Startup incubation (kind of) sucks.❤️
Introducing NAVER and LINE’s DOERS program @ STATION F
[This is a guest post by our lovely partner Taro, from NAVER France — Want to submit a guest post? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org]
NAVER, the Korean internet giant, reached out to me to help them operate in Europe. One of the first amazing opportunities that we’ve had, was to take part in this exciting STATION F campus project of which we are now very proud partners.
Here’s the deal. For many reasons, I have always felt uneasy about incubation and quite frankly, I was initially LOST as to what direction we should give to our presence at STATION F. Here is why.
5 Key Unsuccess Factors of startup incubation🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
#1. Incubators = desks + coffee machines
Most incubators aim at building a new instance of YCombinator, expecting the model to work for them yet end up only delivering desks, coffee machines and ping pong tables (🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾). Without exceptional people, incubation is just a real estate business. That’s ok if you are upfront about it (WeWork is an amazing business), but a lot of incubators in Europe are pretty much kidding themselves.
#2. Welcome to the zoo: incubators don’t look like they have been designed for building startups 🐻 🐼 🐨 🐯 🦁😷
For some reason, incubators have become modern zoos where random groups of people are invited to watch homo-startupicus in their (not so) natural environment, when all you really need as a team is a safe haven where you can peacefully build your own CULT.
#3. Selecting like the cliché of an investor
Successful ideas are almost impossible to predict. Over time, incubators have ended up selecting projects in a stereotypical fashion of how investors do it. The result is awkward, standard questions that have very little to do with the actual context of your venture.
#4. Blurred alignment of interests
One thing I LOVE with very early stage investment firms like YC, The Family and Kima, is the clarity of how their interests are perfectly aligned with those of the entrepreneurs. For them to make decent money, good entrepreneurs have to make A LOT of money. So, it’s easy to understand why they’ll do their best to support you as much as they can if you are one of the good ones. With no equity involved, a lot of incubators struggle at finding the same degree of alignment.
There is ONE type of incubator I HAVE ENORMOUS RESPECT FOR: Academia-driven incubators like Agoranov, Telecom, X, EPFL, precisely because alignment of interests is so obvious and drives the way they care about entrepreneurs.
#5. Looking at the wrong kind of things
If you look at the kinds of things incubators measure it helps assess what they’re trying to do. It’s not at all uncommon to come across these kinds of metrics:
- Number of jobs created: ok… 😱😱😱
- Number of startups that are still alive after 3 years (?!#*): in a context where success is an anomaly, it literally implies walking deads are acceptable
Welcome to NAVER’s DOERS Program! 🛠
Focusing on people instead of projects
Here is the truth, we have tried many different iterations of our program only to end up with the usual non-sense value prop’ of any incubator: “taking you from 0 to 1” or “taking you to product-market fit”, but the truth is, I have NO IDEA on how to bring anyone to product-market fit.
A COMMUNITY of DOERS in the CONSUMER INTERNET space
So we decided to focus our program on people rather than projects, and fostering the right environment for them to actually build great products. Our ambition is to build a community of DOERS committed to trying things in the consumer internet space and willing to help each other. NAVER will simply be the first member of this community.
Who we look for: people who SHIP 🚀
It does not matter where you come from (you need to speak English), if you incorporated a company, if you are a solo founder, etc. We open applications from any type of teams at any type of stage, as long as you are fully dedicated to shipping and sharing with others.
How we select: genuine doers, careful sharers
We’ll probably look at your idea, but only a small portion of our decision will be based upon it. Here’s what our scorecard looks like (and nothing else matters):
- A genuine interest in shipping things for consumers
- The type of team that you are (solo founder, hacker-designer-hustler, …) and how good of a version of that you are. We welcome diversity and have no pre-conceived idea of what a good team should look like. The only thing that’s out of scope is a team consisting mainly or solely of business people.
- The level of care and obsession you have for users
- What you did in the past and how you shared it with the world (we’ll probably take a look at your Dribbble, Github, Medium, or any other things you open-sourced).
- Friendliness and willingness to help other members of the program
- English language skills
A protective land of opportunities
We are trying to create an environment that fosters opportunities where talented people are exchange knowledge and savoir-faire and generate access for each other. We hope that some common interests will emerge, that teams will end up reshuffling, and that somebody will make a game-changing introduction to someone else. It’s our way of maximizing the chances of fostering good startups out of our program.
Of course, we’ll BAN any «zoo» type of situation.
Say hi to some of your fellow members: JB, President of VLC and the Videolabs team ✌️
JB and his fantastic team are amazing doers. They built VLC, an open-source video player with more than 300 million active users (RESPECT).
JB and his Videolabs team will be with us, shipping things live from STATION F in the field of video. It’s incredibly exciting, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll cook up.
What to expect from us: we’re simply fellow members of the community
The NAVER France team will be based out of STATION F and we intend to keep it that way for as long as possible.
We consider ourselves a member of the community and we’ll do whatever it takes to give access to it and generate opportunities within. And of course, we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned in building successful consumer internet services used by millions of people every day.
No batch, no mentors, just a cool COMMUNITY
Let’s be honest. We will have to design and build things over time with the first members of our community. However, this is what we already know:
- No mentors: it’s impossible to incentivize and coordinate good mentors over time, and there’s always a pretty strong probability that they’ll give you the wrong kind of advice. We won’t apply mentorship
- No batches — good additions to our community can come from anywhere at any time so we open applications at all times
- No demo-day — we are building a community. Teaching you how to pitch or helping you to raise is certainly not where our value is
- Duration — once in, never out. We offer up to 6 months at Station F, but we aim at building a community in which you will be able to count on even after that
Seriously, why are we doing this⁉️
We are conscious that the startup game is based on strong power laws where only a few extreme outliers manage to make a real difference. Detecting these anomalies early on would be incredible… but getting to know those who won’t succeed is equally important to us, as we have another reason for doing our program at STATION F.
What we mainly seek to identify are entrepreneurial talents
It is common knowledge that talents are the main bottleneck in our industry where almost everything else has become a commodity. NAVER’s no different from other global tech companies. The key to our past and future success is access to talent and we are ready to invest A LOT on the long run to identify the best ways to find the right people. This is precisely why we are trying the DOERS PROGRAM: we want to see if it will connect us to the people who will help us build and launch out of Europe one day.
We have our own way of defining talent: while we will always be looking for skills, we are especially targeting people with the hacker’s mindset, problem solvers, entrepreneurs. The same kind of people who have helped NAVER build services like LINE (now independently quoted at USD 10 billion), Snow (it’s said 👨🏻📙 has recently tried to acquire this one), Webtoon, VLive, from scratch.
NAVER’s European ambition on the long run🔭
NNAVER’s core belief is that the Global internet market is way too big to be dominated by only 4 players (even if we have a huge amount of respect for them)…and it’s also kind of dangerous. There are tons of reasons why Europe is currently the most interesting playground for building future challengers.
One day, NAVER will probably try building something BIG out of Europe for European users.
Quite logically, it’s also very important for us to team up with others who will demonstrate the drive and shoulders to address huge consumer markets through products with soul, and bring diversity in the internet offering.
So don’t hesitate to reach out :-).
Apply to join our community: HERE
Write us: HERE
Or simply come and say hi at STATION F. It’s easy to find us: just follow the BROWN beast…