This week Perth curator, Justin Strharsky, interviews Dash Dhakshinamoorthy and Claire Robertson about why they’ve decided to bring start-up accelerator Founder Institute to Perth.
Why Founder Institute?
Claire: There are certainly a lot of accelerator programs and in most cases choosing to start one will mean developing your own program and leveraging only your own connections. Founder Institute exports their model around the world and have a proven track record: 41% of the 500+ startups that have graduated receive funding within 18 months of graduation. How do they ensure that figure stays impressively high? By connecting each local chapter into a network of awesome mentors and making it possible to bring some of these guys to our city, by providing really amazing course material, and by selecting candidates that demonstrate entrepreneurial prowess.
However, in my view, there are two types of accelerators:
- Location based : Those which are extremely successful in a particular ecosystem like the Y-Comb model. These are like the top universities of the world – they are institutions that cannot be replicated in other locations.
- Those that can be scaled and globalized as they become feeders to the location based ones. These are like the INSEADS other top notch universities that have successfully replicated their models elsewhere.
The FI is one such model that has managed to build the fundamental elements of a successful accelerator (content – community – connectivity : my words) in a hugely scalable model.
- Content – very strong entrepreneurial learning content that underpins one’s knowledge into a solid practical grounding.
- Community – systematically builds a very collaborative community my moving away from traditional economic models of “winner takes all” to a “rising tides raises all boats” model.
- Connectivity – connects the local ecosystem to other global ecosystems. Being connected to the world is a huge skill and entrepreneur cannot live without but the venture more often than not keeps the entrepreneur stuck to his ideas and the immediate ecosystem. This may lead to the fact that the entrepreneur may not be aware of what is going on in his space in other parts of the world which he/she can leverage on. So a good program systematically imposes the need to be globally aware and to keep one’s fingers on the pulse of the innovation cycle.
FI’s vision is to “Globalize Silicon Valley”. Don’t we have enough Silicon Valley mythology and hype in start-up land?
Dash: In my view the terms FI refers to when it says it aims to “Globalize Silicon Valley” is not about any myth or intention to create Silicon Valleys around the world – this is like saying “globalizing the Vatican” – an impossible task.
What it means is to systematically instil the key ingredients of successes of a vibrant ecosystem around the globe such as:
- Building a strong entrepreneurial competence and excellence – through its content and curriculum of teaching entrepreneurs as opposed to teaching “about” entrepreneurship as most entrepreneurship programs aims to do.
- Being mentor driven: where more successful members of the community spend time and money to help others become successful
- Success is Celebrated and failure tolerated and not derided
- Where resources are mobile and boundaries are porous.
By instilling these qualities early in the game, avoids many trial and error an ecosystem has to go through to arrive at the same point by self-learning and this will only waste time and money and may be counter-productive for entrepreneurs. We need to work on the entrepreneurs fast and not try to fix the system from ground zero if we can stand on the “shoulders of giants” and learn from them.
Claire: Yes, I agree we have enough mythology about the valley, but this isn’t mythology. FI’s program is recognised by incubators and investors around the globe as a trustworthy qualifying process that reduces the risk associated with investing in a new concept or idea. The ideas that have been through the FI process have been subject to a rigorous process of validation and development, and the founders that participate are passionate, smart, and entering into “startup land” with their eyes open. The other real strength of the program is the connections the participants form that can help them on their way; it’s more about globalizing the strong, well connected community in the valley, supporting the creation of a strong local ecosystem that is plugged in to others around the world.
Do you see any unique characteristics of the Australian start-up ecosystem worth nurturing?
Claire: Aussies tend not to embrace jargon and buzzwords to the same extent as our American and European counterparts. Aussies are also honest (perhaps a little too much so) about their limitations. The result is a very straight-talking community – I love that.
Dash: As an Asian coming into the system, I obviously don’t have deep insights into the ecosystem. However, the advantage I may have is I don’t have any baggage and see everything with “new eyes” – another skill needed in innovating something.
So the Australian ecosystem in my view:
- Comprises of very smart and educated population and as such can be a very good testing ground for startups before they scale;
- The entrepreneurs I see here are as hungry and ambitious as I’ve seen in other parts of the world – however, there appears to be a fast growing population of young people wanting to be startup entrepreneurs and want to learn from their peers around the globe
- People are more willing to collaborate with each other than their Asian counter-parts. Maybe this is a cultural thing in Asia where people are more secretive and protective of their ideas.
- The most unique thing I see is : there is a lot of “old” money in WA and if there are credible “dealmakers” who can help these folks with old money understand how tech startups operate and help them manage their risks, you probably would witness a steady growth of angels and VCs emerge. To ensure this happens, we need to build entrepreneurial competence and excellence fast, showcase some really solid success stories and build trust quickly in the ecosystem to ensure more old money fuels new innovation.
Is there an unfilled need here in Perth that you think FI will serve?
Dash: The gap as I see it:
From the startup entrepreneurs perspective:
- Lack of a place to learn how to become successful as a startup
- Lack of a platform that can connect the entrepreneurs to the three key elements needed for a successful of startups: money, markets and mentors.
