A horrifying accelerator story that you’ll need to read twice

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Recently, I wrote a post called “Entrepreneurs Deserve Full Transparency” for my WSJ series. Several entrepreneurs wrote me, but this story really stands out as a warning to do your diligence and demand full transparency. Not all accelerators are created equal.

I’ve posted the following email by permission of the author, who shall remain anonymous as his request. However, I can tell you that I checked this person out and they are completely legitimate and have a strong reputation in their own community. So while you can’t believe everything you read, I have done the work necessary to convince myself that this comes from someone who is very credible.

TL;DR? Do your diligence on accelerators! Want more? Read on, and be amazed.

In brackets [ ] are areas I have redacted to preserve anonymity, but have substituted the “gist” without changing the meaning, as approved by the author. I may have also changed the gender of certain people (i.e. he/she), again, with approval of the author.

David,

I guess I should preface this by saying we haven’t publicly addressed this and we’re not sure if we want to but this story starts like most in the startup world. My startup applies to an accelerator and gets in. It’s not our first rodeo, as we’d graduated from [name of an unrelated accelerator] but we wanted and needed some support around our vertical. We paused because it was an inaugural cohort but being that it was vertical-specific and the managing director worked for a highly lauded startup in our vertical, we decided to go for it. ([a hint about which accelerator it was]). The offer was standard, [specific financial deal in line with the market]. It was a bit of a hit for our progress, but we decide it’s the price of access so we pack up and headed to [name of city].

After settling in, we went over to the space which was billed as campus, community, accelerator, and more. We arrived at the address only to find that it is a co-working space. There is no dedicated space to work or store any equipment/materials which seems strange for a “campus” but we went with it because we preferred to work from home anyway.

We ask about the funding, we find out that the investment suddenly isn’t coming from the accelerator. It is coming from a seed stage VC and suddenly the amount of that investment has a range. Everyone was promised $[redacted]K but some companies are low-balled with $[$10,000 less than the previous number], which barely covers rent in [name of city]. We’re also told that those funds are dependent on meeting with the VC and, at the end, we’re told that we need to be C corps before they’ll wire the funds. Not a problem but it would have been nice to know since we had more than a month between being accepted and moving to [name of city] and we could have handled it but it shouldn’t be a problem because they’ve lined up free legal services for us.

After getting paired with our attorney and told she’s amazing, I call her and after a week or so of waiting to get in a call, she lays out the path forward, she asks me for a retainer of $[redacted]. I tell her I’ll get back to her because I think something was lost in translation. I call the MD of the program and the same person who was just praising the attorney calls her a shark and says “how dare she try to charge after offering her services for free”. I get a assigned a new attorney who thankfully does the work gratis. It takes almost 3 weeks to get it all done.

At this point, we’re thinking that the best we can do is network and expect every gain to be on the strength of our team since the accelerator has failed in execution and transparency every step of the way thus far. The value in continuing was the thought that at least we’d get access to to the founders of that influential startup that the MD worked for and there are supposed to be sessions with industry professionals so we can probably squeeze some learning from those.

A month later, we’d seen or heard from the founders of the top-billed startup exactly zero times and there had been exactly zero sessions for learning. I found it strange so I asked for a meeting with one of them and they reluctantly gave me his email address. He pawned me off on his assistant and, after one e-mail, it was fairly clear he had no intention of being a mentor. I actually started to wonder if he knew his name was on it at all. By the end of the 4 months, their total time invested was 45 minutes with the accelerator. It was very strange given the outline for the program included a very specific syllabus with promises of luminary speakers, tech for non-tech founders, and more. None of it happened.

At this point it felt like a house of cards. The program didn’t even feel like a community because in a co-working space, you hardly saw the other teams. We were further along than other teams so we start booking the meeting rooms and inviting everyone to sit and work together for a few hours whenever possible. I also started a yammer group so we could pool resources and communicate on the fly. Things start to get better for my team as we’re introduced to [name of a mentor] as a mentor and we finally feel like we’re getting some guidance. The Managing Director also made two hires so there was some hope that some of the promises might be delivered upon. The MD kept telling us how amazing [this mentor] was until it was announced that he is going to be the MD for [a competing program]. After that announcement I got another gchat at 3am in which she trashed him. I was told he was a hack and had never done anything worth mentioning in [the industry]. I ignored it, starting to see that the forest had some pretty crazy trees.

