Building In Public 5: Getting into Startmate
Last week we heard the exciting news that we were selected into the Summer 22 Startmate cohort! Startmate is the best and most renowned Australian start-up accelerator. This was our second time applying — we did not make the Winter 21 cohort. I will use this article to:
- Highlight the changes we made between applying in June (and not getting in) to applying in November (and being selected!)
- The process of applying to Startmate (I have included a link to our written application for SM Summer 22)
- Why we are super excited to be in the cohort and what we hope to achieve
Before I get into it I would like to thank my two outstanding co-founders Jake Carp and Dave Slutzkin. The two best decisions we have made as a company was bringing them both on as co-founders. Steppen is what it is because of the determination and grit of these two. I am forever grateful for both of them. Startups are a team effort and I am so proud of the Steppen team.
I hope this article is helpful for founders applying to Startmate and building their company! 🚀 Please reach out if you have any follow up questions or comments.
Applying in June 2021
Ahh how things change so quickly in start ups. When we applied back in June we (in hindsight) did not have much. We had:
- A great (albeit naive) we got this attitude
- Just closed our pre-seed round
- Just launched in the market with a total of 200 users at the time…
- Had just signed Dave on as our third co-founder and CTO
Honestly that was pretty much it. We made it to the final round of interviews but did not make it through to the cohort. We were all upset but it also made us super determined.
Next five months — what we did
The difference between June and November’s application is two things
- We sorted our shit out (in other words we grew up really fast)
- We got awesome traction
Sorting our shit out.
In June we really did not know what we were doing (fun fact 1— still don’t but have more of an idea! Fun fact 2 — no one knows what they are doing they are just failing and learning really fast). We naturally thought we did. But we really did not. We did not know the following:
- Who our users were (we were trying to serve everyone) & information on them
- How to acquire our users (We had zero idea how to market)
- How to build a product (we had no product process or understanding on how we figure out what we are meant to build)
- How to focus and prioritise
- What our core metrics were
- How to stay accountable
- What we valued in our team members
- How to track things (user data, decisions, growth, anything really…)
So basically a lot of fundamental stuff we did not know or even know that we did not know…
I can say now we are on top of all these dot points. Naturally there is always room to improve but I can easily talk to each point. How did we get there? Honestly, a lot of trying, failing, trying again and getting a better result.
Overall in covering all these points we learnt the most important thing — how to run a startup. No one just knows how to run a start up or be a founder — you need to learn and it can be painful and frustrating at times. When you are basically entirely self taught you are bound to look back and think — why were we wasting time doing this? Why did we think that was a thing?
Awesome Traction 🚀
Another big change for our November application was our traction. Numbers speak for themselves. Startmate were initially very skeptical when we were talking about Steppen in June as this platform we were building for millions of users — yet we only had 200 users. That was the biggest question — can they acquire users? Do they have a viable go to market?
Some of the feedback we received when we did not get in back in June: “250 users on the app isn’t great growth for a social app. Unsure if they have the right go to market. This seems to be very much — get to 100k asap...” “It’s a very competitive market and there are many, many fitness apps.”
That changed quickly. In November when we applied we had acquired just over 25k users. By the time we did the final interview we had acquired another 10k and now we are sitting at over 48k. Our retention was also sitting above industry averages (retention is our current North Star metric and we know we can move improve it by honing in on the product).
So suddenly we had a team that knows (kinda) what to do, what is important, who it is building for, where to find users, great growth and now a very compelling story. It was now a completely different company and team applying for Startmate. A team which had proven it could get shit done.
When we found out we got into Startmate for the Summer 22 cohort the biggest emotion I felt was pride. I was really proud of how we as a team had been told no — really improved and now got in. It felt like an acknowledgement of the past couple months of hard work.
So What Does The Application Process Look Like ?
The SM application process comprises of four steps (see below 👇).
Written application & video -> 15 minute interview with a SM mentor -> Speed interview round -> 45 minute in depth interview with 3 mentors => In the cohort ! 🚀
Let’s now go through each step in depth
Written application & video
The good thing about the written application is Startmate has a Notion document which lists all the questions. I would highly recommend reviewing all the questions before you do the application and planning the application out. Specifically for the S22 cohort we had to include a 5 minute video outlining our company, the problem we are solving , how we are solving that, our traction to date and why we are the right team to address the problem. Check out our video below!
I spent some time writing up a high level script to ensure I would cover all the points we needed to in the video. You can check out our application video below (in all honesty I was a bit more mellow than my usual up beat self as I tend to talk too fast so was trying to slow myself down… first take I was speaking way too fast — something I need to work on…)
Then questions for the written application essentially allow you to go a bit deeper into what you mentioned in your video. None of the questions are too outlandish and if you really know your problem space well they should be questions you can answer very easily (if not you need to have clear ways to find answers).
