# Saturday, 01 June 2013

Another great week for the teams at AcceleratorHK. This week at the 1:1’s Paul and I started to push for the teams to build MVPs around a core assumption or two. We also brought in technical mentor and Telerik customer advocate, Dhananjay Kumar (DJ), to talk about hybrid apps and also give an overview of Icenium and Everlive for the technical co-founders. DJ stayed a few days and worked 1:1 with several of the teams. (A team from cohort #1 even came up to visit DJ as well..)

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We also had some agile training with a session I delivered at The Good Lab. I talked how rule #2 of the “Customer Development Manifesto” by Steve Blank is to pair agile development with customer development. I told lots of stories how I screwed things up when I did my startups. That seemed to work well. Smile

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We then went on a field trip to visit Makible, a Hong Kong startup that is building the Makibox, the world most affordable ($200 USD) 3-D printer. I bought a Makibox for the cohort to play with and we should have a beta version to play with in a week or two.

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We also had a great round table with Makible’s founder Jon Buford about startups, funding, and early revenue.

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From there we had the first outing to Happy Valley Racetrack!

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While we had some doubters in the house (Team Portugal), most of the cohort followed my winning strategy on horse betting. As usual I walked away a winner. Smile 

It was a super hot and sticky night in Hong Kong but we were able to have a ton of fun. Two of the local HK guys in the cohort had their first Happy Valley visit, it takes an Accelerator to get them to Happy Valley!

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The next day, the teams wanted to relax somewhat and they took advantage of the Good Lab’s awesome bean bag area. Looking at the guys in this photo you can tell that we are in a mobile accelerator!

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As usual we had our founder talks and Friday Check-In. We also finished the week with a Friday afternoon mentor visit from Mike Michelini who worked with the teams on their social media strategies.

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We have another action packed week up ahead, stay tuned!

posted on Saturday, 01 June 2013 06:34:15 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 26 May 2013

This week was “Get the Hell Out of the Building” week with a focus on Customer Development. Most teams went out and started to talk to potential customers about their offerings. We had a mentor, Joel Semeniuk, come in and spend all week with the teams to work on customer development and their business model canvas. He spent a few hours with each team working on how they can go out and do customer development.

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In addition angel investor Tytus Michalski came in to mentor the teams this week as well.

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After hours we had a social event on Thursday. The entire cohort attended the launch party of a cohort #1 team, SurroundApp. Earlier in the day, some teams got to meet with Remi Caron, a mentor, but also the CTO of SurroundApp.

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This was a lot of fun because most of cohort #1 was in attendance. When the drinking went late into the night, the cohort #1 folks started to warn cohort #2 of what happens when you come unprepared for the Friday Check in the next day. In addition as the night progressed (and the beers flowed) we had everyone come up and do their elevator pitch, even the guys from cohort #1. Always be prepared!

The team from Portugal, started to mingle with the locals. Smile 

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On Friday we had our first “Friday Check In”. At this meeting we have each team do an elevator pitch and we all evaluate it as well as give pointers. The group took the constructive criticism very well. We also did a “scrum” where each team spoke about the week behind and the week ahead as well as committed to the dates of their weekly mentor email.

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Lastly, each team did their 10/20/30 pitches. Yes, we do them starting on Week #2! (Now you will appreciate how much work goes into demo day!) We had two mentors in the room (Joel and Marcel) giving feedback as well as Paul and myself (and the other cohort members.)

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This week we have a technical mentor coming in, a field trip visit to Makible (a HK startup building the Makibox, a $200 3-D printer), as well as some agile training (which is open to the public). The week will continue to focus on customer discovery and validation. Stay tuned…

posted on Sunday, 26 May 2013 04:13:47 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, 16 May 2013

I can’t believe that after the months of the planning and reviewing of applications the Accelerator has already started up again. I also can’t believe that week 1 is already over! The next 13 weeks are going to just fly by.

We have a total of six teams doing cross platform mobile development. The teams are working in the following spaces:

  • Media/Second Screen Applications
  • Micropayments
  • Travel
  • Logistics
  • Social Media
  • Virtual Currency

Week one was great, we had orientation and discovered we have team members from four continents and born in the following countries: Argentina, France, Portugal, Malaysia, Indonesia, USA, UK, China, Canada, HK, and Russia.

After Paul’s overview of customer development, we broke up the teams into four groups and gave them a startup weekend style assignment to work on a business model and customer development exercise in the following four categories:  mobile health, language learning, dating, and fashion. We split up each team so no co-founders are on the same team. After two days or so of doing customer development we had the teams come in and make a presentation in front of a panel of judges (made up of four mentors of the program.) One team had projection problems so we made them “be agile” and present without slides. Smile

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The winning team won an expensive bottle of Sake and chocolate. (The only judging criteria was which team did the most customer development.) I kind of guilted the winning team to share the spoils with everyone. Smile

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After the mini-startup weekend/customer development exercise, Paul hosted a customer development seminar at the Good Lab. This was open to the public and some members of the previous cohort came by for the seminar as well.