We were still committed to making the best of a bad situation when I got a gchat from the MD at 3am while working from home. She seemed irate (if not completely irrational) and started accusing me of “not participating” and verbatim stated that I needed to decide if we were a [previous accelerator] company or a company in her accelerator. She threatened to kick me out if I didn’t consult with her on every piece of my company’s strategy. I told her I was happy to listen and take feedback but I completely disagreed with her accusations and ultimatum, mostly because there had been nothing to participate in outside of what I’d done to try to help. I also told her it’s hard to trust her opinions because we’d seen nothing but back-tracking, fluff, and empty promises. Example: She walked into the room and announced that [some famous mentor] was coming in to speak to the teams. One of her team members read the email in full and pulls her aside to tell her that the email actually said he’s open for paid speaking engagements and anyone can get him if they have the budget for it. She never mentioned it again.

A few days later, I found out that my roommate (another founder) was getting the same kind of irate messages at the same crazy hours that I was. He was totally new to the world of startups but he knew something was off so he didn’t comply with her demands. She kicked him out and told him that her board wanted to kick him out for a while and she kept getting negative feedback about him from mentors. This went back and forth a few times with him being kicked out and getting back in. She even sent me messages about him, pulling me into the nonsense. I gave my honest opinion which was that accelerators are the place for companies to make mistakes. It’s supposed to be a safe place to learn. Kicking someone out for being true to the process is a violation of the highest order. The next day he told me that she’d let him back in.

The fourth or fifth time he was kicked out, I was out of the country and she sent me a message pulling me back in to the drama. She’d moved the date of the demo day almost a full month back from what we were told it was at the start of the program. He and I were on the same lease so I knew that what it cost to live there and that we’d planned our lease around demo day with 2 weeks to take meetings afterward. Neither of us had gotten enough value out of the program to get to a place where it made sense for us to pay another $[redacted]K to stay another 3 months which was the minimum most buildings will take, not to mention it would have to be prepaid.

She goes on to say that anyone who won’t be here for demo day is kicked out and tells us that she still has final say over who is considered a graduate of her program and who isn’t. I told her I was not going to extend the lease and she offered to “get my team in for demo day”. I tell her I’m not comfortable being treated differently because my team is further along. Then we had members from her team telling us they hadn’t seen her in a few days and they were worried about her mental health and physical well-being. Sunday night, the night before my roommate had meetings planned, she emailed him to says she’s cancelled his meetings until he takes a phone call with her. He refused and was furious that she’d have the audacity to cancel meetings that didn’t involve her in any way.

She blows up at him via text message hurling personal insults, calling him a quitter saying things like “This is why your cofounder quit” and “you’re in my program, I’m not in yours”. The fact is she promised his cofounder, who was at the time of application a full-time [name of a profession], that she’d help them raise at least $100K easily and she knew that was the amount needed for his cofounder to quit her [same profession] job. Everyone also knew the date that she had to accept or decline her contract for that year. The date passed and they’d raised $0. He called her delusional and wished her the best with her “program.” Trying to get out ahead of the situation, she publishes “all” of the messages between she and I and emails them to the team. She denied that she’d kicked him out despite there being a ton of proof in her messages to us. I’m a lot of things, but a liar isn’t one of them and I didn’t take kindly to her suggesting that I was. I search the document for a mentions of [the mentor mentioned earlier] and other incidents, knowing there is no way she’d include the vile things she said in a public forum. I searched and it didn’t come up. I searched my logs and pulled up, in real-time 3 dates that were removed from her log. I offered to go on but she made up an excuse for why she lied and changed the logs and quickly changed the subject. Her team remained oddly silent.

