Lessons Learned Producing A Pilot Social Impact Pre-Accelerator

It’s been more than three weeks since Goodie Nation’s Demo Day, and I’m just now getting back to normal. I’m sure Justin Dawkins and Jarrett Coger will have their own thoughts, but I learned a TON over the last six months. I’ll share what I learned, and the improvements I’ll make below.

Evolution Into “The Process”

But first, let me explain how we got here. Our pre-accelerator started out in March 2014 as Goodie Hack, a one-day hackathon designed to solve the problems of leading nonprofits focused on under-served communities by creating apps and websites. The hypothesis was that we can create change faster by helping the best nonprofits become better than by starting new nonprofits. We even created the hashtag #NoNewNonprofits. Ironically, we’d later turn into one. It happens.

After the second Goodie Hack in June 2014, a few things became clear: (1) we were onto something big, (2) most of the nonprofits needed marketing help, not custom technology, and (3) the projects started during the hackathon stalled afterward. Number 3 wasn’t acceptable as these nonprofits really needed solutions. So for the February 2015 Goodie Hack, I presented the hackathon as a business opportunity for the hackers — meaning they could turn their products into an actual company. One of the participating organizations was a government agency that verified one of the ideas could easily bring in millions of dollars a year.

The team still didn’t move forward with it. :: facepalm ::

Back to the drawing board. Insert the cliche movie montage with tons of whiteboard sessions, science experiments, things breaking, etc, etc. here.

The Process

Finally, we came up with “The Process,” and a Community Partners grant from Google helped make it a reality. The plan called for us to help a group of people develop a tech or tech-enabled product that addresses a specific challenge. The Process had 5 major components:

  1. Challenge Discovery Panel: An event where a panel of subject-matter experts helped the audience gain an understanding of the people involved with and impacted by the challenge, key insights and trends, major root causes, and existing/potential solutions.
  2. Goodie Ideation: A design-thinking based workshop that helped the founders identify a customer segment, their specific problem, and a “moonshot” idea to solve it
  3. Goodie Hack: A hackathon where the best ideas from Goodie Ideation were pitched to volunteer developers and designers who had 48 hours to turn those ideas into Minimum Viable Products (MVP).
  4. Goodie Marketing: A second hackathon 4 weeks later where the MVPs from Goodie Hack were pitched to volunteer digital marketers, communication specialists, graphic designers, etc. who had 48 hours to create growth strategies, logos, landing pages, etc.
  5. Demo Day: The now-companies would present their working products and future plans to a room full of influencers, funders, potential partners, family, and friends.

Key Learnings

I learned a ton, but these are the larger ones:

Challenges Like Gentrification Economic Inclusion Are Complex

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8tjnWRwZP0&t

We go after tough challenges at Goodie Nation. And connecting people impacted by gentrification to ways to make or save money was the perfect example. As we started The Process, two things became very clear (a) not many people understand the total scope of gentrification including how much money is really being generated, and (b) there are many more types of people impacted and, thus, potential solutions. Not once did I ever think about how gentrification affects pregnant women or the homeless, so solutions like Mini City and Spektra were really exciting.

More Program Objectives Are Needed

Originally, the focus was solely on helping founders develop a product that worked by the end of the program, but we quickly realized that we need to help them develop as entrepreneurs as well as find Product/Market Fit.

Most Companies Came In With Own Ideas

Only two of the final 10 ideas were generated at Goodie Ideation back in September. For those with pre-formed ideas, The Process either forced the ideas of their heads or made them truly understand parts of the business model that most startup founders skip over like customer segments, problem, value proposition, etc. And “backfilling” a business model is a tough thing to do because they’re in love with ideas — especially for social entrepreneurs who are “madly” in love their idea.

The New Founders Were The Perfect Students

Those companies that generated their ideas during Goodie Ideation were the prototypical “perfect” student. They sat at the front, completed every assignment on time, and did everything we asked. I now understand how teachers feel when their favorite students do well.

