Inside the 500 Accelerator is a weekly series by 500 founder Troy Sultan. This week, Troy shares tough / precious lessons on managing the psychological side of being a founder, plus the #1 risk of being surrounded by smart people with proven track records (yes, they are all over the place, and yes there are risks).
The minute we decided to join 500, I knew I’d write about it.
It was personal for me — aside from anecdotes from alumni and awkwardly interviewing the 500 staff, there just wasn’t much information out there on the experience itself.
Joining is an accelerator is a big decision. You’re committing time, equity and focus, some of the only resources you have as a young company. Yet, it’s hard to know what you’re getting in return. What’s on the other side of the brand?
I wanted to see a calendar. A curriculum.
I wanted to know what each day would look like. That’s why I decided to write this. I wanted those who came after us to have the information we wished we had. I wanted to provide that unrestricted view into 500 Startups. (Read to the end and you shall be handsomely rewarded.)
Also, I knew the time would pass faster than I wanted it to and I hoped documenting it in detail would help me remember the time more vividly.
Nearing the half-way mark
7 weeks in, writing has produced a side effect I hardly expected: it’s slowing down the time.
Reflecting has helped me replay the memories, the learnings and the experiences more than I would have otherwise. That’s been valuable to me.
That said, writing these posts has been challenging. It’s a time of rapid change for me and the company, with both identities constantly evolving.
What’s most interesting about this accelerator experience is that it’s accelerating change. We aren’t standing still, and both me and the company are growing in crazy ways, in awkward ways, in ways we haven’t expected and writing has in some ways been a way to be conscious of those changes.
Where did we start? Where are we now? Where are we headed?
What’s most valuable to you?
When setting out to write, I was largely inspired by Blake Masters’ Essay Notes of Peter Thiel’s CS183 class at Stanford. I wanted to open-source our learnings at 500 in the same way Blake did with Thiel’s teachings.
It’s hard to describe, but it wasn’t personally satisfying for me to write this way. I felt empty transcribing what I heard, and I was also concerned that such dry content wasn’t entertaining to read or valuable for you, the readers.
So this week, I’m writing more openly about how I’ve felt in the last 3 weeks, rather than regurgitating what I’ve seen. I want a real relationship with my readers, and that’s hard to do without putting myself out there.
In that spirit, I’d love to know:
What do you want to read? Do you find more value in agnostic content or do you want to know about my personal journey? I’d love for you to comment or tweet and let me know.
I also want to thank Ariane, who gave me the courage to switch things up this week.
Accelerating change — the Good and Bad
While accelerators surely help to accelerate learning, growth and other productive parts of building a company, the pressure, timelines and groupthink tend to equally accelerate the challenges of being a founder. I touch on a few of them below.
Managing the mind
Far and away, the most challenging part of founding a company is managing your own psychology. Emotions are both fickle and cyclical, and no one is more aware of that than early-stage founders.
Today I think we’re taking over the world and tomorrow I’m sure we’ll fail within a week. These cycles have accelerated during 500, where there’s increased pressure and heightened emotions.
A few months of this is humbling. I’ve learned to accept it as reality, and I’ve embarked on a mission to manage it. I’m familiar enough with the extreme high/low pattern that I’ve learned to battle it with existing memories of having been there before.
During the highs, I know instinctually a painful low is an email or text notification away. During the lows of micro-depression, I hang on to a thread of knowledge that I’ve been here before and it’s never been as dire as it seemed in the moment. I have to trust that it won’t be this time either. It too will pass. There’s another high around the corner.
Net-net, I’m learning to balance.
We’re constantly surrounded by smart people who genuinely want to see us succeed.
People who’ve built and sold companies, raised millions of dollars, and now give back by advising companies like ours toward success. Each has opinions about our business, our team, our strategy, our product, our pricing. They’re experienced, intelligent people with sound, logical opinions.
And that’s the problem. More often than not, advice we get from one mentor or advisor is at complete odds with what we get from another.
It’s common to leave a meeting after receiving great advice (and even clarity) on a strategic issue we’ve struggled with, and the very next meeting get equally convincing, opposite advice.
500 warned us explicitly about this.
We’re learning to cope by trusting ourselves. We’re learning to listen to our advisors and understand the “Whys” behind their advice, but treat each opinion for what it is: just one data point.
No one knows our business as well as we do, and only we have the full picture. We know our customer’s pain. We know why we started this company.
We also know the right advisors will support our decisions and trust that we’re equipped to make these calls.
The Struggle With Time
So many opportunities, speakers, workshops, mentors, learnings, people, events.
SO. LITTLE. TIME.
There’s constant (peer) pressure to participate, usually at the expense of focus. If time wasn’t finite, I’d absorb everything, using what’s useful now and storing the rest away for a rainy day. But will listening to this particular speaker help our company today, or will we be better off if I keep my headphones on and crank? Can I justify an hour of time with potential inspiration?
It’s been unsurprisingly hard to focus with so many unique resources in our peripheral. It’s easy to convince myself that one office hours missed could mean one less node in our network come fundraising time. It’s easy to believe there’s long-term ROI in getting to know batchmates, which takes time. The list goes on.
Same goes outside of the 500 curriculum. It sucks to admit but I’ve started to decline meetings that aren’t relevant or useful for us today. I’m a huge believer in paying it forward, but time seems to be slipping away, and I’m having to live with being a little selfish — at least temporarily.
Of course there’s been many challenges aside from these that seem to be magnified during the accelerator, but I’ve battled these few consistently popping over the last few weeks. As we face more and I become self-aware enough to recognize them, I’ll be sure to share.
Thanks for reading 🙂 Let me know in the comments or on Twitter which content you prefer and I’ll consider it for future posts. Also, if your company is hiring, check out ourplatform for automating your outbound recruiting.
Ok, ok. I give in.
If you’re still reading and you’re interested in 500’s curriculum, here’s a list of the last 3 weeks of happenings outside the keyboard banging:
- Office Hours w/ Artem Gassan
- Dinner night w/ WorkAmerica
- Fundraising 101 w/ Laura Behrens Wu of Shippo
- Term Sheets 101 w/ Neil Dugal and Gunderson Dettmer
- #Art of the Pitch w/ Andrea Barrica
- Pitch Structure 101 w/ Mike Sigal
- Live VC Meeting w/ Marvin Liao & Sheel Mohnot
- How NOT to run a VC meeting w/ Andrea Barrica
- Body Language Coaching, objection handling and DISC w/ Andrea Barrica
- VC Office Hours w/ Redpoint, General Catalyst, Foundation Capital, Creandum and more
- Lunch & open feedback session w/ VCs
- 500 EIRs Talk Fundraising w/ Ed Spiegel, Louise and Carl Fritjofsson
- Fireside Chat w/ Sasha Orloff, CEO of Lendup
- Pitch Prep w/ Marvin Liao and Ryan Lawler
- Startup Branding w/ Yiying Lu
- Fundraising Q&A with EIRs — Arjun Dev Arora, Rebecca Woodcock, and Selcuk Atli
- Campfire circle — no holds barred Q&A w/ Tristan Pollock
- Pitch Prep with Ed, Arjun, and Rebecca
- Play on Purpose team building w/ Jenny Sauer-Klein
Still want more?? Read previous posts:
- Inside the 500 Accelerator, Week 0: Growing Fast & Getting (Highly) Uncomfortable
- Inside the 500 Accelerator, Weeks 1 & 2: Content, Progress, & the Original Name for 500 Startups
- Inside the 500 Accelerator, Week 3: Marketing Hell
- Inside the 500 Accelerator, Week 4: Growth Experiments, Startup Legal & Tequila