The 500 Experience
In October 2012, I was lucky enough to hear Dave McClure say, "we'd love to have you in 500." This short statement placed me onto a trajectory of self-growth, building a great product, making great friends and being part of a family.
Quite often I'm asked,
How did you get into 500?
I asked. That was it. I know it sounds relatively easy but the truth is, it wasn't. In fact, it took almost a year. You see, in my research, I heard that to get in 500 Startups, you need a referral. I met Dave McClure at SXSW in 2012 and since then, I've been cultivating our relationship, never pitching Dave but always staying on his radar.
When I was finally ready to commit to Hunie, I told Dave and asked if he'd refer me and he said yes. The rest is history.
So the most popular question is:
What was your experience like at 500 Startups?
I think the better question really is, what did you make of your experience of 500 Startups. The reason being, there's no set experience and every founder who've been through the program would have their own. Whether that experience is good or bad, I think it comes down to what you make of it.
Contribution to my Growth
I've always thought I've come a far way on my own, as an entrepreneur and designer but first day in 500 Startups is humbling because Dave makes it clear that we don't know shit. His opening speech is one of urgency and accelerated my growth.
My first mentor session with David Chen at 500 was also quite revealing of my weaknesses. I'm not ashamed to say I got demolished in what I pitched especially when I was naive to think a photoshop mockup would impress. That meeting with David taught me to look at the big picture and stop seeing what I do as a project. Am I here to work on a project or build a thriving business? If it's the former, I'm in the wrong place.
There's many other meetings like this where I learned on matters of business, design and metrics. As a designer, I looked at things only on a product level and given my startup, from designers standpoint. I learnt to balance this. Like any good school or educational program, you reach the end wondering if you learnt everything you could. That's 500.
One of the biggest take away from the 500 experience is public speaking and pitching. As it winds down to demo day, they get obsessive about pitching. For about a month, every day, there's pitches to mentors who don't hold back on letting you know that you suck but constructive about it. At the end of it all, I can say I'm ok with pitching or speaking to a room full of 200 people.
Making Family & Friends
I believe one of the most impressive things about 500 is that its team see the entire network as family. At our goodbye dinner, Dave made that point even more clear,
You might fail, your startup might die, you can be at the farthest corners of the Earth but you're still 500.
Everyone wants to be part of something bigger than themselves so it's reassuring to know one can be part of something so special. From the way Dave speaks of 500, you know he's got a bigger mission and vision planned and we're all part of it whether we know of that vision or not.
Learning from Mistakes
Remember I talked about the experience and what you make of it? Well, I made a few mistakes that hindered a better experience. For starters, I had my head down way too often because I was focused on completing my MVP. Just to be clear, I had a product and traction but decided to 'pivot'.
500 can be extremely busy with activities and if you're building product, either that progress or your experience at 500 will suffer. I skipped on many activities like tours to Facebook, largely because I was focused on product. I was short sighted in how this could help me foster stronger relationships with my batch-mates.
It is for this reason, my biggest recommendation to anyone is to join well after MVP, well after product market fit and have some traction. It's my belief that this would also allow you to focus on building relationships, learning from the family and leveraging 500's brand to fundraise.
500 Startups will set the foundation for will be the school for entrepreneurship. I think very few are looking at it that way until 500 itself starts to. For now, in my mind, it's definitely earns its spot as one of the world's best accelerator.
And accelerator 500 is as they accelerated me, my vision and my business. As a single founder, it was probably more valuable to me that many others. My only regret was not making more of it. However, that's when you know something is great, when it leaves you wanting more.
Thank you Dave. Thank you 500 team. And thank you batch 5.
If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section