Accelerators · Incubator

Thoughts on the Founder Institute?

Matty Sallin System Financial, Inc.

October 29th, 2013

I'm a non-technical founder at the idea stage (I have a deck, landing page, clickable prototype, but no working code). I'm considering applying to the Founder Institute, but it seems to have a heavy focus on building a business as opposed to build a product, as Y-Combinator focuses on. I could either do the FI, which would provide a rigorous program for getting business started, and access to great mentors and the creation of a great network. Or, I could spend my time learning to code, which would get me to a hacked-together prototype sooner (which could help me find a co-founder, angel, etc). Has anyone been through the Founder Institute?

Stefan Broda Partner Program Manager at Atlassian

October 29th, 2013

Here are my 50 cents. I did a lot of research before I did the program a year ago and also wrote a lengthy blog article that goes into the details of my review:

If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here is the short version: 

What was awesome about it:
  • Structured, well organized acceleration program that you apply to yourself and your own idea and later startup
  • Assessment to see whether you are the right fit for a startup entrepreneur lifestyle and to help you develop personally and qualify your idea
  • Great resources for each class (previous recorded talks, reading, templates)
  • As Gagan Biyani correctly points out: Incredible network of mentors that is accessible to you from day one.
  • Fellows during the program and graduates after the program form a strong peer-support community. This is especially important after graduation as you will continue to motivate each other to maintain a sense of urgency and professionalism for each other! Also helps that after graduation, we own small parts of each others' companies ;-)
  • Also: great partner network - graduates will have access to special deals with vendors such as Rackspace, First Republic Bank, etc.

What you should know:
  • Not very lean yet. 4 months are a long time for a lean startup to go through one serial curriculum of topics. I’d like an incubator to adopt lean practices, enforce iterative Build-Measure-Learn cycles with review milestones with standardized metrics at which point the founder either decides to stay on course or pivot. 
  • Come with thick skin and expect some tough love. Feedback will be brutally honest which is great! However with one out of 25 Mentors or so... the feedback can even get a bit personal/mildly abusive. I’d like FI to keep up the brutal honesty but lets keep it professional at all times. At those times, just thank the judge and don’t talk back.
  • Assignments are a lot of work but at the end, you don’t receive feedback on it from FI. So make sure you do them for yourself and your startup.
  • Its just part time. So if you already quit your job, this might not be enough of a structure for you to accompany your startup every day. So don’t rely on FI to manage your daily life but see it as an accompanying program.

    Early Conclusion (see more below):
    1. Definitely apply if you are still in a job and would like help in figuring out if your idea or you are Startup ready
    2. Apply when you are new to the West Coast and want to build your advisory / mentor network.
    3. Apply when you want to further your personal development and further strengthen your entrepreneurial toolbox.

    In case you want more info: I wrote a whole post about it and also linked to all the other 2012/2013 graduates and their blog posts. BeforeWeDo Blog: Should You Apply to the Founder Institute?

Detrick DeBurr

October 29th, 2013

I'm sorta laughing... cause everyone I know is a developer looking for start up opportunities. I think I'd start with checking out hack-a-thons ... Investors want to see that you have "done something" together... in a perfect world successfully... I'd also look at my past jobs for technical folks. Using a grunt fund ( is the best way I've seen to handle the equity situation. I am working with a group of non-technical guys to build an app... Here's how we do it... (1) Our relationship goes from week to week... we have a quick online meeting once per week to check progress and see if we want to continue (2) I bill the time on the project as an outside consultant would at my normal rate... let's just say they owe me quite a bit of money today (3)They always pay something on the invoice only if its a few bucks but it demonstrates that we are still "all in" (4)They are taking what I've built so far and demoing it where they can... (5)At our annual check point, we will either convert the debt owed to me to equity or cash me out (6)If they can't if goes on their books as debt (i.e. I gave them a lone)... In the meantime, we are dating. We are getting to know each other better, while producing something at the same time. Hope this makes sense...  


October 29th, 2013

Hi Matty,

I'm in a similar position. I was accepted to Founders Institute but probably will not attend. 

I decided to code the prototype myself. In a previous life I was a developer and it has taken me the past 9 months to get back into coding and learn new languages that I'm using for the build. I definitely advocate learning to code but you have to realize that this route is hard, time consuming and requires the ultimate commitment. 

Finding a developer in the Bay Area willing to jump into an idea on a powerpoint is impossible. Any good experienced dev has plenty of their own side projects and they don't need your hype. If you want the fastest route, I recommend finding a contractor or dev shop to build the prototype at a fixed cost. I'm working with a developer in Romania and was recommended a dev shop in Ukraine. Don't spend too much on a prototype build. The prototype is a starting point not the end goal so use your resources wisely. 

