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Experience with Founder's Space accelerator in San Francisco?

Our startup has been accepted into an accelerator called Founder's Space. It seems to be a relatively new program, so I was hoping to connect with companies and founders who have participated to get an idea of their experience. Thanks!

8 Replies

Edward Heywood
2
0
Edward Heywood Advisor
CEO of Waffle. MSc Imperial College Business School Graduate. TedX Speaker.
Hey guys,

I'm updating my post to reflect my complete experience with Founders Space so far. This replaces my previous post (which is now outdated). When I joined Founders Space, they'd recently launched their accelerator and it was a brand new program. Naturally, there was a learning curve as they got it off the ground.

The first thing that struck me was they only offered sessions 1 to 2 days per week, which I felt wasn't enough. I'm happy to say that has changed. They sent me their latest schedule, and it's far better, they have classes and/or mentoring sessions almost every single day now.

The other thing that bothered me was they didn't offer a Demo Day when I joined. Apparently, this was an experiment. Steve Hoffman (the program director) honestly believed that Demo Days distracted the startup founders from focusing on core business issues. I'm happy to say that immediately after other startup founders and I complained, they started doing Demo Days for all their batches.

Unfortunately, I had to fly back to the UK, so I couldn't take advantage of this. To Founders Space's credit, they said I could pitch to investors at a future Demo Day when I'm back in Silicon Valley. Founders Space also has a policy of letting founders tap back into any mentoring sessions and workshops whenever they are in town. I'm not sure if any other accelerators do this, but it's very founder friendly and a good feature other accelerators should adopt.

All in all, I believe Ycombinator, Tech Stars and 500 Startups have a head start on Founders Space. They've been around much longer and have dedicated funds. But Founders Space is working hard and really listens to its founders, so if they keep this up, they are in good stead to catch up with the big guys.
Leena Chitnis, MBA
1
2
Leena Chitnis, MBA Entrepreneur • Advisor
Content & Publication Manager at NetApp
Hi there...so I also got into the program and found it really hokey...as my letter to one of the principals shows below...I will be interested to see what sort of feedback I get from them in the next couple of days, if they write to me at all (my email was a bit too honest). But if they are tough and as seasoned as they say they are, they'll be able to take some heat. I just posted about my acceptance into this accelerator a couple of hours ago, btw...and no one has responded...I hope I get some feedback from someone:

Hi [Name Redacted],


My name is Leena Chitnis; you may have received a missed call from me today (from the 310 area code). I just got accepted into the Founders Space accelerator program and need to talk to someone who has worked with them or is still with them.


First of all, I did some research online and it looks as though FS used to give $2500 in exchange for 1% ...with a four month program. That is something I really could have sunk my teeth into, and would have given me a chance to really get to know some VCs on a more personal level.


Now, that has been transformed into:


FS takes $3500 from me, AND takes 1% equity, and gives me either 2 or 4 weeks to learn everything and quickly make "deep and lasting" connections with VCs.


I've started two businesses by now and it takes longer than 2 weeks to establish warm and fuzzies with a VC...those guys are hardline businessmen and they know brown-nosing when they see it, you know? If I'm spending $3500 on a bunch of videos and ebooks (which I can get free/piecemeal on the Internet), I feel like this rushed course just has me paying rent for the massive SOMA building -- and that's really it.


I've already started two businesses (Red Scooter being my second), so right now I need access to two things:


1) a CTO who will own/champion the website, rehaul it, and help to growth hack it

2) Help with marketing and traction


Will I get this from FS, or will I only learn about that from videos? I know what I need already...I need to be able to mingle with influential people (inside and outside of my batch) to see if I can get a CTO/business partner, and retain a growth hacker, as well.


So, that's concern #1.


Concern #2:


I don't know anything about FS...so when I did some more research, some sources say that FS has been around four years, while the website says copyright 2014, and some online articles say that FS has been founded in 2014. Further, for a four or five-year-old company, there are very few followers in the AngelList, Facebook and Twitter communities.These inconsistencies are glaring and it's surprising that FS hasn't really bolstered its social media image or cleaned up the confusion on Google.


Concern #3:


YC has a very money looking website, with no ads, and use of a gentle, off-white space. They spent a lot of time and money making sure that their image is as clean and reputable-looking as they are themselves, it's clear that they are curating an image, and that's a good thing, because it shows they care. I know this is a very nit-picky point but one of my mentors told me that the first thing I should do before connecting with any business is to check out their website.


The FS site has some hack-ey cartoons, poorly-made videos,and the jpgs used do not have clear resolutions...furthermore,there is an ad at the bottom of the landing page.


