The GroundWork Methodology
The Startup Haven Accelerator leverages the GroundWork methodology to support founders at the crossroads of growth, i.e., a customer-ready product, in market or with the earliest signs of commercialization… but not yet at scale.
What’s next for companies at this stage is chart a path to meaningful traction, i.e., the beginnings of scale — scaling users, scaling customers, scaling revenue, scaling team. But scaling is among the most difficult milestones for any startup to achieve. And at this stage of a startup’s life, the clock is ticking.
The failure rate of startups is extraordinarily high, even for those with lots going for them — great product, great market, great team, and even great investors. There are certainly no magic bullets, but the GroundWork methodology is the most-reliable path to progress:
- have a solid understanding of the right strategic milestone (four to six months out) that you need to reach next — including why that milestone is the right one and what that milestone will unlock;
- have a specific and quantifiable thesis for how you can reach your milestone — i.e., what, exactly, are you going to do?
- have a quantitative understanding of the assumptions underlying your thesis — i.e., what must be true in order for you to reach your milestone?;
- have a thoughtful, metrics-driven approach to validating your assumptions through advisors, research and experimentation;
- have the discipline to build a cogent growth story that smart, experienced people also believe you can execute.
Done right, with guidance and accountability, this approach will set a north star for the company and the team and will lay the groundwork for growth.
But the startup world moves fast. It is sometimes said that planning anything in advance for a startup is a fools errand because plans are obsolete the minute they are forged. This is true enough… particularly because most startup growth plans lack cogency. For the GroundWork methodology, the cogency of the plan is fundamental.
Throughout the Startup Haven Accelerator program, founders are challenged to understand, explain, and defend the cogency of their milestones, their thesis and their underlying assumptions.
Significant uncertainty and risk are an inescapable fact of life for every venture-scale growth startup. This is especially true in the early stages, before product-market-fit is achieved, and no amount of cogency can guarantee success. But what we believe is that cogency is the best tool we have. And that’s good news because striving for cogency is within the reach of every single startup company and every single startup founder.
Every startup founder also has blind spots and not every element of risk and uncertainty is plainly obvious — even when you’re looking for them! Startups in the accelerator get help identifying, quantifying and validating the assumptions they already know about as well as flushing out assumptions that are hidden from view.
No Travel Required
The accelerator program was designed from the beginning to be fully remote. However, US-based companies only.
The term of the program is three months. On a case by case basis, teams may qualify for a one-month extension.
All teams admitted to the program receive a $20K stipend in exchange for 5% equity in the company. In addition, each team also receives a $100K investment offer in the form of convertible debt note with a $3M cap.
Each team is pair with two ‘executive mentors’, both of whom are experienced founders or investors. Executive mentors who work closely with the team throughout the duration of the program.
The accelerator admits only one to two startups into the program per month. Applications are opened on the basis of program capacity. Teams receive a notification of the status of their application within two weeks after the application has been received. (Note that teams must first be approved for membership in Startup Haven before they will be considered for the accelerator.
At a high level, the accelerator program curriculum follows a trajectory roughly like that shown below. Experienced founder and investor mentors help you all along the way.
- Founders set their milestones.
- Prepare to raise capital?
- Achieve a valuation milestone?
- Launch in a new market?
- Achieve a growth rate?
- Reach profitability?
- Founders build their thesis.
- How much growth? How fast? How long?
- From where? From who? And how?
- What channels? What tactics? What cost?
- What if the worst case? What if the best case?
- What skills are needed? What are the gaps?
- What’s next?
- Founders model their thesis assumptions.
- Identify the underlying assumptions.
- Quantify the assumption.
- Verify the assumptions.
- Refine or revise milestones based learnings.
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
At the end of the program, founders will either have a cogent plan they can execute on immediately or they will know where the risks in their plan are and how to mitigate them.
- HubSpot for Startups Program (up to 90% off)
- AWS Activate Program (up to $100,000)
- Google Cloud for Startups Spark Program
The hardest part for us is knowing that we can only accept a limited number of the startups who apply. We know this means that some really great founders and companies won’t get into the program.
With that said, the program is designed to accelerate founders and companies that are at a crossroads of growth. Here’s how we think about startups that are a good fit for the program.
- Vision — We look for founders with big ideas that solve meaningful problems of meaningful value to meaningful markets… and with a plan to get there.
- Passion — We look for founders with strong conviction and sincere passion for the problems they are solving.
- Discipline — We look for founders who know that there is no “Get-Critical-Mass Button” and who understand that getting from here to there requires thoughtful execution and a lot of hard work.
- Initial Product — We look for founders who have built a live product, available for use by arms-length users or customers.
- Early Commercialization — Just building something isn’t enough. We look for founders who have delivered value to at least some initial arms-length customer(s) willing to pay money for their product.
- Growth Thesis — We look for founders who have a thoughtful thesis about their next growth milestones and how they can achieve them.
- Humility and Curiosity — We look for founders who are eager to understand the road ahead and to quantify and validate their assumptions.
Startup Haven Accelerator mentors are different — 100% are Startup Haven members, which means 100% are experienced startup founders, C-level execs and investors. In addition to being a Startup Haven member, each mentor is individually selected based on their specific technical and business expertise, their personal startup experience and their commitment to adhering to the Startup Haven Mentor Guidelines and Mentor Code of Conduct.
Among other things, this means that we do not utilize the help of service provider mentors. This is not a value judgment against service providers. Service providers are essential and startups need help from lots of folks, including lawyers, bankers, accountants, recruiters, designers, marketers and a myriad of others. For Startup Haven and the GroundWork program, we think it’s essential that the help and advice that participants receive from mentors should be free from the potential for conflict of interest.
We also believe that for founders with a strong network of other experienced startup founders, execs and investors, finding the right service provider is merely a matter of asking for referrals. Startup Haven and the accelerator program provide just that sort of network.
You learn more about the Accelerator Mentor Program here.
Mentors can be either local or remote. Because in-person collaboration can be so valuable, teams are encouraged to build relationships with local mentors in their city whenever they can. However, because the program is essentially virtual, any team can work with any mentor in any city. In working with remote mentors, teams are encouraged to utilize web collaboration tools such as Slack, Zoom, Google Docs, etc. Teams and mentors are also provided access to private channels on Founder to Founder, Startup Haven’s member-only ask/offer forum.
You learn more about the Accelerator Mentor Program here.
Applying to the Accelerator
If you are already a Startup Haven member, you can…
If you are not yet a Startup Haven member, you should apply for membership before applying.
If you have any questions about the program, please leave us your name, email and what city you’re in.