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On Running a Startup Accelerator

July 6, 2015 at 11:22 am

[This post first appeared on Medium]

About a year ago, I announced that I was leaving Twitter in San Francisco to move (back) to Montréal, where I would manage FounderFuel, a startup accelerator. This is a fantastic opportunity for me to continue working with ecosystems, support innovation, crazy creativity, brilliant hackers… 

A Brief History of FounderFuel

FounderFuel was launched in 2011 and modeled after what has now become the classic seed accelerator formula, pioneered by YCombinator and TechStars. The team at Real Ventures, seeing a need to help bring new startups to the next level, invested in the creation (and operations) of the program. 

Led by Ian Jeffrey until the Spring 2014 cohort (#5) it has a well established program, and partners, mentors and alumni network. And a great Demo Day tradition, which is as much a party and a celebration of the startup community as a pitch event. The quality of the pitches is one thing FounderFuel is recognized for. You can check it out yourself on the FF Vimeo page.

Taking Care of Business (and Working Overtime) 

When I joined last summer, I did not want to fix what was not broken. The one simple changes we made were the addition of a specific deal for hardware startups (100K for 9% instead of the standard 50K for 6%). My plan was to go thru a first cohort with the program as is, with a specific focus on the alumni network of co-founders, partners (sponsors) and mentors (in that specific order).

For me the co-founders who have been thru the program in the past are one of our greatest asset. “People first” sums up my philosophy (for founders, mentors and partners). Still working on aligning more resources for alumnis, that’s still a big goal of mine for 2015. Next up is leveling up our mentor network, putting in place better tools to track mentor/founders interactions (and outcomes).

The other tweak I had for the program was to make sure everyone understood really well that this was a 12 x 1 week program, not a big monolithic 3 months stretch… Teams establish weekly goals and we review them during our status update every Thursday. 1 to 3 goals, to be done each week. Helps with focus. Real startups ship.

Focus (Seeing the Forest and the Trees) 

Even if I had been mentoring since the early days in 2011, it was not until I worked full time as GM that I fully understood why there was so much focus on the pitch. I knew communication was key for startup success, but it wasn’t until I got working with John Stokes (partner at Real and catalyst to FounderFuel) on crafting the pitches with startups that I realized it was literally the blueprint of your business. A bad pitch is simply the outcome of a bad (or badly understood) business.

In the first weeks, we focus on 3 things: go to market strategy, long term value proposition and competitive landscape. Then with those in minds we tirelessly work with the founders to craft/sharpen/practice their pitch. It is often an identity crisis, at least for many co-founders. You know the old adage: diamonds are created thru pressure…

Learning on the Job (One Cohort at a Time) 

One of my biggest surprise was how much individual attention each team requires. I had this perception that “as a group” was a great way to move everyone forward, and it is, but it’s not enough. My role in coaching co-founders during our status update is quite often “chief unstucker”. What’s top of mind, what’s bugging you, what’s blocking you? Let’s find people, ideas, hacks, to get you out of that rut. Every team gets to schedule time directly with a few mentors, plus office hours every week with partners at Real Venture and experts made available for free from our sponsors.

One of my initial analysis, even before joining, after discussing at length with Ian who was just leaving and Emma Williams, program manager extraordinaire, was that there was a challenge with the process of running a program with fixed dates. I felt that meeting great entrepreneurs all the time and only having two short windows in a year to get them in the program was a bug of this system. I am now of a different opinion, I see how valuable it is to have the timing constraint both as a forcing function for teams and as a filter mechanism for us running the program. If we can’t come up together with clear goals to accomplish during the program, ie. significant progress, we should not work together, at least not now. It makes no sense in forcing a square peg in a round hole…

Questions, Questions (Where Do We Go from Here)

There are still a few open questions for me. I do feel we need to develop a “post accelerator” program (or process) to better help our founders. We also need to come up with better metrics, ideally standardized in the industry, to assess how well we are accomplishing our mission of accelerating success for startups.

