Why the Founder Institute is a bad choice (unless you are serious)

productmarketfit
Nov 4, 2015 · 5 min read

As a recent grad with the Founder Institute, I’d like to share my experience with you. First, let’s start with some background, I love startups, get all dreamy about founding, follow those commonly known blogs that talk about unicorns and attended plenty of startup events in NY before joining FI.

Now, let’s take a deep dive

No magic — only focused execution

  • If you are a dreamer like me, getting all fuzzy about running your own show…stop dreaming, because now you hit reality and the support you received while sharing your idea with your family and friends is gone. I was honored to be the first one in class to pitch my idea in 60 seconds which led me straight back to square one. What was I thinking? Realizing that I didn’t have a great amount of proof to actually solve a problem (even while the idea itself sounded novel). The GOOD: The journey over the first four weeks is set up to explore three different ideas. The BAD: This is plenty of extra work when you actually have to find your next purpose. Bottom line: plenty of time to reconsider, go for it :).
  • Structured content and speed truly make this program stick out. Could you do everything without FI. YES and I have ben there as well, but if you want to know within four weeks, if you are onto something, it usually doesn’t happen in reality.
  • It just comes down to the essentials of starting anything — not just a company: Just Do It.

Boy, do we talk about workload

  • Let me briefly quote one of the mentors “I’ve done M&A and thought I worked a lot, but this startup thing is intense.” This couldn’t describe my personal situation any better. I always thought that I have a good work ethic, but definitely pushed my personal boundaries. This was due to actually working fulltime while participating with the Founder Institute. Yes, Gary Vaynerchuck once said: 7pm to 1am is plenty of time to do damage, but in reality this means over 90 hour work weeks for 4 months in a row. I basically didn’t go to any social events, no time off on weekends, yet still scrambling to make it some how.
  • Here is why I think this is how it should be: Have a you ever experienced a Saturday or an evening during the week that you wanted to tackle the world…and then you got tired or distracted. While there are definitely moments with your head under water, three hours of sleep, close to depression…I started to embrace the pressure. You look back to what you overcame and think, ok…I can do this too.
  • Yes, everyone says startup life is hard and my personal recommendation is that you don’t quit anything unless you have a 100k laying around, ready to burn and tested product market fit.

Progress vs Prefection

  • “If things look too good means that you waited too long.” The most important lesson that I learned over the last three months: If an idea doesn’t have potential, an idea doesn’t have potential. There are plenty of ideas out there that are “a nice to have”, a commodity that will improve something just a little, not moving the needle enough to have people truly care about it. My first idea that I entered the Founder Institute with was that idea. I loved many things about the idea itself, about improving leadership and making the workplace better for everyone, BUT what I love doesn’t really matter. What matters is, do people care? Do you solve a pain point that is seen by many or just by a few? This seems to be so obvious, but it’s nice to get lost in your own idea…LET IT GO sooner rather than later. My learning is that you can test an idea if it will serve a pain point within four weeks and if you really want to know it within one week. The secret is just talking to potential customers; would you buy this? It’s available today :). I agree, this approach wouldn’t have gotten us from horses into cars and my mom would have never used an iPhone, but besides Musk, Jobs and Ford…talking to potential customers works.

This is why you go down, unless…

  • Rejections feel awful at the beginning…”what do you mean exactly when you say the next two months are busy,” but you get to the point where you just don’t hear it anymore and move on right away. One advice that I have received from a mentor about what determines between success or failure…sharpen your pencils (that’s how it was shared)…you just don’t quit (and I’ll let you know if I proofed this statement to be wrong in 10 years from now J).

Almost forgot — Funding

  • Don’t even think about funding until you have figured out product market fit. I still think receiving money is not that difficult, but you have to do your homework first. The bar today is much higher than it was 5 years ago as you basically have all the tools available to start a company with essentially no or barely any cost involved. The network that FI provides is accessible…week after week you pitch in front of investors. If you are the moonshot, somebody will tell you right away J

In the end, it’s you stupid

  • Each one of us pitched our ideas about 7 to 9 times from start to graduation. While I sucked big at the beginning, you see everyone raising the bar and getting better, so you don’t want to be left behind J. I invested a good amount of time in getting my pitch right, incorporating feedback and new insights along the way. I haven’t presented this much in a row before and think it is not only a helpful exercise, it’s also important as a founder, as you basically sell something (including yourself) all the time to someone (customers, investors, mentors, friends, employees).

Cohort — Thank you email

  • At all my fellows at the Founder Institute, it has been an amazing ride and I couldn’t have gotten through the tough times without you. No matter how little sleep, stressed or intense it got…we always had our laughter. I believe that people make all the difference and you truly did. Looking forward to continue my journey with you. Special shout out to the Yellow Team…Thanks!

Bottom line: The journey could not have been more rewarding. If you are any serious about starting your own companies, don’t want to quit your job (because you still have to live) this is for you.

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