ILLUMINATION
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ILLUMINATION

I Joined 2 Startup Accelerators. Here’s What Happened (Part 2: Game Founders)

Are they worth it?

Image provided courtesy of João V Souza

“When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready the teacher will disappear.” -Lao Tzu

Malaysia is 11 hours ahead of my home country, Brazil. Days were nights in one country when nights were days in the other one. As I worked through the day in this distant country, my body demanded that I stop and go to bed. I had to drink many cups of coffee to keep working. As I got through the night with no energy, my body thought it was day instead and didn’t want to rest. It was many hours of work and a few hours of good sleep. It took me a few weeks to fully get used to this new and different time zone.

If you have a startup, you probably already heard something about the world of startup accelerators. They usually help with working spaces, mentoring, and money.

Usually, when you are a first-time entrepreneur, you don’t have any money and have no experience. Having mentors guiding you is very helpful. It is also excellent not to pay for working space and get money to pay yourself and invest in your company.

Startup accelerators may sound like a dream for most entrepreneurs.

I had the opportunity to participate in two of these programs. Without them, my company wouldn’t become profitable the way it did, and we wouldn’t have grown at the same velocity as we did.

In this story, I will share how my experience was through the second accelerator program I did.

Application

Game Founders is an accelerator program focused just on gaming startups. Besides helping companies with working spaces and mentoring, it invests money (US$15,000 for 9% equity). The program started in Estonia and moved to Malasia a few years later.

I first learned about the program when I met the CMO (chief marketing officer) from Rovio (creators of Angry Birds). He told me it would be good for my startup if I join the Game Founders program. I applied, but we weren’t accepted. That was before I did my first accelerator program.

While I was doing the Startup Chile program, I learned about many other accelerator programs for startups. After leaving Chile and coming back home to Brazil, I started to apply to some of these programs. I tried big ones and most known as Y Combinator, 500 Startups, and TechStars. It was hard for a gaming startup to be accepted into one of these programs. I ended up not being selected.

The application for Game Founders wasn’t something huge, as was the one for Startup Chile. We had to answer a few questions and record a 3-minute pitch video. At that time, we already were a profitable company, and we had a lot of positive traction to share.

After a few weeks back to Brazil, I received an email saying that Game Founders wanted to interview me. That was the second part of their process. I did the interview with my current partner, and then we waited.

One month later, we got the news that we have been accepted into the program. The caveat was that we would need to move to Malaysia in a month. We had two days to answer. I didn’t know what to do first, as I have just got back home and didn’t have much time to buy airplane tickets and find a place to live on the other side of the world.

I started watching some videos of how life was in Malaysia, and I talked to another Brazilian entrepreneur that was part of the program’s previous batch. That talk was beneficial and made me decide to move again. I gave my answer to the program, and my partner and I started to organize everything we need to do. We didn’t have much time, but, fortunately, everything went ok. I would live in Malaysia for three months (September to November of 2015).

Pitching and mentoring

It took us more than 40 hours to go from Brazil to Malasia. It was a long flight with three stops. As we got to the country, our apartment wasn’t ready for us yet. Luckily, we were able to sleep in the apartment of another entrepreneur joining the program that was also Brazilian. His partner would arrive one month later due to a medical problem, and he had space for me and my partner to sleep. We were exhausted. We just wanted to rest.

The program started the next morning. We were refreshed and ready. On the first day, everyone had to present themselves, and we learned how the program would be. We would have mentorship from Monday to Tuesday, from different entrepreneurs, and pitch training every Tuesday.

We started working from our apartment, but as our days were full of activities in the office, we noticed that it would be better to spend the day there. We were five minutes by foot to the office, and this time only ten companies were working on the office, which meant silence. There were a supermarket and many restaurants restaurant nearby, making our life more comfortable.

As I have been practicing pitching for a while during the Startup Chile program I just finished, I was very confident in my first week of pitch training on Game Founders. We had good numbers and a well-organized speech and presentation. While pitching, there was a different group of people in each practice, ranging from investors and other entrepreneurs watching us and giving us feedback.

On my first week pitching, one of those people watching started asking me some hard questions after I finished. It looked like I was solving problems for an hour, but just a few minutes have passed. My eyes were wide open, and then I heard someone saying, “he wants to invest in your company.” I probably did not blink for a few minutes. Is that serious? This investor has liked my presentation and said that if we achieve some specific numbers, he would invest US$1 million in our company. One year and a half later, we reached those numbers, and we got the investment. We wouldn’t get that if it wasn’t for the Game Founders program.

Growth

I didn’t take too much money with me again. I had cash for one month there without being able to do anything fancy. We decided not to get to know the city while we didn’t get the money from the program. Our life was basically working. It took a bit more than a month for us to receive the money. When that happened, we were able to spend more with ourselves and the company.

At that time, we had two games. We spent most of our time there improving those games and finding smart ways to invest in advertising. We broke daily, weekly, and monthly revenue records many times. With the program’s money, we could spend more money on advertising, which also helped with our growth.

My birthday happened while I was doing the program. I remember that on this day, we broke the daily revenue record. It was a nice gift for me.

Outside events

As part of the program, we would participate in other events outside Malaysia in our last month to prepare for the Demo Day in our last week. I barely knew at that time how much I would be traveling in the next years.

The first one we did was in China. The biggest gaming conference in the world is called GDC (Game Developers Conference), and it happens every year in March in San Francisco. This conference also had a version in Shanghai that we joined. During this conference, I had the opportunity to pitch to different local companies and investors.

After that, we joined Slush, a startup and tech event in Helsinki. It was nice again to pitch to different companies and investors. I was a little bit tired at that point because of all the traveling, working, pitching, and not sleeping too much. A good side of being in Finland was visiting some gaming companies from the country, as Rovio (creators of Angry Birds).

From Finland, we also went to Estonia. It was a two hours trip by boat. We would incorporate there as part of the program processes. Having the company in Estonia helped us deal with taxes and get invested, as investors usually don’t like to deal with Brazil’s bureaucracy.

Demo Day

The Demo Day would happen on the last week of the program. I have been traveling, attending conferences, visiting new places, and meeting new people for three weeks. As I closed my eyes, I could felt my deep and slow breathe. I didn’t want to open them, but I still had much work to on this last week of the program. The Demo Day is a significant moment, and I wanted to make everybody from my team proud.

In our batch, we were the company that had the best traction to share. I was very confident with my pitch presentation. Out of the blue, I was full of energy again when the day arrived. I put on my best shirt and was ready to share the extraordinary growth we had for the past three months.

There would be some investors and successful entrepreneurs watching me. One of those people was Tommy Palm, the creator of Candy Crush. After my presentation, he asked to talk to me. I was very excited about that. He said he liked our traction and gave some tips on how to keeping growing our company.

Tomorrow

Going through the Game Founders program helped increase my network really fast. All of a sudden, I met many big names from the games industry.

Accelerators are useful, but you have to play your part. They will not make anything happened for you if you don’t ask them. If you want something, you have to say. Be clear about what are your goals and how they could help you. Otherwise, you will spend time in the program and will not fully enjoy its benefits.

Because of our growth, we were able to increase everyone’s salaries at our company. My partner and I also bought for ourselves an iPhone 6S as a Christmas gift. It was my first iPhone.

After the program was over, I kept in touch with its partners. They were mentors for me and helped me through the challenges my company was facing. It was nice to have someone with more experience supporting me.

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