I was privileged to attend the Blackbox Connect program as part of it’s 21st cohort. I was able to attend through the generous support of the University of New South Wales’ inaugral startup accelerator program, Founder10x,. I hope you find this post useful for applying to the program yourself and understanding what kind of value that it could bring to you.
15 founders, 12 countries, 2 weeks, 1 house.
Blackbox Connect takes the Silicon Valley experience in its rawest form — including sharing rooms with other founders, late nights coming up with new ideas, early morning meetings with VCs and then some yoga for balance. All this to foster what makes the Bay Area the world’s heart of innovation, which are connections between people made real through vulnerability and sharing of knowledge. The Blackbox team prides themselves at weeding out egos before you get to the door, so you can expect to be surrounded by those ready to take their founder journey to the next level.
A key part of this journey for me was meeting with Rana Chakrabarti, who has taken great care to master the art of designing experiences. The entire cohort attended a “startup by design” workshop, where we engaged deeply in understanding the experiences of each of our customers. We all had a 1-on-1 session with Rana on a separate day, where we were able to explore our customers more deeply. Where are the current breaks in their experiences and how can we meet them?
Another pivotal session was with Alex Tauber, who teaches strategy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. His insights on strategy (a roadmap to your end goal) hinged on culture (the behaviours that a business encourages to enable its strategy) and how a company without culture must necessarily become a process-heavy beaurocracy. As creating a strong culture is the cheapest lever that a small organisation can implement to achieve success, it is the most important tool to use for a startup. And founders are the beacon of culture for a company — it all starts with us and we must hold ourselves accountable.
It feels like everywhere you go and all the workshops you attend as a founder have a component of perfecting your pitch. Bill Joos is the resident pitch coach at Blackbox, with the motto “life’s a pitch” and we saw some remarkable changes. My favourite change in our cohort was from Jose Torbay, who’s pitch opener changed from “we make an app for golfers” to “we are a golf society”. I thought our company had a pretty decent pitch already, which we developeed during the UNSW Founder10x program, but I still saw a lot of change. My pitch changed from “we find minerals on asteroids” to “we are building the Google Maps of asteroid resources”. Pitching is a journey and no one pitch suits every occassion.
The Blackbox experience exposed us to the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, which otherwise seems enigmatic to outsiders. The ecosystem players include other founders (such as Bart Decrem, founder of Tapulous and Heini Zachariassen, founder of Vivino), enablers (such as Daniel Zimmermann from law firm WilmerHale and Brendan Boyle from design firm IDEO), and investors (such as Niko Bonatsos from General Catalyst and Duncan Davidson from Bullpen Capital). For me, this made the ecosystem more real and allowed me to see the strengths of my own ecosystem at the University of New South Wales and Sydney, Australia.
Post program I’m more comfotable with my business. I’ve learnt how to better understand and help others understand the value we create. I’ve also learnt the needs and wants of other players in startup ecosystems and how we can work together to create wins all around.
Apply to Blackbox to learn how you can help others and how this can lead to helping yourself. In summary, apply to Blackbox Connect to:
- Meet founders from around the world and understand your business in a global context.
- Learn from world-leading experts on what makes Bay Area startups great — especially experience design and the importance of culture.
- Transform your pitch over the course of two weeks in the context of your international context and coaching.
- Understand the startup ecosystem that you come from and its strengths when compared with the Silicon Valley exemplar.
And if you’re a present or past UNSW student with a startup business, apply for the UNSW Founder10x accelerator program, with applications opening soon!