Silicon Valley Cannonball

Making a splash in the deep end with the Founder Institute’s Graduate Master Class: Week 1

My name is Anton and I am the CEO of This fall we have been invited to join the Founder Institute’s Graduate Master Class — a post-accelerator program that brings 15 of the most promising startup graduates from FI’s ~1,500 global companies to Palo Alto for 3 weeks to help accelerate their growth. This is the quick story of Week 1. All opinions are my own.


My batteries are drained both literally and figuratively. All my devices are at 0% charge and my mind is empty — at this moment I am one with my technology. And this is the best description of my week in more ways than one.

The members of the FI Graduate Master Class

Today marks the end of the first week of the Founder Institute’s “Graduate Master Class” – a program that takes 15 of the most promising graduates from the 1,500 companies of Founder Institute and brings them to the Palo Alto headquarters to help accelerate their growth by making Silicon Valley connections.

We are a diverse group — I am from Washington DC, my cohort-mates hail from Malaysia, Philippines, Spain, as well as a half-dozen cities in the USA; our program leaders most recently ran the Moscow chapter.

Our companies do different things (full list at the bottom) – from disrupting journalism (shameless plug!) to exercise and cooking apps, hiring, rewards, health, marketing automation, and 3D printed shoes.

But we share this in common – we are what, founder of FI, Adeo Ressi calls “tweens” – companies past the starting stage with products and market share, that are working on going to the next level. We came here to help get there faster – and faster is what we are getting.

One of our mentor feedback sessions a team gets advice.

The name of the game is “Cannon-ball” — the game of jumping into the deep-end with as big a splash as possible. The week has been intense to say the least; luckily, startup company founders do not lack mojo – but even so, I need a nap (read: large drink).

Upon arrival from our various home cities, we received our schedule, laid out by the hour, for the next three weeks of meetings, feedback sessions, and networking events. And this is all outside of the meetings we are scheduling for ourselves. Even as I write this, I am shocked that it is already Friday – the last five days have flown by in an instant.

The point is simple: get us up to speed, connected, and polished so that we can achieve the goal we came here for; for some it’s business development, for most, it’s funding.

The leaders of the program are Peter Tatischev and Masha Adamian, and of course the ever-present Adeo Ressi – the heart (and CEO) of Founder Institute.

First feedback session. Adeo looks like a hawk about to swoop down.

On Day One we were greeted with coffee, cookies, and a grueling feedback session that broke down the problems with our pitches, strategy, and delivery. Followed by revisions, additional feedback, and a mentor session that ran into the wee hours.

It’s not TV, it’s HBO! Welcome to TechCrunch Disrupt (it’s much more exciting on TV)

Days Two and Three are spent at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference (most recently featured as the finale on HBO’s Silicon Valley) alternately pitching and being pitched by approximately 1,500 people. With additional nightly get-togethers to discuss our pitches and presentation.

Graeme pitching at a VC meeting. Doing good too!

Then Day Four is right into high-level meetings with three of the Valley’s top investment firms – just to make sure we got it down. Sharp questions from some people that understand our business models on the fly and don’t need two paragraphs of explanation where two words will do (I need to work on that!). These sessions remind me of advice to pitching Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon) – once you compress and optimize your pitch and think it’s ready – go ahead and cut out every other paragraph and expect him to get it faster than that.

Getting my ass handed to me by Adeo’s feedback (in a good way)

All of the sudden it’s Friday. As quickly as it started, the week is coming to an end. Today we only have a talk on traction, feedback sessions, and follow-up meetings with everyone we’ve met. And we get the official feedback from the previous day’s investors – it’s tough but accurate. Biggest note — “You are thinking too small and not pitching the billion dollar idea”.

Really?! Shit.

The reason is eloquently stated by Adeo, and he doesn’t mince words — “You act like beaten dogs.” You’ve had to tone down your pitch for your local audience for so long that you are afraid to say what you are really trying to do. You were invited here because you do have that billion dollar idea and your company could be on that trajectory. So say it with confidence.

We love to hear this kind of feedback! “Think big” is why we started our companies in the first place. And now we know what we need to work on over the weekend. I’d better start getting ready for week two….

But first I need a drink…. or four…

Don’t ask…


The companies in the FI Master Graduate Program

Cont3nt — — Realtime market for photo and video journalism. The network currently features 30k+ reporters and 5.5k+ media companies in 51 countries. Founder: Anton Gelman (DC)

Diggen — — Middleware that integrates comprehensive customer profile data into all the major marketing tools. Founder: Fabrice Gould (San Diego)

Favechic! — — South Asian discovery platform for fashion products from foreign marketplaces. It is the SouthAsian Wanelo.
Founder: Josh Wong (Malaysia)

Filmtosee — — Content discovering and recommendation system for movies and TV shows. Founder: Jorge Massa (Spain)

Nexercise — — Mobile platform for delivering addictive corporate wellness challenges. $1M+ est. revenue in 2014. Founder: Benjamin Young (DC)

Pouch — — Panasian rewards solution for retailers. $100k+ in revenues, 700+ partners, 60+ subscribers. Founder: Graeme Perkins. (Phillipines)

ReservO — — ReservO is building a Yelp for the Beauty and Wellness Industry for the South East Asia region.!
Founders: Chai Yee Gan, Edith Tan (Malaysia)

ScienceSync! — — Online marketplace to help lab-based researchers to identigy, source and order complex lab products.
Founder: Suhanya Parthasarathy (Malaysia)

Tapgenes — — Helps families collect and store their health information together for the purpose of coordinating care for the ones you love. Founders: Heather Holmes, Emily Chang (Chicago)

Terviu — — Salesforce for hiring referrals; because acquiring and retaining talent is too important to leave to a third party. Dozens of clients in Latin America. Founder: Carlos Rohrer (Chile)

YumvY — — Helps people cook elaborate meals at home using interactive SmartRecipes. Top 10 Windows 8 apps in US store; 200k+ downloads, 4.5* ratings from >1k reviewers. Founder: Sari Louis (DC)

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Anton Gelman’s story.