Techstars: Week Two, or Keep Your Ear to the Grindstone.

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Today begins week three of Techstars Cloud 2013. Shit is getting real. Introductions are over. Lines have been drawn in the sand. Sleep patterns are starting to deviate from the norm. I couldn’t be happier with the job.

This last week was pretty busy, but really productive. It’s refreshing to work with so many teams that actually listen and appreciate the feedback I’m giving them, rather than the experience that is typical for so many designers. See Clients from Hell if you’re not familiar with the bullshit. The teams here at Techstars have been great people to work with. I think there’s a foundational understanding that everyone involved was chosen for their talent and expertise, so it feels really good when you can explain the why of a design and it’s appreciated and accepted. I’ve never had a problem with someone not liking a design I’ve done, as long as it’s been because of a logical beef and not some ultra-personal, indefensible reason. This group of people don’t seem to have an interest in jamming up progress on their work just to hear themselves talk, so it’s working out pretty well. These teams are pretty smart people and want to do good work and be successful; I think they expect that my goals for their work are the same.

I’ve met some really cool mentors already who are behind some of the cooler things out there. The stack of personal business cards I have is getting pretty serious, representative of beasts in the SaaS, VC, and entrepreneur world. I’m not really in that scene outside of developing visual identities, but it’s cool to have exchanged cards with celebrities in that space.

Here’s to another week with Techstars. I plan to get deeper with a few of the teams so that I can manage more of their collateral, but many still need general help. The best part of the workflow for me right now is that I have to change directions on a moment’s notice. Even when I’m not actually designing, I’m talking and listening to team members with different needs, different markets, and different accents in some cases. It’s a really fun exercise in staying on top of shit, and sleep be damned; I can’t start missing things now. The grind is upon us and we are likewise upon the grind.

Techstars: Week One.

My first week with Techstars has come to a close. I had originally planned a mid-week post on getting to know everyone, but that didn’t happen. Things were pretty hectic. Last week was a rush of teams, mentors, lectures, meetings, chats, lots of coffee, and fewer cigarette breaks than I’d like. It was definitely good though. I’ve never shared space with so many talented tech people since the time my mom took me to a Windows Chicago/95 lecture. It was great meeting everyone, and hopefully I’ll get names sorted in my mind by the end of the coming week.

While there are a few teams that will likely be on my radar more than others (either because they need my help more or because we have more in common culturally), all of the teams are full of super talented, super intelligent people. I sat in on a few mentor meetings and I was immediately impressed with how apparently humble the mentors were. They were warm, welcoming, and sincerely interested in the challenges likely to befall the startups they were meeting. They addressed everyone with concise criticism, concern, and real-talk. You might know I’m always a sucker for that real talk.

I did a day of 30 minute meetings with each of the teams on Friday. We discussed their particular design concerns, and hopefully I pulled my weight offering advice and strategy to get their visual dilemmas figured out. I headed out of town with the family for a much needed off-grid weekend, but I’m excited to get back into the shit with the startups.

Here’s to another week on that grind.

On Joining Techstars.

I’ve been secretly excited (as excited as I get, which seems marginally interested to most folks) about this new thing I’m doing. Starting January 14th, I’ll be working in the Hackstars group for Techstars here at the Cloud branch in San Antonio.

If you don’t know about Techstars, you can read up here, and here. Roughly, the program this year goes down like this. A group of young companies will be in town for about three months. In that three months, they’ll go through Techstars’ brand of startup incubation. They’ll get professional mentorship from some of the most successful people in the game, and they’ll get advice and help with all sorts of stuff crucial to being a viable business in their respective industries. Hackstars, the little crew that I’ve been jumped into, will be there as support for development and production so these companies can get their shit together and go out and be somebody. It seems that typically, the Hackstars group consists of a small group of professional skill level people, who also have this wandering samurai ethos. The aim is to have people who have deep knowledge about some things but are mostly kind of generalists. Me. All day, erryday, bruh.

I’ll be working mostly as an art director and will be teaming up with some other guys to get production of stuff figured out effectively and efficiently for our group of startups. If I could stop being such a cynic for a moment, I would tell you that this is basically a best-case scenario for me work-wise, because I love doing design, hate doing production work, love meeting new people with cool ideas, love helping them tighten things up, and hate long term commitments when I know I can give someone what they need with a short term contract. I also only want to work with people who have useful things to sell. My days of helping to promote shit nobody needs or even wants are behind me. Also, I won’t do work for people I think are dicks. This Techstars-Hackstars thing meets all of my criteria for doing work.

I’ve already met a few of the people I’ll be working with, and everyone seems pretty cool. Real talk? They all seem much less douchey than I would’ve expected, but admittedly, I always expect everyone to be a douche. The Managing Director here, Jason Seats, who’s also a cool and moderately normal guy, put me in touch with the guys who worked as Hackstars last year and they were all really helpful and just cool guys. Their testimonials have me looking forward to getting down with program. I was a bit leery in the beginning because I know that new companies/programs of this sort can sometimes be cult-like in nature. There’s typically a lot of weird team-building stuff going on, directed play, and/or personality duplication. So far at least, I haven’t noticed anything at Techstars that leads me to believe I might have to drink tainted Kool-Aid. While there will almost certainly be some dorky team-building exercises involved, I’m gonna just roll with it, and try to act like I’m not too cool for it, because honestly, I’m not. Plus, how else are you supposed to get to know and somewhat trust people in such a short amount of time, without really being in some serious shit with them? I’ll leave it to the team-building pros to figure it out. I just have to draw a line at falling backwards into some group of strangers’ arms. Three-legged races, oddly enough, I’m down with.

There are supposedly metric shitloads of perks coming my way in being a Hackstar, which I won’t get into now, since it’s mostly rumor. I can say that I’ve been given a kelly green zip-up hoodie. Yeah; a kelly-motherfucking-green hoodie. Seriously, I would’ve prolly joined just for that. Besides the hoodie, I’ll be meeting a bunch of people with whom I’d probably never have the chance to share a zip code, let alone a room or table. I’ll probably bring donuts and extra cigarettes, because that’s how you make friends. There—the secret to my success is out.

If you’re interested in keeping tabs, you can follow @Techstars on the Twitter, or read their blog.

So, here’s to a new year and a new opportunity, both of which are all I’m ever really hoping for.