Please do not take this personally; this is not an attack, but a well-meaning e-mail from a seasoned entrepreneur who is looking to make actual headway with my business, not just learn about topics. I need to see that that is possible with FS, and so far, there is no convincing information online that that can happen.


Concern #4:


A gentleman named Tomo (who is this??) sent me an email saying I've been accepted and without much of an introduction or preamble, gave me pricing options upfront. This felt really weird to me, because a) getting into an accelerator is a huge deal and usually -- unless you are 500 Startups and have a reputation -- never charges beleaguered and broke students and entrepreneurs, and, b) once you've been accepted into an accelerator, you have access to phone numbers and mentors, immediately. This doesn't seem to be the case here, as Tomo neither left a title under his name (to let me know how he's affiliated with FS), nor did he provide a phone number where he can be reached (or any number, to anyone, for that matter). I was instead directed to a link of FAQs.


Concern #5:


Apparently, someone has asked (in the FAQs) about companies who have graduated from FS. A very unsatisfying and vague answer was given, with no specific company names mentioned. I too would like to know (before I plunk down my entire savings) if there were any companies that got Angel-funded or Series A'd from any of the FS batches. If so, who are they, how much money did they get, what equity percentage did they give up,and what are they doing now? If you go to the YC (or any reputable accelerator site), this information is proudly stated upfront, as a testimony. Perhaps of all things that would make me feel confident, it is this, and it's very concerning that such testimonials haven't been put on any of FS's pages.


Concern #6:


I have already put out the APB on FounderDating to see if there is any other information on FS, since the articles on Google are mostly (if not all) complimentary. I have yet to see a balanced view of FS from the eyes of a critic or a batch mate...so far, FounderDating -- which has very active threads -- has given no feedback. I should probably hear back from a few people by COB. If you are interested in hearing what other founders have to say about FS, let me know -- this is very inside stuff and it may be of value to you.


Concern #7:


My website fits NONE of FS's wish list (which includes wearable tech, etc.). NO reason was given as to why I was chosen (which would seem a fair thing to ask given that my website was a Hail Mary application for your type of accelerator). Why do you have faith in my company, which has an extremely good premise and promising idea, but poorly executed web site? Why do you have faith in me? I have no tech background whatsoever, and am an MBA with a humanities undergraduate degree...


Concern #8:


If I remember correctly, applying to FS required me to fill in about 3-4 fields, almost as if I were onboarding to a social media site rather than putting my company into the capable hands of many seasoned advisors. Compare this to YC's application, which is extensive, requires short essays and videos. I feel like I was chosen just to pay your rent, since a sort of "mass email" effect could be felt reading Tomo's acceptance letter to me.


So, as you can see, I am having a lot of doubts, but still want to be part of your batch. It's just as important for me to interview you, [Names Redacted], as it is for you to ascertain my readiness for such a program (and to take what little money I have left in the bank). I have asked some very tough questions, but I hope these are met with patience and understanding rather than a defensive response. I mean well and want to add prestige to FS (I succeed wherever I go -- not because I'm smart, but because I leverage every opportunity to the max).


Thank you,I look forward to your response.

Mael Caldas
0
0
Mael Caldas Entrepreneur
CEO & Co-Founder at bkper Inc.
Hi Leena,

Didn't you receive any response yet?

Cheers,
Mael
Steve Hoffman
2
0
Steve Hoffman Entrepreneur
Captain of Founders Space
Hi Leena,

I wish you would have actually participated in our program or at least come to meet with us, so you could see what we do and how it works. You are assuming so many things which are not true.

I'm not sure where you got many of your facts from, but I'll try to set the record straight below...

First, read what our graduates have to say about our program:

http://www.foundersspace.com/category/feedback/

They actually participated in our program and can give you a good feel for what we actually do.

Next, let me answer your concerns:

1) Our model is pretty simple. While most accelerators take 5% - 10% equity, we take 5% or less depending on the stage of the startup. A startup can also opt to pay a fee and less equity. It's entirely the startup's choice. After testing out a number of different models, we found this works best.

We have not run any 4 month programs. I don't where you got this from.

2) Our accelerator launched in the summer of 2014. Before we launched our accelerator, we spent 4 years educating startups and connecting them with top level advisors. We have a strong community that spans the globe with thousands of followers on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Our Facebook group alone has 10,000+ members.

3) Please take a look at our website, and you'll find an abundance of information about us, our mentors, and our program.

4) We do our best to respond to emails. I don't think anyone who has interacted with our team would say that we are unresponsive.

5) We list our graduates on our website. They are all clearly visible. You just have to look.

7) We don't have any sector preferences. On our blog, we occasionally mention sectors we think are hot. Like Y Combinator, we are open to all types of startups.

8) On our application form, we ask practically the same questions as Y Combinator and other accelerators.

