Startup Diaries Week #2: Real Life

An honest account of life on the Ignite accelerator programme.

This is an honest, open and personal account of my time on the 14 week Ignite Accelerator, cohort #8 at TechHub in London, UK.

I’ll be writing a warts ’n’ all account of my personal journey, that of my co-founder Adam and the effects of such an intense accelerator programme on both us as people, and the business.

I’ll be chronicling this every Tuesday as part of my regular Tuesday blogging schedule.

I’m going to keep a nicely structured format to these posts so that you can chart the journey with Adam and I, and so that you can draw your own conclusions from my experience on the startup accelerator and so that somewhere, you may take a nugget of information that will radically help you in your business.

If you’re not familiar with Ignite itself or even with the concept of a startup accelerator here’s a little primer on both:

The Story So Far

So I’ve started running a little. Adam and I get up early and we run for around 30 minutes from Shoreditch down into central London. Then we run back.

It’s horrible. At least right now it’s horrible, but you know what?

We’re getting better at it.

The first few minutes are hard, they’re tough and you want to stop because the aching and breathing just feels unfamiliar. It feels tough. It feels uncomfortable.

But after a while, you forget about that and settle into a rhythm and before long, you catch yourself being surprised that you’re doing pretty well.

Maybe you can do this after all.

And that, dear constant reader, is how the second week of a startup accelerator feels too.

Last week was really about orientation; about finding our way and generally wondering how the hell we fit into this bigger picture.

Was everyone going to be smarter than us? Have “better” ideas than us?

It was a week of feeling the same way that you feel during the first week of school, or during the first week at a new job.

Paul, Martyn, Tristan and Flossie, the Ignite team, seem to know that and managed to create a melting pot of founders who are literally sat shoulder to shoulder and who all feel the very same way.

The result?

A greatly accelerated “getting to know you” phase that, by week two, has resulted in nicknames, social nights out and the development of some potentially lifelong friendships — all borne from sitting around the proverbial campfire that is creating a startup.

Life, so far, on this accelerator is as much about focussing on how you can help the people around you as much as it is about focussing on building your startup.

And that is how it should be. It has certainly allowed me to use my time in a really focussed manner without falling into the trap of being “too busy” to actually interact and help whoever I can.

I feel that everyone else is experiencing a similar phenomenon too. The willingness to not only ask for help, but to give that help is abundant and importantly, it is sincere.

By throwing everyone together and forcing us to simply be around each other, the Ignite team foster a community of founders who all operate on equal footing; who all respect each others’ time, ideas and opinions.

No Egos, Leave That at the Door, Son

Although it is most certainly not the same, the only thing that I have experience in that I can compare an accelerator programme to so far is being on a course, or an educational retreat, where you’re there to learn a specific thing within a specific timeframe.

Typically when attending these types of things, there are one or more “ego mouths” who simply must make a point during every session, or who believe that they know plenty enough about any given topic to “validate” the knowledge of the presenter through continual nods, assertions and useless factoids that are typically so tenuously linked to the subject matter that you can see the presenter dying a little inside.

Think David Brent pulling out the guitar, to the despair of the guy delivering the customer service course on The Office.

To this point, I’m so very pleasantly surprised that there seems to be zero ego mouthing during any of the mandatory mentoring or educational sessions throughout our week. It’s a really, really encouraging sign to see thateveryone is there to learn.

It represents the manner in which I’ve been approaching the sessions myself.

For example, I have studied conversion optimisation, both practically and theoretically before.

But I’ve never studied it in a way that relates to the hyper focussed, high paced environment that is a startup.

And that really matters. Things are different in a startup environment. There’s no way around that, it’s a fact. Simple.

No matter what you know, what you think you know and even what you think you don’t know, you’re going to be learning something new every single day and on the rarest of occasions that you don’t learn some thing new, you’re going to learn how to apply something you already know in a brand new way.

For a serial learner and complete geek like me, it’s heaven for the brain.

Granted, the food and drink ain’t bad, either.

Challenges This Week

We both really struggled with what we felt to be a lack of positive traction towards the beginning of the week.

We had our mandatory weekly review session with the Ignite team and although we felt positive on the whole, we were aware that we were stuck in decision making paralysis.

This was really a symptom of listening to every single piece of advice from every single mentor.

It was idea overload but given the nature of our business, we weren’t able to really test any of the ideas or assumptions in a live environment.