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We also had our first mentor come in and visit us! Vinod Menon came in to speak with the teams today. As the founder of Knowledge Works, Vinod runs an Accounting as a Service (AaaS?) company and spoke about the ins and outs of incorporating in Hong Kong.

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Being a short week (Friday is a public holiday in HK-The Buddha’s Birthday!) we had our founder talks and Friday check-in on Thursday. We learned a lot about each other this week.

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We also all went to a local HK meetup, TDHK for our first social. It was suggested that we do the founder talks next week at a bar, to get better stories.

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Now time to get cranking on the projects! Stay tuned for the next update….

posted on Thursday, 16 May 2013 19:55:03 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 07 April 2013

Last month, I had the honor of speaking at a TEDx event, TEDX HKUST, here in Hong Kong. This one was hosted by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. The crowd was standing room only and packed with excited and eager students. There were 8 awe inspiring speakers, plus me. Smile The speakers were:

My talk was on innovation and how startups cause disruption. After describing how much the economics of startups has changed, I encouraged those willing to start a business to give a try. I focused on how the culture in Hong Kong is a banker’s culture and how the Tiger Mom’s as well as HSBC need to change in order to support innovation and entrepreneurship.

posted on Sunday, 07 April 2013 10:45:44 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, 04 April 2013

Similar to collage application season, it is accelerator application season with many major accelerator’s deadline looming. (AcceleratorHK’s own deadline is April 15th.) Since Paul and I run two accelerators, we get bombarded with questions from people applying to accelerators with the same question: “what do you look for in an application?” Here are five things to think about.

Criteria 1: The Optimal Team Size and Dynamic

Yes, you have to be be a “rock star” or a “hacker” to succeed. That is a given, however, when I see an application with only one applicant, I usually stop reading it.  Too many times I see a tech guy who stumbled across a cool piece of IP and thinks that they can “build it and they will come.” Or a smart “business guy” who underestimates the technical aspects of the problem and thinks that they can just outsource the IT (big mistake, see my opinion here on why you need a tech cofounder.) You can’t do this alone.

The optimal team size is two, one tech guy and one business guy as equal partners. The working relationship between them should be ideal, and they should like each other and be able to joke around with each other. Lastly, and equally as important, they should be passionate about the problem space that they are in. If you don’t have two awesome cofounders that compliment each other and work well with each other, don’t even bother applying.

Criteria 2: “Fund for the Pivot”

The reason why we like good people and solid teams is that you most likely won’t be working on the same project when you leave the accelerator then what you have applied with. So don’t try to convince me that you are the next Facebook, show me your 5 year financial projections, and god forbid, your patents (immediate rejection.) The whole purpose of an accelerator is to put you through the process of customer development and have you via MVPs/prototypes and rapid iteration from feedback build something that people actually want, not what you think they want.

First you need to have smart and talented people that are open to coaching and changing their offering. Second you need them to be in a hot space with huge opportunity.  If the original idea fails, but you are in a hot space, most likely you will “pivot” into something really awesome. As Paul Grahm of Ycombinator famously says “fund for the pivot”, so sell yourself and your space, not necessarily your idea.

Criteria 3: Demonstrate That You Will Take the Program Seriously

Accelerator programs are full time, not nights and weekends. If you can’t commit 100% of your time for 14 weeks, don’t bother applying. When I see the note on an application that says only one member can come to the program full time and the other guys will “drop in from time to time”, I usually stop reading. The value of the program is the time you spend in it. I get it that you have friends, family, and other obligations, but if you wife is due to have a baby three weeks into the program, you may want to consider sitting this round out and applying next year.

Criteria 4: Rock Your Elevator Pitch

I have watched hundreds of application elevator pitch videos. You have to rock it. Again, don’t sell the startup; sell your ability to sell the startup. Show me that you can sell snow to Eskimos. Be creative. One team filmed their elevator pitch in an actual elevator! I still remember one video where one team sat at a table and introduced themselves, the coder never looked at the camera and only  looked up when called on to say “I code” and the biz dev guy said that he also did pyrotechnics (and a funny explosion animation triggered.)

Skipping the video, producing a piece of crap, or focusing just on the product is an almost automatic rejection.

