Glenn Gillen

Startup accelerators & incubators

Running a successful company is tricky business. It requires a lot of determination, hard work, support, and a good amount of luck.

But you can make yourself luckier.

The right people. The right place. The right help. At the right time. Find the perfect intersection of those attributes and your hard work and determination might just take care of the rest.

Learning from the best

There's thousands of programs setup to help entrepreneurs on this journey. They cover the full spectrum in terms of both product stage and program quality.

Most famous among the tech startup community is YCombinator. Each intake bringing in 100 or more hopeful teams for 12 weeks. An intense period of incubation within the YC chrysalis. Hypotheses tested. Products validated. And at the end we're all dazzled by the emergence of a butterfly unicorn.

It's a model many have tried to replicate, but none as successfully. In part because success breeds success. The value of the YC program isn't just the wisdom of those running it. It's the size, strength, and value of the alumni network it has created. The years of churning out successful companies and failures. The ability spot patterns based on similar cases in their relatively extensive history.

Whatever your specific problem, they've almost certainly had a company with that specific problem before.

It's no longer a matter of just distilling generalised "business advice" to young founders. It's based on a lived non-hypothetical experience. It's directly relevant. It's actionable.

The YC office hours sessions provide the current cohort a list of the people/companies that will be attending. They specifically request who they want to talk to. On the flip side the mentors get a list of the people that wish to speak to them. It meant before arriving at the YC office as a mentor I could do the requisite background reading on the startup, their product, their team. What problems did I expect them to encounter? What were they already doing that really impressed me?

When we met there's almost no time wasted setting context. "Do you get what we're doing? Ok, good. Here's a challenge we're facing. How would you think about…?"

And on the horizon he saw…

I've been to the future. I've seen what it holds for these want-to-be-as-good-as-YC incubators and accelerators.

It's more focus.

Instead of a mismash of products, all serving different markets, they're part of the same supply chain. It's a collective of products that are complimentary. That solve adjacent problems within a domain. That leverage each other to multiply the benefit provided to an end customer.

Demo days are no longer just passive show and tell.

"Here's what our customer research and validation told us about X…", "Hey that's great insight because they're our customers too!".

Everybody stops repeating the same old mistakes because you learn them as a group. Your peer companies become your biggest advocates and your highest value sales channel. Trying to find investors that "get it" becomes easier, because most of you share the same investment partners.

They see the big picture. They share the big vision.

It's been done!

This isn't some amazing prophecy, at least not on my part. I've seen this place. I had the good fortune of working amongst it for a year.

It's called Heavybit Industries.

I assume most of you won't take the time to actually digest the wealth of content on the site so let me break it out for you.

The members

Look at this list of companies. You've probably heard of most of them, you might be using many of them:

The lessons

There's some lessons and advice that's almost timeless, especially within a constrained problem space.

Beyond that though there's the day-to-day lessons you're all sharing. Because you're in the same physical space. Sharing an intersection of customers. Living the same day-to-day experience of what the market looks like right now and what's working.

The acceleration

There comes a time where money can help turn a good idea into a hugely impactful one. Selling to a customer can be hard because you need them to believe in your product and that it solves their problem. Selling to an investor? You need them to believe that your product solves somebody else's problem.

A problem they may not have any direct empathy for.

That it doesn't just solve 1 customer's problem, that it solves at least thousands. Possibly millions.

It's at least 100x harder.

Unless those potential investors already get it. Because somebody else has sold them on that vision already.

Company A16z SV Angel Baseline Ignition Harrison Metal Data Collective True Ventures Streamlined Kholsa Heroku Founders
Zencoder            
Stripe              
PagerDuty            
Meteor                
Runscope              
Rainforest                  
Citus Data            
CircleCI            
Librato                  
Pantheon                
Apiary                  
Iron.io                
Treasure Data                  
Keen IO                
Gradle                  

That's a table mapping a subset of the investors that have invested in Heavybit member companies.

Look at all those overlapping investors. Those shared interests.

Do you think Baseline Ventures know that companies who are trying to massively scale out their workload (Iron.io), want to use CI (CircleCI) to ensure they're not scaling out a broken change across that platform, and need their ops team to know immediately if it does break (PagerDuty)? Of course they know that!

Harrison Metal get it too. And they realised those same companies need visibility (Librato) into what exactly is happening on their production systems.

Bringing it home

Australia's financial sector has been one of the strongest globally over the past decade. It was largely immune to the catastrophes and collapses other economies faced. Watching from afar it felt disappointing that we weren't parlaying that success into further innovation within the sector.

Then I discovered H2 Ventures. A fintech focussed investment firm.

In such a highly regulated sector it makes sense to have the support of people who can help you navigate that regulation quickly. I'm sure it would help to surround yourselves with other companies who are navigating the same issues at the same time. Enter Stone & Chalk. A space to house all those fintech companies.

Sound familiar?

The thing is it's not just our financial sector that's had success. Look at the success stories coming out of our burgeoning tech startup scene:

They run the gamut of the supply chain for modern developers. We're building the tools for the people who build things. And we're building great ones. Imagine the power multiple applied when companies like this all lived under the same roof.

Lets make it happen

I'm looking forward to seeing the profits already realised by some of these companies re-invested into making it happen. Assuming the recent tax incentives for foreign investors doesn't inspire one of them to do it here first.

Glenn Gillen

I'm an advisor to, and investor in, early-stage tech startups. Beyond that I'm an incredibly fortunate husband and father. Working on a developer-facing tool or service? Thinking about starting one? Email me and let me know or come to one of our days to help make it a reality.