Days go by and her team starts to think all this needs to be cleared up so she schedules a meeting with her team, my roommate and myself. We got there, she proceeds to tell us that we’ve been a detrimental echo chamber and we keep twisting her words and drawing the wrong conclusion. Her team remained even more oddly silent as she accused me of getting involved in a situation that is “frankly none of my business”. I pull up the messages she sent me about my roommate and outline how it’s always been her pulling me into these situations. Her team looks horrified. She seemed to think that if she could “turn us against each other” that she’d get what she wanted. She asked what it would take for me to get back on board with the program. I told her and she refused. I told her officially that my team would no longer be involved with her program and wished her the best.

By the time we got home, we found out that immediately after that meeting, the two people she hired had quit. They were fine with not being paid for months at a time, they were fine with trying to make the best out of the situation. They were not fine with what went on in that room. Later, they’d admit to us that her goal was to attack the friendship because she thought she could get her way if my roommate and I were no longer on the same page. They also told us that there was no board of directors or advisers at the time she was citing them and that she’d never gotten negative feedback about my roommate. He reached out to a few mentors and found that they were shocked that their names were used to support such terrible behavior. At this point we decided that some of this behavior was pathological and it didn’t make sense to try to salvage anything. We finished our lease and left. There were 10 investors at their demo day and when they asked about us, she told them that we were out of the country working on a deal, representing that we were still involved with the accelerator.
The weird thing is that the MD keeps making intros, speaking highly of us and sending people our way. We think she does it because she doesn’t want us talking about our experiences. We don’t want to make a big public scene about any of this but we’d love to help design some sort of framework to help people avoid making the same mistakes we did in believing someone who is a bad actor in and on the ecosystem. On the outside it looks like she’s got it together but the reality is as documented above. I’d also love advice on how to handle talking about the experience when people ask about it specifically.


My reply was as follows:

ho. ly. shit.

wow.

how can i help? i don’t’ want to do anything negative, but stories like this are important to tell.

i could put it on my blog with out your name and redact any identifying information, and use it as an example of “please do your diligence” per the article. we’d remove names, geography, company purpose/focus, etc.

any other ideas?

And that led to this post. I hope it is useful to others, as that was the only goal of the author of the original email. Now go ahead, and read it again. Then share it with anyone considering an accelerator program. And make sure they read the original post about all this.
file under: Startups
  • Felipe Betancourt Celis

    This is so sad. Great article Mr. Cohen.

  • brandid_arush

    I say: name and shame.

    • As someone who is applying for incubators at the moment, it’s really important to name names here. It gives an opportunity for the incubator to respond too.

      I’m not excusing research and due diligence but you could be preventing startups like us going down this path.

      We’re new and inexperienced. What with incubator deadlines, forms, videos,etc you might not have the chance to get the info you need before it’s too late.

      Thankfully these guys sound like they’ve come through it

      • Jay Jay Deng

        I agree with Murat. As someone whose been on both sides of the VC table, this is inexcusable behavior that should be exposed. Not naming names is a disservice to any potential entrepreneurs who might end up in this horrible accelerator. VC is serious business, there is a lot of capital at stake along with livelihoods. I wouldn’t wish this upon any entrepreneur!

        • AlexandreArchambault

          I don’t. It makes it harder, but not impossible. Contact founders of Cos. who’ve been in a previous cohort. Takes a minute.

          • Toby Downton

            Did you read the article? The very first paragraph says “We paused because it was an inaugural cohort “. There were no previous cohorts to contact…

          • AlexandreArchambault

            I did read the article, but you’re right Toby, that did slip me.

            It does make the due diligence process that much more difficult, although that fact alone (i.e. that it was a new accel) should warrant asking even more questions than if previous cohorts had gone through its program.

          • Toby Downton

            Totally agree with you. And perhaps because the “average” person who applies to accelerators is young, they aren’t always confident enough to do so. The entire way through the article I just kept thinking, “Why on earth did you stay around?”. I would have left after a week or so by the sounds of things.

    • David Cohen

      up to the author. just respecting his wishes.

