2016 startmate cohort nervously interviewing to make the cut

Why we went through Startmate, with revenue

In mid to late 2015, after months of slugging away on elevio we were starting to get noticed by the right people, getting some good traction in the SaaS world, and winning bigger customers. At that stage we were still “only” doing around $5k MRR, which looking back seems small but at the time every extra thousand in MRR was a big deal for us, super exciting, and cause for beers. Everything was a-buzz.

But something was missing.

While we’d got to where we were as a bootstrapped team of two, and were proud of where we were and where we were heading, we knew we could only take this thing so far on our own. Not so much in terms of the amount of work being done, but what work should actually be done. We’d proven in the past that we can build, and we’re not afraid to bite off more than we can chew, but that’s just one part of the game. 
And as we started to get traction, it was becoming more apparent that if we wanted this to actually reach where we thought it could, there was a lot we needed to learn.

So, we started on the journey of looking for the best way to get up to speed, fast. We’d read books, sure, but real world experience is priceless. The question was how could we learn successful startup life before we experienced it?

Enter accelerators.

Around that time we were approached to apply for YCombinator, we applied thinking nothing of it, then went on the hunt for local accelerators. 
Startmate stood out as Australia’s best, based on its network and alumni success, so we applied there too.

We headed up to Sydney (we’re Melbourne based) for the interview process, and came away knowing that’s where we wanted to be. It was the best decision we’ve made for our business, and one of the best times of my life.

But aren’t you too far along?

By the time Startmate was due to begin in January, we’d got ourselves to $10k MRR, which it seems some people consider “too far along”, which is bullsh*t.

“Why are you doing an accelerator if you’ve already got good revenue and growth” was a common question we got.

To me, until you’ve got solid product market fit and a repeatable process to acquire more users, revenue and any other metric is meaningless, and you’re not fooling anyone but yourself if you let it go to your head.

In contrast, it was actually the perfect time for us to join an accelerator. We had the ingredients, but not the recipe.

Having decent revenue and some traction meant we already had a graph heading in the right direction when we sent our our periodic updates to the mentors and network. A side bonus, investors seem to like graphs that are up and to the right.

But the biggest plus, was that instead of spending our time building we were able to use the program for what it was designed for, accelerating our learning.

The upsides

  • Mentor
    This is the semi obvious one when it comes to any accelerator, there’s a chosen group of people with a broad wealth of knowledge who’ve already been through what you’re about to go through. And the calibre of Startmates network is seriously impressive.
  • Extended network
    This is a little less obvious at first glance. You don’t just have access to the mentors, but you’ve by proxy got access to their entire network, as well as the past alumni and their networks. It runs deep, and it’s truely global. During the San Francisco portion of the program, we met with CEOs of multi-million dollar startups through intros from people in the network… Because they were “real life” friends. It’s pretty surreal when you start to experience the power of the network.
  • Relentless pitch practice
    Every single week, there was pitch practice. Take from that what you will, but the hidden benefits are that you’re continually thinking about whether or not your presenting your business the right way, and you’re getting honest feedback on your vision. That stuff’s priceless, and it’s not something I think any company would do nearly as frequently (if ever) outside of an accelerator environment.
  • Investors came to us
    After the bulk of the program, there’s the demo days. Meaning there’s a room full of investors who’ve come to see you at your finest. The bonus is, they already know you, they’ve been following you already for 3 months whether you know it or not. 
    Don’t get me wrong, you still need to work to get in a room alone with them and they’re not turning up with blank cheques, but without a doubt in my mind being part of Startmate was the catalyst we needed and was instrumental in us being over subscribed in our seed round.
    Think about this from an investors point of view, they know you’re around the right people, learning the right things. They can fairly well trust that you’re not just lucky.
  • You’re sharing the journey
    Before Startmate, we were working as a duo in a small office pretty much blocked off from the world, with nobody really to share what were going through. That all changed as soon as the program started, there was 7 other teams on the same path as us. We were able to motivate each other, celebrate with each other, and generally help each other through the journey (shout out to the accountabilabuddies!).
Arriving in San Francisco with the workyard crew

The downsides

Being interstate, for us it meant 5 months away from family and friends, save for a couple of weekend trips. The silver lining on this was that it meant we could devote all of our time during that period to elevio, but in the end, nothing can replace family.

But, was it worth giving up equity in the company?

Yep.

The actual amount of money that we got from Startmate wasn’t a factor, and it shouldn’t be. If you’re looking to join an accelerator for the money, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. It helps for sure, but the money isn’t the value here.

The only decision to make, is if being involved can improve your business by more than 7.5%. Which if you ask me, is an emphatic yes. And I’ve no doubt that the value of the network is only going to increase for years to come as the alumni grows and more talented teams and mentors are attracted, which makes the equity given up even more of a bargain.

If you haven’t already gathered, I’m a huge advocate for Startmate, and will gladly give back where I can. So if you’re reading this and still trying to make up your mind on whether to apply, just do it.

It’s The Things You Don’t Do That You Regret Most

(If you want to read more about the actual application and interview journey for us for both Startmate and YCombinator , check out these posts)