The main reason I probably won't attend FI is that I want to find advisers with backgrounds relevant to my project (Salesforce). I have very specific needs and don't think FI will help. I don't need motivation / structure. I already have a route to seed investment. Overall, I don't see what FI will give me except a $1k cost.

Hope this helps. Good luck.

Paul Travis Multifaceted Online Executor: Product Marketing to Program Mgmt. to Business Development

October 29th, 2013

Matty --

I've built companies as founder and joiner before, and actually recently applied for Fi.Co myself (though I've not heard back either way within the time they said they'd reply).  I also just went through last week, which has super networking opportunities as well. 

I think you could teach yourself to program which is a life investment, but agree with Patrick that a sharp coder can crank it out for you.  Keep in mind that software engineering industry experts will tell you that there is a 10x standard deviation in productivity between awesome and meh developers.  That said, if you've gotten as far as you have, you might post and compare 10 bids on -- drop a grand and get it done.

But before you plunk cash down to build something, have you practiced customer development principles to convince yourself people are really burning for what you've got to offer?  Reference Steve Blank, e.g. show 10 prospective customers your slides and see how many would pay $x for it.  The technical colleagues on my StartupWeekend team were somewhat surprised that GIVING away a service is much harder than we generous entrepreneurs think -- much less asking for money.  

Hope that helps; feel free to follow up.

Robert Clegg

October 29th, 2013

yes. contact me directly for insights.

Detrick DeBurr

October 29th, 2013

I'd start with Startup Weekend... but do a little Googling... you'll find more hack-a-thons than you can attend. Just network... 

Brina Bujkovsky User experience designer with 3 startups in the bag

October 29th, 2013

I didn't do FI but I did do a similar program called Startup Leadership Program.  We met bi-weekly versus weekly and the cost was much less for the program.  I'm in San Diego which is a fairly small startup community so I feel like the same mentors and speakers came through both programs.  

I liked SLP a lot.  I feel like a more well rounded entrepreneur as a result.  I feel better networked.  At the conclusion of the program, I also was able to decide that the life of a funded startup CEO was not for me.  This was probably the most valuable take-away of all.  All the fairy dust was cleared away for me.  

As for being non-technical (I am a designer - not a coder), depending on the complexity of your MVP - after you have validated it - it sometimes makes sense coupling with a hot shot technical co-founder, and sometimes it doesn't.  In the case of my startup, I felt it was more valuable to couple with a marketing co-founder and pay for the software.  It was $1200 and if the idea would have taken off (it didn't), my co-founder and I would have one less person to split our profits with.  When we wanted to iterate on the software, we found a student that did it for free.  He was looking to increase his network in SD and gain startup experience for his resume.


October 30th, 2013

I graduated from the Founder Institute Silicon Valley in July. Overall, I think it's a good way to get started in entrepreneurship, start a project with some good momentum, get some good connections, and to gain an understanding of what it takes to attract venture capital. 

Feel free to give me a call if you'd like to have a quick chat.

Andy Bosselman
Arithmetic: Smart skincare for adults with acne. 

Mathieson Sterling Senior Software Engineer at Apprenda

October 29th, 2013

Matty - developer skill can vary widely, as does their productivity.  That's one reason not to code the prototype your idea yourself - would you hire a brand new coder to do this work?  Doing it yourself is the same thing. 

If you're looking to meet more senior developers, a good place to start are monthly meetings focused on technology.  Unlike conferences they're free, and in addition you've got a self-selected group of developers who are committed enough to spend their personal time learning the latest and greatest new techniques.  

On the .NET platform I can recommend the Alt .NET meetings.  Other technologies will have similar groups.

Reuven Granot Corporate Strategic and Scientific Officer at Perlis Ltd

October 29th, 2013

I participated at first FI course in Israel. For me it was a very disappointing experience.
Before registration I participated in several preliminary lectures delivered by excellent lecturers. I was as well promised to receive a tutor from a leading US company. 
Once the course started the level of the lecturers and tutors dropped unbelievably low. We were also asked to grade lecturers.
I should mention that the main effort of this course is to make 90% of registered participants leave the course. Never understood the idea, except make those who remain believe that they are really good!
I should also mention that I own a PhD in Physics and the idea of my startup (which is meanwhile running quite well) is in the area of my profession. I enrolled to learn how to convince investors to invest in my vision.
I was asked to leave the course without reward of the fees at almost the beginning after grading 3 lecturers, quite low. Next meeting these lecturers were nominated to examine me and even before they started to ask questions other participants saw on line that they decided to ask me to leave,

As stated earlier my startup is doing well, and not because of FI.
I think you should think if it worthwhile for you to enroll in such a course.