Founder institute · Accelerators

I have been accepted to Founder Institute in London (I live in Sao Paulo). Is it worth it?

Cassio Greco Solutions Engineering Intern at Facebook

August 20th, 2015

Hello!

I have been accepted to the Founder Institute in London. I have heard very good reviews of their program, and bad ones (e.g. That it is the community college of accelerators and that many people drop out because its not good)
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Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

August 20th, 2015

I have participated in the FI program in Silicon Valley with founder Adeo Ressi. This program focussed on the earliest stage of company formation. Most incubators focus exclusively on later stages particularly after you have at least introduce the product to market.

If you're an entrepreneur with just an idea and you're really trying to determine whether it's worth pursuing as a start up or not, if you are trying to determine if you are the kind of person who would be happy and successful as an entrepreneur, or trying to determine how to put together your company to develop your idea and bring a first product to market, this accelerator can be of immense help. Because for most people, most ideas, and most potential products, the answer is you will fail. And it's better to go and discover this quickly before you've invested too much time, effort and money.

Founder Institute's program will help you determine that extremely quickly. This is the reason for the large drop out rate, because for most people once they understand everything that is involved and the problems with their idea, or their product, or their team, they want to rethink it. It is saving a lot of people from making big mistakes. Those who continue to complete the course have a much better than average chance of success, having been forced to quickly address and overcome many of the stumbling blocks that kill companies. 

This program is all about failing fast and learning from early cheap failures so that if you survive this Darwinian fitness selection many of the problems that kill companies in their first 3 years are already behind you.

Those who drop out are encouraged to explore other ideas and then return and complete the course in a future session with their new idea or company.  There were several 2nd timers in my cohort, and you could see the difference in the maturity of their thinking, which they attributed to learning in their first time experience.

Some first time founders have mistaken notions of the glamor of entrepreneurship.This is not the place to go to hear inspiring speeches on how anyone with any crazy idea can become the next Facebook unicorn and make you wealthy beyond your wildest dreams. More founders wind up broke than rich. The FI program is all about all facing the hard grunt work, stress and disappointment that is 90% of every founders day that you take on in spite of long odds of success, because you are internally driven to do it anyway.

You are discouraged from focussing on imagining possible sets of circumstances under which you might succeed; any creative person can imagine such possibilities. You are encouraged to find all the reasons to kill your idea, because most will not survive to go to market stage. Many entrepreneurs are not ready or not wanting that experience of heating their idea and themselves to their breaking point and then being drenched with cold water reality. This tempering process is another reason for drop outs in the program. But do that quickly and you can restart  quickly till you get it right. By having taken your idea through that forged in fire testing, you can be confident it can be developed to a point of at least modest success.

Other incubators don't do this, but then they often make sure you are already past all those stumbling blocks before accepting a company. They risk less; You might just hear "you are too early". Which is nice and polite but not helpful.  FI is the one accelerator that will let you start before you are even sure what your idea is.

I know about the program held in Silicon Valley and in San Francisco and I know that many of the mentors and  leaders from here in Silicon Valley  travel to many of the distant cities.  I do not know the specifics and quality of the program in London. But if it is anything like the program in Silicon Valley the quality of the mentors that you will meet in the program is exceptional.

While there may be many other ways to meet them if you are not meeting such mentors, enrolling in this program is one way to ensure that you get their help. Their help will be worth the time and money that you spend in this program. If you don't pursue the program, pursue those mentors independently, because there is real gold for you in their help.

If you complete the program you will also have a stake in the success of all the other participants in the session which is a form of risk diversification and shared upside opportunity. That is when you will most appreciate the drop out rate, as those dropouts were low chance of success gompanies that would otherwise dilute your share in the successes.

L. Marshall-Smith

August 20th, 2015

I could not agree more with everything Scott McGregor stated above. I, too, am an FI grad, but from Los Angeles. The relationships you make and the people you meet in the form of mentors and investors is invaluable. I can pick up the phone and call the CEO of TrueCar, JibJab, 1800Dentist, Scorpion (yes, the same fellow as in the CBS TV show of the same name), and myriad others, ask their advice, meet them for coffee or lunch. Angel investors see me at events and ask when I am coming in to pitch them. Scott is also correct in saying that most other accelerators/incubators will graciously decline accepting you if you are too early on. They typically what teams -- a tech person and a business person at the very least. Do you have a team yet? FI could be a good place to find your team. On the other hand, many FI grads are then accepted into TechStars, Microsoft's incubator, etc. And yes, all grads share in the successes of the start ups from their class that "make it."

People tend to drop out of FI because they cannot hack it. It's a ton of work. The program is extremely, extremely demanding. Their philosophy is if you can't do what we ask of you, pivot if necessary on the fly, etc, then how do you expect to succeed as an entrepreneur in the real world? Mentors shoot down your pitches, your ideas, deliberately to weed you out. Only the strong survive and the strongest graduate.

Not to mention, the people who are asked to leave because they are not cutting it. What FI helps you do is zero in on your idea. Validate it. Take it to its next level. Sharpen your pitching skills. And if they do ask you to leave or if you drop out on your own, they will have you back if you're ready to work.

I swear I learned more and worked harder in four months of FI than in three years of Graduate Business School! First of all, to be asked to participate is exceptional. They typically only accept 10% of all who apply per session. In my case, 350 applied. They accepted 34. 14 companies graduated. To date, only one of the companies has become truly successful, raising close to $80M. All of us who graduated with that company are part owners of it. It is a nice way to spread the wealth and thank the rest of the grads for their participation in helping that company get off the ground.

