Recapping Week #1 at 500startups accelerator program

The first week of the 500startups accelerator program is in the books, and I definitely feel accelerated. Keeping with the current Star Trek theme at the 500s offices, I’d say we’re about Warp 7 right now after previously being at sublight speed for an extended duration. Lets go over what we managed in 1 week:

Monday, Day 1 (stardate 47111.1)

Kickoff meeting for the #6 batch. Most of the partners and staff were in attendance to introduce themselves and how they can help us. Dave then goes on to heckle some of the founders (and one unlucky non-founder team member) about their metrics . The message is loud and clear – know your shit at all times. What are your important metrics and why should someone else care. The rest of the day was spent getting comfortable in the office and not doing anything of major importance.

Tuesday, Day 2

Starts with a talk by Paul Singh and Christine Tsai titled “Raising Advisory Rounds and How 500 Will Help You W/ Fundraising”. Paul is currently working on his own startup,, a product which the 500s network uses extensively for the program. His talk covers a set of tactics to raising Angel funding using AngelList and the 500startups brand, and how to sell your startup depending on what stage it’s at (slides here).

Some quotes:

“Don’t be [just] credible, be notable.” The 500startups brand and your metrics give you validation which is a requirement but not enough to stand above the crowd. Try and differentiate your company from the rest by telling a compelling story and use credibility just to back it up.

“Be conscious. Successful fundraising is a series of approximations and iterations.” Be conscious of what you are saying and how you are saying it [to investors]. Don’t be weird – build a relationship and rapport and adjust your pitch to your audience. Follow up and get feedback. Iterate on your pitch until you find what works. As a side note, Paul apparently used to be a car salesman. Dude knows his shit.

“You can either raise money on vision or traction, but you can only use the vision card once.” I previously wrote about our experience with raising with vision vs. numbers. As Paul says, both are valid strategies – but you can only use the vision card once [on the same investor]. Not sure if that’s a major problem though, as there are quite a few investors in the valley. Your millage may vary.

“The best investors always understand that founders’ time is more important than investors.” Take meetings at a neutral place or your own offices if possible – not at the investor’s offices [unless he’s some serious big-shot that you *have* to meet]. Be conscious of your time management (Meet over coffee instead of lunch – Mark writes about the investor POV here, but it applies both ways).

Watch the slides for more – it’s a great talk.

Christine then gave a follow-on talk about how to specifically use 500startups to help with the fundraising process (slides here). Main takeaways –

  • Don’t expect 500s to close your round for you. It’s on you to make it happen. Hustle!
  • A couple of great use-cases of previous batch companies using the 500s network to strong effect. Relationships are key.
  • Raise from day 1. Try and close half of your round or more by demo day (don’t expect to just magically get to demo day and get funded on the spot). Always be CLOSING.

This talk gave us some very immediate action items. We started compiling our (mainly Angel) investor list the same day (=night). We started planning our meeting flow for the coming weeks. We set specific funding goals for the duration of the program. Adam, my co-founder, will be focused 100% on that front and I’ll have to pick up the ball on all of his other responsibilities. It’s a challenge we have to overcome to get ahead in the game.

A welcome party and networking event for the batch members closed the day (I did not attend).

Wednesday, day 3

Day 3 kicked off with a 1-on-1 meeting with Dave McClure. In contrast to his explosive, nerd-rage on-stage persona, Dave is actually super-nice in person, and a pretty funny guy. Also possible we caught him at a good time – we heard from some of our batch mates that later in the week he became more visibly tired and less engaged. Lesson learned, guys – be first in line. We had a good, productive talk about where we’re at and what our immediate goals are. He gave us some nice leads on relevant investors in the network and other bullet points to track. Also, turns out the 500S peeps didn’t know we hailed from Israel when we applied. Who’d thunk it.

Right after we had a meeting with Sean Black, a network mentor, about building our sales team. I used to think you could find most hands-on advice online nowadays, but nothing beats talking to someone with real-world experience. We got some nice takeaways and actionable data to get the process going. Unfortunately, it was hard to get into a good flow initially, since this meeting was done over skype (and we both had some connection issues at the beginning to exacerbate the problem). Mental note – in person meetings are always better, at least for the 1st meeting. Hard to explain difficult concept over phone or skype (for both sides).

