# Sunday, 23 June 2013

The intensity at AcceleratorHK is cranking up. This week was action packed and eventful. On Wednesday we had a trip to visit the offices of Hong Kong startup Frenzoo. At Frenzoo, founder Simon Newstead walked the teams through the early days at Frenzoo, its customer development process, and what it was like being in an accelerator himself. It was great going to visit a living, breathing startup in Hong Kong and “get out of the building.”

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On Thursday, we had Roland Yi, director & General Counsel at Gilkron Limited as well as a law professor at HKU, come in and spend time with us on intellectual property (IP) rights and laws. We talked about patents (avoid!) and trade secrets, copy rights, and trademarks. Very informative stuff for the teams.

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On Thursday night we had a rooftop pool party to wish one of the team members well as he is headed back to the US.

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On Friday night I did a presentation about raising money for startups. We covered angel investment, stock options, vesting,  dilution, valuation, venture capital, liquidation preferences, and lots more. This session was open to the public and despite being on a Friday night, we had a great crowd (and lots of beer.) Of course it was a PowerPoint-less presentation!

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On Saturday we had a big day. We got up early and traveled to Shenzhen, China and visited the component markets in Huaqiangbei. These are the component markets for the global supply chain and they are something to be seen.

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Here is a photo of some of the teams inside of SEG Plaza, one of the most famous of the component markets.

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After a few hours at the component markets and adjacent consumer electronics markets (lots of phone cases, batteries, chargers, bluetooth speakers were acquired…), we headed to an evening of teambuilding with the staff of Social Agent, who’s founder, Mike Michelini is a mentor at AcceleratorHK. We went bowling, played pool, and ping pong with the staff and had a great group dinner and drinks before heading home to Hong Kong.

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A great week and more to come next week. Stay tuned…

posted on Sunday, 23 June 2013 04:55:15 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Sunday, 16 June 2013

It is hard to imagine that we have already passed the one month point! After five full weeks at AcceleratorHK, most of cohort 2 is starting to move past customer interviews and into serious MVPs. Paul and I keep reminding the teams that they are still testing assumptions with the MVPs and not building “beta” releases for “feedback.” (The classic mistake that leads down the road to tradition product development.)

On Friday we had our first “Prototype Day” or when the teams make their Demo Day presentations to a group of mentors and have live Q&A on their business model. This is different from each of the Friday check-ins that we do when the teams may present on what they have done the prior week or practice their investor or potential customer pitch that they may be doing that week. While Demo Day is a full two months away, we want to get everyone started and get feedback on their business from more folks than just the cohort and Paul and myself. During the course of the program we have two Prototype Days, usually around the end of the first month and at the end of the second month. (Prototype Day #2 is July 26th.)

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We had four rock star mentors show up:

The six teams made their presentations and the mentors gave them tons of feedback. The mentors really challenged the teams to think through their models and underlying value prop. The most surprising thing to the teams was that they had the “curse of knowledge” since sometimes the mentors had no idea what the team’s value proposition was all about. Some mentors even provided feedback on the team’s logos. Smile It was great for Paul and myself to take a week off from providing all the constructive criticism.

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The teams soaked up the feedback and after a few hours of presentations and Q&A, most of us went to the local Japanese place for lunch.

After Prototype Day, we had a scheduled rooftop party, however, it had to be postponed due to rain. Instead Team Portugal and I went to a MVP dinner and got to play with an “Appcessory” or rather a device that turns your iPhone into a pinball machine.

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We have a big week coming up, two mentor visits, the last public class for the “Early Venture Survival Series”, and of course all the regular 1:1s and check-ins! Stay tuned…

posted on Sunday, 16 June 2013 07:23:42 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# Saturday, 08 June 2013

We are four weeks in and the teams are progressing nicely. We had another week focused on Customer Discovery where the teams have been talking to a lot of potential customers and continuing to refine their segments. MVPs are getting built and several teams are moving into Customer Validation. One team flew to India to meet with potential customers for a few days and also dropped in on Telerik India!

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We had two mentors come in this week, one was a talk by a local entrepreneur who decided to walk away from his business after his partner and investor changed the terms and would not negotiate. His only course of action was to walk away from the business and the story was very powerful. We also had Steven Kopec from Turner Broadcasting Asia come in and work with the teams 1:1.

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We also had the third installment of Paul and Steve’s “Early Stage Venture Survival” talk at the Good Lab, which was open to the public. Paul spoke for two hours on the value of metrics to a startup. (And how to avoid vanity metrics.)

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We also did our first batch of Pecha Kuchas, one team member even did one on Austrian Economics. Smile Paul has also started to pronounce Pecha Kuchas properly, giving up his futile attempt to change the native Japanese pronunciation of the word.

On Friday we did our weekly check-in and changed it up by having people do an elevator pitch for a team that they were not a member of!

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After our checkin we went to a BBQ hosted by one of the teams on the rooftop of one of our mentors.

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Next week we start to take a look at the MVPs, and we have some mentors coming in for the +30. Prototype Day presentations. (Can you believe that we are at this a month already?!?!) Stay tuned…

posted on Saturday, 08 June 2013 05:49:44 (Eastern Daylight Time, UTC-04:00)  #    Comments [0] Trackback
# 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