It is hard to believe that only a year ago, I met Veronika Sonsev and we first talked about founding an accelerator program for female founded companies in the mobile space. We knew we needed a third partner who could help us build the accelerator on a full time basis so that Veronika and I could continue to lead our own companies which were both at an early stage. Kelly Hoey was a dynamo we both had met and in a short time, she was on board. In the fall of 2011, we laid out our strategy and formally announced in December with the firmly held belief that if we built it, women would come. Our hunch that there was a need for a female friendly accelerator was proven when our brand new accelerator with not one, but two filters – female founded and focused on the mobile space – received 140 legitimate applications from the US and around the globe in a matter of a month.
Being the first time through our program, there were a few challenges along the way. The space we sublet was not ready on time, one of our companies decided to postpone attending because the CTO had a change in circumstance, and one of our companies decided two weeks ago to do a complete pivot and changed from an adaptive learning mobile company to a hardcore data transfer and processing cloud-based technology accessible on any mobile device.
My co-founders and I had a large network of professional friends who we amassed through our careers for decades on Wall Street, in internet and mobile technology businesses, and the law. We were blessed with an extended team of experts, which spanned from developers and technologists, to public relations and media professionals, to successful entrepreneurs and venture and angel funders, who served as mentors for the WIM companies. We had a number of guest speakers from organizations like Twilio and Golden Seeds that shared words of wisdom to the WIM companies.
My co-founders and I knew we would be different from other accelerators and I can already name a few of the reasons we are. We selected our companies based on merit and when I walk into the accelerator office near Union Square, I am struck by the diversity of the founders. No one fits any mold or easy description. However, all the WIM companies have a something in common. First, they are all very strong on their technical capability having talented developers in the founding team. Second, all of the companies are building tech solutions that have never before existed. Great tech companies are created by the marriage of idea people and those that can turn those ideas in to a product and company. We witnessed true invention over the past few months as teams went from ideas, and vision, and an ability to see the world as it might be, to building something that never existed before.
We realized a challenge in pitching to outside investors was actually explaining how the world might look rather than just showing off a product that was easy to understand. The three months were exhilarating with every company making monumental progress in product development, customer feedback and customer acquisition, as well as honing in on the financial and business model. It is hard to grasp the power of a well-run and intimate accelerator until you see it first hand. For WIM, it was mentorship on steroids, meaning each week we were customizing the help and content for each company given their individual needs. Because we are small and could really focus on each company, we could quickly change course when we felt it was needed. We will have to determine how this model can scale in the future because we don’t want to lose the intimacy and direct connection we have to each founder and each company. We never want to have large classes and become a “factory”. We are the opposite of the “spray and pray” mentality that seems to be the description of the strategy of some early stage investors.
Working with the WIM companies so closely over the past three months has also made me think about the capital raising process and how venture capital reminds me so much of the mentality and practice I saw in my years on Wall Street. That is, the name of the game is to produce a large return for the investors in the shortest amount of time possible. The definition of success is focused on making money and not always on establishing independent, ongoing and sustainable businesses. I completely understand this given that I have invested in early stage companies before. There is a natural tension between building a viable business and having to produce a return for investors. That can, at times, lead a founder to make decisions that they might not make when considering the long-term. This reminds me of public companies focusing on quarterly earnings rather than building a long-term strategy with higher payoffs down the road.
During the next weeks the first companies in the WIM Accelerator will meet with potential angel and venture investors. I am personally elated about each one of the companies and the power of the founding team, the technology created and the business prospects. I believe these companies will be successful and can raise money and even have noteworthy exits or a sale to other bigger companies down the road. Knowing the WIM companies, the founders will evaluate their opportunities with a keen mind toward building a game-changing business and balance the pressure to produce a quick return as they accomplish other goals.