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Seven Things We Learned from our 500 Startups Experience

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 19, 2016 10:10:00 AM / by Sarah de Castro

Sarah de Castro

  • A majority of the world’s most successful companies launched in the last few years have taken off thanks to Accelerators - think Wildfire,  Behance or  Digital Ocean.  In the current market landscape, increased competition demands increased speed in all aspects of business. Accelerators programs that  take companies from ideation to launch in just a few months, help new companies find their feet in fast-forward.

    So when one of the most prestigious US accelerators,  500 Startups -the self-dubbed bad ass, global family of startup founders, mentors, and investors- invited us to join their 18th batch of budding startups  to help develop our collective brainwave into OneKloud under their 3-month business development program -that includes mentorship, educational components and concludes with an investor pitch event- we didn’t hesitate.

Here some of the lessons and impressions we took away from this experience, which transformed us from an idea to a workable demo of that idea:

1. It Takes a Village to Raise a Child...

“The support provided by the 500 team during the time there and the constant exchange with peers was amazing,” explains Eric, ”but not just from the experts: one of most unexpected aspects was how many other viable ideas come from people outside of our field of expertise. This kind of input was both surprising and an provided an invaluable a way for us to think outside of our box.”

2. Aim to Delight

This lesson comes from infamous American venture capital investor Tim Draper who spoke at our Demo Day, dubbed “Demo-Ween,” where the 46 companies from batch 18 pitched to investors. "When they [Baidu, Skype, Hotmail and Tesla founders] pitched me, they all used the word ‘delight’ when they talked about their customers. And having that as your attitude, I think makes all the difference... If you have a customer bias, that's the difference between a Unicorn and a Rhino (a bigger and fatter Unicorn!)." See more in this article.

3. Get Uncomfortable

Theory is great, practice is better.  Our co-founders have been around the global block--let’s just say they were not the ones skateboarding into the 500 offices--and have already successfully founded and sold quite a few companies. The 500 no-holds-bar atmosphere pushed them back into a hungry, urgent energy that Eric describes as going back to school: “We re-learned the basics, and much more.” He describes the 500 experience as taking them from “I know it” to “I can do it successfully.”

4. Borderless Innovation

When aiming for a US launch, a deep understanding of the American way of thinking is crucial. Even after living in the valley for over 5 years, the 500 Startups experience provided our French founders with the total immersion that allowed them to plug into the mainline. Or as Eric puts it get “more immersed in the American ecosystem, more connected, more ‘VC ready.’” 28% of batch 18 were international, and while we get the benefit of an international point-of-view without  trying, staying humble and take cultural understanding to a new level is invaluable to cross cultural business interactions.

5. Don’t Keep Flogging a Dead Horse

Fail fast. Don’t get stuck in a rut. If the idea you come in with needs to evolve, be willing to take a new direction. Be open to learning from failure... you get the picture. As fellow 500 graduate Azat Mardan @azat_co  put it in this list, “If you’re gonna mess up, do it fast: the worst situation for founders (and investors) is when the startup is in the land of ‘living dead,’ making some progress but not succeeding; failing fast and soon is important if you’re not blowing up.”

6. Contextualize

Transforming your idea into a marketable product = good. Transforming your idea into a marketable product, in the the context of today’s technical climate, while taking into account the competition, consumer needs, industry constraints and innovations = even better.   500 helped us evolve , as our CRO John Tripier puts it,  “from a technical capability to finding and solidifying several directions for business value.” , and taught us to present this  benefit-focused offer, with our specific consumer top-of-mind.  

7. Dig In & Get  Your Hands Dirty  

500 startup experience put a  big emphasis on fun and networking (connections are key), but we weren’t spared the hard work. Finding an additional four hours per day was the minimum commitment for our core team, and this on top of keeping the normal day-to-day running.

 All in all, the 500 experience was an incredible learning opportunity for our seasoned tech veterans. It was an intense three months, but our hard work paid off. We learned to step out of our comfort zone and face the challenges of taking an idea to reality--and accepting failure as a part of that process. After this bracing immersion into the American tech sector, we’re more ready than ever to see where OneKloud takes us next.

We want to say thanks to 500 startups for this awesome opportunity, thanks to the San Francisco tech community at large, and thanks to all those pushing us to think out-of-the-box ...and then think out-of-that-box too.500 Startups batch 18 #500 strong
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Topics: Events, 500 Startups

Sarah de Castro

Written by Sarah de Castro

Cloud-enthusiast and storyteller, Sarah is a content strategist at OneKloud. Explorer of the technology landscape, she boils down technical and complex ideas for everyday digestion (and enjoyment). With an appreciation for sophisticated simplicity, linguistics and branding, she is a global local in Paris from New Zealand.