I’d Like To Focus on Creating B2B Companies

Going back to our original thesis about creating a more efficient ecosystem, I’d like to see companies create tools that existing organizations can use to make better decisions, be more efficient, etc. But I’ll never force a company to go this route. I’m just biased to it.

Prototyping Needs To Be Added In

48 hours is really a short amount of time to get something built, especially since our hackathons are not overnight. And prototyping kinda gets skipped. But it’s a crucial phase so we’re going to add it to the scope of Goodie Marketing. Now, Goodie Marketing will be about value proposition clarification, idea prototyping, landing page design, logo design, and getting to your first 100 customers/users.

Goodie Marketing Needs To Go Before Goodie Hack

As the program wore on and once the creatives and strategists got with the teams, a few teams pivoted after their prototype/MVP was built — essentially wasting the efforts from Goodie Hack.

Creatives Love Hackathons

Goodie Marketing attracted the type of creatives (marketers, graphic designers, communication specialists, etc.) often ignored in the hackathon scene. But they love it. Despite not being used to the format, they were able to produce great things, and I can’t wait for future versions.

Revenue Is King…Or Is It?

My focus has always being on helping the people (end user), and our curriculum reflected that. I wanted the founders to think about developing the product above everything else, but the judges at both hackathons and the evaluators at Pitch Practice asked about their revenue models. Every. Single. One.

Now, I’m trying to figure out the right balance of “impact vs. profit.” I always want us to stress impact first, but businesses needs to be sustainable. Should the balance be 80/20? 70/30? 50/50? 40/60?

For the time being, I’m kinda cheating — we’ll tell our founders that their internal goal is impact then profit, but externally (i.e. investors), their goal is profit / impact

We DO Provide Funding

A few teams asked if we provide cash to help them get started, and the answer was no (never part of the plan). But by recruiting volunteer design, development, and marketing talent, the teams don’t have to pay for a good amount of work. Our paper napkin estimates are $15,000 worth of services per team during the entire program.

The Companies DO Need Cash

But there are things that need to be paid for. So we’re going to challenge future companies to raise $5,000 from family/friends by Demo Day. Using the prototype created at Goodie Marketing, they’ll have approx 90 days to make it happen. It will give them tons of experience pitching their company, and learn what works/doesn’t work.

Our Companies Need Help After They Graduate

Ideally, all of them would go onto a TechStars, Y Combinator, 500 Startups, CivicX Accelerator, etc. That’s really how we settled on being a pre-accelerator. But not all of them will need/want an accelerator. For those companies, we need to connect them with 1–2 permanent mentors.

Three Clear Roles Have Emerged For Those That Want To Help

Everything that we do is based on the Hero’s Journey, and people can play one of three primary roles: Hero (founder), Mentor (subject-matter expert & experienced professionals), or Allies (hackathon participants & event organizers/volunteers). If this was Star Wars (the 2nd greatest Hero’s Journey ever), you can either be Luke Skywalker, Yoda, or Hans Solo/Princess Leia (RIP Carrie Fisher)/R2D2/Chewbacca/C3P0.

Diversity Wins

People from all types of backgrounds (ethnicity, gender, socio-economic, etc.) came together to “fight” one challenge. This was truly a team effort. I have never seen anything like it, and it was beautiful to watch come together.

Other Improvements We’ll Make Going Forward

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mN17tUOyu5I

  • A series of smaller Challenge Discovery Panels at “tech centers” (co-working places, coding schools, universities, etc.) during the year to increase the interest for developers and designers
  • We’ll require the companies to do more Customer Discovery before the first hackathon (now Goodie Marketing) to increase the likelihood of Product/Market fit. And there will be 6–8 weeks between Goodie Ideation and Goodie Marketing to give them sufficient time to do so.
  • Challenge the companies to use deeper levels of technology like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, IoT, etc.
  • Invite influencers and funders to meet the teams earlier in the program
  • Better utilize our network to help the companies

What’s Next?

Glad you asked. We’re focusing 2017 on gun violence prevention — specifically by the same-race. Really really hard challenge. And we’ll use all of programs (youth, college students, and adults) to create solutions. Keep up with our latest moves by joining our tribe at www.goodienation.org