One week only (one week already!) that we did start the Founder Institute program. Last post was about what to expect. This one will be more about experience and lessons learned.
The work is hard
The program work with weekly sessions, and assignments to be completed before each. Failure to comply means pure and simple ejection. The program was touted as requiring much work. We can confirm this. I did the math in my head yesterday. Between Thursday morning and Tuesday evening, I think I worked something like 40+ hours on it. Should you have a day job (as we do), expect major impact on your sleep, social and familial activity.
Work means results
The more I work, the more lucky I am - Thomas Jefferson
This work is not without result. Day after day, we see progress. Our vague ideas become sharp, or are dismissed. Our analyze of our situation become more objective. Feedback from our friends, contacts and peers allowed us to precise, reconsider, rethink many aspects, on a so short period of time.
The session materials are full of gold
The mentors presentations are short, pragmatic, full of real-life experiences. Sometime, they will tell you what to do. Most time, they will tell you what you shoud not do (which may be yet more important). Each one has his (or her) own experience, but there is more complementary than contradictory tales.
The mentors are incredibly friendly and accessible
They sit down with the group while waiting for the session, showing genuine curiosity about the founders' ideas, while challenging them at the same time. They encourage questions and challenge on their presentation. Most of them will have a beer after the session to discuss the points further. While busy people (several of them are doing 80+ hours a week), they find the time to answer a question by email, should you make the small effort to make it short and straight to the point.
Your workgroup is a necessity
We're two cofounders in the program, but most people are alone. The workgroup serves many purposes. They are the first people that give you feedback, they are there to help you (and the other way around). You'll discuss your ideas with them before coming in front of the mentors. The program is difficult, and the camaraderie is really needed. Your peers may be critical, but at the end of the day, they are there to help you. You'll spend many hours together: help them and use their help. When you're in doubt, about an assignement, about your pitch, about your idea, about yourself, send an email, make a quick call. It's the way it's supposed to work.
The critics are as harsh as they are necessary
Each session end with a "hotseat", where you can come to pitch one of your idea, and get feedbacks from both the mentors and your fellow founders. You may think you're not ready, that your idea need more work, or that you've not prepared your pitch enough, and that it would be better to go the next time. Don't. It will not be bad - it will be terrible. But it is the only way to learn. The remarks will hurt, it will probably even bleed a bit. But you need it. So go, each time that you can. With a little luck and lot of work, the next time, it will no more be awful, just bad. You may think that you'll be more ready with more preparation or thinking, but you won't. Take the opportunity. All the stupidity you're doing here, you won't do them before an investor or, more important, before your customers and users.
Now, back to market research... Martin