weeks we planned our flights, packed our bags and found a house where to live in KC. Everything went by so fast!
The program concluded in May and it has only been two months since the team has been settling back into France. To offer you, our community, a glimpse into what that experience for Leka as a company was like, and what it means for our future, we wanted to share a blog post outlining a quick guide of what we've learned so far.
For the startup uninitiated - what is Techstars?
Techstars is considered one of the top startup accelerators in the world. It’s a mentor-driven organization that seeks to help accelerate and grow startups with promise.
Techstars runs several programs in different cities all around the world, and some are managed in partnership with big corporations. We went through an accelerator program powered by the US network carrier Sprint, taking place in Kansas City, Missouri.
The program provides startups with mentorship, advice, and resources to help them succeed (for us, success was defined as launching our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo and reaching our goal). The program concludes with a “Demo Day,” where each of the participating startups pitch their company to investors and showcase their product in front of a similarly influential audience of entrepreneurs and press.
We have been through the program with nine others startups that were focusing on subjects such as voice-driven artificial intelligence, sentiment's analysis or the trucking industry.
What we have done at Techstars?
We were already aware of the cultural gap in the way American and French people do business, but Techstars has allowed us to experience it by ourselves. Some highlights:
- Intense networking. We've been taught how to build and leverage our network to get the most out of it. Preparation is key, either if it is a call, a first contact, an introduction or a bigger meeting, you must be prepared and make your goals and specific asks clear. During this program, we really began to understand what networking is like by going through the first weeks the folks at the accelerator coin "mentor madness." You basically meet with one to six potential mentors and you’re given twenty minutes to pitch and discuss your project with them. Every day, over the course of two weeks -- Rinse and repeat.
Give First is the Techstars' credo. It’s a philosophy that has jived with the team since the first time we've heard it, and that we are trying to apply everyday (and it’s not that easy!). It means that the more you are willing to give to help people without waiting something in return, the more you'll find help when needed.
Meetings with families and therapists. One of the points of being in the US was to network and meet with families and therapists that could truly use Leka, and that is something Techstars pushed us towards: meet with as many users as possible. We've met with incredible families and discovered special education centers in the Kansas City area, allowing us to highlight and focus on the features that are most needed and best prepare the launch of our pre-orders.
Fundraising process. As for most startups, we’re well aware that at some point we'll need to raise money from a Series A funding round, and we need to be prepared. We participated in workshops on how to build relationships with investors and keep the momentum going, and found an amazing support system from Techstars on those key points.
The benefits of being part of this program
The ability to launch our crowdfunding from the US. We've been preparing for the opening of our pre-orders for a long time. Being in the US during the launch of our Indiegogo has made the process easier: we were able to talk to all our American customers in the same time zone (or close), communicate locally, and improve our messages by talking to users every day. Community feedback is key and a cornerstone to the Leka development process.
Ease the process for moving to the US. We've always been looking into moving our operations over to the US, and being part of Techstars served as a great “first contact” point for Leka. Our plan is to come back as soon as possible, and thanks to the contacts we've made, the support we've found by being there and the community we've been building during our three-month stay, it's easier for us to now simply consider the idea than if we never went to the US in the first place.
A chance to share with a trusted circle of founders and mentors. Even though we just “graduated” from Techstars, this experience is something we know we'll benefit from for years.
You are a Techstars alumni for life.
We already benefited from it when we were in the program: we were all living under the same pressure together and a "founders lunch" was organized to share with others in the program what was going on emotionally across teams. Our lead mentor was also the CEO of a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company in the autism field, and helped us to not only understand autism care in the US but also the "entrepreneur" life and how to run a business in this specific field.