The S21 Accelerator cohort: Diving into our mid-program founder feedback

By
Sascha Kerbert
March 19, 2021
To infinity and beyond

Demo Day is exactly one month away.

At this point in the program, we ask our Founders to tell us the Good, Bad and Ugly about their experience so far. The core reason? We are obsessed with creating the best program possible and ask for regular, candid feedback so we can make that happen.

I’ve summarised some of our key learnings below, but you can find the full (anonymised) verbatim feedback and internal analysis HERE.

Note: these are very much internal working docs. 🙂

What did we learn?

Our top-line goal for the Accelerator is Founder NPS. We set ourselves a minimum benchmark of 75 NPS, with a stretch goal of 90. So how are we doing?

Goal: Base 75 Stretch 90 NPS

Result: 76 (company level); and 72 (individual founder level)

For S21, we’re currently just about on target, but there are lots of areas in which we need to improve. Some of the key themes are:

  • Tailored 1:1s and small group sessions deliver the most value for our Founders
  • The Startmate team is good at customer service
  • But we need to improve on fostering connection virtually between Founders
  • And one of our key experiments targeting this area failed

You can see the full summary of results for each category/question we asked below. Each question is scored on a scale of 1–5.

The key themes

Bonding and connection — needs to improve

People want connection. As obvious as this seems, it is still something we haven’t quite figured out how to deliver in a virtual setting. In my eyes, one of the key indicators about the strength of our cohorts is this: do the Founders have deep relationships with each other?

For our current cohort, the short answer is no, and the experiment we did run (organising small Tribes of S21 founders and previous alumni to provide a support structure for current founders) failed.

The learning here is that we need to double-down on Founder <> Founder experiences and engagement in the Accelerator. Peer-to-Peer learning and support has the potential to be the most powerful element of our programs. We need to massively upgrade the infrastructure that allows Founders to forge their own connections, while creating a set of regular and curated experiences that plant the seeds for those relationships to develop.

This is very much a challenge in engineering serendipity, and we’re only part of the way there!

Partners and Squads — working well

Each Company coming through Startmate is paired with a Startmate Partner (an experienced mentor to act as a sounding board and guide each week during the program), and a Squad of 3 Mentors who have the right mix of skills and experience to challenge the founders and help them overcome the hurdles they will inevitably face.

These tailored interactions with Mentors that spend time week on week with the founders is one of the primary value drivers of the Accelerator, with the structures translating well into the virtual world.

Accountability Mechanisms — areas for improvement

Standing up in front of a group of your Peers each week, telling them about your goals and reporting on whether you are hitting them will make you run harder at those goals than you would in a vacuum.

The only regular session in the Accelerator is a Weekly All Hands on a Monday with all of the Founders. The key objective: hold yourself accountable while being inspired by the progress of your Peers.

The feedback suggests this remains a useful mechanism, but there is a need for a different format that doesn’t feel as monotonous.

What are we going to do differently for the remainder of S21?

The feedback has touched on many aspects of the Accelerator Program. Given that there are 4 weeks left of S21, we’re going to focus on delivering quick wins on the biggest pain points highlighted by the feedback.

Some experiments we will run include 👇:

Changing the All Hands format

  • Accountability and information-sharing remains the key
  • But we’ll change the format to include a new focus on Peer-to-Peer problem-solving and relationship-building

Vertical-based Founder <> Founder sessions

  • Currently, our content sessions are predominantly focused on bringing expert mentors in, but the Founders have lots to learn from each other
  • We’ll be setting up some forums for Founders solving similar problems to come together and share their learnings

In-person sessions

  • Facilitate some location-based opportunities for Mentors and Founders to come together (where possible)
  • Watercooler style forums
  • When you’re in the same physical space, serendipitous encounters happen organically
  • But in a virtual environment, serendipity needs a bit more conscious engineering
  • We’ll experiment with some structures that attempt to create a more fertile environment for luck to strike for our founders

Thoughts on the future?