There is also the challenge of right-sizing startups in a fast evolving market. I have been thinking about a FounderFuel X program, for more experience founders or repeat entrepreneurs. With more and more startups applying, 250 per cohort on average, and at a later stage, more traction and more maturity, the level of a FounderFuel startup in the Spring 2015 cohort is not the same as one from 2011. The bar keeps getting raised, startups joining our program are further along, raise more money, sooner, even during the program. Those coming in with the existing traction before FF of course get out of the program even more amplified. That’s the definition of acceleration.

We are also in a special category, since the accelerator was created from a fund, and not the other way around (as we see more and more these days). It was also built to support the Montréal and broader Canadian startup ecosystem from the get go, in parallel with the Notman House project and involvement in many events: Accelerate Montreal and Startup Festival being two major ones out of hundreds now happening in Montréal’s startup scene.

Collaboration (Lets Think This Through Together)

If you are interested in exploring some of these questions and sharing some of your own lessons learned, with your accelerator program, please do join us July 15th for a one day event that I helped designed to be an event I would travel across the world to attend, the Accelerator Festival.

Next year will mark the 5th anniversary of our accelerator. If you have thoughts on what works, what doesn’t, specifically at FounderFuel or at any other accelerator, I would love to read your insights. We are a startup ourselves, still learning, still working on product/market fit, still growing, still refining our core metrics. We don’t have a model with an exit strategy though, so I guess we will have to keep riding this rocket for the foreseeable future. It’s exhilarating and that’s how I like it!

-Sylvain Carle 

Thank You!

July 2, 2015 at 3:22 pm

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A quick thanks to all who’ve applied for Fall 2015! It should go without saying that this is the one of the most important times for us – we get to take a step back to see what’s being worked on and innovated. Ultimately, we’re afforded the opportunity to begin supporting amazing startups and teams.

We’re now heads down, reviewing hundreds of applications.

If all goes well, here’s a quick sketch of your next month: 
- By the end of the week you’ll be contacted for a first interview 
- Said interview will take place between July 6th and July 14th 
- You’ll then be notified of a second interview date
- This will then take place between July 20th and August 3rd
- An offer letter will then be in your inbox by the end of the first week of August
- At this point you might celebrate a little (but hey, up to you) 

As always, feel free to ping us at info@founderfuel.com with any questions. 

Looking forward to meeting you!

12 Hours Left!

June 30, 2015 at 10:40 am

The time is now!! 

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Applications close tonight at 1159PM EST. Naturally, we get the majority of our applications today – we hope to see yours in the pile! 

A last minute reminder of what we require from all applicants:
- A team of two or more: no single founders
- At least one technical co-founder
- Ability to work full-time on the business
- Willingness to be in Montreal for the full 12 weeks of the program

Don’t forget: if you have applied, are based in Quebec City, and still have questions about FounderFuel, you can sign up for office hours at Le Camp for this Friday, July 3rd. Sign up for office hours here

Apply, apply, apply and see you soon! 

One Week Left to Apply

June 22, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Our Fall 2015 application deadline is fast approaching…

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Here’s a quick reminder of what we’re looking for:
- a team of two or more: no single founders
- at least one technical co-founder
- full-time focus on the business
- Montreal-based teams for the full 12 weeks of the program

Here’s what you’ve got to lose by not applying:
- $50K – $100K for 6%-9% equity on Day 1 of the program
- $150K in convertible debt for “Venture Ready” companies at Demo Day  
- $150K of exclusive discounts on services you probably already use
- 3 months of free office space in the Valley for select companies
- 120 startup veteran Mentors: Serial Entrepreneurs, Investors and Senior Execs
- 1K+ people at Demo Day, the largest event of its kind in North America
- Read more of what our Alumni have to say here.

If you’d like to pick our brains in person before hitting send, sign up for your city’s office hours here.

If you’re ready to take the plunge, apply today

Get a Referral!

June 17, 2015 at 9:53 am

Ever heard the infamous ‘foot in the door’ story?

An eager man sent one shoe to the company of his dreams. With it was a note that read, “now that I have my foot in the door, how about an interview?” 

get a refferal 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: one way to guarantee an interview (to ensure that your shoe – attached to your foot – gets through the door) is to get a referral! 

