Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Lessons from co-founding a startup in a business accelerator programme

My first start up went to an accelerator programme named Lightning Lab, which I wrote about in other post named Inside of a Business Accelerator.

Our team met during the Start Up Weekend and we won the first prize, since then we continued working on project on our free time until we applied to Lightning Lab. The team of 6 individuals got trimmed to 4 (and a half) by the time we joined the programme.

We went through the programme but at the end of it we decide to fold the company and below are my key lessons out the whole start up experience:


When joining or starting a start-up company it is important to understand the vision of the business that you are creating.

Dan Khan dives into Vision in much more detail and I completely agree with what he said in this article: Keeping hold of your company vision

Our mistake: we did not have one. Consequently we kept pivoting, changing direction and getting nowhere. We had nothing to help us stand our ground, not even passion:


Vision and Passion should be aligned with the co founders, otherwise there will be a drag and instability in the team. Passion, in this context, in my opinion, is the feeling of achievement when progressing and discovering the aspect you are working on. You may discover bad things, or good things, or amazing things, or horrible things, but you want to go further.... and further!

Reality is: you will place yourself under a lot of stress with no or little 'reward' and without the intangible asset of passion you may struggle to keep your motivation and productivity up.

In our case, after a few weeks in the programme, it became clear that not all founders had the same level of passion and commitment to what we were trying to do. When the first idea that brought us together failed, it was very hard to glue us back together.


There is an awesome article about Minimum Viable Team made by Start Up Weekend which contains great advice regarding building your start up team.

Key learnings:
1) everyone should understand their roles and responsibilities so they have ownership and autonomy, making the founders more pro active and focused.
2) the vision and passions should be aligned with the co founders
3) understand how to keep the team motivation up, have a leader, have someone who owns the idea (likely the CEO)
4) having someone with domain expertise and connections in the sector that you are working on is a big plus. It helps finding the right people and saying the right things.

Lastly, if you are a CEO and will be looking for VC funding/investment, have a read on Sean Percival insights about his resignation - good insights there.
Our team had great individuals. Great skills, great knowledge, great personalities. But we did not make the Minimum Viable Team. It was like we were different pieces of different puzzles put together. Or maybe were we missing the right glue?

Personal Life

The obvious stuff: take care of your well-being, try to relax, care for those close to you.
Easy said than it is done. And looking back, I feel it is what I most neglected. I was stressed and did not know (or my mind ignored the fact).

Once the programme finished and had a bit of a break I started noticing really how the situation was. I found that day-to-day relationship with people in general was affected, I simply didn't want mingle or chit-chat. I didn't have the patience. I allowed the issues in the startup to interfere with my personal life more than it should.

Luckily, I have an awesome wife. She was supportive all throughout the programme and she understood and helped me through. I can't imagine how I would have survived if she wasn't there and I'm glad that she did survive too.

My advice: try your best to keep the balance. What I should have done: relax more, better diet, more exercise, and more time with family and friends specially during the weekend.

If want more insights about how people see the experience of a business accelerator, view this video: What Did They Give Up [to join a business accelerator programme]?

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Inside a Business Accelerator Programme - Lightning Lab

Lightning Lab is the first business accelerator in New Zealand! And I must proudly say that I was part of it! I have written about my lessons in another post, have a look!

The story starts before the Lightning Lab application stage, each team was doing their own thing trying to get their business going until they saw the opportunity of seed funding, an office space, lots of mentors, potential investors, perks, a schedule to help the business grow and an opportunity to expose your business to 100+ investors at the Demo Day at the end of the programme.

It is an incredible opportunity: only 9 lucky teams were selected to join the programme and we found out that the lab offered much more... we had an environment focused in making all companies grow and progress as quick as they could.

During the programme we had sessions where we could share problems (personal or otherwise) and each member could help each other. We had events to help reduce the stress such as yoga and massages! We had Red Bull! We had access to interns! We had the opportunity to have insights from real potential investors! We had valuable sessions around business development! We had 8 other teams going through similar hurdles as we were.

The first four weeks was filled with meetings with mentors (about 2-5 mentors per day) and speaker sessions around all sort of [awesome] topics to increase our entrepreneurial knowledge. Our day-time hours were filled, leaving little space for us to work on our business which meant early mornings and late nights! Must say that I saw a sleeping bag around the lab - several times :).

The mentor meetings and sessions gave us direct access to connections and insights that you wouldn't usually have access to. Each mentor can provide valuable insights around the business models and direction... at a cost: mentor whiplash. Making this first part of the programme the most intense (IMHO).

Then we had a little of a 'break'. The next four weeks each team focus on applying all the knowledge learned, connections acquired and progress made into laser point focus: making it happen. Because of the little time we had in the first few weeks, many aspects were falling behind by this time which meant again early mornings and late nights... but the advantage now is  the teams knows the know-how and are more focused!

Finally... the final four weeks. This was to further prepare the business by giving more atention to financial forecast, business models, business plans and finally most important: the Demo Day pitch - where we present our business opportunity and ask for money
The CEOs were the most busy team members at this phase of the programme as they were the one preparing the pitch. They had to practice the pitch. And then practice... and practice, and practice then practice a little bit more. Every day.

Each team was also being ranked scores on how good their pitches were. Scores were given by mentors and the lab's leading team. We all started with a score between 0-2 (of 10) and we were asked to have at least 8 if we wanted to be in Demo Day - no pressure (motivational constraint).
It was amazing to see each team's improvement on their pitch in short periods of time.

Pitch was one side, we also had various sessions about investment rounds & options, due diligence, how to be prepared for investment, legalities and consequences. Extremely informative.

Demo Day was the day that we had show how much improvement we did since we started the programme. It was each team's opportunity to meet investors and get their first round of funding. We had the morning to practice in the theater then we presented to a crowd of 100+ investors. After that we met them and attempted to schedule meetings to secure some investment!

The result? $3 mil of potential investment into the teams. Read more here and here.

The 3 months felt much more like 1 year worth of work. All teams were focused. All teams learned a lot! It is an amazing experience, totally worth.