Criteria 5: Demonstrate the Ability to Execute

At the end of the day, can you do the job? You have to demonstrate your ability to execute. Also make sure you are not in love with being in a startup (a vanity entrepreneur) and actually want to run this business forever. We all want to be the next Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, so remember they also stayed at their companies for 20+ years. (Steve even came back after he was kicked out.) Mark Zuckerberg has been working at Facebook for almost 10 years. Don’t do this because it’s cool, do it because you want to change the world!

posted on Thursday, 04 April 2013 20:18:49 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Back in February, Accelerator HK cohort #1 had its Demo Day. As promised, here is the entire Demo Day video where the six teams made their presentations. Enjoy.

posted on Wednesday, 20 March 2013 01:08:51 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Friday, 15 March 2013

Earlier this week we opened the applications for the second cohort of AcceleratorHK, a startup accelerator I co-founded here in Hong Kong. As I broadcast the information out into my network, some former colleagues who never really liked me replied back smugly: “oh you are doing an Accelerator too? I heard there is an accelerator bubble.” Even the guy who I talk to at the gym told me that there are “a million accelerators out there.” Businessweek ran a story today about how the Accelerator bubble is going to pop.

While there is a proliferation of accelerators, there is no accelerator bubble. According to Wikipedia an economic bubble is:

An economic bubble (sometimes referred to as a speculative bubble, or a market bubble..) is "trade in high volumes at prices that are considerably at variance with intrinsic values". It could also be described as a trade in products or assets with inflated values.

The .com era was a bubble. Crazed investors pumped tons of money into speculative companies and inflated their values to levels not justified by true market conditions. Ditto the US and European housing markets last decade. But accelerators? Not so much.

For starters accelerators are cheap to put together (compared to raising $100 million to start your own Venture Capital fund) and usually done with your own money. (Note, no investor money was used to start AcceleratorHK, it is 100% funded by its parent company, Telerik.) Maybe people are referring to the companies going through the accelerators, that the proliferation of accelerators is drastically raising the valuations of all those companies that go through them. The standard practice of an accelerator is to invest $15,000 for 8% of equity, making the book valuation of these early stage companies under $200,000. Far less inflationary to valuations than a “friends and family” round. Actually the proliferation of accelerators are driving down the valuations of early stage startups! Considering that all accelerators operate on the same terms, we are more of a price fixing cartel than a speculative security in a bubble.

A few weeks ago I was speaking at Hong Kong’s Barcamp on the topic of the New New Startups Economics. My thesis is that the cost of starting a new business is about 20x cheaper than it was 15 years ago. The cost of going from business plan/idea to your first paying customer is measured in the thousands of dollars, not the millions or hundreds of thousands of dollars. I argued that accelerators are starting to replace the early round of seed capital such as “friends and family”. Since it is less risky and cheaper to start a company and there are more people willing to jump in, the combination of education and capital that an accelerator brings to the table is really the superior model. We have lots of inexperienced, but passionate people out there wanting to start a business in all parts of the world. As Eric Ries says: entrepreneurship can be taught. Accelerators teach entrepreneurship by doing. The best way.

Then someone asked me if there are too many accelerators and if I see any contraction coming in the space. I said “No way! We need more, not less accelerators!” Accelerators are like startup entrepreneurship universities. The world needs more of them. More accelerators mean more startups which mean more disruptive technology.

Will some crappy accelerators start to pop up? Sure. But they won’t survive and the market will self-correct. Maybe someone should do a “Zagat for Accelerators.” Winking smile

PS, applications close on April 5th for AcceleratorHK.

posted on Friday, 15 March 2013 01:26:19 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Thursday, 14 March 2013

AcceleratorHK, the world’s only startup accelerator focused on cross platform mobile development with HTML5 and Phonegap, has opened its applications for cohort #2 to be based in Hong Kong. The 14 week program runs from May 13th until August 16th, with Demo Day the week of August 12th in Hong Kong.

The application is here and will remain open for three weeks, until April 5th. The short listed companies will be lined up for interviews in early April and the final selected companies will be notified by mid to late April. As explained in our “About” page, we will be making a $15,000 (USD) investment in each company in exchange for an 8% equity stake as well as be providing co-working space for the 14 weeks in Hong Kong as well as a program in Customer Development.

The best applications are teams of two co-founders, one “business” and one “technical”. The team should have an idea and be ready to do customer development on that idea-even be willing to start over if that is what the results of their customer development tells them.

Hong Kong is an awesome place to customer development and validate your mobile app. The place is mobile crazy and everyone has a smart phone.

The first cohort of AcceleratorHK graduated on February 6th at their Demo Day. Take a look at how much fun it was preparing for Demo Day. Smile

AcceleratorHK Demo Day Prep from Stephen Forte on Vimeo.

posted on Thursday, 14 March 2013 01:07:37 (Eastern Standard Time, UTC-05:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback