Two and a half years ago we launched our first accelerator program with five tech nonprofits. The 2014 accelerator was an experiment – we were the first accelerator of our kind and in true startup form pulled together all of our resources and connections from the Bay Area to make the program happen. Our theory that tech nonprofits need capital, community and connections to take off was right. We’ve been thrilled by the efficacy of our program to date. Our 14 alumni have collectively impacted over 4.7 million lives and raised $16 million in follow-on funding since their time with Fast Forward. Now the Fast Forward 2016 Accelerator (year 3!) is kicking off.
Yesterday we officially launched our third accelerator program and welcomed in nine new teams who will spend 13 weeks with us over the summer working on areas like product development, growth, business model development, storytelling and fundraising. These tech nonprofits are tackling a variety of issues, ranging from human rights to health care to education. Over the course of the summer we will be taking deeper dives into each team through our founder interview blog series, but be sure to check out our recent blog post on the 2016 cohort and if you haven’t meet this year’s teams yet!
On day one of our program we were graciously hosted by one of our leading funders, BlackRock, in their San Francisco office. The first day of the program was the most Fast Forward centric of the whole summer. Every team got the chance to practice telling their story to everyone for the first time, and we were blown away hearing from each founder in person.
Bo Lu, co-founder and CEO of FutureAdvisor, which was recently acquired by BlackRock, spoke candidly to our teams about entrepreneurship and lessons he learned along the way. The cohort was joined by members of the BlackRock team for the talk, which offered powerful insights into the crazy world of starting a startup. Here are some of our favorite takeaways:
Use your community. Collective action from other tech nonprofits will be a powerful tool for gathering a better understanding of issues that arise as an entrepreneur, and figuring out the best way to tackle those problems.
Define your own marketplace terms and rates for dealing with partners and donors. People look for social proof and this provides validation for your company.
Accelerator programs drive you to work harder and in a more concentrated way than you ever have before. Know that you are capable of far more than you realize.
Once you define your metric of success, everything will come into focus. Write your metric on your bathroom mirror so you see it every morning and think about what you’ll work on that day to move that metric forward. Graph your progress.
You’ll receive a lot of advice. Work to detach the validity of the advice from the authority of the person giving it to you.
During the Q&A afterwards, Bo shared insights into one of the most critical elements of running a startup: figuring out what metric you should be measuring. This engaging conversation with the cohort provided amazing advice on the difficult issue of defining your metric:
Focus. Think about how many leaps of statistical unlikeliness there are in a specific situation. We often focus on the upside without factoring in likelihood.
The metric you measure should be the one that would matter to you when you look back on life at 85.
Companies pass through different growth phases. There will be different metrics for different periods.
Start with the right customer from the beginning.
We are extremely thankful to our partners at BlackRock for hosting us this week, and Bo Lu for shedding light on challenges entrepreneurs face. Stay tuned for many, many more updates to come over the coming weeks and be sure to follow us along on Twitter and Facebook.