- Lack of seed stage capital and a structured angel investment community
From the perspective of VCs and angels:
- Lack of ideas that can scale – not enough deal frow
- Good ideas are far in-between
From the Old Guard of the Economy:
- No idea what a startup is
- No immediate motivation to help innovation as the business in resources is thriving and there are no “pain points” to create an innovation culture immediately
- Better to invest in “what we know” than what we don’t know.
So the FI closes all these gaps through its education, connection to global mentors and its events. Every single of its events can be a big education for all the above target audience.
Claire: The inaugural Startup Weekend really underlined to us that Perth is a city full of motivated people with great ideas. The difficulty when you start work on a new idea is very often staying on task, setting deadlines for yourself and your co-founders or team, working out what you need to do and who can help you do it. It’s also hard to start something whilst working full-time. This has been the kind of feedback I’ve heard from the teams from SWPerth and FI offers a great solution to those issues: you can do the course whilst working since the sessions are at night, you have a mapped-out curriculum that ensures you think through all the critical elements of your new startup, and you’re held to account with progress reviews from awesome mentors periodically during the program. By the end of the 16 week period you will be ready to launch.
FI calls itself “The World’s Largest Accelerator” but much of the program focuses on a curriculum of training. What’s the ‘accelerator’ bit?
Claire: Deadlines are hard to stick to when you’re working alone or in a small group, on a project that isn’t generating revenue yet. It is really common for startup businesses to take many months or even a couple of years to get to launch, by which time technology may have moved on, or you find that you’ve developed a product that is not something people actually want and will pay for… and you’ve spent all your cash! FI keeps the founders in the course on task, picks out the really critical things they MUST attend to, and reduces the “head-scratching time”… you know, all those minutes, hours, days you can spend thinking about what task to tackle next.
What can you tell us about the curriculum?
Dash: The curriculum has 3 components to it and will be divided into 15, 3.5 hour sessions:
Phase 1: Idea Refinement Stage
This stage has the following topics that entrepreneur needs to cover:
- Startup Basics
- Vision and Values
- Startup Research
- Naming and Branding
Phase 2: Business Set-up
Has the following components:
- Startup Legal /IP
- Cofounders Hiring/Firing
- Product Development
Phase 3: Launch Planning
As you can see these are the key elements any startup entrepreneur needs to know. The overarching philosophy of the content is: experiential enterprise education. Its a content not about theories or rhetoric but what working knowledge one needs to know to build a successful venture.
A good example is on playing a chess game or playing a musical instrument – both require creativity and rigor. The content infuses rigor, the community and connectivity bit opens the entrepreneur to serendipitous discoveries and the combination of both is in my view lethal for the creation of a successful startup.
FI does testing of applicants and you as local leaders. What kind of testing?
Claire: The application process is part subjective and part quantitative. The subjective part is all around you, what your ambitions are, what ideas you have and so forth, the quantitative part is designed to test both your fluid intelligence – they type of intelligence linked with ability to learn quickly from experiences and identify patterns – and also to identify what personality traits you have that make you more or less well suited to entrepreneurial work.
Dash: Basic logical thinking, fluid intelligence and pattern recognition.
Any entrepreneurial opportunity is a result of three key things that trigger what one would call the EA – or entrepreneurial awareness:
- Domain knowledge
- Social networks
The test is to establish the fitness level of an entrepreneur and where he can build on quickly.
What was the strangest question on your tests?
Claire: If I told you I’d have to kill you!
Dash: The questions challenged my “business as usual” thinking to its core – it forced me to think outside the box and also forced me to realize there are 2 levels of thinking that goes on in a person : the “visible” logical thinking bit and also the other more subtle thinking bit that goes on behind – the subconscious mind. The entrepreneur need to harness both.
FI also has an equity sharing pool – what can you tell us about that?
Claire: In my opinion this is the “secret sauce” in the FI model… Successful graduates of FI have the option to donate 3.5% of the equity in their company into a Bonus Pool. The mentors and graduates of that semester, the local Co-Directors (me and Dash) and FI HQ all share the upside of that equity when any of the companies in the graduating semester have a liquidity event or exit. So that means you share in the success of your classmates, and also that myself, Dash and the mentors you’ve met are all personally incentivised to continue to support one another after the semester ends and help the graduates move towards incubation and/or funding.
How do people learn more or sign up?
To learn more about FI and the course visit the website.
To complete the interest form (first step in application) please visit http://fi.co/apply/perth/fetch. We’ve negotiated free applications for Perth’s first semester.
Our first event, the Startup Pitch Bootcamp will be November 20th, 6.30pm at Spacecubed – it’s free and everyone is welcome whether you plan to apply or not – come along and see what we’re up to! Follow @PerthFounders on Twitter to be the first to hear when tickets become available in the next few days.
Claire: If you would like to catch up in person with me, email me at email@example.com and we’ll arrange a time to meet at Spacecubed – our major sponsor and the venue where all FI events will be held.