Almost a year ago to the day I left my day job as a strategy consultant to work full time on my startup, OurPath. We’re developing an online programme to help prevent those at risk from developing type 2 diabetes.
The past year has had its ups and downs. Every success and failure of the business is amplified as some personal slight. After almost 6 months of funding applications, rejections, and more funding applications, we got accepted on to Bethnal Green Ventures, a startup accelerator program.
Having poured a large portion of your being into a startup, it can’t help but feel like a validation of yourself being accepted on to a programme where people are actually investing in you. I honestly haven’t felt that proud since completing my degree.
Bethnal Green Ventures (BGV) is an accelerator programme designed for businesses with social merit. For a small stake in equity, you receive seed funding, office space in Somerset House, an array of workshops on building your business, and access to network of individuals that is genuinely astounding.
BGV is now 4 years old. It was founded on the premise that many people have fantastic ideas for social innovation, but are simply unable to commit to it full time. If you could give people a small amount of cash and office space, where could they take it?
There are 9 teams on the current cohort with us, and we’re now 8 weeks in to the 12 week programme. Much has been written on ‘how to make the most’ of an accelerator, but here’s my take.
You begin the programme full of hope. People have backed you with actual tangible things and you’ve been put in an environment conducive to building something incredible. You are in the sexy phase of the startup and anything is possible. This is the dream that you’ve been waiting for.
A few weeks in, through the mentor network and various workshops your diary begins to fill with coffee chat after coffee chat and, as people question everything about your business, doubt begins to creep. Some reality begins to hit. Is what you’re doing really validated? How have you not considered this before?
You have no space to think. How can you make any progress on your business when your day consists of back to back meetings and email fire fighting. How can you even begin to think about product development when the foundations of what you’re building are crumbling.
Hello unsexy startup phase. This isn’t exactly how you’d imagined it. When did you get so insecure about the business? Little fights break out between you and the rest of the team questioning the very core of what you’re doing. You ‘pivot’. This is a startup idiom that simply means ‘to adapt your idea based on the feedback you’ve received’.
It’s still not right though, so you pivot some more. All you wanted was to build something great, when did this get so stressful?
You pivot again.
Don’t Panic, Moron
A few weeks later, the dust begins to settle. You feel good about your idea again. You’re feeling confident in the direction you’re going.
Re-enter: sexy phase. And thus begins the perpetual sexy-unsexy cycle of startups.
My lesson here is to embrace this process. Every team that we have spoken to on the programme has gone through exactly the same. This is startup life, so get used to it.
The Final Push
We have a month left to build something worthwhile. At times it can feel like you’ve made no progress at all, but when I look back to 8 weeks ago, I realise how far we’ve come. Have confidence that you were accepted on to the program for a reason and that it’s ok to change.
The final thing I’ve noticed — and I think this is the biggest lesson of all — is that always, no matter what, bring your dog to the office. He will make everything ok again.