A founder's experience: what happens in an accelerator programme - Lightning Lab

A founder’s experience: what happens in an accelerator programme

It’s been one week since our final showcase for the Tourism Design Accelerator. At the last minute, a COVID-19 cluster in Auckland scrambled plans, and the showcase was moved from an in-person pitch day to a completely virtual event.

That experience was a fair representation of the accelerator programme as a whole – a fast-paced environment where you need to be ready to quickly adapt to the unexpected. Our time in the Tourism Design Accelerator was an absolute whirlwind experience, constantly evolving based on new inputs, and was moulded in no small part by the global pandemic.

On Thursday, February 18th, we pitched our product, showed off our projected growth, talked through our extensive market validation, and answered questions from industry experts and potential customers. From the looks of things, you would think we had been doing this for years. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

 

Where it all began: the Tourism Design Challenge Hackathon

We started Mote in October of 2020. My co-founder Jefferson and I met for the first time during the Tourism Design Challenge, a 48-hour Hackathon put on by Lightning Lab to find great tourism startups to join their upcoming Tourism Design Accelerator. For reference, a Hackathon is a condensed period of time, almost a sprint, where existing or new teams come together to tackle a problem, validate a market, and test an idea, before presenting the outcome, usually to a panel of judges. Neither of us had done this before. And it showed.

Jefferson had thrown his hat in the ring as a developer, thinking it would be a good creative exercise. Little did he (or his partner) know he was about to give up his weekend to build a rough prototype. 

On my end of things, I asked a lot of questions that had nothing to do with the 48-hour sprint. On a call with Brett Holland, Creative HQ’s GM of Innovation Services, I expressed my desire to offer employee equity options. He gently reminded me that that would come further down the line, as we were nowhere near even having employees to begin with.

Nonetheless, at the end of the Hackathon, our idea for better remote working had won the cash prize, and admittance to the Tourism Design Accelerator. 

My co-founder Jefferson and I entered the Tourism Design Accelerator with little more than an idea. We had validated it in the usual way – friends and friends of friends providing feedback – and had gone so far as to create a logo and brand identity. The real hard work was yet to come.

From day one, we were moving. Looking back now, as is usually the case, it feels like time flew by. Each week was filled with workshops and talks with industry leaders, founders who had succeeded, founders who had failed, and everything in between.

 

What happens during an accelerator?

Luckily, we weren’t alone in the process. Six other teams were also in the accelerator, which thanks to COVID-19 was a hybrid-model: in-person for three teams, and virtual for the other three. Those teams were like our bunkmates – sharing successes and failures, offering advice and critique, and hearing each other pitch so many times that by the end I would find myself mentally running through their slide decks on repeat as I tried to fall asleep.

As for resources, we were exposed to mentorship from some truly incredible people – a pragmatic CEO who had led founded and grown her company for 15 years to the point of acquisition, taking care of employees and building a superb product along the way; an industry veteran in the development space, heading a firm focused on UX/UI design; and a financial advisor from one of the Big Four accounting firms who had pivoted to working with startups. Not to mention the myriad of other connections that Creative HQ and the Lightning Lab team provided us through their extensive network of thought-leaders, founders, and government and industry professionals.

There were times when I would casually mention to the programme coordinator, Ash, that I could use a connection to someone with a specific expertise, and later that day there would be an email introduction in my inbox to someone who fit the bill. In hindsight, I should have asked for a connection to Jacinda Ardern, or Richie McCaw.

The accelerator is aptly named. We were off the ground and running one month in, having lined up a brand partnership with Beervana, running market validation, and developing the platform that would become Mote.

Admittedly, not everything worked out as planned. As an example, one of our big early investments was a case of Garage Project beer that we planned to use as an incentive for survey respondents. I’ll take this moment to drop some (obvious) knowledge on future founders: don’t give out the reward before the survey is filled out. 

Thanks to the sprints and workshops that the Creative HQ team coached us through, we arrived at the end of the programme with a fully-fledged MVP (Minimal Viable Product), and launched our Beta in Wellington. Here’s a shameless plug – if you’re ever looking to get out of the office for a few hours, take a meeting somewhere unique, or just want a full day of remote work without having to jump between cafes, give Mote a try.

One week from the end of the accelerator, it blows my mind how much we were able to get done. It certainly wasn’t easy, and I credit my co-founder Jefferson for keeping us moving, pulling late nights and taking on far more roles than would normally be expected of a product developer. None of it would have been possible though, without the steady hand of the support team guiding us through the process, occasionally poking us to get things done, and letting us make our own mistakes, knowing that those mistakes would often be instrumental in shaping our journey.

So what is this really? It’s a bit of nostalgia, but it’s also a plug. Of our cohort of seven teams, three pitched for investment on the night the accelerator finished. They’ve received plenty of interest, and are well on their way to closing out their rounds. We’re running our Wellington Beta for the next three months, and will be raising a seed round in July on the back of that performance.

 

Mote connects people and teams with flexible places to work. They’re reimagining the future of flexible work. If you’re interested in better work, from better places, head to Mote and sign up for early access to their beta.

 

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