My experience at Founder Institute

Everyone that started this 4-month journey in our batch came with a dream – of creating a successful company. Some already had a working product/service and were looking to learn on how to take it to next level, while others had no more than an idea for the startup they were thinking of building.

Personally, I was already working on an idea and needed help with having a proper structure to build the company. Before joining I did some homework and attended couple evening FI events. Frankly, I was on fence partly due to Adeo’s ‘honest’ feedback even in those open house events. I realized I had worked in corporate world for too long and had gotten extra sensitive towards being ‘polite’ (by not saying what’s on your mind) instead of being ‘honest’ (that truly helps someone fix the problem).

When I applied, my least expectation from FI was to get some experience and focused thinking with its structured curriculum. If I could do that, it would be worth the investment.

We started with a large group of excited founders and soon after every week there would be few that either dropped out or were asked to live and join following semester. The assignments (building your business) are real and not theory. The scenarios you work are as real as it can be so as a founder, you know immediately if you are ready to handle it or not. Some of our fellow founders left realizing their ideas were not big enough or solving real problem. They plan to come back with bigger bolder ideas and that would not have happen without FI pushing them to think through WHY they were building the business and how it will make a difference in their user’s lives.

Here are some of the things I gained from going through the program:

  1. Validate the ideaI was working on. As entrepreneurs we are notorious at falling in love with our ideas. If people agreed with us, we are not surprised – of course my idea is good, no wonder they like it. If others disagreed, we get defensive – they don’t get it, besides I don’t need them anyway. FI helped us validate our idea and modify, tweak, pivot if and when necessary – that will serve the users by solving real problem.
  2. Execution.Having an idea is good start but its only 2% of the equation. Execution is lot more important than the idea itself. FI helped me take an idea and engineer it from ground up to build a business around it. The more we worked on it, the more I realized how easy it is to come up an idea but how hard it is to execute. Through assignments, we were able to work on every facet of the business and watch the business form. It gave us newfound confidence and meaning to our efforts.
  3. Program directors and Mentors. FI has huge pool of successful individuals that have build companies and are active in the industry. They have been there, done that. Every week you meet few of them and get to listen to their experience. They also give direct specific feedback to our individual business needs that is priceless. Learning from someone who has done it successfully saves enormous amount of time and effort. As a bonus some of them hang out at a local bar after the weekly session and continue to mentor the founders late in the night. You can really see that the mentors are there to help and willing to extra mile.
  4. Fellow founder.When I joined FI, I knew I will be working side by side other founders but did not expect any value that will directly impact my business. I was pleasantly surprised when we started the program how critical and important it was in building our business. We worked in team and were responsible for each other’s success. We helped each other’s through issues and stay stronger together when things got tough. As a sole founder, its lonely most of the time and you need a sounding board to make sure you are heading in right direction. The team is there to help, every step of the way. The comradery formed will continue well beyond after the program is over and felt great to belong to this FI tribe as whole. (SV batch Spring 2015)
  5. Network.We all have 100s of linkedIn pros., but the network you build through the program is the safety net. Every time you feel you need help with something for your business, there is someone in the FI network that is qualified, connected and willing to help. I was able to reach out to so many professionals – mainly because I was one of the FI founder. And was able to get help (FI honesty style) that only helped take my business forward.

Joining FI and finishing the program is one of the most important decisions I made that I am proud of. Looking back, I am so glad the program directors pushed us hard – and made us take one more look at our approach, one more try pitching it better, one more customer to talk to.

Thank you Marcos & Carter.

Cheers.

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It’s all about the people, stupid.

Sharing has become the new norm. Hundred of companies are sprouting all over filling in the need using local resources that can be borrowed, shared or bought easily. And the driving force behind this is everyday people like you and me.

For every new technology that disrupts existing traditional businesses or mindset, creates a controversy so this is nothing out of the norm. Uber has been around since 2009 and this Christopher Mims from WSJ on May 24 is ironically titled how everyone gets the ‘sharing’ economy wrong.

This is like de ja vu for me. Back in last 80s when computers started making their way in offices, many employees revolted and did not want to use them for it replaced their jobs. Few those that were willing to change and learn computers were able to survive and thrive.

Fast forward, people are complaining that Uber/Lyft are taking jobs from working people. The people that are driving Uber/Lyft are real people who are willing to work and so can any other working people that are threatened do so. The amount of rides given, room rented through AirBnB and many other sharing businesses services that are used by its end consumers is the biggest testament that consumers are seeking better alternatives and when made available, they use it. In a democracy, the traditional businesses have to compete with these new sharing startups for their survival. Having said that finding a balance between these two needs: disrupting the status quo and preserving rights and safeguards, should be the task of government.

What is driving this phenomenon?

The obvious reasons we hear is technology is enabling this change and to a large extend its true. Logistically speaking without technology, it would be hard to drive this massive change in such a short amount of time. But there is more than technology and that is people. As humans we are social creatures and thrive better in communities. With all our differences, ideas and beliefs, we all crave for those human connections. 20th century corporate business made the consumers feel like ‘customers’ with its cold and emotionless customer service and limited options. Fast forward 21st century sharing economy’s foundation is build upon trust, reputation and direct human connection that care and empathize. Rachel Botsman, an industry leader and writer on the topic believes that these personal interactions go beyond the simple transaction model of traditional business and build a long-term bond and add value to that experience.

Case in point when DeSoto rebranded itself in an effort to reclaim its market share in San Francisco, it hardly made a dent in Uber’s share. DeSoto failed to understand the underlying reason why customers moved to Uber. It was not the technology but its customer services experience that inspired customer to love and be loyal with Uber.

In an article on Forbes by Denise Lee Yohn, it outlines how sharing economy is creating customer experience that is worth noticing and learning from. In comparison to traditional corporates these young agile startups are using technology to cultivate a culture through strong, shared value with its customers. They are actively listening and responding to customers.

With all its differences, sharing economy is here to stay and will continue to grow. A lot can be learned from this young industry that is powered by the everyday people and is compassionate towards its fellow human being. Just like any other business to be successful, it’s has to solve real need that is better than existing options. Sharing economy tends to offer a better, cheaper and convenient option and looking at the numbers of people using these services, it clearly makes a huge business sense as well.