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Hackernoon logoThis is How I Won Pioneer, A Fully Remote Accelerator by@shun

This is How I Won Pioneer, A Fully Remote Accelerator

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@shunShun Yamada

CEO & Founder of Remotehour Design a more seamless way of remote working.

This is a story about how I won ‘Pioneer’ and what I learned during this program. Pioneer is a fully remote accelerator and it’s a community where entrepreneurs/indie makers help each other improve their own businesses.

There are two stages. The first one is the Pioneer Tournament. Anybody can join even if you have no product. You are supposed to submit a weekly report every Sunday. You’re supposed to write about how you did this week and how you will achieve it until next weekend. Every Monday, Pioneer asks you to choose the top two reports of the other participants. They repeat this ten times, so you read about 20 products every week. I really like it.

When you reach the Global Top 50, you’re eligible to get selected to Pioneer Winner by an Expert. It’s the second one. Once you’ve been offered, you become a Pioneer. They have a standard deal for Pioneers: 1% of your company. In exchange, you’ll receive:

  • Access to a network of elite founders
  • A one-month remote startup accelerator program. Their team, with help from their network of advisors, will mentor you on the basics of starting a business, fundraising, product-market-fit, hiring and more.
  • Free Stripe Atlas company formation.
  • Mentorship from some of the world’s most successful individuals.
  • Participation in the Pioneer Demo LiveStream, which may help you fundraise.
  • A free round-trip plane ticket (and help with associated logistics) to Silicon Valley.
  • $6,000 in Stellar lumens, including $1,000 completely unlocked and $5,000 locked up for two years.
  • $100,000 in Google Cloud credits.
  • $100,000 in AWS credits.
  • $1,000/month in GitHub Enterprise credits for 2 years.
  • $2,000 in Airtable credits.
  • Free Figma Pro for 1year.
  • Free MixMax Small Business.
  • $50,000 in Segment credits.
  • Free G Suite Basic for users for new domains. 25% for existing accounts.
  • A 1-year subscription to The Economist.
  • A 1-year subscription to Wolfarm|One.

A lot! I especially appreciate the community and mentoring opportunities. Although I moved to the States last year, I have no networking or resources. I was a complete outsider to me before joining Pioneer. Also, I started to get replies from VCs and some investors thanks to the Pioneer brand.

I am Shun

I’m from Japan and I’ve been working as a freelancer for five years. My skill set is software development but my current job is web direction/product management. I currently live in San Francisco. However, all my clients are in Tokyo and the development teams are in Vietnam. For me, it’s really difficult to schedule a call with them every day. The time difference is the issue. So, I built Remotehour.

What is Remotehour?

An effortless office hours for freelancers.

We’re not a virtual office for a team like Tandem. It’s a system of one-to-many relationships like the relationship between a freelancer and their clients, a professor and their students, or an investor and their founders. It’s hard to schedule calls in these circumstances while working remotely.

Remotehour solves this issue. It allows your clients/customers to talk to you anytime you’re available during work hours. You don’t have to schedule or request a call with them any more. I was the first user because I had to talk to several clients everyday.

Also, if you were a lawyer or an adviser, you can get paid through a call without booking. We added a ‘pay-to-talk’ feature to make their business more seamless yet.

Build MVP

I have started experimenting with Whereby. I shared their room URL with my clients and development teams, and I had been opening this site during my business hours. It worked! They really liked it. However, it has two issues. The first issue is that each client is in the room at the same time. The second issue is that there is no way of being notified when I am in the room.

I requested an API from Whereby. But they declined. So I decided to create the product on my own.

On January 12th, 2020, I committed initially. Firebase + React is totally enough;, you don’t have to spend time early on building the server development too much early. The faster the better. :) I defined MVP as:

  • The host signs up.
  • The room is online when the host is in a virtual room.
  • The host customizes their status.
  • The guest, with just one click, can talk to the host
  • connect(twilioToken, connectOptions).then(
      (room) => this.roomJoined(room),
      (error) => {
        console.error(`Unable to connect to Room: ${error.message}`);
      }
    );

    It was my first time building a call feature. Twilio was so helpful. I didn’t have to code a lot for this. It took me 14 days to build it all. The deadline was the date of the Product Hunt Annual Meetup. That was when I had a pitch to Hoovster then.

Do things that don't scale

I built Remotehour on my own. The next step was to find someone who wanted it too! I joined some freelancing communities like NomadList, Remotive, and Workfrom and sent DMs to each member every day.

