After years of building digital products for companies ranging from Flickr to The Wall Street Journal to ABC News, I made a move to the investing side to help support and coach the next crop of companies that will meaningfully shift our media landscape. As the managing director of the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, Powered by Techstars, I’m on the lookout for the 10 companies to include in our first cohort that begins in July.
My transition from product creator to investor was gradual; when I wasn’t building new products at ABC, I was always looking for small teams building interesting solutions that we could plug into our existing suite of products to better serve our audiences. I was also on the lookout for fledgling, innovative companies when I was a 2016 Visiting Fellow at Nieman, where I explored new ways to use language as a de facto interface in the age of voice and messaging-based experiences. As a byproduct of searching for new products and my time at Nieman, I found myself coaching early-stage companies; part of that effort included mentoring companies at Techstars, which over time led me to my current role.
In both advising companies and now talking to hundreds of companies to assess potential fits for our new accelerator program, I’ve learned a few things that can hopefully guide early-stage media companies looking to meaningfully grow.
At Techstars, we have a philosophy for making investments, and the team represents the first thing we prioritize when deciding whether to bring a company into our fold. While the market you’re in, the solution you’ve focused on, and the traction you’ve gathered are core aspects of what we consider, we’ve found that if a company is lacking the core ingredient of solid team makeup, that company’s vision may not see it through. What this means for founders is that they should be selective and thoughtful about bringing on the right partners to collaborate with. They should think of what their company needs to succeed, which of those areas they as founders may not be the strongest in, and recruit team members who can help fill those gaps. Also, team dynamics can make or break a company, so founders should be sure their team as a whole is greater than the sum of its participants.
Another thing I’ve seen successful founders do is seek out the mentorship and network that will help their company grow. Much like Nieman is the network that bridges the best minds in journalism to solve tough problems, Techstars is the network that helps entrepreneurs succeed; if it takes a solid team to get one company off the ground, it takes a network of the right people to help propel that growth. A good network shares both the tested wisdom that can help an entrepreneur avoid roadblocks, as well as the connections that could help bridge that company with the right business development and growth opportunities. In addition to Techstars’ global network, companies selected to participate in our accelerator will receive access to and mentorship from decision makers at Comcast and NBCUniversal, the byproduct of which can present invaluable growth opportunities.
A third important piece successful founders do well is actually something that many of us in the greater Nieman family may have an organic knack for: storytelling. It seems obvious, but to bring on team members, investors, and even customers/users, company founders should have a clear and concise elevator pitch that meaningfully expresses what they are building. I’ve met dozens of interesting companies I wasn’t at first intrigued by because they couldn’t meaningfully express what they do simply enough. Active investors can meet hundreds or thousands of companies a year. Just think of the companies who may have been passed on for investment because they couldn’t meaningfully express what they do.
There’s a lot that has changed in journalism and entertainment over the last decade, and I believe the teams who will help steer us into a better future are the ones who know these art forms intimately and who both understand and care about preserving their core place in society. I look forward to supporting those founders and companies, and I hope to see some promising teams from the Nieman network apply to our program. The deadline for submitting applications is April 8. If you’re a media entrepreneur who would like to be considered for the program, please head to techstars.com/apply.