E Pluribus Unum, 3 Musketeers, and the Magic of Techstars


“Out of many, one.” Most Americans know the phrase E Pluribus Unum from US currency. As far as I can tell, the exact phrase was first used by St. Augustine in his Confessions, and there is substantially the same usage far earlier from a poem attributed to Virgil.

E Pluribus Unum is exactly what I’m seeing taking form after the first full week of the Boston Summer 2015 session at Techstars. Twelve separate companies gradually blending into one team.

I’ve been told that the differentiating magic of Techstars is not just the focus on mentorship, but also the help and knowledge the companies in the class share with each other. From the outside, I had witnessed the tight bonds each class vintage had, but I wasn’t close enough to know how or why. But the first magic became apparent to me on the Sunday Outward Bound trip, where twelve teams began to talk to each other, do some teamwork exercises, and then trust each other.

This sense of family showed early. One of the teams mentioned the difficulty they were facing in getting enough appropriate beta users for their product. Without hesitation, the CEO of another team selflessly offered up an introduction to one of their best customers. I was floored—it’s one thing to make an intro to a friend, ex-work mates, etc. But to risk client satisfaction and revenue by introducing your customer to some other firm? That epitomized the Techstars motto, “Give First”, and I’m sure that, just as in a few of the Gospel stories, the gift will be returned 12fold.

Connecting the 12 Point Mandala


Provender helps GV Machines with insights about North American grocers.

GV Machines helps Netra on questions of machine vision.

Netra and GV Machines both help AdmitHub in constructing and testing algorithms.

AdmitHub gives connections to college customers for Shearwater International.

SmackHigh drives communities of high-schoolers to both AdmitHub and Shearwater, while they learn about scaling technology from Kwambio and GV Machines.

Shearwater helps Cuseum with lessons on onboarding.

Cuseum can give UX hints to ThriveHive, which can tutor Hot Hotels in managing data, who can in turn strategize with ThriveHive on SEM and getting press.

Kwambio gets insights from all the teams that have created communities, like SmackHigh and Shearwater, while doDOC benefits from the “been there” expertise of the 5 teams headed by entrepreneurs with previous successful startups which exited…and they promptly return the favor by critiquing the others with the scientific rigor that comes from having 3 cofounders with PhDs from MIT.

LovePop Cards closes the circle by talking retail expansion with Provender and design with Cuseum.

The Connections Get Tighter and Richer

12 points, just like the class.
12 points, just like the class.

This creates not just a circle, but a mandala, where all points connect with each other. Everyone is pitching in to suggest a better name for GV Machines (coming soon), as well as giving support and constructive suggestions to each other in regular pitch practices. They are creating a special magic and bond that I just haven’t seen elsewhere. It can’t be recreated in a large group, but there needs to be enough size for a richness and diversity that wouldn’t come in a group of, say, 5. There just seems to be some magic in that class size of 10-12, just as teachers have found at private schools. Not too big, not too small. Just right. And it seems like we have a perfect dozen.

You can argue as you wish about whether co-working is good or what the best size is. If an accelerator wants to optimize economic return, nothing beats cranking out huge batches factory style. Being on your own at an early stage without sharing space with peers does allow the creation of a unique culture. But having been in startup working environments where we have been on our own, and also having been in an accelerator with over 100, I can vouch that nothing works better for most early stage startups than building a tight class of 10-12.

Given the international flavor of our group, which is half international, perhaps we should drop the U.S. centric “e pluribus unum”. So I salute our twelve musketeers in saying:


(Special credit to Cai Rintoul, whose birthday toast inspired the post.)

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