The honest truth about Nextt
A heartfelt & transparent response to an unexpected attack on my life’s work
On Friday night, my new accelerator for ideas, Nextt, was totally misrepresented by a contributor to a well-known publication. The article was extremely inaccurate, missing many of the points that make our program unique and valuable. And it personally attacked me. It almost ruined my weekend.
But then I checked the comments and was thrilled to see that most readers felt the same — despite the article giving little info for them to go on. And we continue to receive applications and encouragement from all over the world nonetheless. That’s all I need.
I believe deeply in the brand new kind of accelerator that I, my co-founder and our advisor community of 50+ leading designers, developers and the like are working tirelessly to build. Put simply, we want to help people test ideas before they leave their job or ask investors for money. And our singular goal is to empower folks from all kinds of places and with all kinds of backgrounds to be entrepreneurial about solving the world’s problems — without creating pressing personal ones in the process.
Given the amount of time, energy and resources that I and our team have already invested in Nextt and will continue to invest regardless of the thoughtless words of others, I feel compelled to clarify the real story. Here’s my attempt to fill in the gaps and provide clarity on stuff the article leaves out and/or misrepresents. As a reward for getting through it all, I’ve left a little gift for those of you who make it to the end :)
“Charging startups to apply to an accelerator is exploitative and dumb”
Issue #1 : Nextt is for people— not startups. And if you don’t understand the difference between an individual person with an idea and a ‘startup’, I see why Nextt wouldn’t make sense to you.
Don’t get me wrong — I love startups & know them well. I’ve helped build two, invested in a handful of others and advised tens more. But startups don’t need another accelerator — there are already plenty that do the job well. Again, I know because I mentor for a bunch of them. In virtually all cases, they work exclusively with teams of multiple people, require at least one to be technical (capable of engineering the company’s products) and ask that everyone be full-time (if not on-site). Given their business models, they’d also prefer you to have already built a product and be generating revenue or traction. Their whole business is portfolio optimization — and risk negatively impacts expected value.
Nextt has literally none of those requirements. And it’s not because we don’t understand the pains of startups or how most accelerators work. It’s because we want to work with and help people get their ideas into the world before they start checking the boxes that most accelerators require. Because we realize that those requirements require prospective entrepreneurs (a.k.a. people with ideas) to take on significant risk so others don’t have to.
While many of us take it for granted that those are just the rules of the game, I’ve been in that game long enough to realize the effect they have on who actually gets to play.
- Not everyone is in a position to leave their job and go-full time on an unvalidated idea. No matter how passionate they are.
- Not everyone is networked into communities of designers, engineers, etc. that they might need to get their idea into the world or get into a startup accelerator. I’m not okay with a world in which the only people who get to try out their ideas come from Stanford or IIT, have worked at Slack & Facebook or spend their bulk of their time hanging out with those who do.
- Not every idea is ‘big enough’ to be attractive to VCs and traditional accelerators, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth building. Our entire program & model is designed to help people turn ideas into early/experimental products that generate useful feedback & actionable data on whether that idea is worth pursuing. That’s true of projects we accept as well as those we don’t. See Issue 3 below for more detail.
“Apparently aimed at first-time entrepreneurs and people dipping their toes in entrepreneurial endeavors for the first time, Nextt’s website comes across as a pitch-deck factory”
Issue #2: We do a lot more than just produce highlight reels and pitch decks. We build actual products.
Although it’s barely mentioned in the article, Nextt takes it on itself to turn accepted ideas into actual products (or MVPs) and does the hard work (e.g. designing mocks, writing code, editing video, whatever really) required to do so. And we do this in unison with our handpicked advisor community & agency in residence. These are 50+ leading designers, developers, data scientists, marketers, videographers, attorneys and even restaurateurs behind companies like Snapchat, FourSquare, WeWork, Bonobos & SPiN working to help individual people bring their ideas to life.
In other words, people enter Nextt with an idea on a napkin and leave with a tested product or service. Since those tests are drawn up and executed by proven operators, any business that passes has a greatly heightened chance of either receiving capital or successfully bootstrapping into operation. And although we’re still early in our history (finished our first cohort last month), the results are starting to speak for themselves.
- Since successfully graduating from our accelerator last month, Nina Sodhi, a self-identified “mompreneur”, has already won her first ten customers for children’s book registry Red Antler Books. Nina is now receiving interest from upstream accelerators that invest up to $170,000. Just eight weeks earlier, Red Antler was an idea on napkin. You can learn more by checking out her MVP and highlight reel.
- Another project in our first cohort, Bleuberry (yellow pages for the on demand economy) was recently launched on ProductHunt. On there, it received over 250 upvotes and is already seeing a loyal base of returning users and submissions from the community. Bleuberry was designed and developed by Nextt advisors together with founder Adam Michalski, who came up with the idea while working in business development at GoButler. Again, like all our projects, you can learn more by checking out the MVP and highlight reel.
- Finally, perhaps the most ambitious project in our first cohort, a remarketing system for lenders to better monitor and stay in contact with previously rejected borrowers called Bloom Credit, just got verbal agreement from one of the nation’s largest credit unions to pilot its service.
We do all of this in 6–8 weeks for a total cash cost of $100 and without asking people to leave their jobs or recruit others to join them in doing so. So yes, in that sense, I agree with the article that getting into Nextt is a ‘bonafide bargain’. And that is exactly the point.