They did not ask specifically why you want to do Startmate, however I would recommend having a really good answer to this and covering it in the last question they ask — “Is there anything else we should know about you?” We also used this question to cover our long term objectives (the big vision of Steppen ! 🚀).
🤩 Note you can check out our written application for Startmate here! 🤩
15 minute interview with mentor
Once you make it pass the written application time for a quick 15 minute interview with a mentor. We had a great interview with Ollie — as our application was super thorough it meant we could jump straight into deeper questions about the business and not spend anytime describing who we are and what we are doing to Ollie. This interview will be really dependent on your application and the amount of context your provide on the business along with the person interviewing you.
If you get into the next round (speed interview) definitely reach out to your mentor and let them know. A shoutout to Ollie who was super happy to jump on a quick call with me before the speed round interview to provide some helpful feedback and tips. This made sure we were prepared for the speed interview and some of the questions thrown our way.
Speed Interview Round
This is the most exciting (and overwhelming) part of the process. 3 hours — comprised of 15 back to back 10 minute interviews. It is exhausting.
To prep I would recommend asking someone who has gone through the process before to do a test run with you (HMU if you like), chatting to one of your mentors about it or getting a friend to test you. We were lucky enough that I knew someone who had also been shortlisted for the process (shoutout to Simmi Pianko!!), Simmi and I did 2 x 1 hour practice sessions. Essentially we would both act as mentors to the other person and do practice 10 minute interviews. Then (the most helpful thing) was providing feedback to each other on how the other person went. Simmi was super helpful in leading me to refine our 30 second pitch and be concise when answering questions.
Some tips for the speed interview:
- Be as enthusiastic in the first interview as you are in the last interview
- Have a super crisp 30 second summary about your company ready to go — mission, problem, solution, traction. Highlight the key points you think are impressive- then use the questions to deep dive into things more. The mentors will have read your application but, just like you are doing 15 interviews, they are interviewing 15 companies so the intro provides context.
- Answer the question. Be precise — you only have 10 minutes so just answer the question. Do not waffle. If the mentors want more information they will ask for it.
- Know that mentors will ask the same few questions (as there will likely be the same few big questions/concerns about your company). So be really prepared for them. For us — I think in nearly every interview we were asked on monetisation and competition.
When we applied for the W21 cohort all 3 of us as co-founders attended the interview. For the S22 application I went solo to the speed interview. Either works — do what is the best use of your team’s time.
Also the mentors are all really lovely — you don’t need to be super formal. At the end of the day accelerators are backing the team — so show what makes you an awesome founder (check out this great article about what Blackbird looks for in founders)
45 minute in depth interview with 3 mentors
The final stage of the Startmate interview process — 3 mentors and you for 45 minutes. This is the opportunity to really go into depth about the business. 10 minute interviews cover the basics of the business but this interview is where the most interesting and hardest questions will be asked.
One of the awesome things about SM interview process is the speed of turn around. We did the speed interviews on Monday, found out Tuesday we made the next round, had our in depth interview on Thursday and heard we made the cohort by the next Wednesday. If you get in you are called by someone in the Startmate community (so pick up the phone if it’s from a random number!). It was awesome getting a call from SM alum Justin at Flux (listen to their daily podcast What the Flux it’s great). If you don’t get in you are given feedback on why that was the case — which is also super helpful and interesting.
Why We Are Excited About Startmate! (& applied) 🚀
There are three reasons we applied for Startmate (note I basically lifted this from our written application):
- We know we still have lots to learn. We appreciate to build the empire we are on the path to build we need to continually be levelling up. Startmate provides us with environment to be challenged and take ourselves as founders, our company and growth to the next level. Specifically as first time founders Jake and I know we have tonnes to learn. We are looking for mentors around product, investor relations and strategy.
- We know that Startmate is the place to be to build a successful business. We are here to build a fitness empire and the biggest fitness app in the world.
- We are eager to be surrounded by excellent people and learn from the very best. We expect only the best from the team and accept on the best.Being surrounded by outstanding people will only push us to be more exceptional.
Over Startmate we have lots we will achieve. Specifically:
- We are focused on achieving PMF working towards key retention and completion goals
- It’s time to scale the team up 🚀 We are hiring developers and product people (HMU if you are keen to hear more)!
That’s all from me for now!
I’ll keep ya’ll in the loop during Startmate and will for sure do an article on the accelerator itself.
Happy Xmas 🎄 and New Year everyone, keen for a HUGEEE 2022