Today’s guest post is from our Co-Founder and CTO, Jeff Malek:
“The Five Layer Scaling Burrito, TechStars and Inquiry over Assertion FTW”
On Tuesday I talked with the new TechStars group (class? winners?) for an hour or so about scale, specifically from the tech perspective. It would have been a mistake for me to try and give out advice in this context, but I thought it would be helpful to share some things that I’ve seen work well, and some pain points. I mixed in some anecdotal criticisms that I’ve picked up from other CTOs and developers, with regard to competing technologies that I may have or have not used, which turned into good exchange. We had a great discussion afterwards, and I think we all learned – which is my favorite aspect of working in tech. Clearly there were extremely bright minds in the room – my good fortune to be a part of it.
By far my favorite part of the whole hour was being surprised to hear that each team was going to give me their quick pitch, describing their business plan, and I was to react off-the-cuff. What a great idea, for practice and feedback (nice work, @kaylakristine). While it must be very challenging to hear all of the (sometimes half-baked) feedback, good and bad, similar but bigger challenges are still to come on the startup road – so it’s a great approach. What impressed me the most out of that process were the guys who stood up either physically or figuratively to the challenge, with big smiles on their faces, taking the good with the bad – a few even bouncing back to drill into my critical feedback.
These positive, curious guys who asked probing questions exemplify what I’m trying to get across in my second slide here, when I say that inquiry should precede assertion. Rather than respond to input with a counter-argument, responding with inquiry (probing questions) keeps the conversation going. While that approach is a mantra of mine, I by no means consider myself an expert at it – it’s an art form that I’m always trying to improve on.
I was impressed with just about every pitch, pitcher and business idea. The best ones were concise, had a narrative (I may have mistakenly used the word ‘anecdotal,’ but I meant narrative), and included metrics. More points for big itch balm, like solutions geared toward health care or renewable energy. Overall, clearly the TechStars qualification process is solid – the qualifying team must be brilliant (shameless self-promotion).
I’m looking forward to seeing what this brilliant crew can do. Best of luck, guys. Take pictures while you’re up at Keith’s “cabin” – you’ll never forget these times and that woodsy retreat is the source of many legends. What happens at the cabin stays at the cabin. While you’re sitting around the campfire with beer in hand, ask him to tell you about his invention: a device that protects the face from exploding, flaming glass.
My slides from this presentation are below, and I’ve included a few links to previous decks and info from other presentations, stuff that provides a bit more color and detail around related topics. I hope they’re useful.
Thanks to all who attended and participated, and again – congrats! – Jeff