“You don't just submit an application and hope for the best. It needs to be an all out, multi-pronged and sustained assault,” says Eliot Hirsch, AdYapper’s CEO and one of its three co-founders. He and his team found out this week that they’d been accepted to TechStars NYC’s 2013 class and Hirsch insists it wasn’t luck that got them there. Of the 1,700 applicants this year, only 11 made the cut, which works out to an acceptance rate of 0.6 percent.
Getting his ad transparency startup through the door was no easy task and, in fact, Hirsch and his team were so aware of the probability of not making it that they prepared for that scenario. Having bootstrapped for more than a year before and recently closing a bridge round funded by some Chicago angels, TechStars, mentors, friends and family, the AdYapper guys were ready to keep doing it themselves, if it came to that.
After several years in the advertising industry, Hirsch (a UX designer) recognized the inefficiencies in terms of transparency, data and time—as well as the money lost as a result. He teamed up with Wojo Wietecha, now CTO, who previously founded one of Poland’s largest social networks, then one of its largest ad networks. They were joined by SVP of Media Products Kal Patel, a former startup founder and senior executive at large brands. Hirsch describes Patel as “a light of positivity that never, ever goes out.”
Together, these three built AdYapper, a platform that gives regular people a way to give direct feedback on the ads they see. On the flip side, advertisers can receive and interpret huge quantities of real-time data, enabling them to identify and avoid waste.
“People can choose to dine in a restaurant, or stay home and have a healthy meal. People can not choose to see ads,” Hirsch says, when asked why he and his team decided to give people a voice in this regard. “It's a ubiquitous medium that impacts everyone regardless of who they are.”
Getting the product up and running was one thing, but making it to TechStars was quite another. At first, Hirsch was not even sure it was the right move for them. “It’s always unnerving going into unknown situations, or scenarios where you might not be in full control of your destiny,” he says. After extensive research on what the program offered and assurances that the environment would not force them to compete with classmates, Hirsch and his team decided to go for it.
“TechStars more often than not bets on the team, not the idea,” Hirsch says. “That means you need to show them you are not only able to create a vision, but can execute like a juggernaut as well.”
According to him, a great team with a failed idea is more valuable than the opposite. Also, alignment on decisions and visions within the team is essential. “If you don't instinctively say "we" for just about everything regarding your team (and it needs to be natural, people can easily see through the BS), you have no chance,” Hirsch says.
For the AdYapper team, applying to TechStars was a goal, but its plans did not center around acceptance. Hirsch, Wietecha and Patel never planned to stop executing—and it seems the TechStars people could see that. Armed with the desire to try, an unfailing faith in each other and the vision to make things happen, the AdYapper team has lived up to its mantra: “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”