What happens at Startmate

The story of the MEL18 cohort

Michael Batko
Nov 6, 2018 · 8 min read
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Startmate MEL18 Cohort

“At Startmate, we help exceptional founders build iconic companies.”

We often get told that Startmate is a black box.

Twice each year founders spend four months with us. Great businesses come out, but nobody actually knows what goes on.

Let me lift the veil by stepping through the experience of our most recent cohort. MEL18 just graduated as the largest cohort we’ve ever had:

  • 13 iconic companies
  • 29 exceptional founders

The Program

Startmate is an intense 15 weeks designed to help you achieve your own company goals. We run the program in Sydney (from January to April) and Melbourne (from July to October).

Here’s what our MEL18 cohort went through, week by week.

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Pre-Program — Week 0

Week 0 is about giving founders the space to step out of their every day, see their company from a new perspective and bond with their cohort. The MEL18 teams all converged at a picturesque farm surrounded by the hills and forests of the Otways National Park.

Week 0 revealed the founders’ personalities and forged the cohort together.

We also welcomed a bunch of Startmate mentors into the mix who worked with the teams on what they wanted to get from the upcoming 12 weeks of the program.

  • Nick Crocker from Blackbird shared data on what VC-backed companies’ revenue trajectories look like.
  • George Hartley, Smartrmail founder and Keaton Okkonen, Black.ai founder, gave an alumni perspective on how to hack Startmate to your advantage.
  • A surprisingly high percentage of the cohort also turned up for yoga at dawn.

The teams also met the Startmate Partners who are like our “super-mentors”. Each team chooses a partner who becomes the central point of contact through weekly check-ins. Partners change from cohort to cohort.

Our MEL18 Startmate Partners were:

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Week 0 — The Beginning

The Program — Week 1–12

We don’t have a pre-designed program.

This might sound a bit cliche, but there’s no roadmap for the ambitious startups we invest in.

So every program gets specifically designed for the teams’ needs just before it starts.

Saying that there are some fixed dates in the calendars.

Weekly Rhythms

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This is what a week of Startmate looked like for the MEL18 teams:

Partner meeting — meet for 30mins 1:1 with your “super-mentor” to get their help solving problems or linking to useful people in the network

All Hands — set yourself weekly goals and report back on progress to your peers

Inspirational Dinner/Lunch — chat with some of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs over a meal. For the MEL18 cohort that included:

Optional Content Sessions — we’ll bring in the some of the best people in Australian startups to run workshops on areas the cohort needs. For the MEL18 cohort they included:

  • Pitch coaching by Nick Crocker, Blackbird Partner
  • Fundraising by Paul Naphtali, Rampersand Cofounder
  • How to have Customer Conversations by Brandhook
  • Growth Marketing by Tim Doyle, Head of Marketing @ Koala
  • Engineering Best Practices by Anthony Marcar, successful founder and engineering manager
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How to raise from VCs with Rick Baker, Cofounder Blackbird, and Simon Cant, Cofounder Reinventure + Rachael Neumann on “Customer is Queen”

Mentor Roulettes

In the first two weeks of the program we maximize your exposure to mentors. The idea is to find 3–5 people, who can help you, who you really spark with and have loose ties to many more.

You never know who can kickstart your next seed funding or can recommend your next great hire. We think of this as increasing the surface area upon which luck can strike.

The MEL18 teams had two “Mentor Roulette” sessions — one in Sydney and one in Melbourne — where they met ~50 mentors in under 6 hours in Round Robin style 10mins 1:1 meetings.

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Mentor Roulettes

Advisory Boards

After the Mentor Roulettes, the founders chose 3–5 mentors for an ‘Advisory Team’, who committed to meeting them on a regular basis throughout the program.

Among the MEL18 cohort, some teams locked in mentors whom they wanted to draw on for funding, others picked mentors with specific expertise they needed, some selected a mix of both.

John Barton, the founder of Hecate said:

We’ve seen advisors develop into long-lasting friendships as well as angel investors.

Pitch Practice

Cookie cutter pitching is the antithesis of everything we believe at Startmate. We don’t care about glossy exteriors and powerpoint presentations.

We do, however, believe in the power of storytelling. We want our founders to inspire their teams, their customers, their partners, and, their investors. We put a lot of effort into putting each businesses’ unique story forward in its best way.

We also believe in helping founders overcome challenges. And pitch practice is the perfect challenge. Why? Because the teams HATE it. At first. Then they LOVE it.

Pitch practice starts in Week 8. We invite 2–3 mentors to drop by twice per week to help the teams refine their pitches. We also bring in a professional voice coach. We want every word to carry confidence. It’s tough.

Kas, the founder of Shiftsimple said:

You can read her blog post about it here.

But the results are amazing.

It’s like a microcosm of the founding experience. Tackling something outside your comfort zone that is harrowing and difficult, then working hard and leveraging your community to achieve it.

As Kas said:

If you’ve missed the MEL18 pitches — go here — they’re worth it!

Decompression Sessions

Being a founder is almost always GO, GO, GO — but sometimes you just need to take a step back and relax.

During MEL18 we hosted a Decompression Session every three weeks.

Yoga, Qigong, Meditation — the stuff which is good for the soul.

We bring in mentors who are certified experts in these disciplines but also understand the struggles of entrepreneurs. People who know how hard it is to balance the founder life and can speak and teach from that experience.

During MEL18 we worked with:

  • Peter Huynh — Partner @ Qualgro VC and meditation expert
  • Michael Agar — Angel Investor and Qigong master
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Demo Days

Our teams often find investment during the program. During SYD18 we had three teams raise $1m or near $1m rounds while the program was running. Our aim is that all teams have met the majority of Australian VCs and Angels by the time they graduate.

Demo Days showcase the incredible teams and businesses to extended investment networks and inspire family, friends and other founders, who can achieve the same.

We do two Demo Days to share the teams’ progress in Sydney, as well as Melbourne in front of 450–600 people at each event.

We also host a private investor only session before each event where we link founders with the ~50 investors most likely to be interested in their startup. Some of the investors in the room for MEL18 included:

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San Francisco Trip

The finishing touch of the Startmate program is a week in San Francisco where we introduce the teams to investors, founders and operators in the Bay Area. We organise around two meetings a day, giving the founders space to organise their own.

The MEL18 teams met:

  • Alumni who have relocated to SF — Bugcrowd, Upguard
  • Inspirational Founders — Zach Klein (Vimeo founder), Michael Overell (RecruitLoop, Lyft), Geoff McQueen (Accelo)
  • Investors who we work with — Andrew Chen (Andreessen Horowitz), Niko Bonatsos (General Catalyst), Adam Draper (BoostVC)
  • Incredible Companies — we did take a drive (or were taken for a drive) by a self-driving Zoox car/robot

The trip always ignites flames of ambition.

As Riz, co-founder of Hampr put it:

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After the program, your journey is not over. Demo Day was the formal welcome for the MEL18 teams into a community for life made up of Startmate Alumni, mentors and investors.

Our alumni grow their businesses, help each other and eventually become mentors themselves. They then invest in the next generation of Startmate founders — strengthening the community by building up the next cohort.

Business-building can be hard, but finding your people shouldn’t be.

If the journey of the MEL18 teams seems like the right path for you, join Startmate — let’s find your people.


Startmate is Australia and New Zealand's most ambitious accelerator.