0 to 100… What we learnt on Ignite.
From the outside looking in, life in a tech accelerator must seem like a lot of fun. A group of about 30 young, enthusiastic, motivated entrepreneurs are shut away in an office suite for a few months to tear down, analyse, and develop business ideas around the things they’re all passionate about. And they get money to do it. Sounds pretty good.
The truth is though, it’s actually far, far, better.
Winning a place on the Ignite100 accelerator, part of the TechStars network, was a huge opportunity without which Usable would probably not be in the position it’s in today. That’s not to say it was easy. It wasn’t. Life in an accelerator is an intense, stressful slog with daily challenges and no free time. Giving up time with your loved ones, your friends, your hobbies and even the time to read a book or get a decent night’s sleep isn’t easy. But you cope. You have to.
Having people criticise your ideas is difficult too. Something that you genuinely believe is a million-pound winning strategy that could change the world is absolutely worthless if you can’t engage with other people to enthuse them and make them believe in what you’re doing. You soon learn that you’re not as good at doing that as you think you are. Sitting across a desk from a successful business owner who has done what you’re doing, often without the support that a programme affords, and hearing them say that they don’t think you’re right is painful. Again though, you deal with it. You cope. At first that coping takes the form of not believing them, perhaps even telling them that you think they’re wrong. But then you learn. Sometimes they are wrong, everyone is. Often they’re not though because they’re not talking about theory – they’re talking about their experience. The opportunity to learn from other people’s mistakes is incredible. For these mentors to volunteer time and knowledge is amazing.
It’s not just the mentors that help you pull your idea apart either. Being in a highly-focused environment with a group of other entrepreneurs means you get to see what they think about what you’re doing too. You comment on what they’re doing. If you’ve tried to explain your latest thinking to someone for 20 minutes and they’re still not getting the point you know that there’s something wrong with your message. If your new friends are bouncing around positive and excited about what you’re telling them you’re doing you can be reasonably sure you’re on the right track – they’re getting it. That’s another important feature of an accelerator – friends. We’ve met some fantastic people through the programme, people we now consider to be firm friends. These people run their own companies, work for other people’s companies, they’ve helped us run ours, we’ve helped them, and we’ve all ended up in the pub occasionally. The friends we’ve made on Ignite are awesome people, without exception.
All of this time on an accelerator culminated in pitching for, and ultimately winning, £100,000 in investment for Usable. Frankly, applying for the programme was the best decision we’ve ever made.