One of the earliest strategic decisions that I made as CEO was to join a startup incubator, also known as a startup accelerator. As a first time tech startup founder, I knew that I had a lot to learn if GoShare was going to be successful. Coming from a strong sales and marketing background, my hope was to learn about aspects of business that I was not as familiar with including: finance, operations and engineering. After doing some research on the best startup incubators, I learned that these programs come in many shapes and sizes. Most startup accelerators take equity in exchange for incubation and a cash infusion. Other startup incubators such as EvoNexus, are actually non-profit organizations who do not take equity in exchange for acceptance into the program. Their mission is to develop the startup ecosystem in their community. I believe that there are many benefits to joining a startup incubator, some are obvious and some we discovered along our journey.
The first time we applied to EvoNexus our application was swiftly rejected. With an acceptance rate of less than 10% the competition is fierce! Upon further investigation I learned that I would need to find a technical co-founder and have a MVP (minimum viable product) if we wanted to get in. All incubators have different requirements and Evo’s seemed to be logical and reasonable. I spent the next 6 months focused on accomplishing those two goals. I reunited with a former colleague Assaf Karmon, who is a talented software engineer. Together we began building our MVP. Right around my birthday in April of 2015 we received the great news that GoShare was accepted into the EvoNexus program starting in May 2015. We were recently granted an extension that keeps us in the program until April 2017! *Reminder that persistence is paramount to success*
The following benefits describe our experience at EvoNexus and may not apply to other incubators. I suggest researching all of the available startup incubators and find one that is a great fit for your company.
1. Mentors and Advisors
One of the primary benefits to joining a startup incubator is having access to a team of mentors and advisors. I am quite sure that we wouldn’t have reached the modest level of success that we have enjoyed without the group of mentors and advisors that EvoNexus provided. I would like to take a moment to thank Josh Komenda, Gerry Widmer, Austin Neudecker, Adam Riggs-Zeigen, and all of the EvoNexus mentors and staff for their guidance during GoShare’s infancy! These C level executives took time every week out of their busy schedules to review our progress, strategies, tactics and provide critical feedback. Having a strong group of leaders who have already survived the startup phase to bounce ideas off of has proven to be a great learning experience that I will always be grateful for.
2. Free Office Space
Not having to pay rent is an obvious benefit for any startup company trying to bootstrap. However, the fact that the office space is free is not the only value. The office set up is bright and open which provides for a lot of collaboration within our team and with other companies in the incubator. In my experience, these open environments correlate with startup success. The office also comes with some great amenities including a full kitchen with a Kegerator, endless cups of coffee, pool table, ping pong table, and of course foosball. This work-hard/play-hard culture makes going to work 10-12 hours a day a lot more enjoyable.
3. Founder Meetings
One of the most valuable parts of the incubator has been the opportunity to learn from my peers who are in the exact same position that we are in. Twice a month a group of CEO’s get together in a round table format to talk about: a win, a loss, and an ask. An open forum gives this group of really smart people a chance to put their heads together and solve real business problems that are typical across most young organizations. I love the meeting format of celebrating a small win, talking about a loss, and asking your peers for help. It gives everyone at the table a chance to get some value out of the meeting.
4. New Customers
Being in a startup incubator can prove to be a great testing ground for new products. GoShare focuses on moving and delivering for businesses and we were able to find at least a dozen customers from within EvoNexus who were kind enough to test our product in real life and give us candid feedback. The constructive criticism forced us to think from our customers perspective and make product and operational improvements before we started to increase our marketing efforts. Big thanks to everyone that tested GoShare in spite of the low quality of our MVP :).
The patronage is reciprocal at EvoNexus meaning that we are also a customer of some very cool Evo companies. Halograph for example, provides GoShare with cutting edge fraud protection software that has helped us minimize losses by blocking users with a high risk of fraud using AI and machine learning. LeadCrunch uses artificial intelligence to supply our sales team with high quality sales leads (including decision maker and their contact info)! When we needed to transcribe videos for our website we used Rev for super fast and low cost transcription services. These are just a few examples of the B2B support that startups at Evo provide each-other. When we look back in a few years I think this may prove to be the greatest value to our business in the long run.
5. Bonus Perks
There are so many unknown costs when you start a company. It seems like everyday there is a new expense that needs to be accounted for. Luckily being a member of EvoNexus’s startup incubator has some additional perks in the form of discounted software and services that are vital to most tech startups. A great example is the $15,000 AWS credit which covers all of our server costs for the next few years. Our server costs are relatively low but saving a few hundred bucks a month is a big deal when your are bootstrapin! Another company that offers a substantial discount to Evo co’s is Hubspot which can be helpful for getting your inbound marketing efforts off the ground.
Shaun Savage – Founder & CEO