Squirrel was one of eleven startups to take part in the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars programme – a growth accelerator funded by Barclays. Here, Co-Founder Mutaz Qubbaj explains how mentorship supported his business through a period of intense development and learning.
Squirrel is a financial wellbeing platform designed to help people on low disposable incomes regain control of their financial lives. We do this by working with employers to provide simple saving, budgeting and bill management tools to employees that integrate directly with payroll systems.
Squirrel is one of eleven startups out of 340 applicants that were admitted to the first cohort of the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars in mid-2014. The program is transformative. The Accelerator helped us turn our original product – an ethical and affordable alternative to payday loans – into a vision.
The Barclays Accelerator provided an amazing catalyst for bringing this vision together. The primary goal of this mentorship is to coach and support companies for success through an intricately developed three-stage process:
1 – It’s all about the mentors
The first month of the program is like drinking water through a fire hose as we were was subjected to the startup version of speed-dating that Techstars has immaculately honed over the years of its existence – Mentor Madness. Squirrel (known as Wagevance back then) had to meet with close to 100 mentors over the course of three weeks to pitch their business over and over (and over) while answering what seemed like an endless barrage of questions that tested both our resilience and every aspect underlying the very nature of our business.
We came to the realisation very fast that this would be a humbling experience. The idea that we had become wedded to was being broken down to its very essence.
Collecting hundreds of post-its that covered every piece of insight related to building, marketing, user design and messaging, the rainbow of a wall next to our workspace quickly became the foundation for the next iteration within our evolution.
2 – It’s all about the product
This stage involved all the startups taking all our newly gained insights (post-its) and turning them into a vision.
The month of mentor madness had tested every facet of our business, and it was now time to bring it all together.
Each of us had been matched with mentors based on a mutual interest in working with each other, and those mentors would work closely – sometimes around the clock – with each of our startups to ensure that we built a product that increased our probability of success.
3 – It’s all about the story
Messaging becomes a key focus of the Accelerator in the lead-up to our Demo Day, a day when all of our startups would get to present the fruits of our labour to a packed house of 300+ industry experts and investors.
The combination of Mentor Madness, Techstars insights at the hand of entrepreneurial veterans and a pitch coach who operated on a different level of energy was meant to turn us into lean, mean, pitching machines.
The skills built during this third stage of the program would prove to be invaluable in distilling the value of our start-up to investors, champions, advisors, partners and mentors that would come to play a part in our journey.
Messaging has proven to be a key catalyst in gaining traction with investors, deployment partners, clients, and recruiting.
Since the Demo Day on September 30th, we have won the Duke of York’s Pitch@Palace event and the WIRED 2014 Startup Competition. We have to look back at how far we’ve come on this journey and be thankful for the opportunities that have brought us here.
Find out more about the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstars at barclaysaccelerator.com
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