I’m in the car of my co-founder Karan Gupta driving to a brewery in San Francisco. I’m thinking we are all going to get drunk — really drunk. Wishful thinking. It’s past midnight, I’m sober as ever and I’m emailing angels, founders and VCs we met earlier in the day. Life of a founder. But hey, I’m not complaining!
All the AP 8 companies pitched earlier this afternoon and everyone killed it. It was so much better than anything that anyone presented just 2 weeks ago. Everyone was happy—investors, Thomas Korte, Carine Magescas (henceforth TKCM), and ourselves.
The sheer progress a startup makes in 12 weeks of AngelPad is nothing short of stunning. The format is straight forward—TKCM, 12–14 startups, a co-working space in NYC, a coffee maker and Victor (TKCM’s adorable son). You work like crazy (pushing 14- 16 hours/day) for 12 weeks, make very good (founder) friends along the way, gather tons of startup knowledge, and prepare to raise $1M+ in seed money. Let me tell you more about how.
TKCM know that it’s still early days for all the startups in the batch. But, if you got into AngelPad you must have been doing something right. The process forward is more than just about building momentum for demo day. They know that at this stage, the founders need to make decisions about what kind of companies they want to build—their vision, their business, their culture, their values, their hiring standards, and more. Each of these layers is tackled to put into practice with advice and time.
In the first week of AngelPad, TKCM tell you they’ll roll up their sleeves and work with everyone. They really mean it.
Monday morning starts early, where they set the course for the week: how many times they will meet with each company, points to focus on, upcoming talks, and more. Mondays end late with beer, pizza, and a long lecture session with Thomas.
Both of them spend at least 30 minutes over the next couple of days in the week with every company, seeking updates on what was accomplished in the previous week, their feedback on how well you did, and what you could focus on this week. Unlike a few other accelerators, it’s not one-size fits all advice; it’s very personalized to you and specific to your company. You’ll be surprised how well they know, remember, and understand your business. As you continue at AngelPad, you’ll realize that their advice is spot-on.
Rest of the week you work with your team on building and taking your company forward. Occasionally you take repeat meetings with TKCM depending on your company’s needs. They’re around, and while extremely busy, also available to you.
Many Monday evenings are AMAs with Thomas over countless beers where he fields dozens of questions from everyone and provides insightful answers. Topics range from venture capital, business, sales, marketing, metrics, etiquettes, and just generally about the good, bad, and the ugly on startups. All of this, in raw, unfiltered, and brutally honest form. Things you rarely get freely, from reading blog posts, hacker news, TechCrunch, etc. It’s the inside dope from one of the most connected guys in startup land. My 2 cents: If you do absolutely nothing else but listen to Thomas and retain only 20% of it, you stack the odds up high in your favor for success.
A regular feature through all 12 weeks (yes, it’s institutionalized:) is TKCM’s regular ass whipping week after week, posing really tough, uncomfortable questions about your business, go-to-market strategy, market size, and what not. Most of the times you’ll have weird, made up answers, so beprepared to get an earful from Thomas.
As demo day rolls closer you’ll realize that you and your startup have become so much more well honed that not much scares you. Neither investor meetings nor the act of actually building a successful long- lasting business. You’ll have figured out answers to all the tough questions (team, market, product, vision, competition, traction), and be confident that you can learn what you don’t know.
Meet the Friends
AngelPad now operates from New York. But, you fly to SF every 3-4 weeks to meet with ‘friends of AngelPad’. Who are these guys? I couldn’t believe when I met Wesley Chan (Felicis, ex-GV), Rich Wong (Accel), Bryan Schreier (Sequoia), Dave McClure (500 Startups), Brendan Baker (Greylock), Keval Desai (InterWest), Tom Tunguz (RedPoint), Naval Ravikant (AngelList) and Jeff Schox (Patents). These guys are rockstars, I used to follow them on Twitter and listen to them from afar. Suddenly they are there in front of you giving you candid, yet friendly feedback on your company, market, and product. Plus, if they like you and your company, they might invest in you. Free advice (and funding) from gurus. What’s not to like?
Let me tell you more about Carine now; she is the perfect Yin to Thomas’ Yang. While Thomas gets incensed and yells a lot at you (in a good way), she is much calmer and more methodical. You’ll always find her with a camera and a genuine smile that will help you forget the ass-whipping you just got from Thomas.
Her tips on body language, how to tell a story, present, talk, what to say, what NOT to say, what to write in a followup email (in your own words, not some cookie cutter template), etc. become more and more relevant as demo day approaches. You feel like you know these things, but Carine proves you wrong time and again with her amazing insight into strategy, presentations and meeting skills — I realize it now, after sitting through 35+ investors meetings.
AngelPad also gives you an opportunity to work together and make friends with founders from other amazing companies. You’re always reminded by the Yodas:
“You don’t compete with each other; you compete with people outside.”
We worked together on several things, checking each other’s websites for typos, feedback on onboarding, proof-reading decks, and practicing pitches. As weeks go by, you’ll come to know these super driven people with very diverse talents who are all available to help you with whatever you want. All you need to do is—ask.
You’ll also have an opportunity to meet AP alumni who have raised everything from Seed to Series A or B rounds. They give you incredible insight into the most asked question: “how do I raise $X amount of money to build my company”. And since absolutely nothing is official or ‘on the records’, they’re in their elements and share inside stories, talk about the commits, and the screw-ups. Soak it in. You learn a lot, build relationships, make connections, and they potentially lead to introductions to investors which are really helpful after demo day. One thing I have learned from my research was that pension led finance is becoming more popular with business founders in the UK and surprisingly US. This is basically when the founder/ owner can draw down his or her pension to finance their startup, what a great initiative!
Two weeks before demo day, TKCM ask you to stop everything else and just focus on your pitch and presentation. You make a new deck everyday, present everyday and get your ass kicked everyday. But in just 14 days, you’ll see that your pitch has gone from 0 to Awesome. I just went through the first deck we made and I wanted to throw up before I got to the end of it. TKCM make you tweak your presentation and story often. They’ve mentored over a 100 companies, so they know what works and what doesn’t. These two weeks are really gruelling and Carine helps you perfect your storytelling and branding; while Thomas is all about numbers, positioning and selling.
“Everyone repeat, 30 point font minimum, leave the bottom third of the slide empty and only one takeaway per slide.”
Demo Day and the ‘AP’ Brand
Finally the demo day. It’s a big event attended by 150+ investors handpicked by TKCM. You might think that’s the day everyone raises money, runs home with a $1.5M check and gets drunk. Nope, nothing like that happens (I remained completely sober, remember?). Fundraising becomes a full time job and you do it for next 8–10 weeks. Demo day is a big bang event where you speed date with 30–40 investors and schedule as many meetings as possible. You also get a stream of inbounds and meetings with several other investors—just because you are part of AngelPad. That’s how influential the AngelPad brand is.
AngelPad was the best thing that could have possibly happened to myself and Mammoth.
And I think that the value I gained far surpassed what I could have hoped to get out of other accelerators. The main difference—face-time with an amazing cohort of founders and awesome mentors 24/7 (well almost).
I would strongly suggest everyone who’s thinking about startups and accelerators, to take a close look at AngelPad and apply there.
It is super difficult to get inside — more than 2000 companies apply and TKCM personally cherrypick only 12–14 companies based on the application, video and 1:1 interview. If you are hardworking, passionate and a bit lucky, you’ll get on a 3 month long bullet train, that you hope never stops.
Want to know more? Take a look at this article by my co-founder and friend: 5 Things I Learned at Angelpad by Karan Gupta