Next up was our metrics meeting – a meeting with a panel of 500s partners and mentors to discuss our key metrics and how we intend on improving it. This is the kind of feedback that is extremely hard to get without being in a program like this. It seemed like we had most of our shit in place (we like to track everything), but it was another good talk and as usual there’s room for improvement.

We had another mentor meeting in the afternoon, this time with Michael Levinson, a VP of strategy at oDesk – a service which shares a lot of our audience. We talked about some bizdev opportunities in that space and he gave us a lot of stuff to think about. Bizdev is one of the hardest things to do in a small startup without significant leverage.

During the day I could barely get any work done on the product anymore – I was handling sales (building our sales team), design (working on our redesign with our remote designer), starting to recruit a community manager while setting up appointments with network mentors. I’m a developer, by the way. The grind was on, need to get used to it.

The day ended with a fireside chat with Dave which I did not attend for various reasons. I heard it was quite engaging, with Dave talking about his personal history and how he made it to where he is today.

Thursday, Day 4

The first day of the week we had nothing scheduled for the morning. We actually managed to get some work done before our first meeting.

In the afternoon, we met with Shai Goldman, a partner in 500s that is usually located in NYC. We had a decent talk, but Shai is a tough read, so hard to tell what his impressions really were. Apparently he will be visiting Israel next month to connect with local investors, so we might have something more concrete to talk to him about next time. (Though personally I’m not fond of raising from Israeli investors – my co-founder wants to explore that option).

For our next meeting we decided it was time to split up – it’s just not sustainable taking every meeting together. We need to be more conscious with how we use our time. Adam went to meet Yvette Bohanan, a previous Sr. manager at Amazon and a payments manager at a host of huge companies. Adam told me he had a great, dynamic talk with her – perhaps meeting 1-on-1 is better for building rapport with mentors. We will continue with this approach going forward, whenever possible.

While Adam was meeting Yvette, I met with Mike Greenfield, who previously worked on fraud detection on Paypal. Fraud detection is a subject close to our hearts, and keeps us up at night even though we prevent 99% of it. We talked about ti how identify potential frauds based on on-site behavior, and also a bit about growth hacking which is something Mike was doing at 500s last year.

Friday, Day 5

We are getting used to the flow of meetings and actually manage to get some product work in between (meetings are highly disruptive for doing development. No helping that).

After lunch we met with Brian Heifferon, who is advising on go-to-market strategy, sales and marketing. This was definitely one of our most productive meetings yet, as we talked close to an hour about every aspect of setting up a sales process, and even getting to specific details, such as going over our cold-email template and offering improvements. I feel much better prepared to tackle the task of setting up a sales process now. The value of the 500s program really shines here by giving us shortcuts over learning things the hard way, by getting hands-on advice from someone who’s been in our shoes and came up on top.

The day ended with most of the batch going out together for drinks near the offices. It was a great opportunity to finally get to know some of the batch mates in person. Props to Kevin from Geekatoo for organizing this, we had a blast.

Week 1 in the books

I think I managed to convey the intensity of the program so far. And we haven’t even started raising! we’re super excited to see where we’ll be in 4 weeks, 2 months and at demo day. The opportunities are there. It’s money time.

P.S – We’re hiring:

  • If you are a developer with some marketing / networking skills – we need a marketing / community manager for developers.
  • If you have experience marketing and selling software, we are looking for a marketing manager.
  • Marketing interns are also welcome.
  • Pay will be competitive though not tops, you’ll get to work with us in the 500s offices if you’re nearby and we do accept remotes. You will be our first full-time employee, so major stock options will be on the table.
  • Check out our AngelList profile for more details and create a profile if you don’t have one yet. We are looking at all the people who marked as “interested” in talking to us. Or send me an intro letter directly to eran[at]our startup domain (you can do both) – make sure to tell me why you think you are relevant – a CV dump is not a good idea.

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