There is a big difference between $100 and $800, which the article accurately calculates as the implied value of our service based on our acceptance rates to date (but note: this number is premature given we just started accepting applications from the public two weeks ago!). And, for what it’s worth, it’s usually not even enough to cover the incidental expenses involved in designing/building/launching our MVPs (because third party services aren’t free) and shooting our highlight reels (because renting equipment costs money). And there is an even larger difference between $100 and the price of comparable alternatives to Nextt (including the small equity stake we take in accepted projects that evolve into businesses), when you consider the people you get to collaborate with to research, design & launch your prototype.
The article doesn’t mention it (because the writer didn’t actually speak to me or any applicants before coming to his own conclusions and asking for a few quotes by end of day) but we thought long and hard about our model. We spoke to our current founders and prospective applicants from all over the world. We did our homework. And the feedback was clear, as are the vast majority of comments left on the article itself. Charging a $100 application fee is more inclusive than charging the true cost of our program to the people we accept — especially when you consider that we’re working with individual people on completely unvalidated ideas. Even when the Nextt program does its job and gets an idea to an MVP, there’s no guaranteeing that MVP will “work” or generate enough positive feedback to proceed. And asking someone to pay thousands of dollars just to find that out is exactly the type of thing we’re trying to disrupt.
“If you’re one of the 87 percent of founders who don’t make the cut, it’s hard to argue you received great value for your money”
Issue #3: We work incredibly hard to provide value to ideas we don’t accept.
My co-founder, Tom, and I have an awfully difficult time choosing which ideas to accept vs. not. We stayed up until 2 am three nights in a row to decide which four ideas we should accept for our August cohort. We wish we could accept & work with everyone, but unfortunately we can’t.
What our program lacks in scale & structure (again, we’re just getting started!), we try to make up for with sheer effort. Each applicant we don’t accept receives thorough feedback on what we saw as strengths and weaknesses in their application, suggestions for first/next steps and in many cases introductions to people in our network who could be helpful. As of this week, we’re also offering idea pages (here’s the template) that help them share their idea with others, recruit collaborators and centralize/stimulate feedback and discussion. Of course, it’s entirely up to them if they want such a page and who they’d like to share it with if so.
The article pokes fun at this approach, again because the writer failed to look any deeper. He did not submit an application that we could respond to (used dummy text with a fake email address) nor did he speak to any of our rejected applicants.
If he had, this is what he would have discovered:
“It is not particularly reassuring to discover that the company’s terms and conditions link doesn’t work; it simply points to the site’s home page”
Issue 4: We’re a startup ourselves and know we’re not perfect. But we’re learning and work hard to improve every day.
Look, we know confidentiality is a tricky component of what we’re doing. We’re doing our best to carefully navigate those waters, without sacrificing what we (and many others) have seen to be the single most important factor in startup success. Starting quickly and getting reliable/actionable feedback as soon as as possible! To this end, despite the article’s speculation to the contrary, we think it’s telling that many applicants have expressed enthusiasm when presented with the opportunity to present their undeveloped concepts on our new idea pages. Let this be a lesson to all of us: do not underestimate the ability of hopeful and ambitious people to learn & evolve.
We also know our messaging can be clearer, and we talk about it every day. Since the article came out, we’ve already started working on edits to our homepage to make the value we offer clearer, building FAQ and Calendar pages to preempt a bunch of the questions we’ve received to date & fixing our terms & conditions page (we found some issues last week & are working with our attorney advisors to modify). We’re iterating our model just like we advise all of our Nextt projects.
“The startup world is meant to be a place where experienced entrepreneurs are taking care of the newcomers, not exploiting them in the process”
Despite what the article might want you to believe, I’m as loyal and stubborn a supporter of entrepreneurs as you will find. I got my first start in this industry by ditching a high-paying law firm gig (after spending 3 years in law school) to take an unpaid internship at a startup I invested in. Since then, I’ve worked my ass off to help build two companies I’m incredibly proud of — Grovo (where I ran product) and Inventure (where I was founding CMO) — and test countless other concepts. I’ve stayed up nights building products in tiny offices, interviewed customers in remote villages in India & South Africa, and continually suspended reason and disbelief for ideas/people I believe in.
I’m a new dad with a 1 bedroom apartment and a completely unreasonable proportion of my family’s assets invested in impactful-but-wildly-risky startups (5 to date) because I love this game that much. And I’m transparent about all of it. I give fireside talks about filling the credit gap in the emerging world, do podcasts about my commitment to authenticity and blog as honestly as possible.
I didn’t start Nextt to make a quick buck or exploit startups. Just a little homework makes that incredibly obvious. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I paused a successful consulting practice, walked away from offers from high-growth startups & even put off the opportunity to raise my first venture fund to launch and run this accelerator. Because, I believe, in my core, that simple & thoughtful experiments can empower individual people to change the world — and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to help make that happen.
If nothing else, this little hiccup has me more convinced than ever that the future belongs to empowered and hopeful individuals like myself & Tom, our brilliant advisors & applicants, and so many of you.
Now let’s go build it. Together.
Hey there, thanks for making it through this very long post! If you’re interested in applying to Nextt, please use referral code ‘Letsgobuild’ to get a $25 refund on your application fee. And feel free to reach out to me directly at email@example.com with any questions or concerns. Tom and I personally answer every email Nextt receives.