The entrepreneurial life is tough enough. With lots of challenges and decisions, that either define your success or failure!
One of these decisions is joining an accelerator program, as a means to either funding or mentorship or both.
While starting Knowledge Officer, I had the pleasure to join Entrepreneur First; one of the top accelerator programs in Europe. Throughout this post, I’m going to share my learnings from this journey and help you answer these two main questions: Shall I join an accelerator program? And if yes, would it be Entrepreneur First?
First things first
It may seem obvious, but many people tend to accept shiny and bright opportunities, without actually knowing if they need them, or what they would gain from them. In order to decide if this opportunity is what you need, you have to ask yourself these questions first:
- What’s my startup state and needs now?
- Will an accelerator “accelerate” my progress and increase the odds of my startup’s success?
- Is joining an accelerator the ideal choice? Or is it the best among my available choices?
- How much am I willing to give in terms of equity and is it worth the support I will get?
If you asked yourself these questions, then Hurrah! You took the first steps on the correct path!
Now that you’ve picked the accelerator program you’re interested in, you’ll need to do some basic research about it. Here’s what you’re looking for;
- Knowing the accelerator geography.
- Knowing the list of “graduated” companies.
- Getting to understand the accelerator investment thesis.
- Checking the list of advisors, mentors and venture partners.
- Researching media coverage of previous demo days.
- Checking the application criteria and deadline.
Now that you’ve decided to join an accelerator and have actively been looking for information about EF, I want to help you by sharing deep insider insights.
I am generally against the “current” accelerators model and behavior. 90% of accelerators take equity and give you nothing that any experienced and committed angel investor can’t give for less equity, higher quality, and closer engagement. While some people might say that accelerators can give you some guidance and experience if you are still young or not backed up by a long professional career, I would say to solve this, you’d better join a startup and work there 1–2 years till you get the needed experience and maturity.
I joined EF because they have a different model than most of the other accelerators. They choose talented individuals, without necessarily being a part of a team, or even have a specific idea in mind. I strongly admire this investment thesis and that their support is exceptionally high touch, which is something you won’t easily find in other accelerators or incubators.
My Experience with EF
I joined EF as part of the 8th cohort in March 2017, after a series of interesting and challenging interviews! I applied with a primary Product Edge (read more about edges) with a technical background. The program started with a trip to the town of Okehampton, in the English county of Devon, where we were almost isolated from the outside world, focusing only on getting to know more about EF and exploring opportunities to work with other co-founders.
These 2 days were some of the best in my life; being surrounded by a group of extremely enthusiastic, passionate people from all over the world. We had ex-googlers/facebook, those who have sold companies for millions, Ph.D. graduates from elite universities and smart young people who are on their way to change the world.
Through the rest of this article, I’m going to highlight some parts of my EF experience and share my thoughts on each of them.
The EF team is extremely talented, friendly and well empowered. Each member has the necessary experience to back up what they are trying to do. Many times you’ll find accelerators who recruit committed and hardworking people, without making sure they are buying into the accelerator mission or have the necessary skills to maintain a high-quality program.
The only downside though, is that the EF team size is small compared to the number of companies in a batch(over 70 cohort members). You will almost always find the team overly stretched and thus not spending a considerable amount of time with each individual. I believe this is something they are currently working on; having raised a round for scaling the team. One more thing to admire about the EF team; their continuous efforts to evolve!
The Venture Partners
The BEST part of the experience! EF has managed to bring together some of the top-notch advisors and entrepreneurs in the UK and worldwide in order to be able to give their startups the right support and advice. Most, if not all mentors have either co-founded their own startups, sold their companies or have been working in venture capitals for many years.
VPs have periodic check-ins with their teams and keep a close eye on their progress. What’s interesting to note is the number of startups every VP is advising. With the current ratio, it’s sometimes hard to be close enough, especially at that early stage of building a startup. This result in a sense of self-dependency the founder establishes, which is greatly positive still!
The Investment Thesis
EF believe they can build an innovative startups factory by focusing on bringing the most talented people on earth together and help them find an idea as well as a co-founder.
One of the most important questions you could ask yourself is “Am I a startup founder?”. You could be extremely talented but lack the much needed “founder’s DNA”. This is something EF tries to assess during the interview. I have seen cases where I would argue that even though you are a genius engineer, you are not an enthusiastic entrepreneur or founder. I personally believe that this experience would be more beneficial to you if you have an idea which you’re either about to explore or have already worked on to a good level of depth or at least tried. Having worked in a startup before can help as well.
The Alumni Network
Every member who joined EF, whether he gets funding or not, joins a network of all the past EF cohort members. The network is very useful for sharing experience and knowledge. Also, the EF team is always supporting the Alumni and making sure to fulfill their needs. It’s a unique network and very hard to find somewhere else.
Finally, I have to say that this was a unique experience and an unforgettable journey. I have made a great number of good friends who continued the program and started promising journeys including GTN, Migacore Technologies, CargoMate Technologies, Portify, and Wild.
Have more specific questions? Leave your comment and I will be happy to reply and share more insights.
Ahmed El-Sharkasy is CEO & Co-Founder of Knowledge Officer. I have been working in startups for more than 7 years now between research, engineering and product management. You can read more about my journey with Onfido before Knowledge Officer here.
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