Taking a deep sigh today, as this whirlwind of a program is now behind me and I can take the time to reflect on what this experience taught me as a CEO, a co-founder, and a husband and father.
As slightly older (more seasoned) entrepreneur, the program was both refreshing, terrifying, annoying, and truly eye opening. I tried to embrace the “full monty” of impacts — needless to say, my biggest frustrations came in the blank stares from my classmates when I dropped a classic Fletch line.
My biggest takeaways lie in Techstars’ mentor driven programming and what it’s like to see people guiding, teaching, supporting, and helping with an open heart and no agenda. This process can be challenging for both mentors and mentees, Mentors give until it hurts — time, love, support are not easy when there is “no skin in the game”. As a CEO, you feel an odd mix of panic, guilt, and greed as you accept their help. Imposter syndrome was in full force as well, with me trying to make sure I was honest and open but deep down, questioning whether I really belonged. Mentors who do not have agenda other than giving back, are one of the most fantastic gifts a company can get in startup mode. Nikola Power was lucky enough to work with amazing issue area experts and passionate startup folks.
Second, is the focus on customers — not just selling that is relatively easy, but true customer empathy. Slowing down and understanding your markets, your customers, and your partners — what they need, want and what pain points you could solve. This was very tough for me, I am a 20 year sales and BD guy, I know how and what to sell! In truth, I needed to slow down and listen. I am still a work in progress, but am learning to listen, ask, and evaluate customer issues before launching into sales pitch. Learning how to truly dive in and understand our customers is the biggest skill and strategy this program taught me.
The joke in startup life is you need a rock at home, supporting you both financially and emotionally. Ideally, people say you need a boring anesthesiologist as a spouse. Well instead, I married a rockstar healthcare lawyer and have three kids, two big crazy dogs, and busy community board roles. I could not have completed Techstars without my amazing family, so thank you!
The program is also all about building your founding team. Delving deep into interpersonal issues, work styles, equity, exit strategies, and life plans. Nikola Power was not unique in facing some real challenges in this area, but I’m proud of how we openly acknowledged our issues and put the work in to improve. I am really impressed with the personal and professional growth of my co-founders Ben McConahey and Evan Hung, they have risen to the challenge and continue to impress with total commitment to the cause. I am a better leader, person and a Techstars graduate because of them. We tacked it all together and leave program a stronger and better team.
Finally, I want to thank my classmates and the staff. They are visionary leaders who can pivot, dance, sing, and share a drink in solidarity of working every day to do good and build and amazing company. My classmates give me hope in humanity, hope for our planet, and hope for a better cleaner future. Our Techstars program team was second to none and I am incredibly grateful for how organized, passionate and committed they were to work with our companies. They understood our challenges, values, and supported us every single day!
So when asked to rank this program, I go back to another classic movie of my youth, Spinal Tap...and say this program goes to 11, one louder and one better than 10!
–J.W. Postal, Founder & CEO