How Extreme is your Startup? - Our Journey Through a Canadian Accelerator

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For the past three months Kera participated in a Startup Accelerator program called Extreme Startups. We finally finished our three month stretch and I wanted to leave a paper trail for aspiring entrepreneurs who are considering taking the plunge. This post is not meant as a review of Extreme Startups per se as we haven’t been in another accelerator. It’s hard to know the real differences.

Focus

For the past five years we’ve been busy building other companies’ software. Two of our founders (myself and Max) ran a software services company. Jon, our third cofounder, ran a design services company. We love everyone we had the chance to work for but knew we wanted to transform into a product company someday. When we started experimenting with Kera we finally sat down and questioned whether this was the right time to take the plunge. An accelerator is a great way of forcing your hand.

Meeting Andy and Sunil at Extreme, it became clear that there was no way to keep everything on our plate. I’m proud to say that today we’re all exclusively committed to Kera.

Environment

Startups are hectic. Everyday is a roller coaster. The highs and lows are way out of proportion with what is normally considered “normal life.” How hard do you work? How much time do you invest? What about work/life balance? What about our families?

Answering these questions is a lot easier the minute you walk into the Extreme Startups building. Not only do you have the support of Andy and Sunil but everyone else is struggling too. We shared our cohort with single fathers, people separated from their loved ones by thousands of miles, and more. You realize that if they can make the sacrifice, so can you.

Funding

It’s never been cheaper to start a business. But rent still needs to be paid, food needs to be eaten, and computers need to be purchased.

Within days of arriving at Extreme we had a cheque for $50,000 CAD in our bank account. We’ve been careful to manage our money and we’re really conscious of our burn rate so we know that every dollar extra is a huge asset. We also qualified for and received another $30,000 CAD from the Centre for Commercialization of Research which was facilitated by the Extreme Startups partners.

Finally, we’re also eligible for a $150,000 convertible note from the BDC. As a bonus the note has extremely entrepreneur friendly terms. We’re not 100% guaranteed to get it, but we’re hopeful, and the criteria is fair. Not only does this get us off to a great start, but it also means we have runway even if we don’t raise money immediately.

Connections

In business, it’s not so much what you know, but who you know. While we run and attend many startup events in Toronto there are many people that we miss connecting with. These relationships are extremely valuable and don’t go away the day you graduate from the accelerator.

Extreme’s focus on incubating companies is good for this reason: Every day we had a new entrepreneur, venture capitalist, or executive, walking by our desks checking out Kera. These people would then introduce us to their friends or others who could benefit from using our service. We would have missed these networking opportunities if we tried to go it alone.

Final Thoughts

I hope you can tell from my writing that we had a thoroughly positive experience at Extreme Startups. While I’m curious what our experience would have been like at TechStars or Y Combinator, I feel that our progress was accelerated, we are much better connected, and we have a greater sense of what we can accomplish in a short period of time.

I don’t expect things to slow down now that we’ve completed the program. In fact, expect things to get more intense as we focus more on developing our core offering and get serious about building a business around our technology. If you’re considering entering an accelerator, now you know what questions to ask. If you’re interested in chatting, feel free to hit me up on twitter or email me at cameron@kera.io.

- Cameron