You should at least take the time to come meet with us before leveling such extreme criticism. It's a shame you haven't even bothered to visit Founders Space once.


Leena Chitnis, MBA
1
2
Leena Chitnis, MBA Entrepreneur • Advisor
Content & Publication Manager at NetApp
Yes, I have been in regular contact with the founders, Mael. To their credit, they are responsive, kind, and expeditious; however, they wanted me to take my post down here on FD because they thought it was "negative and inflammatory" -- two things it isn't. I'm doing some honest recon and investigative journalism here. As polite as they've been, I have to say, their stories keep morphing (between the two cofounders).

After I pointed out the sloppiness of things such as the acceptance letter (which was a mass email to anyone who applied, combined with a request for nearly $4,000), the website, etc., these were immediately fixed. They were literally fixed in the last couple of weeks or so. So, I am not surprised that, given my public and extensive reactions on both FD and LinkedIn, they also retracted their wish to receive cash money for their program.

Now that that is cleaned up, I am hoping the accelerator will start to yield some winners. It's very early yet, and they seem like a hardworking bunch, though not very aware of what their competitors in the space seem to be doing, as evidenced by some of the responses I've gotten. That was a big red flag to me. I won't post those here, as the exchange is extensive and involves both founders (who gave me two different stories on various bullet points through several emails and one phone call). However, my overall feeling in the beginning was that the "accelerator" was set up just to make money -- I didn't feel a sincere passion for entrepreneurship when I applied, and my gut's rarely wrong. I got that feeling because of the bullets I mentioned above: the mass/form letter, the random dude who emailed it out with no title or contact number, the immediate and un-ceremonial ask for money (and I do mean immediate), the amount of out-of-cash pocket required to matriculate from a non-proven workshop (it doesn't really count as an accelerator), the clear wish list that was there before but which has now also been "redacted," my acceptance into the workshop despite the fact that my website is rudimentary and my technology fits none of their parameters, etc., etc. If I had paid that $4k, I would have lost all my money and would have wasted my time, while paying overhead for an unjustifiably large space they've rented out in SOMA. First of all, what is a nascent company doing renting out such a space? That's lean bootstrapping 101 -- don't spend money you don't have.

The most bizarre thing was that after I mentioned my several doubts (before putting up this post), my acceptance was no longer valid, as Naomi, the other co-founder, said that I wasn't a fit. Interesting, right? First, I get in...then I do some recon work, and now I'm out. My suspicion -- and consequent complaints and suggestions -- as an average, inquiring consumer was completely justified, given not only their conflicting stories, but the dearth of information online -- all of which is also contradictory and bafflingly complimentary for a program in its infancy.

I am judging the outset of their operations harshly because I am sick of people getting ripped off in the name of accelerators and such hokey "entrepreneurship triage centers" that are popping up everywhere and haven't proven themselves. Graduating from the program isn't enough...if you just sit there for the course, of course you'll graduate. You've paid them $4k, after all. But what I was interested in seeing were success stories. Still, it's early, so they haven't had much of a spread to bet on, so I'll concede that.

So, if you want to merely learn about how to start a business, this might be a good investment for you (now they are saying it's $0 down, up to 5% equity to start)....however my opinion is that if you want to graduate from a reputable accelerator whose very name will propel your business, I still think that YC / 500S are the way to go, obviously (and to a lesser degree, Tech Stars). They are a lot more hands-on, with mentors for each team, project pipelines, famous demo days, reputable VCs attached, amazing speakers...and their applicants have proven traction. They themselves have proven traction as a result. There is less "teaching" and more "doing," and that genius, Paul Graham, is at YC. If you haven't read up on Paul Graham, please do so now. Reading his blog to me is more valuable than attending a million of these so-called accelerators. I've never found such a wealth of insider knowledge from such a gifted writer in the business sphere before. Therefore, YC/500S are places where you can roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty and actually DO business.

Overall, I have no doubt that the folks at FounderSpace are good people with passion for what they've been doing for the past 4-5 years as advisors, but I think the decision of turning that passion into a money machine was poorly executed. At the very least, their outward-facing communications should have been carefully curated, as first impressions are everything. The first impression is the cornerstone of trust. As you can see from my experience, I was not led to believe that the money I gave to FS would be reinvested in me.

But that's just my experience. So I will also concede that it may be completely singular and an anomaly. FS seems very earnest in fixing its program and public appearance, and ramping up the right way.

Leena
Steve Hoffman
2
0
Steve Hoffman Entrepreneur
Captain of Founders Space
Hi Leena,

Unfortunately, we haven't actually met and you haven't been through our program. I'm not sure why you have such a vendetta against us.

