For me as a founder, I always looked at Y-Combinator and Techstars as almost the best of the best when it came to accelerator programs. But honestly, I had gone through an accelerator in the past and I was always anxious of being part of another one and falling into a bad habit, as I‘ve seen so many other companies go through. But for us, the timing couldn’t have been better – we were going through a pivot in the company and I knew that this would be more valuable to us now more than ever.
I believe every accelerator program has its own purpose and mission when it comes to how they run and the kind of startups they want to have under their roof. I don’t believe that being a part of an accelerator program, no matter how good it is, will solve or create the most successful companies, but I do believe that if the founders have the right attitude entering the accelerator, it will be a success even if their initial idea has pivoted or even died… Nine times out of ten, there will always be one company within a class that will fail or pivot, this happened in ours.
After various interviews, we were invited to be a participant in the Techstars program that was partnered with Virgin Media and Liberty Global.
If I’m being honest, I thought I knew what we were up against entering this program, but it was very different than my expectations – actually, it blew away all expectations.
I hope that others can learn something from our experience, and maybe it will provide some guidance for anyone considering applying for Techstars.
First of all, we were an established business going in. By established, I don’t mean we had all of our shit figured out, but we had a team and a product that customers were using, as well as prior investment. This did not matter one bit – other companies in the program were at the idea stage, while others were still just ideas written on a piece of paper. Techstars works with companies based on the people, not the ideas…. this is one of the many reasons why I love Techstars and respect their model.
We were one of the only teams who brought over 90 percent of our team to take part in the 13 week program. For us this worked- I believe that the best thinking and execution happens when everyone is in the same room.
Meeting Sir Richard Branson
At the beginning of the program, I was flown out to San Francisco along with the other nine CEOs to meet Sir Richard Branson, visit top companies, visit the Liberty Global headquarters and visit the home of Techstars in Boulder, Colorado. After this trip, we officially started the program in Shoreditch, London.
Things began to change quickly during the program. Our routine as we knew it completely changed, we worked longer and harder and started to look at things differently within the business.
Within the first week alone, you are exposed as founders and as a company. Any insecurity or fear that you have hidden, and in times almost convince yourself that they no longer exist, are all exposed whether you like it or not.
Lesson Number 1: How can someone help you when they don’t know everything about you and your company? So start by being honest!
In Program: A Whole New Outlook
Our weeks consisted of both daily and weekly stand ups, family dinners on Wednesdays, KPI (Key performance indicator) and founder stories on Thursdays. This became our new routine and today, nearly a month after Techstars, some of these still remain and have now been adapted into our culture.
KonnectAgain and myself as a founder are very different after Techstars. It made us think even more aggressively about our business, our route to market, the value we measure to be a success and ensuring that we always know what we stand for.
Techstars ended like many other accelerator programs do, with a demo day. For KonnectAgain, this was not something that we feared or imagined that everything would rely on. Instead, we viewed this day as a celebration and an opportunity to tell others about our exciting company and why they should be excited too.
It’s important to touch on both the physical and mental struggles throughout the program. It is tough, even though myself and my other co-founder Helen worked out daily and ate as healthy as we could, we still would be in the office until 10pm, looked grey at times and constantly felt guilty if we took time off on the weekend. We did this happily because we knew this should be one of the only times that we work like this. We just went for it.
This was one of the most important lessons I took away. Yes, being a founder is hard, it takes over your life, but only if you allow it. I learned that working around the clock, having no time off and constantly thinking about work actually damages the company – as CEO, I’m not as fit, decisive and in control as I’d like and it sets a bad example. I knew I could keep up this pace for 13 weeks but could not adapt this as a new lifestyle. Now I know that you can work hard, play hard and enjoy life.
I believe any founder or team member who will openly talk about their lack of sleep is doing both themselves and their company an injustice. Rest is the most essential thing for us and it’s our responsibility to ensure we give our bodies and brains rest.
Techstars doesn’t stop after you finish the program, in fact, it kind of only just starts. I have already visited others in the Techstars network around the world and they have helped us in more ways imaginable. We are excited for this relationship to continuously grow.
This post was originally published on LinkedIn.