Truth About Series A Program
What It Is and Isn’t
I had an opportunity to lead the Series A Program (SAP) at 500 Startups Seoul. Spending time in Seoul longer than a few weeks after 12 years in the States was very refreshing. From interacting with machines that talk(!) everyday such as elevators, door locks, cars, and trash chutes to efficient and affordable public health systems- I can walk in to get my teeth cleaned in 45min without an appointment 🖕- South Korea is indeed one of the most efficient, creative, and advanced countries in the world.
SAP is different from accelerator programs. Accelerator programs focus on early stage startups whereas SAP helps growth stage startups who had a preliminary PMF (product market fit) to grow faster with the right mindset, processes and goals.
I really enjoyed the whole process of meeting Korean startups with a pure intention to help, listening to understand and define problems to solve and to set goals together. Secondly, inviting other amazing mentors from Silicon Valley, Romania, Indonesia and Bulgaria specialized in paid marketing, management, optimization and SEO etc was amazing.
Because it’s an intense bootcamp with lots of educational elements that participants are bombarded with new information and knowledge, it’s similar to a school where mentors and mentees could easily have traditional teacher-student relationships. As I wrap up SAP Batch2, I wanted to write about what the program is and isn’t. I was originally planning to write for future participants. It turned out I’m writing this for the current participants who are ending the program this week. So here it is.
Mentors have the magic wand
There are lots of educational elements around How-To’s: understand users, define products, goals, KPIs, brainstorming, experiment processes and tools. Mentors tell stories, share best practices to get things off the ground faster, and give different perspectives to spark ideas. Throughout the process, you are definitely stimulated to think differently. We did a good job if you are confused in the beginning as mentors are supposed to shake your world.
Most of mentors have their own startups, their own set of problems- as tricky as yours, we struggle and make mistakes too. It’s just that we’ve been through a little more scenarios before you. so gut feelings are a little more accurate and we know a little more examples and best practices. It doesn’t mean that what we say is all correct or we have all the answers in the world. We are also learners just like you. We should learn everyday. Otherwise, it’s a decay.
By showing applicable frameworks and solving specific problems together, you learned how to apply the experience to new problems while the program is running and hopefully after it’s done. You continue to learn how to unstuck yourself. The learning doesn’t stop.
At the end of the program, you learn that you can figure things out instead of asking mentors. In fact, Google knows more than mentors. You just have to know what to ask. Sometimes, community of founders and graduates who speaks the same framework is stronger than having a few mentors. We teach how to frame problems to be solvable in a short period of time and do more of it so that you can grow fast.
So no, we don’t have magic wand and all the answers in the world. We show you what’s possible.
You grow 10x off the bet
It’s almost cliche at this point. Everyone talks about growth. There are lots of growth tactics, examples, dos and don’ts out there. However, bits and pieces of information won’t build you a machine. or it will take a long time. A machine is called a machine because the result is repeatable, predictable and measurable. You learned how to build a really good growth machine- customized to meet your own needs: how to experiment faster, more, better using right tools and processes.
Yes, a lot of times, mentors have brilliant ideas to move the needle drastically in one shot. It doesn’t mean that you grow 10x in two months. We help you to build your own growth machine and do a few trial runs together. For example, the main reason we run weekly growth sync-ups is to build the habit of reviewing performances together as a team. We push you to run 10~20 experiments in a week so that you experience what’s possible.
So no, the chances are you won’t grow 10x after two months. You learned how to implement the right framework for experiments, acquisition, and to automate reporting and tracking KPIs so that the machine can run smoothly.
And yes, you can grow 10x on your own AFTER the program. Actually Batch 1 graduates grew 10x or more!
Mindset is everything
Even if you learn processes and digest every knowledge you are taught, you will get stuck. You didn’t aim high enough if you don’t get stuck. In those situations, I’d love to hear, “we will figure it out.” Even if there’s a huge competition that’s going to eat you up in a sec, you can survive if you persist to be creative, open, innovate, and collaborate with the team. If you fail, breath…pause, clear you mind, learn from the failure and do it again.
Mindset is hard to teach because this is invisible. You know, there are all these self-help books but can’t really apply in real life unless I repeat 21 times to turn it into a habit (more about habit building here). Exercise, diet, parenting, attitude, you name it- you learn through trying, learning and do it again.
How you expedite the habit building process? The answer is looking at others who is doing it in front of you. You get feedback from people with the right mindset who are watching you. It’s spiritual level energy transfer and not information delivery from the head. This is why being together in the same physical space is important. We are here together in this intense period of time. There are several situations when we can share the moment of failure and turn that into a gift- even small things such as finding a space where 100 people can get together when the space we booked got canceled last minute. Translating English to Korean for 100 people for the first session without a queue. Yes, that comes from right mindset.
What kind of mindset do we need to build the right growth machine? The answer is Growth Mindset.
It’s directly related to how we learn, how we think, how we collaborate, how we execute and more importantly, why we do things.
It’s the attitude and the decision coming from abundance mindset (vs. scarcity). It’s the confidence deep down inside knowing we will figure it out. It’s the self-esteem that can relax your mind and clear your head in the midst of war. It’s knowing you are good enough no matter what. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. You do this because you know there are people who want this not because you want to satisfy someone or to prove you are right. Then you can truly do your best. You perfect the product for users, you make decisions for users, you don’t cut corners.
You can tell the truth to anyone because it’s for the company, for the product, for users. We are all in this together to achieve one goal. I’m not better than you. I’m not worse that you. We are all worthy and we do our job to achieve our goals.
So yes, SAP teaches you the growth mindset: grit, confidence, spontaneity. It’s invisible attitude that participants feel from mentors, from other companies, and from within. Mindset is everything. More importantly the founder mindset is everything.
Moments that made me really excited aren’t only those when what I recommended brought positive optimization results. Moments that made me happiest are:
- Two co-founders realized that they have completely different visions for the company. They started aligning them.
- One company used to have a conflict between two teams. Now they are discussing value alignment among all team leaders.
- One executive said about competition that used to scare him, “It’s a good thing that we have a competition. They help more users aware of what we can offer. We can do better anyways.”
That’s the mindset I’m talking about.
Here are some books that helps to understand this better:
Lastly, one of the most important things I want to say: take care of yourself. You have to be centered to do the right thing. Know your physical, mental limit to know when you take a break, when to say no. It’s critical to stretch your limit and push yourself to maximize your potential. Growth doesn’t happen linear. Learning doesn’t happen linear. It’s important to rest. It’s better in a long term.
Adios, friends. Bring the best of you to this world and do good. Hope to see you soon.