Almost all my messages were ignored. But a few users tried it out and some of them are still using us to this day!

Register Pioneer Tournament

I knew Pioneer but had not registered yet. My friend Tinnei suggested that I join. It occurred to me that I wanted something which manages the product progress. (WIP is awesome for managing daily To-Dos!) So, Pioneer sounded like a great fit for me.

One of the biggest things they offer is feedback every week about LP. I’m not a native English speaker and also a sort of novice when it comes to startups. Any suggestions and feedback were really helpful. I learned that LP should be understood by everyone, even my mom.

The main feedback was:

  • Can’t understand what it is.
  • Why not Zoom?
  • Who uses it and how it helps them.

I received a lot of negative feedback early on. And I tried to fix it one by one. Eventually, all of them gave me positive feedback :)

Launch on Hacker News

On March 17th, 2020, San Francisco was locked down due to COVID-19. Every company had to work remotely. There were a lot of tweets about Zoom and Remote Work in my timeline all day. So I decided to launch Remotehour to the public.

Two days after the lockdown, I publicized the product on both Hacker News and Product Hunt. The title of the post was “10x more seamless than Zoom”. I got a bunch of comments:

Positive:

I just tried this.. and it worked amazingly well. It was smooth and seamless.
Nice implementation Shun. I’ll get my team on it!
Having a video call was never so easy. For people who enjoy and value video calls :)

Negative:

I hate the title. “10x”? How is the 10x more seamless? It is a push to talk video...many alternatives exist.
> Sign in with Google Pass. I hope others find it useful, though

As a result, I got 82 points on Hacker News and more than 300 votes on Product Hunt. I had calls all night from all over the world! It was so amazing.

Offer from Pioneer

Pioneer offered to me “Pioneer Winner” on the first Monday after I launched. I said “Yes”.

I incorporated the company called Remotehour to join Pioneer. In the program, there’re a lot of live sessions. For example, a family meal that helps you to get to know each other in the community, an office hour where you can ask Daniel Gross anything, and some mentoring sessions.

We had some active users. However, It wasn’t clear who they were and how well they used it. So, I started researching our users by searching a username on Google, asking them via an email, or directly to them directly through Remotehour.

Most of them are experts of sorts, who have several clients/customers. The freelancer has several clients and they each have a workspace. Remotehour helps them to work together through a shared URL.

Our mentor suggested that I add a kind of “followers” feature. That’s a group of customers, a group of users, a group of their students, a group of their portfolio companies, or a group of their twitter followers. When the host opens the door, it notifies them that their door is open if anyone wants to stop by for an impromptu one-to-one call.

Then, I added a feature that allows the host to manage their customers and notify them when they’re online. There’s also a system that automatically posts a tweet on Twitter when they’re online. These features help the host to receive calls more.

I tried to add a new feature every week. And I successfully got more users to keep using Remotehour. The weekly retention rate is 77.7%. Not a large number of users but they’ll be very disappointed if they can no longer use it.

Pioneer Livestream

Pioneer organized a Livestream on 6th, May, 2020. This kind of ‘demo day’ is a phenomenal opportunity to showcase our work to the Pioneer community and public at large. And I joined as a presenter.

For me, everything is hard. I’m not good at English and it was my first time pitching in public. But they had some opportunities for us to practice before the demo day.

To tell you the truth, I was really nervous. And I tried to keep smiling during the pitch: it was the only way to express how exciting Remotehour is. I got some feedback from Rahul Vohra, Founder & CEO of Superhuman. These pieces of advice were really helpful to improve the product more.

After Livestream, I got a DM from an early-stage VC.

A fully remote accelerator

Pioneer is the one and only opportunity to get a chance to grow your own business. It’s totally different from any other accelerator of Y Combinator or 500 startups. If they were focusing on recruitment interviews, Pioneer is more focused on recruitment internships. They review us from not how we are, but how we grow.

I highly recommend you to register with Pioneer and get welcomed as a new member. I really appreciate Daniel, Jackson, and all of my Pioneer friends. Also, Stephen, my best friend, he always helps me. Thanks! My startup journey is just beginning. I’ll dedicate my time to building the product people the rest of the world want. It’s so exciting.

Previously published at https://medium.com/@shyamady/how-this-japanese-won-pioneer-a-fully-remote-accelerator-94d73007e4b2

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@shunShun Yamada

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CEO & Founder of Remotehour Design a more seamless way of remote working.

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