Six months ago, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life — to quit my job and found a startup. The decision was made harder by the fact that my wife and I are expecting our first child in July. We both knew that startups are a roller-coaster ride of uncertainty.
Our company’s acceptance in an accelerator program became the trigger for that decision. Queen City FinTech notified us of our acceptance for their spring batch in late December.
As the accelerator program comes to an end, I’m able to reflect on the experience and how it has changed us. You might think that I entered the program after having done extensive research on accelerators. The truth is that I got lucky.
After I quit my job in January, I met with a respected venture capitalist and explained our situation. He asked several questions about why we chose this accelerator in particular. Since I was a Top Voice on LinkedIn, he thought I could write a thought-piece on how to select the right accelerator. I was embarrassed when he realized that I was under-informed on the subject. In fact, all I knew about our accelerator program was that it focused on finTech companies.
Nor did I know anything about Charlotte, where our accelerator program was located. John and I hailed from New York City, the financial capital of the world. A move to Charlotte seemed like a downgrade. I was skeptical that the program would provide tangible value, although I knew that it was necessary to build credential. Boy, was I wrong.
John and I have been down in Charlotte for the past 90 days and have been amazed by the value we’ve received from the program. I can break up these takeaways into (1) mentorship, (2) network, and (3) camaraderie.
At the start of the program, we were introduced to 60 startup advisors in the Charlotte area. Some of these were high-ranking officials at banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Ally Bank. Others were successful startup founders at companies like TradeKing, AvidXchange, and DealCloud. After a process of pairing startups with advisors, we were matched with a panel of five coaches. These coaches met once a week with us to discuss business strategy, customer development, or whatever was our most pressing need.
We definitely hit the jackpot when it comes to advisors. Here are a few¹:
Tom Desmond, CFO of TradeKing²
Brian Dennen, former CCO of Wealthfront
Shawn Dorsch, President of Clear Market Holdings
This board of coaches was extremely helpful for us in the early stages of building a company. We received no-nonsense feedback on our ideas and advice on navigating the murky waters of financial compliance. This was, by far, the best value of the program.
Aside from these weekly meetings, we were also able to have informal meetings with about two dozen advisors in the program. We leveraged these sessions to get advice on marketing, partnerships, and fundraising.
Many companies in the program found this network even more valuable than we did, because they sold to businesses. For B-2-B startups in finTech, Charlotte is an ideal spot to grow a company. The city is full of large financial institutions eager to compete in a changing digital landscape.
Like college (but much shorter), an accelerator is a great opportunity to develop lasting friendships. Most of the accelerator startups were not from Charlotte, so we bonded over being strangers in a new city.
Many of us acted as sounding boards for each other. We all shared similar challenges — finding customers, developing product, and raising money. This shared situation helped bring us together.
My final verdict is that accelerator programs can be a huge value-add to startups. In our case, we were able to form an impressive advisory board, grow a network for future partnerships and hires, and grow our company in an encouraging environment. It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but on the whole, it’s been very positive.
Startup accelerators are popping up all over the country, and like with anything, there are good ones and bad ones. I would ask that you be more informed than I was. Do your research before choosing an accelerator and talk to its alumnae. My hope is that you are more diligent than I was, and perhaps, as lucky.
Tom Goldenberg is CTO and Co-Founder of Commandiv, a personal investing platform. If you enjoyed the article, please like and share it!
² Link to Tom Desmond’s introduction of Commandiv — https://twitter.com/TomGoldenberg/status/877651035208261634