As I mentioned, I'm happy to have you come and observe our program to see how it runs. I can also connect you with our instructors so you can chat with them. In addition, if you'd like to come to any of our events or seminars, just let me know.

To set the record straight, we experimented with pricing models after we launched. This is the lean startup method. We wanted to find out what worked best.

Draper University, Founders Institute and many other programs charge fees and have varying models. It's quite common in Silicon Valley.

Again, you should at least take the time to come meet with us before leveling such extreme criticism. It's a shame you haven't even bothered to visit Founders Space once.

Steve Hoffman

Phat Le
2
0
Phat Le Entrepreneur
Co-Founder at LYFEBOAT, Inc. & EiR at Jaguar Land Rover

Hey guys,

Back in December, I got invited to the Founders Space accelerator last minute. My co-founders and I were hesitant to go because we were still college students and we had finals the next week. Maybe it was boldness or maybe it was stupidity, but I skipped my finals to attend Founders Space and since then, I haven't looked back. It was one of the best decisions of my life and a key decision for growth and knowledge for my startup, LYFEBOAT. Now days, I'm taking some time off of school with my co-founders to pursue LYFEBOAT full time. I believe that being part of such a great accelerator was key in laying a great foundation for all of us as founders.


Let me be clear from the very beginning, if you want an accelerator that's easy or slow and boring, then this is not the one for you. If you're looking to be taught by some of the most experienced people in the industry and you're not afraid to be called out for your BS then this is the place for you. The value of this program is far more than what we paid for and continues to give back time and time again through their mentor pool and through the amazing people we met. Founders Space started teaching us before we even got to San Francisco through their members-only emails that give you great book summaries and through their online learning course. Steve Hoffman (Captain Hoff) and Naomi Kokubo have outdone themselves in creating such a valuable program for such a short amount of time that it runs. They brought in some great Venture Capitalists, Angel investors, marketers, and coaches.


Through the teaching of some of the mentors there like Scott Gray and Steve Austin, I have learned a lot in the two week boot camp (unfortunately they only had the two week boot camp during December, I wish I could have stayed longer). Scott was powerful in teaching me how to pitch effectively and how to understand the fundraising aspects of early stage startups. Steve did a great job in teaching us growth hacking, business strategy, and financial complications; everything a tech startup needs to understand.


The two weeks were packed with back-to-back classes, some of which ran over time but NONE of the participants complained because we were all taking so many notes and completely engaged. Nothing was sugar coated either, Steve and the speakers they brought in had no problem calling us out when they felt like we weren't doing something that made us our best. I saw people who walked in there and could not speak in front of a crowd to delivering powerful pitches during the pitch event. All of this value is still valuable to this day because once you are part of Founders Space you are always invited to attend their future classes and you get a great startup kit with all the legal documents and tools your startup will need to survive. I look forward to going back to Founders Space and work in their huge workspace that's right in central SOMA. If you have any questions at all please feel free to reach out to me.Cheers.


Phat Le

Daniil Brodovich
3
0
Cofounder and CEO at TalkToChef and Marketing Strategy Consultant

I've been involved in the first batch of startups, then visited most of second batch meetings (we could do that), and now occasionally visiting the space seeing training of other batches. I can say for sure that the program is evolving and improving each time. Steven as an ex-entrepreneur takes feedback very seriously and iterates till the best satisfaction of people who he is doing this for - entrepreneurs.


All of the instructors were entrepreneurs or work closely with them during their life, so have great first hand experience to share. At the same time, we had guest speakers coming every week who were either the experts in a particular field, either investors who were looking to share what they are looking for and learn more about Founders Space's startups. There are no limits to learn if you are proactive enough and would like to follow up with instructors and guests anytime during the program or even after you graduate. This perfect synergy of in house support and a warm introduction to the outside entrepreneurial world makes the program so successful.


Outside of most other programs, where there is a strict week by week schedule with certain deliverables, Founders Space mentors are very flexible and they tailor their course around your particular needs. They help not like teachers, but more like consultants who want to maximize value for the time with them. The success of such approach results in a number of investments to startups which graduated from Founders Space. One of these startups was TalkToChef.com, which received its next round of financing right after graduation from Founders Space. Mentors, including Steve were very supportive, helping with valuable advice through the process of negotiation.


One of the unique advantages of the program in support of not only the current batch of startups, but also alumni. Even after you graduate you can always reach your mentors and use the coworking space if needed. I use the space relatively often when there is a need to stop for a few hours between meetings in the neighborhood. Since Founders Space conveniently located just next to the Caltrain station, what is pretty much between two worlds San Francisco and Silicon Valley.


PS: wasn't sure where should I add it, but Steve Austin, an Instructor at Founders Space, is one of the most inspiring individuals and the best salesman I've ever met.

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