Three weeks ago that we've started and it looks like forever already. We though it would be a nice time to give some more feedbacks on our experience in the Founder Institute program. Nothing said last time really changed, but we got some kind of hindsight with those first weeks behind us.
Expect the unexpected
Or, in another word, be sure to have some leeway in your forecasts regarding the assignments, for various reasons:
- The work may be harder that you thought (or consume more time)
- Some additional assignments may be required
- The deadline may change some way
As a general advice, try to get your first draft done in the week-end (we have the sessions and deadline each Wednesday), get your working group feedback as soon as possible after, so that you still have time to review and submit, ideally the day before the deadline (submitting at the last moment is not viewed kindly, and you won't help yourself either). It may sounds hard, but it will actually make your life easier.
Get a rhythm
After one week or two, you'll probably have a good idea of the expected work, and can then organize your schedule accordingly. I manage to do the required work with two evenings (one for the session itself, one for the working group live meeting), and one to two long days (Sunday plus an occasional day off work). Add one hour or two when possible, and your at it. It may be a lot, but once you are organized, at least it become less stressful, which is very important (I can support long periods of work, if I'm in conditions where I can be productive).
Find your sparring partner
Most of our colleagues are working alone. As the program advance, you focus more and more on one and only one idea (Founder Institute equation: 1 Company - 1 Product - 1 Market Segment - 1 Revenue Stream). This means that Christophe and I work more and more together (the "co-founder" status is something that the Founder Institute recognizes - sort of encourages), or by splitting the items between us. I'm impressed by our fellow founders that manage all of this by themselves.
But the better part is that we have someone to talk to, to exchange with, almost any time (gtalk is becoming our main communication channel). In one of the mentor's words, what we got is a "sparring partner", and it may be the single most important thing you could want or need. The working group sure help, but people around you can be as important. It does not need to be a co-founder, but try at least to find someone that is interested in your project (and who is okay to hear you talk about it everyday), with some sort of knowledge of your market (to be able to make useful critic). Pick a colleague, your girlfriend or wife, anyone, but find someone. No one can tell you what is the good way/idea, but most people can help you quickly find what is bad, so that you do not spend time on dead-ends.
The speed may be unnerving, but the benefits are there
We're not convinced by the "three month rush from nothing to an investor-backed start-up" mentality. The most successful people around us did think about their ideas long before the program - years for some of them. Going from idea to market research to branding in three weeks time left us a bit hazy. But we also feel the results, as we are far further in our reflections that we thought we would be less than a month ago.
The program work on a "do-or-die" mentality. Several aspects may lead you out of the program:
- Not submitting your assignments (or late)
- Missing sessions or working group meetings (if you have some scheduled absence during the program's duration, be sure to advise the Founder Institute upfront)
- Bad rating from mentors
- Bad rating from your peers (this is a tricky part - you need to be critic of your peer to help them, but you know that your feedback may lead them out the program)
Most drop that we did observe during the first weeks were decision of people not wanting to spend the horrendous amount of time required. The first official mentor review (a session wholly dedicated to pitching and feedback) last week was another cut. The raw numbers are grim: we started with twenty-two, and there is just twelve of us now, but do your homework, and you'll make it.
Now, please excuse me, I have an executive summary to finish.