We leverage the greatness of our network during recruitment. At times, the strongest teams that we meet are introduced to us by alumni, mentors, and other community members. At other times, we meet future superstars by sifting through new applications. We look over every application – no matter who from. That way, we’re able to meet with entrepreneurs who haven’t made those connections yet (who may even be coming to us precisely to forge those relationships). 

Know someone that we do? Get in touch at info@founderfuel.com.
Have yet to get your foot in the door? Apply today.

Can’t wait to meet you! 

FF Takes Québec City!

June 12, 2015 at 12:36 pm

As you may have already heard, we’re hitting the road to meet with Fall 2015 applicants! 

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Alexandre Shee, Analyst at Real Ventures and mentor at FounderFuel, is travelling to Québec City to chat with YOU! You can find him at Le Camp on Tuesday June 16th from 930AM to 12PM to ask him any questions that you may have about applications or the program. Here’s a little but more about Alex before you meet him in person. 

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We invite you to sign up for office hours on the 16th. 

He can’t wait to meet you! 

– 

Ready to apply? Head on over here. | Postulez maintenant

FF Takes Waterloo!

June 11, 2015 at 2:06 pm

communitech_logo

As you may have already heard, we’re hitting the road to meet with Fall 2015 applicants! 

Janet Bannister, Partner at Real Ventures and mentor at FounderFuel, is coming to Waterloo! She will be at Communitech on June 23rd. We invite you to sign up here for her office hours and to pick her brain about all things FounderFuel and applying to the program. 

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We hope to see you there!
– 
If you’re ready to apply, you can click here;)  

FF Takes Ottawa!

June 10, 2015 at 2:02 pm

As you may have already heard, we’re hitting the road to meet with Fall 2015 applicants! 

Next up is Ottawa! You can find us at the Invest Ottawa offices from 9AM to 1PM on June 26th. This is the time to ask us any questions that you might have about the program or the application process. Be sure to reserve your preferred time slot on the 26th before they’re all gone. You can do so here

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We’re equally excited to be attending a Fresh Founders meet-up on the evening of June 25th to mingle with our friends over at L-SPARK as well as the rest of the cream of the crop on the Ottawa tech scene. If you’re there, we’d love to say hi! 

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We hope to see you in Ottawa! 

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If you’re ready to apply, click here;)  

FF Takes Toronto!

June 9, 2015 at 3:38 pm

As you may have already heard, we’re hitting the road to meet with Fall 2015 applicants! 

First up is Toronto. We’ll be hosting office hours at the awesome Project: RHINO from 9AM to 1PM on June 20th. This is the time to ask us any questions that you might have about the program or the application process. Be sure to reserve your preferred time slot on June 19th before they’re all gone. You can do so here

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Luckily, our trip coincides with an exciting event – OneEleven’s Tech Summer Social. If you’re there, come say hi! 

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We hope to see you at Project: RHINO or OneEleven (or both!). Can’t wait to meet you. 

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Ready to apply? Do so here. ;)  

FounderFuel Is on the Road!

June 8, 2015 at 11:36 am

on the road blog pic

Throw out your pitch decks and come chat – we’re visiting Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Québec City and Waterloo! 

We’ll be hosting office hours in each city, and we invite you to come with any questions that you may have about the program. 

Here are the dates and locations scheduled so far:  
Montreal – June 12/15/16/22/23/30 - Notman House 
Toronto – June 19 – Project: RHINO
Waterloo – June 23 - Communitec
Ottawa – June 26 – Invest Ottawa
Québec City – Date TBA (stay tuned!) 

notmanProject Rhino invest-ottawa1      

communitech_logo

Book a time slot for MTL, TO, OTT or WAT before they fill up. Click here, find your desired date, and choose the time that’s best for you. 

We’ll keep you updated on a date and location for our Québec City Stop. Make sure to check back or follow us on Twitter and Instragam to stay in the loop. 

We can’t wait to meet you! 

Ready to apply? Click here. :)  

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