It was late Saturday night and my GreenSocks co-founder Richard Eastes and I were walking out of River City Labs, having just had our startup concept picked to pieces at the muru-D accelerator‘s pre-selection boot camp.
Demoralised but not defeated, Richard’s obligatory “Shall we work on what we need to fix before tomorrow’s pitch to the judging panel?” was met with my, “Can we get some sleep and work on it in the morning?”
My head was throbbing and I needed to recharge from our long day of mentor feedback. My inner sceptic also questioned whether it would all be worth it.
Fast forward six months and we’ve graduated from River City Labs’ first Brisbane muru-D intake and I’m able to reflect on the unexpected lessons from our experience:
1. Boot camp was a necessary evil
If you can’t survive a boot camp, you won’t survive a high quality accelerator. I say “high quality” because the calibre of advisors, investors, VCs and VIPs that you’re put in front of in a high quality program like muru-D will see your concept criticised by ‘the best of the best’ on a daily basis, in a well-intentioned effort to accelerate your startup’s product/market fit. The collective advice of these ecosystem leaders was invaluable, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.
2. Connections trump equity
I personally know startups who didn’t apply to muru-D because they weren’t willing to forfeit either three or six percent equity (for the three or six month program). We appreciated their standpoint because they had decent traction. But we weren’t long into the program before we learned that the connections gained were worth more than equity lost.
For example, one minute we might be be discussing a startup hurdle with our muru-D facilitator or mentors, the next minute we’d be connected on a one-on-one phone call to a high profile VC or to a CEO of an iconic Aussie, multi-million dollar company, who supported muru-D and was keen to help. Priceless.
3. Your monetisation model might suck
Every one of the five teams in our cohort had our monetisation models scrutinised by the muru-D team of in-house and visiting experts. Turns out that what we all thought we knew, we didn’t know, and what we conveniently ignored at the time, is starting to come back to haunt us.
In our case, from day one, GreenSocks has been an online marketplace for lawn mowing services, but with the attraction of a concierge, ‘middleman’ service. Customers and lawn care providers have loved us because me made their lives easier. But our bank balance has not been feeling that love. Generating enough commission to sustain a concierge model has been tougher than we expected and we now find ourselves on the brink of a major business pivot. In hindsight, we should have paid more attention to the red flags waved by our facilitator Aaron Birkby and muru-D’s pricing expert Ben Yi. Lesson learned.
4. Give and you shall receive
We made an effort to #PayItForward on our startup blog each week and share what we had learned with the wider startup ecosystem. This was no small endeavour, with each blog post consuming three to six hours of valuable
sleep startup hustle time. But the unexpected profile we gained from doing so earned us invitations to speak at events, to write for other publications and to be selected for high profile press opportunities (including in person with the Premier, and in a full-page newspaper spread opposite the Prime Minister) that other startups did not.
5. Traction over founders
VCs will tell you that they back the founders more than they back the startup idea. The logic is that if they back awesome founders, it doesn’t matter if the backed startup fails because they’ll be forming a longer-term relationship with cream of the crop founders for future startup ideas.
But what they don’t tell you is that you typically only get a VC’s attention if your pitch demonstrates impressive traction. This was drilled into the teams who participated in the recent muru-D cohort trip to Silicon Valley. They learned that when you’re pitching to investors at home or abroad, make sure you focus on “traction, traction, traction”.
6. Always be branded
Every time I wore my GreenSocks t-shirt on my three-hour daily train commute, it never led to one extra lawn mowing booking. But at startup events that we attended as part of the muru-D cohort, there was a direct correlation between wearing our company shirt and the number of interested strangers who would approach us to offer their help and contact details, because we were easily identifiable in a crowded room.
Branded shirts also boosted our team morale. Richard and I often talked about how putting on that green shirt in the morning gave us a superhero feeling of purpose and invincibility, which came in handy more than once during the accelerator grind.
7. Your name does and doesn’t matter
Your startup’s name is important, but a kickass name won’t be enough to get you into an accelerator program. Founders, concept, and grit are what will get you in. Once you’re in, then you can change your name if you need to. Three of the five teams in our cohort now run under a different brand banner. Otheyos is now ProcessPA, Outbound is now Travello and ParkFit is now Skwod.
In the end, was six months of long hours, exhausting commutes, seemingly endless pitching and sometimes painful feedback worth it?
Absolutely. I’d do it all again in a heartbeat and I’d encourage you to do it too.
Want more? Try How to Choose a Startup Accelerator