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How Steppen got into the Accelerator (after being rejected)

By
May 3, 2022
Steppen
Steppen Co-Founders Jake Carp, Cara Davies and Dave Slutzkin

In June 2021, we applied for Startmate's Winter21 Accelerator cohort. We did not get in. In December 2021, however, we applied again — and heard the exciting news that we were selected for the Summer22 cohort!

In this article I will highlight the changes we made between applying in June and November, and explain the process of applying to Startmate (I have included a link to our written Summer22 application).

There are three reasons we applied for Startmate.

  1. We had (and still have) lots to learn. Startmate creates an environment where you're challenged and can take growth to the next level. Specifically, as first-time founders, Jake and I knew we had tonnes to learn, and were looking for mentors in product, investor relations and strategy.
  2. Startmate is the place to build a successful business. We are here to build a fitness empire and the biggest fitness app in the world.
  3. We were eager to be surrounded by excellent people and learn from the very best. Being surrounded by outstanding people will push you to be more exceptional.

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've made as a company are bringing them both on as co-founders. Steppen is what it is because of the determination and grit of these two.

I hope this article is helpful for founders applying to Startmate and building their companies.

Please reach out if you have any follow up questions or comments.


Applying in June 2021

Ahh, how things change so quickly in startups. In hindsight, when we applied back in June, we did not have much. What we did have:

  • A great (albeit naive) we got this attitude;
  • A recently closed pre-seed round;
  • Recent market launch with a total of 200 users; and
  • Dave as our third co-founder and CTO.

Honestly, that was pretty much it. We made it to the final interview round, but did not make it into the cohort. We were all upset, but it also made us super determined.

The next five months

There are two differences between our June and November applications:

  1. We sorted our shit out (in other words, we grew up really fast); and
  2. We got awesome traction.

Sorting our shit out

In June, we really did not know what we were doing. (Fun fact 1: we 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:

  • Who our users were (we were trying to serve everyone) or have any 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 of how to 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; and
  • How to track things (user data, decisions, growth, anything really).

So, there was a lot of fundamental stuff we did not know, or even know that we did not know.

I can say now that 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 startup or be a founder — you need to learn and it can be painful and frustrating at times. When you're basically entirely self-taught you are bound to look back and think, 'why were we wasting time doing this and 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 was initially very skeptical when we were talking about Steppen in June as a platform we were building for millions of users — yet we only had 200 users. The biggest questions were can they acquire users and 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 (kind of) knows 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 Summer22 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.

What does the application process look like?

The Startmate application process comprises of four steps.

Written application and video -> 15-minute interview with a Startmate mentor -> Speed interview round -> 45-minute in-depth interview with three mentors.

Let’s now go through each step in depth.

Written application and video 🎥

The good thing about the written application is Startmate has a Notion document which lists all the questions. I would highly recommend reviewing and planning for all the questions before you start your application. 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 covered 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 upbeat self as I tend to talk too fast so was trying to slow myself down. In the first take, I was speaking way too fast — something I need to work on.)

The questions for the written application essentially allow you to go a bit deeper into what you mention 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.)

You can check out our written application here.

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 when 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 for Steppen).

15-minute interview with a Startmate mentor

Once you make it past the written application stage, it's time for a quick 15-minute interview with a mentor.

We had a great interview with Ollie. Because 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. 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, definitely reach out to the Mentor who interviewed you 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 some of the questions thrown our way.

Speed interview round

This is the most exciting (and overwhelming) part of the process. It's 3 hours 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 2x 1-hour practice sessions. Essentially, we would both act as mentors to the other person and do practice 10-minute interviews. The most helpful thing was then 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, and then use the questions to dive deeper. 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.
  • 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, we were asked on monetisation and competition in nearly every interview.

When we applied for the W21 cohort, all three of us 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 three Mentors

In the final stage of the Startmate interview process you'll meet with 3 mentors for 45 minutes each. This is the opportunity to really go into depth about the business. A 10-minute interviews covers the basics of the business, but this interview is where the most interesting and hardest questions will be asked.

Outcome

One of the awesome things about Startmate interview process is the speed of turnaround. 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 you get a call from a random number! It was awesome getting a call from Startmate alumni Justin Joffe from Flux (Listen to their daily podcast What the Flux it’s great.)

If you don’t get in you are given feedback, which is also super helpful and interesting.

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