Red Rover is a revenue-generating, four-year old start-up that sells a Facebook-like platform to colleges that need student and alumni directories and corporations that want an employee social network. “Over 30,000 people use our software to connect to other people who share their passions and discover relevant information in their community,” the company says. The company, founded by Kevin Prentiss, has bootstrapped it so far. Betabeat talked to Tom Krieglstein, director of operations and two-time founder himself, about TechStars, hiring developers and raising Red Rover’s series A.
Q: You guys posted an ad for a Ruby on Rails developer on Craigslist, I see. Does that work?
A: Not yet. We’re just spreading the word as far as possible. We did get a lot of responses, but they are low quality. It’s harder and harder now–well, sort of. Developers want to work with trending companies or do their own thing.
Q: Trending companies such as?
A: Us, or any TechStars company. And then there are the mid-tier companies that are gobbling up all the developers right now. Artsy, Etsy. And then of course Google and Facebook are fighting for everyone they can. But being able to attach the TechStars brand to our name helps with opening doors faster that would’ve taken longer to open… any number of investors, advisors, sales leads, and thought leaders, people who before would’ve probably just pinned us as yet another start up, will at least give us their ear for a moment because we’ve been vetted by TechStars already… TechStars is like a VIP card to get in the club, but once in you have to dance on your own.
The TechStars mentor list is 90 people deep (or more). It’s not one specific person, but the whole list. Imagine trying to convince 90 separate, busy VCs or advisors to set up meetings, then get the time to go to their office both here in NYC and across the country in San Fran. With TechStars, all 90 came to us, in our office, and were excited to help and support us. That’s amazing. People as high up as Fred Wilson.
Q: But it’s not easy to get into TechStars, either. How’d you guys swing that?
A: We did it the same as everyone else. We submitted an application, interviewed twice with Tisch and Cohen, and then got accepted. No dancing or flashmobs needed. Just a great team, great idea, and great market.
Also… we came in with real revenue and real clients. TechStars isn’t just for start-ups. The value extends for those, like us, that are further along in the process.
Q: Any advice to summer applicants?
A: Focus on the team above anything else. Expect that your idea and market will pivot during the program.
The biggest shifts that happened with us through the program were in market and product clarity (being really clear about our pitch, messaging, and who we were targeting) and our advisory board. We didn’t put a lot of resources into this before TechStars because we just didn’t have the time. Through TechStars, we’ve built up an amazing group of advisors that are helping us take Red Rover to a 100x growth company.
Also, fundraising. Again, we didn’t focus on this pre-TechStars. We’ve been completely self-funded. But to reach the next level we want to partner with the VCs that share our vision and through TechStars we’ve found them.
Demo Day is a huge day for a lot of companies. For us it was really exciting and a ton of fun to use as a deadline to work against. Deadlines force clarity and results. But almost 90 percent of the people we are talking with now about funding we’d been talking with weeks (or months) before.
We are in the process now of raising a Series A for $1.5 million. It’ll be our first outside capital. We did all our hard work before Demo Day so by the time we stepped on stage we were just solidifying relationships.