Going all in: The accelerator phase


In our story so far, I had an idea, wrote a grant, recruited two co-founders and we all worked on some games to teach math with story lines based on Native American history. After 2 1/2 years or so, we quit our jobs and devoted full-time to 7 Generation Games.

What happened? Boom Startup Ed Tech Accelerator

We were accepted in the Ed Tech cohort for Boom Startup, an accelerator in Salt Lake City, Utah. It’s quite a different program now, but at the time, it was pivotal for us, for several reasons.

I’d say the biggest thing the accelerator did for us was move 7 Generation Games from being a product to being a company.

If you are thinking of joining a program, I’d recommend looking for these things.

  • Cash – The cash we received from Boom initially was enough that we could all pay our bills while we spent most of the next three months in Utah. I know there are programs out there that offer advice and ‘connections’ but no money. Totally not interested. I could go on about this at length and probably will, some other day.
  • Perks as good as cash – Every accelerator claims to give you $100,000 or $250,000 in perks, but do they really? I wondered at the outset if these were just going to be something like coupons for 50% off services we didn’t need. Happily, the vast majority of perks saved us a LOT of money. Since we actually use Amazon Web Services, those tens of thousands in credits went directly into our bottom line. The lawyer did our incorporation as a Delaware C-Corp at no cost. An extraordinary CFO helped us with our cap table. There were a number of smaller benefits, like being featured in their newsletter but those were the main ones. All of these easily added up to another $50K. This is not always the case with accelerators but it was great for us.

  • Introductions to investors – Can this accelerator actually introduce you to people who will give you money? If the answer is, “No”, I would take a pass and look for one that can. We met two investors specifically through Boom Startup who invested enough money to let us continue full-time for a few more months. In retrospect, though, I am really grateful to the investors we met who didn’t give us money, too. Let’s be honest, I’m not particularly grateful that they didn’t give us money. What those initial meetings did do, though, was get me used to pitching to investors one on one. This was something I’d never done before. Getting experience with the types of questions asked and getting feedback from those investors was super helpful.
  • Assistance putting together our seed round – this included a lot of things. Pitch training is heavily emphasized by every accelerator I’ve seen. What’s equally important, though, is what comes before and after the pitch. What is your valuation? How did you arrive at that? What is your SAM, TAM, SOM ? I don’t think I’d even heard those terms before. I’d just had my head down focused on developing games that taught math and testing if the kids’ math scores really improved. I’d never written a convertible note. Boom had legal and finance people to help us write one.
  • Demo Day with people able and willing to write checks. – I’ve been to too many Demo Days where no one there really has the money and/or interest to invest in the startups on stage. With Boom, we received one check that day, another within a couple of weeks from an investor that was part of their program. We also received checks from three other investors that we already knew but I am fairly certain they would not have invested as soon, as much or at all without the preparation we had through the accelerator and giving a sort of deadline. Ymes, your friends and acquaintances may be willing to invest but having a date and minimum amount can expedite that.

What does an accelerator actually do?

Well, if it’s a good one, it accelerates, which is defined as:

to cause faster or greater activity, development, progress, advancement, – dictionary.com

Be forewarned that it can accelerate the doom of your company, and that may not be a bad thing. I have seen a few instances when it became clear in an accelerator program that one or more of the co-founders just did not have the commitment that it was going to take to succeed in a startup. When our CEO, Maria Burns Ortiz, missed her daughter’s first day of second grade, she had to face the fact that there would be many sacrifices like this if she was going to move 7 Generation Games from the MVP stage to a profitable company. Fortunately for us, she made the decision that the sacrifices would be worth it.

Maria

One thing that most accelerators do is require that all of your team be on site for some of the program and some of your team be available for all of it. If, like many founders, you already have beta customers to support, you are going to be spending eight hours or more each day in the accelerator program sessions and activities, then spend another 6-8 hours responding to customers, fixing bugs, etc. You may find yourself, like Maria did, flying back and forth between LA and Salt Lake City so many times that the flight attendants knew her baby by name. Did I mention that she had an eight-month-old when we started this program?

In our case, Boom Startup accelerated the decision of the three co-founders devoting full-time to the company. It also accelerated our decision to open our first seed round. Because we were doing a seed round, we did another Kickstarter to, well, kick start, downloads. We released a new game sooner because we wanted to honestly tell investors we had games for Chromebook and iPad as well as Mac and Windows.

What did we actually DO in the accelerator? Well, that’s my next post.

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