The first two weeks of Cohort 12 have flown by — a blur of one zoom call after another. Just to be clear, the first two weeks of any cohort is usually a blur — meeting all the news teams, absorbing all their unique business propositions, connecting with our broader network to introduce the new companies, etc. But, when the meetings are all online, it does propose a unique set of challenges. As coined by our friends at the Global Accelerator Network, accelerators are about three key things: Connections, Coaching, and Community. How do we do these things in the new online reality?
We would normally bring our mentors in once a week in small groups to mix and mingle with our cohort in our fun office kitchen (coolers of beer, ping pong, video games, etc.). In our new reality, we are gathering our mentors in small groups virtually — breaking them out into one-on-one conversations on zoom — monitoring the time, tracking who has talked to who, and following up with each to see who needs more time. To summarize, it is a lot more work and a lot less fun online. But, what have we gained? We are normally constrained by the connections we can make in person. Only mentors who live in Hawaii are typically invited to our meet & greets. Now, we can invite mentors from all over the world (Blue Startups has a global mentor network of 150 experts), and they actually show up! This cohort, more than any other, will benefit from our truly global community. Pro-tips:
- Use the Zoom break-out room function for 1-on-1 meetings within a larger meeting.
- Cast a wide net when extending invitations to online meetings — geography is no longer a barrier.
Time is always a rare commodity, and this is true even in today’s crazy times. But, I think we would all agree that minus the commutes, sports, parties, and other normal time commitments, we all have a lot more time. For our companies, that has translated into better coaching by more mentors. We have never had the level of engagement or willingness to spend time with our teams as we have had so far in this cohort. As I was thanking one of our mentors for tuning in to a meeting on East Coast time (midnight for him) he said, “happy to do it, better to feel useful than bored right now.” There is also something to be said for the efficiency of an online meeting. Since less time is spent getting to know you, more time can be spent to purposefully engage in useful business conversation. Pro-tips:
- Increase your ask of people’s time, they are often happy to engage and feel useful.
- Prepare for meetings with a succinct set of “asks” so you can make the best use of time.
Building a sense of community is especially important to Blue Startups. We pride ourselves on extending the Hawaiian sense of “ohana” to every cohort. Once you have gone through a Blue Startups program you are always family, both to us and each other. Also, getting peer-to-peer input and insights for your business is a critical component of the cohort experience — how would we replicate that? I am happy to report that after just two weeks of program time, all conducted online, the cohort is beginning to bond and truly understand each other and their respective businesses. Of course building relationships in the real world is easier, but it is doable online. Pro-tips:
- Spend social time online — happy hours, getting to know, chit chatting, etc.
- Use video conferencing environments other than Zoom to connect. We have been using spatial.chat (not perfect, but does the best job I’ve seen at replicating real world networking) and donut to connect socially .
Creating a sense of community is perhaps the most important aspect for Blue Startups and I think we can do it, one zoom meeting at time. If we can be patient with each other, the technology, the time differences, and unique challenges these times bring, we will continue to bond and grow as individuals and companies alike.