nanos gigantum humeris insidentes
Regular readers already know the journey I am on with the founding of Six Degrees of Data and our work building a new way to read those documents that we should be reading but don't have the time for.
As a part of this journey I have been completing the Founder Institute's 2014 program in Sydney. The reason for this post is to explain a little about why I decided to follow this program and what the reality has been.
I'm still about 4 weeks away from completing the program, so I can still 'fail' and this should be thought of as an interim report. I will try to write again after the program ends. I may have a different message then.
I chose the Founder Institute (FI) because research showed that it was the startup accelerator that had the following features I wanted:
- Internationally recognized and established
- Intensely practical and hands-on, i.e. you actually build your company during the program (as opposed to talking about building ... )
- The wide range (and number) of mentors involved in the program - and more are accessible through the FI network
- It is a part-time program (so I could keep working)
- Extremely cheap (for the potenial value delivered) both in terms of $$$ and equity sharing. It's a bit complicated but the bottom line is that the founder(s) give up 3.5% of their equity
- Timing was good with a late May start date
- It was local (i.e. in Sydney).
It may be that your needs are very different from mine, so the FI may not be as good a fit as it has been for me (so far). There are a lot of other programs out there so do your research - and I'm happy to talk to anyone considering their options. Drop me a line.
The reality of actually doing the FI has, of course, been different - but not as different as I'd feared. On the whole the FI has lived up to expectations and this has been a very pleasant surprise for me. After all, teaching entrepreneurship is something a lot of people are very skeptical about. Put like that, I have to agree but I think this misses the point of the FI program.
I agree that you can't teach entrepreneurship as such. It has to come from inside of you - and you have to want it bad because chances are success is going to take a lot more time than you imagine. Just speak to any seasoned entrepreneur if you doubt me.
What you can do is accelerate the progress entrepreneurs are able to make. That's the true wonder of the FI and why it really is an accelerator. With less than a month till I complete the program, I already look back and can see that I am a lot further along than I would have been.
This is partly because of my own endeavours. I have worked hard and the 'part-time' part of the program often feels more like 'full-time'. Beyond this, what has been critically important for me has been then input, feedback and support of the mentors who attend every session. These are all seasoned and successful entrepreneurs who turn up each night and generously share their war stories, wisdom and contacts.
The best parts of the course may be the long sessions in the bar afterwards. The mentors give their time freely and I just hope that they know how appreciated they are by all us program founders.
Their participation is the backbone of the program. It sounds a bit clichéd as I write this, but I have heard more true words of wisdom and been given more business insights in the last few months than during all of the last 5 years I spent working as a senior executive in a global media company.
I can hardly believe it myself, so I won't hold it against anyone who doesn't believe me!
There is a big proviso to all of this and that is that success in the FI requires that you are either well prepared (in terms of developing your product) or able to move at the pace the program requires. Laggards will almost always flounder and have to drop out. To be fair to the FI, they warn you of this and the 'rules' are pretty clear up front.
The fact that only 5 companies remain of the 28 people that started the program, attest to this fact. Some dropped because they were simply unprepared for the pace of the program, while others could not satisfy the program mentors that their ideas would be enough to sustain a company.
Add to that the fact that you have to pass tests in order to get into the program in the first place. So the odds of completing the program are against you.
This is all to the FI's credit as the 'real' world is just as harsh, with 90%+ of tech startups failing in their first years. It may bruise your ego, but failing fast has got to be better (cheaper) than failing slowly. Right?
Plus there is the smugness of still being in the program.
That's a nice little boost to the ego at a time of great stress. I can hear Ben's voice in the back of my head: Whoo-hoo as he would say ...