So, following a swift kick from Paul and the team, we resolved to carry out some more focussed user surveying.

The way that we approached this was by using the principles found in “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick and in doing so, we unearthed some superb data and insight into our vertical from both potential customers and from some serious industry experts.

By doing this we were able to really begin to nail down a few very serious things:

  1. What our brand story should be.
  2. What niches / segments of the market we should directly talk to.
  3. What our approach to the various monetisation options could be and how we can begin to test these in a low cost, guerilla style manner.

By the end of the week we felt so much better about the path we’ve decided to test and the decision making paralysis, whilst not completely overcome quite yet, has been reduced to a mere annoyance that has been superseded by a tangible plan of action.

Bundled together with deep and really, really insightful feedback sessions with two significant industry experts, the revelation that one of the biggest incumbents in the industry is “concerned” about us and securing an integration with a very prominent player in the global market, we rounded the week out by being fully aware of the scale of the challenges we face, but also excited at the prospect of breaking these challenges down and overcoming them one test at a time.

It has been a satisfying week, really. And it has served to motivate us both even more.

Real Life: How the Co-Founders are Doing

I’m really enjoying myself, but I’m missing home. I’m missing the little bits of time that I’d spend with Mrs. A and that we probably both take for granted. The little chats over dinner and the cuppa in a morning.

Sure, FaceTime helps, but that does become difficult if you really let it.

Oh and I miss the dog’s snoring on a night. He probably doesn’t miss me telling him to stop snoring, though.

The great thing is that, although I’m loving the programme, the weeks fly past in a haze of intense focus and it’s typically time to head back up North before I know it.

There’s a balance here that we wouldn’t get if this accelerator programme was on our doorstep, and for that I’m thankful. We have to maximise our input to the programme so that we can maximise our outcomes.

We’re both a little worried about money, being honest. London is an expensive place and we’re both trying to stay frugal so that we don’t end up having to use our bit of investment to “enjoy” ourselves — that’s there to just get us through the accelerator and to piss it away would be the height of stupidity.

On a professional note, I’m completely immersed in the learning experience and I can already feel its positive effects on the other businesses that I run.

As an example, thanks to some advice on pitching and storyfying certain elements of the sales process, we ran a webinar that had the highest conversion rate of any we’ve ever run before for Podcast Websites. And I mean by a long way.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to take a sabbatical from HACKSAW to focus here, but I am stil actively running Podcast Websites whilst on the accelerator programme.

Even more thankfully, I’ve settled into a routine which means that I work for a while on this before and after the day, typically immediately after I get up (earlier than usual) and before I go to bed.

This was a challenge for the first few days but I quickly realised that in order to give people the service they deserve, I’d just need to tweak my workflow a little.

But more importantly, I wanted to give people that premium service without encroaching on Ignite time.

The real beauty of this is that our customer base is primarily U.S. based, so actually I’m getting more quality time with those members. They’re great.

Combining this positive workflow with the fact that I’ve started really exercising properly again most days (and walking miles through London) means that I feel sharp and ready to absorb as much information and knowledge as the Ignite guys can throw at me.

Overall and so far, I feel good. I don’t feel tired, overwhelmed or worried.

That could change and if it does, believe me: you’ll know about it.

Actionable lessons learned this week

  1. Design sprints are really, really powerful.
  2. ASK for what you want. This backs up my advice to new podcasters who ask me how to get the “big” guests. Just ask. We secured a partnership with a big global player this week by simply calling their U.S. offices and asking. That. Was. It.
  3. Accelerator programmes are a laser beam of focus. Whichever system you use doesn’t matter, but you DO need a system that allows you to prioritise tasks and your time, focussing only on the things that matter.
  4. Test EVERYTHING. Measure EVERYTHING.
  5. Don’t listen to everyone. Whether they’re investors, mentors or people down the pub. If you do, you’ll never move forward. If you have piles of conflicting advice, devise ways to quickly and cheaply test & validate those ideas so that you don’t fall into the decision making paralysis trap. That sucks.

As we move further into the programme I know that things will get harder so please, if there’re any parts of the process that you want to know more about, what challenges we face in certain areas for example, then please just ask.

Don’t forget, the more you expect from yourself, the more you WILL excel.


Originally published at www.excellence-expected.com on January 26, 2016.

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