In August, after reading a Tweet by Patrick Collison, I was introduced to an investor called Pioneer — “a community of creative young people working on interesting projects around the globe”.
Pioneer is a new type of investor, focused on building a community of founders and experts, who accepts participants based on a 4 week-long tournament.
As a teenager, I was intrigued by the fact that they aimed at ambitious young people, so I decided to apply.
The program started almost 4 weeks ago. Considering the August/September cohort ends Monday, I thought I would provide my experience of the competition before the program finishes and the final scoreboard is released.
How It Works
Pioneer is trying to provide the long-term benefits of a university — network, community, and motivation.
They are doing this through a peer-review competition system, where you share updates on a weekly basis, and have them reviewed by your peers and the Pioneer experts, who will provide a comment on your progress.
The voting process is open every Monday for 24 hours (originally 12 hours). After the process is over, you receive a digest of feedback and your new ranking. For convenience, I set an event in my calendar for this and set adequate time to mark the 20 applications assigned to me each week.
At the end of the Pioneer tournament, the top ranking individuals will be extended the “Pioneer Offer.” Amongst other things, this consists of a $5k investment, access to the Pioneer expert community, and the ability to attend the Pioneer Summit in San Francisco alongside all other Pioneers. 🚀
Community and Feedback
The most important part of the Pioneer program is the community and their feedback, undoubtedly.
Every week you are asked to post a progress update where you detail what you have accomplished, what you hope to achieve, and what your main obstacle is. The hundreds, if not thousands, of participants are all given the opportunity to peer-review these progress updates and write a comment about the applicant’s progress. Through this, I have received over 60 comments throughout the last three weeks from people of diverse backgrounds, all of which have been insightful and motivating. The little bursts of encouragement make all the difference in the world, and inspire you to do better.
In addition, when I have asked for help, people have provided quick solutions or links to helpful resources. At the end of the voting period, Pioneer emails you a digest of the comments made by others:
I tried to act on as much of the feedback offered by the Pioneer community as possible and thought it was a great way to get the opinions of people who are both technologically educated, and people who just have a passing interest in tech.
New Take on Investing
Pioneer is democratizing Venture Capital by allowing anyone to apply and accepting participants based on the feedback from dozens of peers and Pioneer experts.
By compiling this data into a leaderboard system, it is easy for them to see exactly which applicants the community thinks are the most promising.
The feedback submitted by the community gives the Pioneer team access to the insights of people who are just like participants — working on projects or starting companies. Another aspect is that they can track the progress of applicants across the 4-week duration of the program plus their application, so it is easy for them to discover which applicants are the best at executing and working hard.
They are also focusing on younger people (although the competition is open to everyone), which is essentially an unexplored market right now. Companies often undermine the power of the young entrepreneur, but by encouraging younger applicants, Pioneer is empowering the future generation of innovators. Funds like Dorm Room Fund target college students, but there is a very small amount of investors willing to support people of a younger age (like 1517 Fund). As a teenager myself, I find that Pioneer’s approach to targeting the innovative spirit in young people is exactly what I am looking for and is the biggest differentiator between them and other investors.
It’s worth noting that Pioneer is not just for people starting companies like me, but it is also for people working on interesting projects (like scientific initiatives), and who want to make a difference in the world.
By having to submit weekly progress updates, you feel more accountable for your actions which acts as a key motivator during the week. Throughout the week, I was constantly thinking about what to include in my update which helped me work as hard and as efficiently as possible.
Another key aspect is that writing weekly progress updates gives you the opportunity to reflect on your work, something that is often overlooked when embarking on something as labor-intensive as starting a company.
You can also plan your goals for the next week, which you can mention in your next update, allowing you to plan your work, and become more accountable if you do not meet that objective.
I also felt a strong sense of camaraderie in the community. Being a founder or a maker can be a lonely experience, especially considering we are embracing remote working even more. Pioneer offered me the opportunity to connect with like-minded entrepreneurs and makers, who were interested not only in the success of their projects but mine too. Pioneer gave me access to a community of hundreds of people who wrote consistent reviews of our product and who now understand our product in a way that most don’t.
There are a few improvements that Pioneer could make in order to improve the efficiency of their competition.
- There should be an option to downvote a candidate, as during the competition many people have just chosen somebody because the other candidate was not good. I feel that by doing this I would not have been pressurized into selecting a candidate I did not feel strongly for, so the competition would have been fairer to all.
- I feel that voting system needs to be made clearer, as I only discovered last week that they use a weighted voting system, meaning that if you are upvoted over higher-scoring applicants, you will receive more points. This was (and still is) a point of confusion amongst participants and should have been addressed clearly at the start of the cohort.
- Pioneer should host AMAs, meetups, or Office Hours throughout the competition so participants can receive startup advice which can help them achieve their weekly goals.
- There should be an option for people to review the same projects week-over-week. I feel like this would improve upon consistency between reviews and allow participants to gain a deeper insight into your product and progress.
Overall, Pioneer has been a great way for me to learn about the experiences of others, and share the progress I have made in building my startup.
As with any startup, they have quite a bit of work to do, but I am confident that they will make a difference. They are the first investor of their kind and are making great strides in democratizing capital for young innovators.
Pioneer voting opens for a final time on Monday, and even if I am not considered to become a Pioneer, I still believe the experience has been of great educational and personal worth. If you are interested, you can learn more about Pioneer here.
I am about to submit my final progress update which includes a video for the Pioneer experts. Next week the experts will be reviewing our applications and we may be invited to do a video interview with the Pioneer team.
Then, we will find out who becomes the “Pioneers” of the August/September cohort on October 8th.
Thanks, Pioneer, for the great experience so far! ✌️