Accelerator Diaries: Edugrowth week 8 – The Pressure Cooker

By April 22, 2017Uncategorized

Launching a business comes with pressure, that’s no secret. In the early days, with such a small team there is nowhere to hide when things are going wrong. You wear the responsibility for every decision that gets made – as you should, as you need to. An accelerator program adds an extra layer of pressure with the constant comparison to the other teams and the input of mentors, advisors and potential investors. Most of the time that extra pressure is extremely useful. In fact, it tends to act as a motivator as you strive to match it with the other teams and implement the external advice. However, sometimes it can become slightly overwhelming as you try to live up to those expectations.

At the end of the day, an accelerator program is designed to be a launch pad for a startup and not the final destination. We made the mistake in our last program by getting caught up in the hype as we tried to rush the process of building a business by searching for growth too quickly. This week we had the feeling that we were falling into a similar trap as cracks began to show with our go-to-market plan. By the end of the week, we were both burnt out and decided to take a step back and reevaluate our strategy.

What we learned

Try to remove pressure from the decision

I was on the way back from a meeting at UNSW when I stumbled into the inaugural event for the Negotiation society. I was invited by a student who I’d met through a presentation I did for the entrepreneurship program a few weeks ago. The event was being run by a professor who specialises in negotiation and who had developed a method for visualising the process of negotiating a deal.

A visual representation of negotiation

(a slide on visual negotiation courtesy of UNSW)

The diagram is very simplistic, but the basic theory is that the deal will be reached when there is adequate value for both parties. The professor mentioned that external pressures played a decisive factor in most negotiations, however, they only serve to confuse the decision-making process by adding unnecessary complexity. Most of the time the external pressures should not play any role in the final decision and if they do then you know you’re being pushed towards a sub-optimal deal.

His advice was to try and consider each decision in a vacuum by focusing on the intrinsic value for both parties. This advice resonated strongly with me as I felt that we’ve fallen into the trap of making rushed decisions due to external pressures far too often. Whether that’s the decision to pivot our business model or focus on a new market, we’ve made numerous decisions by focusing outwards rather than asking what’s best for our business. It’s a trap we need to avoid moving forward as it’s caused us to lose plenty of time following the wrong path before.

Set your strategy then execute

On Friday, our lead mentor Riley ran a digital marketing boot camp with the whole EduGrowth cohort. During this session, we covered the full spectrum of what digital marketing for a startup involves. Riley outlined an extremely technical and data-driven process, that requires constant iterations and monitoring.

Edugrowth Digital Marketing Bootcamp with Leo from the Upstart Academy(a glimpse at our digital marketing boot camp)

Riley made the point that in a startup your time should mostly be spent executing. In fact, only a minuscule amount of time should be spent on strategy (less than 5%). His point was a valid one. How can you give the execution strategy the attention it requires if you’re constantly adjusting your strategy? With each shift in strategy comes a new marketing machine, which takes time to establish.

On reflection, the problem that Leo and I have faced is not putting the necessary attention into that inertial strategy before we start trying to execute. This meant that we were trying to devise our strategy on the fly and never planning more than a week in advance. This short-sighted approach has been the cause of much of our stress and frustration in recent weeks so we decided to take a full day on Sunday to reflect, analyse and plan the next 4 months… properly.

What’s changed for us

As part of that session on Sunday, we completed an in-depth branding exercise to flesh out our new direction. This session involved an intensive brainstorming session where we wrote down every possible word or phrase that came to mind when describing what we do. We then painstakingly sifted through all the sticky notes to determine the ones that aligned with what we wanted our new brand to be. Finally, we categorised those notes into relevant groups to determine our core values, tone of voice and design.

Leo doing a word association exercise as part of our rebranding session for the Upstart Academy(Leo organising the sticky notes from our branding exercise into words that fit with what we’re doing and words that don’t)

Leo’s now putting his skills into practice by designing our new brand which will be unveiled in the coming weeks – stay tuned.

The plan for next week

The key takeaway from our strategy session was that we need to start getting our products into the hands of students as soon as humanly possible. It’s all well and good to theorise about the fantastic things we could create, but until we start getting some ‘runs on the board’ those words lack any real substance.The plan moving ahead is to start creating some ‘bite sized’ course content that we can get in the hands of students in the coming weeks. Our plan to run 8-week projects has been put on the backburner for now as we look to strike up a deal with a University for a pilot program.

Our first piece of content that we’re looking to release is a course called ‘how to create your own internship’. In this course, we show students the steps that they can go through to create an internship that aligns with their future career plans and pitch it to Employers in a way that maximises their chances of success. This course is built on the big idea that the internship market would work much more effectively if it were flipped on its head – that being the students pitched to employers for the value they could add to their organisation.

A screenshot of the Internship Accelerator version 1

We feel this course will add the necessary context to our other learning material, which all has a practical theme. We’re planning on giving it away for free, with the hope of building a large user base for our learning platform.

Finally, Leo has been complaining that they haven’t been enough images that include his handsome face in recent weeks, so to finish off I’ll leave you with the pick of the bunch…

Leo from the Upstart Academy producing some food art

(Leo’s attempt at modern art)

Leo brainstorming brand values

(the first step of our branding exercise – brainstorm every possible word that could associate with our brand)

Leo from the Upstart Academy Planning our New Website over some beers and pizza

(Leo deep in thought after a late night session planning our new website)