If you didn’t see our short first month update on Tech.mnTV last week, check it out. We thought we’d take a deeper dive and write about the program now that we are at the end of our second month. Because we get so many people asking about the program’s mechanics, we’d like to share how the program works, what we’ve learned thus far in our early days, and what you can expect down the road from Project Skyway (PS).
What is Life in PS Like?
Here’s a snapshot of our most recent week:
Monday: Morning powwow in which all entrepreneurs (which we call Skywalkers) sit at a round table and each company shares with the group their biggest challenges, accomplishments, and what they plan to get done the that week. It’s accountability + support + a full, complete update from each company to each other.
Afterwards, an active angel investor and founder of Twin Cities Angel Network, John Alexander spoke to the group about what it’s like to raise money in MN and shared the best ways to approach the angel network that he chairs. Afterwards, John met with every company individually and gave them feedback and guidance on whatever they wanted. He was gracious with his time, as is every Monday guest we have.
The rest of the day is spent with weekly check-ins with Cem and Casey, founders of PS.
Also that day, one of our companies, uHungry, who had ditched their original idea after they joined the program, met with us. After going through several pivots, they settled on an idea and decided that being in NY will be better to develop their new idea, Picomize. We have supported them through out their pivots and will continue to support them from distance. Although we’d love to keep them here, we respect their decision to move where they believe will give them the best advantage to grow their business. No matter where they are, they will continue to be part of our family and we’ll do our best to help them achieve their dreams.
Tuesday: Jon Dahl, a Project Skyway Captain (what we call mentors), came in and riffed to the group for 45 minutes about what he’s learned through two startups. He’s raised money for both, the second being from A-list investors. Jon then met with every company one-on-one. Skywalkers can then reach out to him in the future with any challenges that they may have. That’s the role our Captains have agreed to play.
Thursday: We have dinner with Skywalkers every Thursday. At these we have Captains or “gurus” from our entrepreneurial community join us. This week, Brad Cleveland, who has grown a $100m tech company and Dan Grigsby, serial entrepreneur with two exits are joining our group. (Brad’s parents are the original supporters of MNCup). Here they tell stories, give feedback, and answer questions zinged at them. Questions spanning topics like raising money to hiring to talking about open source.
In between these moments Skywalkers are busy at work, often in CoCo, the coworking space that serves as our “hub”. You will often find Casey jamming on a whiteboard or meeting with a team to hammer out UX, chat about partnerships, or talk about who could be a good person to help them with a specific problem.
If someone looked at Casey’s “sent” folder they’d find he’s brokered over 30 email introductions from Skywalkers to Captains and others. We’ve strived to be an effective connector.
That’s Project Skyway. A place we try to make as rich with resources as we can. It’s not a slave-driving atmosphere, rather, it’s a place loaded with tools for entrepreneurs in our program to pick up and use as they see fit their specific needs.
What We’ve Learned
Before the cycle started, we made a list of what we’d deliver as part of the program and shared it with all of the Skywalkers. Finding balance between how much or little of each deliverable has been a learning experience, largely because there’s no bible on it. It’s been an experiment. Designing a program for everyone usually means you’re pleasing no one because, in our case, our companies all have dramatically different needs. There were some things we should have been doing more of and some less. For example:
1. We should have drowned the companies with Captains the first week. In the future we’ll do this. We tried to be methodical about matching the right Captain to the right Skywalker at the right time, but Skywalkers have told us that they want more face-to-face time with more Captains. Duly noted. Over the next 5 weeks we’ve literally doubled how many Captains will be at the hub interacting. We erred on the side of being unobtrusive, when we should have erred on the side of being more immersive. YCombinator, from Silicon Valley, one of the most successful accelerators in the world, is extremely hands off, independent, and relatively feedback-less in almost every way. We should have modeled it less on that and gone with a more hands on approach.
2. We should have designed the development outsourcing with more structure. The Skywalkers met the head of development the 2nd and 3rd day of the program. But time is valuable, and we should have rushed this even further. Even though Cem has worked with the firm for years with continual success, we should have been more involved week-to-week rather then jumping in only when there seemed to be complications or miscommunication. We erred on the side of letting the relationships take their course and we should have erred on the side of managing the Skywalker-developer relationship week-to-week.
3. We should have been crystal clear about what week-to-week would look like. We talked about it often but didn’t paint the picture as clear as we should have. Because we weren’t clear enough, some entrepreneurs inevitably concocted their own vision of what to expect. Some of these expectations were wildly off base and had nothing to do with anything we’ve ever talked about or insinuated. We erred on the side of talking specifically about deliverables, but should have erred on the side of specifying expectations too. What we can not do for companies is equally as important as what we can do. We can’t build their companies for them. As one graduate of 500 Startups in Mountain View wrote,“The accelerator is just the lubricant. You still have to have the sex.”
Looking back, we acknowledge that we have come up short in some areas. Some entrepreneurs in the program are happy and have gotten lots of value. Some less so. So we’re fixing, tweaking, and making things right. As an act of good faith, we’ve dropped a portion of the equity that each company will give us. We admitted that the development team, while it has been a positive experience with good outcomes for some of the Skywalkers, has come up short for others, and we’ve given an extra month of development for free to each company. We also modified our original agreement to make it more entrepreneur friendly, giving them ample room to negotiate with their future investors.
On The Horizon For Project Skyway
The next 4 weeks our entrepreneurs will continue to sharpen their message and build their story for demo day. They will continue to meet Captains, investors, and their professional speech coach.
1. Demo Day: Oct 26th. We hope that you will join and watch it as we livestream it and post the videos afterwards. Our companies will each be presenting on stage for 8 minutes to a room of regional investors, invite only.
3. Entrepreneurs, get ready to apply to cycle 2. Applications open in November.
In closing, just like any startup, any beta, and any pilot, it’s not what goes wrong, since things definitely will. It’s what you learn and about not being a moron and making the same mistake twice. We’ve learned a lot, and I hope that other accelerators, current or future, can learn from us. We are committed to taking what we’ve learned from our inaugural cycle and make our next one even better.
We believe in our entrepreneurs and will continue do our best to help them achieve their dreams.