It may not be the perfect model, yes there is a tuition, but remember you get what you pay for and when you get something for nothing, how much is it really worth to you?

I say congratulations to you for being accepted. That's a milestone right there. You can always go to the first session and assess. You can drop out and get your money back in full if it's within a certain time. Maybe the first 7 days. At the very least, it is worth going to the first class. Best of luck with making your decision to participate in the FI session and with your start up idea.

Jonathan Greechan Co-Founder of the Founder Institute, Exec Producer of Founder Showcase, Startup Marketer & Advisor

August 20th, 2015

Hi Cassio,

I'm a Co-Founder of FI, and I can quickly address your two points above:

1. We are not an "accelerator". Accelerators generally work with teams that have products, and provide them with nominal funding so that the team members can focus full-time on developing product and raising a proper seed round.

FI is simply earlier - we are a startup launch program that typically works with individuals at the very earliest stages of the process (usually pre-incorporation, pre-product, and pre-team). In the program, you go through a step-by-step process to launch your company, recruit advisors, build a network of mentors, and build out the business. Many of our Graduates then go on to join a traditional accelerator program.

2.Graduating from the Founder Institute is challenging, and this is why people drop out. Every week you are evaluated by program directors, your peers, and expert mentors - and if your scores fall below the acceptable threshold, or you don't complete the challenging company-building assignments, you are asked the leave the program. 

The program is designed specifically so that people who are not serious, have a poor business, or are not performing don't make it through. In addition, we offer a full refund in the first week of the program because we understand that FI is not for everybody, so we give you an opportunity to drop out right away. Generally less than 30% of people are able to make it to Graduation, but each Founder who drops out is invited to join a future semester and give it another shot.

I hope this helps answer your questions.

Anonymous

August 20th, 2015

Hi Cassia! If you have to pay to get into FI program (as mentioned earlier in this thread), it is definitely a 'red' flag and I wouldn't enroll. I'd suggest you look up incubators or accelerators who can provide assistance based on your 'specific' needs. I am happy to assist you in identifying a few accelerators who may provide better value and committed to your success.

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

August 20th, 2015

If you are interested in Founder Institute in order to vet your idea, and you aren't very sure what it is, I might suggest that you consider taking the FI course in Brazil. You'll get connected with a lot more local money and mentors, at a lot less cost and trouble for you, and it will be easier to find work and survive afterward, if you determine your initial ideas are workable. It seemed like that relocation and disruption of your job network was part of the concern you had. You'll almost always find it easier to raise money elsewhere if you already have investors from your homeland backing you as well. It's a trust thing. Through FI you'll also get be able to connect with Mentors (and other entrepreneurs) around the world, not just in Brazil, so if the next step after beginning your idea requires relocating to the US or Europe, you will have both your home country network and great introductions to the mentors in the new country. If you've gone through the FI program, by that time your start-up should also be further along and other accelerators or incubators will probably be ready to consider you, and fund you, if you feel they will help in penetrating the new country. And if you do decide that the right next step is to come to Silicon Valley, you'll find FI can help you reach people (Silicon Valley immigration lawyers, but also other Brazilian entrepreneurs who have moved here) to help navigate the visa requirements. Good luck whatever you do.

Goncalo Silva

August 23rd, 2015

Hello Cassio,
Above there are already great answers and advices from people who knows the program. I'll just give additional comments as a current participant of the program in Warsaw, Poland. And in my opinion I find FI extremely useful to validate YOU, as potential entrepreneur, your ideas (specially business models) and to access a network of people very, very difficult to reach that sometimes can takes years to build (for me this part is the most beneficial).
The program is very demanding and every week it forces you to take a step to build a successful company through assignments covering all areas of business, such as legal, marketing, hr, development, sales, investors etc,.. (program curriculum has more detailed info on this). You pitch every week, pivot in case of bad idea (or a new better idea) and get feedback from very experienced people that spot problems in very early stages saving you from failures and time lost.
Depending on your objective and If you are on this stage "pre-incorporation, pre-product, and pre-team" FI maybe be for you.
The cost of the program in not that much considering that I saw in US other offerings (blackbox) for 15.000$ ????
Good luck in your journey

Daniel Ice

August 20th, 2015

Cassio,

I was accepted as well to the Los Angeles chapter. After talking with my attorney, he explained that they mess up your cap table with their 3.5% shared pool idea. It creates a special kind of stock. He had other clients unable to get funding because of the FI stock structure.

Dr Alfa Specialist: Pschiatry + Public Health + Logistics at Lagos Nigeria

August 25th, 2015

I've been actively involved in three start-ups. My major achievement has remained the experience of "acquired ruggedness" or "never retreat and never surrender" which I could not have had without the ventures. It's  often impossible to avoid failures but mentors can save you from a fatal crash!

Anonymous

August 20th, 2015

Cassio,

If you are required to pay a tuition to be part of the incubator, it probably is not worth your time or money. A real viable incubator will evaluate your idea much like a VC or Angel would. If it is something the incubator can get behind they won't charge you a tuition or fee upfront knowing you need to invest your time and funds into developing the start-up. -- Keith

From the hiring manager's perspective (I have not been to FI), from the few that I have met, I'm not impressed with their grads. I'd invest my time and money at a small start-up where you can see all the different aspects of running a start-up.