Team Coaches partners with Now Sprint! We could not be more excited.
For each of the bootcamps, accelerator programs we did in the last years, covering more than 1 day, connecting, communication and sharing have been a struggle. The more communication platforms are used, the less efficient the whole process. Even sending a letter by post was more efficient 40 years ago and receiving a fax was a moment of delight with an immediate response. In our last Now Sprint! Accelerator program I opted for WhatsApp (mentors did not want, so only startups teams), email, direct and through HubSpot whereas the latter was sent most of the time to the spam folder so I had to ask through direct mail, so one by one in Gmail, to add firstname.lastname@example.org to their contacts. For sharing, I opted for Google Drive where everybody had his/her folder combining nice to haves with the exercises. I was not happy with the efficiency at all. Some of the participants are just on it and always an immediate response, others had to be reminded most of the time through Whatsapp directly. The shared folder as such is great but for 12 teams I was each time doing 12 times the same thing. Or folders were suddenly empty and I got homework through email. It represents at the end of the day a lot of overhead.
Getting in contact with Diego Alvarado, founder of Team Coaches was a light in the tunnel although we still need to start using it. As an accelerator, you get a lot of emails from platforms but they are mostly way too complex, especially for a 1-month program, and way too expensive. The first call with Diego convinced me that we should give it a try as they are also a startup with 2 feet on the ground. We had a great conversation about the what, why and how. It only confirmed my gut-feeling.
I taught Diego was located in Spain as in the URL of www.TeamCoach.es you find “.es”. He speaks Spanish alright but he is from Argentina where he got his Bachelor in Telecommunication. He lived, studied and worked in different places in Argentina before moving to the UK working for Nokia, first to a town close to Cambridge, then Bristol. The moment he moved to the Uk, his wife was pregnant of their first son and today they have 2 boys, 10 and 11 making it a complete family. That is about the only traditional thing Diego did. His father was a Civil Engineer and his mother Psychologist. As the only son, he was supposed the follow the footsteps of his father but his passion was somewhere else. The Commodore64 helped him to decide that his future was not what his parents and family had in mind nor was he planning to stay in Argentina. Quite bold from this young man, as Argentina culture expects you to become a lawyer, doctor or accountant and stay close to your family. From the UK they moved to the US, Dallas, still working for Nokia where he had a career of 13 years He got involved in innovation programs but he was not satisfied with the setup and the results and saw most colleagues just using it because it was part of their KPIs and the possibility to win awards. He knew he had entrepreneurial aspiration from a young age but the family always convinced him not to take risks. Mentoring inside the corporation but also outside with startups convinced him that he should do something with this dream of having his company. His strength is the operational side of a company, set up the structure, create and manage processes. Moving to Dallas probably gave the last push as the US is more inclined to support entrepreneurial spirits.
Helping out accelerators brought him in contact with Torrenegra Accelerator in Colombia where he was active as a mentor. They were also looking for a platform but couldn’t find anything fitting. At that moment he was also considering an MBA but then he realised that he could also use that money to invest in his own startup. All this came together as Diego starting his startup adventure with the info he gathered through Torrenegra Accelerator and other accelerators, his Nokia experience and talking to many startups. It took him 3 months to build the first version, now fully engaged. He officially started the company Jan 1st, 2020. New year, now work, a new challenge.
One of the first things he decided but also put into practice was to find a cofounder for the development part so he could concentrate on the business and need side. The team now consists next to the cofounders of 1 frontend, 1 backend and 1 designer. It felt like he did millions of interviews as he wants to understand problem and need from the program point of view but also from the startup point of view. All startups complained about the used platforms and communication. He also realised that there are today a lot of accelerators and still growing in numbers. He receives now 20 leads per week. It’s like everyone is doing accelerator programs. He also quickly understood that selling as it is was not a good approach but rather discover through questioning the problems and the needs. Lean Startup method on Steroids as he already has paid customers aiming at accelerators but also at corporations. In just a couple of months time.
As I am always struggling about what is an Accelerator Program I wanted to have his opinion as he talked to so many. From a platform point of view his oneliner is “a unique place to connect, collaborate and operate your participants and the program.”. As for Staff members, it is absolutely important to make preparations and plan ahead based on actual data from the platform. The second part we touched upon was the content, education or mentor-based, content-driven or just challenging. Diego touched upon Y-Combinator, the oldest known Accelerator founded by Paul Graham in 2005. They have generated a lot of content that they released to everyone but they assume you do everything yourself. Today for YC alumni raising money is easier but as Diego spoke to a lot of ex-YCs he also remarked that the success rate is not that impressive whereas some tried up to 5 times raising money to kick off a successful startup with 0 result. So we agreed that the education part is always needed, adapted to the audience. As a side remark, the early Accelerators business model is based on a small investment in return for shares.
Touching upon the program manager, called Coach in the platform we both came to the observation that a lot of programs have a very young staff, rather inexperienced, underpaid and more acting like event organisers and share email and phone numbers with anyone who asks. Diego saw the Accelerators with the CEO/founder also on the floor being very successful, the opposite with the too young program managers. He sees an evolution in the enterprises as well where intrapreneurship and innovation programs become more and more part of the overall strategy. Also here he sees unexperienced program managers doing their best but not being very successful. Diego touched again on the MBA program. Only 1% of the startups have an MBA and in some cases, after exiting, the founders go for an MBA. I guess the Grammarly story is a nice one where the cofounder Alex Shevchenko, states that having his MBA before becoming an entrepreneur helped him a lot. A topic that can be discussed separately.
The evaluation of startups and mentors are probably the hardest part. Especially if you want to go beyond star rating. Try to measure synergy with the mentor, risk-taking or passion from the founders. All very subjective. In Now Sprint Accelerator we do individual surveys but that takes a lot of time to evaluate and how do to quantify in your system??? Fact is that personal contact definitely works better than online where it is hard to assess. In our program, we don’t have like hundreds of mentors but people I know personally and professionally and connect one-to-one manually with the teams. Still my preferred process.
In short, I presented Diego with my personal opinion that a program is as good as the program manager and his/her team independent of platform and money. Spot on was the answer of Diego. We both are convinced that content and people, supported by a great collaboration platform can have the best results. We did not touch on the investment side of Accelerators, what I found interesting now that I write the interview down. We are both bootstrappers so I guess our focus is somewhere else. I am still not convinced an Accelerator should be based on early-stage investment as the ratio of success is too low. I believe more in paid programs, like MBA, and let the teams find their way without that first investor on their cap table.
I asked Diego where he sees himself and Team Coaches in 1 year. He is very keen on evolving more into the innovation enterprise platform as he sees a big growth potential and he knows corporates inside out. He doesn’t believe that entrepreneurs should think in terms of an exit strategy while building their business. Businesses live thanks to the people and passion that the founders have. When people start thinking in an exit they diminish the plans to make the company a place chosen for the employees. When companies start growing, success depends on hiring. He believes that his company can evolve into different areas and help many people. That is their mission to support the helpers and create a more sustainable business model for startups to grow and co-exist.