Alyne just completed the Barclays Techstars 2017 accelerator program in London and I wanted to recap on our experience after the dust has settled but while the memory is still fresh. The past 14 weeks have been the toughest in our past careers - but also some of the most exciting and rewarding.
Techstars is one of the leading global accelerator programs. You probably only read the success stories of tech companies - but less is written about the tough roads to success. In most cases this road involves one of the three leading accelerator programs (Techstars, Y Combinator, 500 Startups). This also explains the highly competitive process of being accepted to the program. In our case, we were one of 11 selected companies from almost 700 applications. The program in London had the added benefit of being a joint effort between Techstars and the innovation network of Barclays called Rise. This allowed us to gain access to two incredibly powerful networks - Techstars and Barclays.
The program itself is a highly challenging full time engagement. The selected FinTech companies, however, were mostly quite advanced in their development, meaning we all had companies to run in parallel. Add our travel from Munich to London to that and you begin to understand how shocking my calendar has looked these past months. Triple bookings have become the new normal.
Three stages structure the duration of the program.
- Mentor Madness
I can’t overstate the “madness” aspect of this phase of the program. For the first four weeks you have up to 10 meetings per day, three days a week. This adds up to connecting to close to 90 highly relevant mentors with great value to your FinTech network in the U.K. Our mentors went to extraordinary lengths to help Alyne and we needed to stay on top of follow ups and actioning their support. Basically you grow a powerful network in 4 weeks that would regularly take years to build.
- Building PoC
The second phase of the program is focussed on building and executing proof of concepts agreed in the previous phase. We had great advocates within Barclays that were eager to leverage Alyne’s capabilities in a proof of concept. Steve Burman gave some insights on Barclays point of view in his introduction of Alyne on the demo day (see below). Working with the Barclays teams was our priority in this phase in addition to our business development activities through our mentors. For Alyne, we had the added challenge of finalising our funding round with investors in Germany in parallel to this. Needless to say, our calendars remained packed.
- Demo Day
Before starting Alyne I was a Director for Deloitte, so I’m very familiar with presenting to executives when the stakes are high and preparing accordingly. Nothing, however has so far compared to the intensity of preparation for the demo day. From shaping the message perfectly for the audience, presentation technique, acting lessons, vocal training, animations, information design - experts are brought in to help the companies with all of this. Watching our fellow cohort companies develop from rough drafts to the actual presentations they delivered was absolutely amazing. Here’s Alyne’s presentation with a great introduction from Steve Burman at Barclays.
We have been asked by everyone, from friends and family to investors, what we were able to take away from the program, so here’s Alyne’s take on the program.
- Underwhelming Value
The only thing to mention here is the direct meetings on demo day. We made some good connections, but I didn’t get the feeling that the doors were being kicked in for the current cohort. Part of the reason may have been, because most meaningful connections already happened during the program so the urgency to meet on demo day was not that strong. Catching up with our mentors again face to face was probably significantly more valuable than the meetings with new connections. The visibility and momentum we gained from the demo day of course was huge - so overall we still gained significant value from demo day.
- Expected Value
It’s no secret you give up equity to join the program and we entered with certain expectations in exchange. We made a very conscious investment decision based on these expectations - we didn’t join for the experience alone. Specifically we wanted to use the program as a launchpad into the U.K. market, sign Barclays as a client and gain access to the Techstars network. We achieved all of the above so we consider all of our objectives met.
- Surprising Value
The first surprise for us was that we didn’t only gain access to the Techstars network but also to the Barclays network. They brought in some of their corporate customers and partners such as Northern Trust, Capital One, Huawei and others to meet with us and leverage common interests. We are currently structuring PoCs to launch within the next weeks out of this network - something we weren’t expecting. What became more and more evident during the program was the value of the cohort. Techstars obviously puts a huge amount of effort into selecting smart and high performing companies - but above all, a cohort of companies that are not competitors. The value of this network is incredibly powerful and the fact that almost all the companies are remaining in common office space post program is a strong indicator of that. Finally, the engagement of Barclays was surprising. We know the process of selling to large organisations and we know that what we achieved in a few short weeks with Barclays would be otherwise nearly impossible. Barclays helped us navigate approval processes and actively connected us within the bank. The organisational buy in and support enabled our success in a way we certainly did not anticipate.
After completing the program, what regrets remain? Immediately, the limited bandwidth to follow up with every new contact to the degree we would have liked to comes to mind. The time is simply too short and our resources spread too thin to chase every lead. I hope the network is strong enough for us to continue our follow ups post program. One thing that would have helped, is to have a larger business development team in place during the program to catch leads as they developed. I also believe that some of our fellow cohort companies did a better job of leveraging the available support from the program associates. Again - limited time and resources constrain the parallel topics you can pursue during the program. Personally, my greatest regret is having missed out on some of the group activities and after hours drinks due to lots of business travel. I would have liked to spend more time with these impressive, driven and fun individuals outside of the office and hope we will have plenty more opportunity in the future.
Overall we as a founder team are convinced of the value the program delivered to Alyne, how Barclays demonstrated commitment to their investment in innovative technologies and how Techstars remained accountable to the companies in their network. If you are a startup considering applying to the program, we are happy to share our insights with you in the true Techstars spirit of “give first”.