Week 1 & 2: First Impression
This is the second post in a weekly series documenting our company’s journey through 500 Startups Batch 16 in San Francisco. Content, learnings, laughs, cries, secrets — we’re unveiling it all. Follow along on Medium and Twitter.
We interviewed for 500 in December, and during the month between the interview and our start date, we heard many opinions on how much value 500 might bring to our company. Not all of them were positive.
My hope for this series is to be open and honest, even if that means sharing the uncomfortable. With that, I’ll admit we likely wouldn’t be a part of 500 today had we gotten into YC. We applied there and were rejected. But just as the YC door closed, one at 500 opened.
We did a fair amount of diligence before accepting our offer from 500 — we combed through Google and Quora, talked to alumni founders, questioned the investment partners/staff and sought out opinions from mentors and advisors. No matter how much diligence we attempted to do, we still had no idea what it was actually like to go through 500 (or any other accelerator for that matter) on a week-to-week basis. After accepting 500's offer, I felt obligated to do my part to make the decision easier for companies who tread the path behind us.
On day 1 I showed up excited but skeptical. Two weeks in, I’m sold. Here’s my recount of that time, which I hope details why:
Marvin Liao kicked off our very first batch meeting on day 1, giving us an overview of the 500 family, culture, values and experience. Here’s some of Marvin’s advice for getting the most out of our time at 500:
Metrics: know the metrics that drive your business
Distribution: better understand how to drive customers and keep them
Fundraising: have raised or be in a good position to raise your seed round
Brand: start building a strong brand and convince people why you’re AWESOME
Network: have valuable relationships w/500 family, your batchmates, and Silicon Valley at large
HAVE F*^&%G FUN
What’s expected of us
- Take risks
- Be confident, but be humble
- Be transparent and honest
- Be an adult
- Don’t be an asshole (unless absolutely necessary)
On-boarding and setup
We finished setting up our business entity as a Delaware C Corp so we can raise outside capital (and accept 500’s investment), received documentation addressing 500’s values, rules, building access, desk assignments, perks and discounts, and invites to the 500 Facebook groups.
We were assigned points of contact to help us through the duration of the accelerator. We feel lucky to have Mat Johnson as our Distro POC, advising us on all things sales, growth and distribution. We feel equally fortunate to have Carl Fritjofsson and Max Fram-Schwartz as our general POCs, helping us navigate 500 at large, fundraising, team building, recruiting, strategy, and (unfortunately for them) managing my psychology. Our POCs are badass.
Batch 16 Welcome Night
Our first official drunken gathering! Nothing brings you closer to friends than whiskey right? Prior to the fun, each founder had 30 seconds to pitch the entire room of founders and 500 staff on their company, Dave jumping in after each pitch to, well, tear it apart. I think he was exhausted by the time I went so I snuck away with my ego mostly in tact. That lasted until Pitch Practice (see below).
Fireside chat with Dave
2 hours of Dave McClure, uncensored. Wait, is he ever censored?
Fun facts and takeaways:
- He once received a “straight” in college (that’s an A, B, C, D and an F). Impressive, huh?
- Describing his Paypal experience: slight misconception that Paypal hired well. Rather, people were so entrepreneurial coming out of that company because they busted ass for 5 years and didn’t make much money (dilution and other reasons). They were still hungry. That’s what drove the Paypal mafia to become what they did.
- On his second angel investment ever: he signed the papers but hadn’t yet mailed the check. Company gets acquired. Mails check, gets a check mailed back made out for twice the amount. “Holy shit, this is easy!”
- Dave originally wanted to name 500 Startups The Fail Factory but luckily Christine vetoed.
- Overall life lesson: “I’m not good, I’m lucky. If you continue to bust your ass until you’re 50, you’ll get lucky too.”
A founder from each company pitches on a 60 second clock to a room of batchmates and staff who give feedback immediately after. It was interesting to watch founders in the audience describe back to the pitching founder what his/her company does. Most people were way off the mark, proving to all of us that our pitches need serious work.
- Cut through the bullshit and jargon
- You need a “grandma” pitch (your grandmother should understand what you do)
- Traction sandwich: traction, story, traction
- Put yourself in the investor’s shoes: what gets them excited?
Kelsey Cullen led a session on PR and shared insights on speaking to reporters, building a media kit, and knowing your product, numbers and story. She also shared contacts and reach out strategies for specific journalists in different focus areas.
#B16FTW — Seriously, our batch is fucking awesome. A few days in, it occurred to me that every person here got into 500 Startups because they’re smart and amazing and curious and they hustle. How lucky am I?
Fun facts about B16:
- We’re the largest 500 batch ever at 52 companies
- Several founders have gone through multiple accelerators (including YC and others)
- Many companies have raised seed rounds prior to the program. Many even leveraged their acceptance to attract last minute angel checks before the batch began. Clever, huh?
- The batch is diverse: there’s a mix of Thiel fellows, college and high school(!) drop outs and an overall incredible level of intellect and hustle
- Many founders moved from outside the Bay Area (from as far away as Africa!)
The 500 Staff
Every person on the 500 staff is proactive, approachable and makes clear that they really want to help you. It’s a great feeling as a founder to know so many smart, dedicated people have your back.
We were given access to the 500 dashboard.io community, which has already proven active and powerful. Alumni founders and mentors regularly make themselves available for office hours, questions, tips, leads, and recommendations to the community. We’ve already pursued a useful recruiting lead and we may use an accounting consultancy recommended by an alum. What’s powerful is, while our accelerator experience will come to an end, this community will only continue to grow.
It’s been a challenge taking full advantage of the resources available, spend adequate time getting to know our batchmates and still run, nurture, and (gasp!) grow our company. Here’s what we’ve done in the first two weeks to move the needle for Resource:
Protecting our time will be a recurring theme for us throughout 500 and beyond. We set several recurring blocks on our calendars dedicated to product, strategy, sales, team check-ins and weekly outings.
We spent time with Mat defining our weekly growth metrics as well as the experiments we’ll run each week to meet and (hopefully) exceed our goals.
As it pertains to our sales process, we set specific goals for number of prospective conversations, sales calls and closed deals per week.
Accountability is a valuable byproduct of this type of advisory. I’m excited to build habits around metrics and accountability across our team so it carries with us beyond 500.
Sprints, roadmaps, networking, fun — we’ve planned it all. We’re trying to be as proactive as possible to make the most of our time.
We’re working with incredible startup leadership coaches to more effectively give and receive feedback as a team, plan and manage our time, define the culture and values of our company, and most importantly become better leaders.
I understand I’m writing from a very biased perspective, but I’ve been overly impressed with the 500 organization in short time. We’re seeing change and accountability in our business that we didn’t have before, we’re becoming closer as a team and we’re now able to leverage a vast and valuable network of smart people who want the best for us. Sure it’s felt overwhelming at times, but it’s already making us better.
Other neat stuffs
Look out for the next post detailing 500’s infamous Marketing Hell Week (assuming we survive, that is).
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, it’d be awesome if you hit recommend. Follow me Twitter for real-time updates and if your company is growing, check out Resource to hire better people, faster.
P.S. Week 1 was shortened due to MLK Day and comprised largely of moving and getting settled, so I decided to combine weeks 1 and 2 for this post.