Looking forward to W21 and beyond, some questions and themes we’ll be thinking about:

  • Peer-to-peer learning: how do we lean into more peer-to-peer generated content sessions and learning opportunities?
  • Creating meaningful connections online: how do we facilitate meaningful connections between Founders and Mentors in an online environment, whilst balancing the opportunity for in-person interactions?
  • Mentor <> Founder infrastructure: Partners and Squads work well, but what infrastructure (tools + frameworks) facilitate the most productive Founder <> Mentor interactions outside of that?

The full GBUs

The Good

Partners

  • “My Partner has been an absolute legend. Every word he says is dripping with industry insight and knowledge. I could not have hoped for a better partner”
  • “My Partner has been fantastic in not only providing guidance for the business but also being there for us as founders”
  • “Couldn’t have dreamt of a better partner”

Squads

  • “All of my squad has put in extra time and effort into helping me. More than the required 30 minute asynchronous check- in”
  • “Our 3 squad members have all been exceptionally helpful in various ways, from intros to unit economics breakdown and product development”
  • “100% our squad has been very helpful from making us think twice about the plans we have, to suggesting new avenues we should be looking at”

Weekly sessions

  • “Content Sessions — Great way to have an introduction to a given topic or founder journeys (e.g. Casey’s journey with BugCrowd) and in some cases a mini deep dive (e.g. the unit economics one)”

Accountability + Asks

  • “Accountability and goal setting! Love it”
  • “We’re not used to posting regular updates like these, so it’s a really good habit to get in to”

Week 0

  • “This was the best week of the program, even though it was super busy. It did set the tone well and was a great start”

Customer service

  • “Every time we needed help or time with someone, they were always available”
  • “Yes, the team are rockstars — seriously!”

The Network and Community

  • “The feeling that you’re part of a community”
  • The network and openness to help from all the mentors.”

The Bad

Balance of content sessions

  • “Would be great to have some more hardware specific content on pricing/manufacturing/customer support”
  • Action for S21: more peer-to-peer sessions
  • Action for W21+: strike the right balance of sessions based on overall cohort composition + problem spaces

All Hands feeling repetitive

  • “All Hands are getting a bit tedious for us.”
  • Action for S21: have changed the structure we use for All Hands to make it more interactive for Founders with a larger focus on relationship-building
  • Action for W21+: re-think All Hands format holistically

Mentor <> Founder connection outside of Squads

  • “More opportunities to meet mentors from week 1 onwards”
  • Action for S21: changed the Weekly Update email structure to make it clearer where Founders need help
  • Action for W21+: improve the infrastructure that exists to create connections between Founders and Mentors

Partner + Squad expectations still a little unclear

  • Action for W21+: implement clearer structures, FAQs and guides for Founders and Mentors to refer to

The Ugly

Founder connection

  • “I would like to spend a bit more time with the other founders if possible. I know everything is remote this cohort, but I find that I learn a lot when there are opportunities to discuss with other founders in detail the issues we’re all dealing with”
  • “I don’t feel like I know a lot of them. I’ve basically built a good relationship with 3–4 teams thats all”
  • “Beyond 2–3 connections that have evolved through DMs there hasn’t been much connection at all between founders beyond the weekly all hands”
  • Actions for S21:
  • Implement vertical-based Founder <> Founder sessions
  • Implement watercooler-style forums
  • Arrange more in-person and location-specific opportunities for Founders and Mentors to connect before Demo Day
  • Action for W21+: Re-think how to foster connections and relationships in a virtual setting

Tribes

  • “Tribes seem a little pointless as they are now. Only had 1 and it was just a high level chat”
  • “I would say this has been the least helpful not because of the people but because of the lack of structure around the tribe and perhaps an unclear intent i.e. difference b/w tribes and squads etc
  • Action for W21+: re-design the structures we implement to facilitate connection between current cohorts and alumni cohorts
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