Techstars: Week Four, or What Doesn’t Kill You

The potential for any given day at Techstars Cloud.

I hate to start this post with a claim so cliché, but: SHIT GOT REAL.

I know enough about the brains behind this bootcamp to expect that a certain amount of stress is deliberately designed-in. You can’t schedule back-to-back days of back-to-back meetings on accident. I’ve heard from teams that shit is pretty hectic for them on a personal level. Some people are traveling in and out of town to visit family, significant others, conduct business meetings, and shore up existing relationships, all while clocking at least 12-hour days at Techstars Cloud HQ. I’m sympathetic to their struggles, but I’m all for them getting chewed up. I remember having a conversation with Jason Seats (my boss for the next two months, and the Managing Director of this program) about how a certain amount of stress is probably pretty useful for these teams. Sure, I get to witness the ruckus from slightly outside of the fray, but I know from my own experiences that it’s best to forge with actual fire. It’s really useful to know how you and your core group of comrades respond to intense stress before getting into an intensely stressful situation. It’s also the best way to set a baseline for what you know you can handle, especially if the level in your training is high—but you’re given the tools to manage it. You can always look back on your training and know that shit will never be as bad. That’s a pretty special experience.

People who’ve been through some shit emerge with a kind of “survivor’s wisdom” that you can’t get without really going through some shit. You’re not going to acquire that wisdom from a book, by watching some documentary, or by asking questions of survivors. Yeah, we’re talking about business stuff. It’s not hand-to-hand combat, or living in a jungle hunting game with your bare hands. Still though, on a rough day, life in the “pit” at Techstars is a only couple of ill-advised comments away from turning into some full-blown Lord of the Flies scene. The kitchen on our floor looks like a frat house kitchen most of the time, and I’m guessing most of these founders are going to go through pretty serious ramen and fruit snack withdrawal when this thing is over.

For me? I’ve never been so busy and so happy in a work environment. The stress game is old hat to some degree, which isn’t to say I’m immune to it or anything; I just have multiple high-stress baselines I can look back on, and scars to remind me to look. I’ve been trying to figure out how to continue doing what I’m doing day-to-day after this program is over because I already know I’d do this Hackstars gig again if I could. The working environment is so different from what I’ve recently been exposed to. The best bits of my experiences with clients, and at places I’ve worked in the past, are all kind of rolled up into this one with Techstars. I’ve got brilliant colleagues, general autonomy and trust, the length of my lunch and cigarette breaks is determined by actual pending work and deadlines, and I know that there are resources for help if I don’t know something. These demands are going to be top of mind the next time someone offers me a gig. For me, the stress is good. It’s not the kind of stress that comes from having a problem you can’t solve, and I’ve had plenty of those. This is the stress that comes from having a problem you want to solve and knowing that you can. For me, I guess this stress is just excitement. I don’t jump out of planes, or drive fast, or whatever. I do design. That’s my work and my respite.

For those sweating the stress, especially when it comes to doing what you love most: Look sharp, and smarten up. Dealing with all of this stress is the work. You don’t like the work? Quit your job. Micah Baldwin (@micah) of Graphicly was here through the weekend and gave an awesome talk covering some ways to keep the work/life balance in check, so it’s obviously on people’s minds. I have no doubt that this group of founders will be well-equipped to handle whatever torment the jungle of the new economy will inevitably send. There have been some hurt feelings, some shouting matches, and some reconciliation. It’s interesting to see people who thought they had everything all figured out a few weeks ago, get punked out by the realization they were missing a big chunk of reality in their business models. It’s inspiring though, to see those same people work through the problems they’ve found. It’s awesome, really, because I think some of these people weren’t 100% sure they could solve the problem until it was done. It’s still daunting though, especially considering today (Monday, February 11) begins the fifth week of a three-month-long engagement. My mantra for this week, just as it is every week: Keep it glued; shit is real.