    • JawStillDropped

      The MD confirmed to the world who she is. Heather Gilchrist of Socratic Labs.

      She conveniently decided not to address any of the specific allegations. None of them.

      https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-09-04-read-this-story-twice

  • David, I’m glad you posted this. I think I may know who this is only because I was having lunch with a startup that experienced this same behavior from an accelerator that is run by a woman (you mentioned “she” and not “he”). I’m hoping this is the same one, as I’d hate to think there is more than one bad apple out there.

    • David Cohen

      as i said at the top of the post, i may have changed genders.

      • So there is more than one bad apple. I think accelerators need a rating system. I see from your WSJ post that you are disclosing your stats. Every accelerator should do the same.

        • I do what I can on Seed-DB (http://www.seed-db.com) to make it clear which accelerators are producing results and which ones aren’t. While it’s not a rating system, it is hard numbers… check it out!

          • Jessica Darko

            Your average only includes companies with data in crunchbase. I think it would be much more accurate to divide the total funding by the total number of startups that have gone thru the program (including the current cohort). This way the failures bring down the average.

            CB is biased towards success, and so most of the companies there will be the from the minority that took significant funding.

            An accelerator that “accelerates” 100 companies, all of which, except one, fail immediately, and that one manages to raise $10M and happens to be the only company in CB, would result in that accelerator ranking at the top in your list.

          • Nope, it works exactly as you want it to. 🙂 I calculate the total funding raised by all companies that have gone through the accelerator (whether there’s data for them or not), and divide by the total number of companies. You can double-check the math for yourself!

            Because that still can skew toward massive successes, I also calculate median funding since that’s an even better way of looking at average success. But the way I’ve set this up is that median funding only appears if >50% of companies have funding data in Seed-DB.

          • Patrick Lui

            Stats speaks loader than words!!!

      • rfk

        If you did change genders, that changes the read of the whole article. She sounds “hysterical”.

  • AlexandreArchambault

    WOW. Horrible. What a cancer.

    About this:
    “We don’t want to make a big public scene about any of this but we’d love to help design some sort of framework to help people avoid making the same mistakes.”

    The most effective sort of framework is to name names. Starting up a business is hard enough, bad faith power-trippers should be called out.

    I hope the author of the email finds it in him/her to get specific someday. In the meantime, the best advice is indeed to be careful and do good due diligence.

    • David Cohen

      yes, this is the main point i wanted to make. he wanted to not out anyone, as he feels it will affect his business negatively. i did my work to make sure he was legit and respected by his community. i too encourage him to provide details, but i can understand why there is pressure not to do so.

      • AlexandreArchambault

        Unscrupulous people like this are used to snaking their way out. The Cancer will most likely respond if accused, then it’s a horrible game of back and forth to try to re-establish both’s reputation and prove their respective points. Assuredly a time, nerve and energy suck.

        On the other hand, some might wonder if all the truth is really being told because this is a one sided story. Maybe some elements could be nuanced or explained.

        In the end, the biggest effect of giving names might only be to satisfy the readers’ curiosity, which is a small advantage given the hardship it might cause the author.

        Either way, good reminder to be careful but I fully understand this entrepreneur’s choice.

        • David Cohen

          it is absolutely just one side of the story. the point is how the author feels and to help people understand the need for due diligence. that is the only point.

          • Agree, The Cancer will fight back. This one is going to have to be found out with “gossip”. Someone somewhere will put two and two together and be able to name names. Of course, printing it on the internet invites a legal challenge, so it’s probably best not to name names-and just be wary of accelerators in general and find out what you are getting before you get in.

            The good ones are transparent.

    • Fabio Krauss Stabel

      I disagree with you about naming names. Of course, it would be cool to name them, but not always you have the whole story told in order to share a lesson learned. As the point is to learn upon other’s experiences it’s better to generalize and take the names away to have a more abstract “framework” of what happened.

      I think what David could do, as he started the discussion on this is to actually create a framework on how to effectively make Due Diligence when talking about an Angel, a VC or an Accelerator. Who knows? Maybe by discussing these topics in a general way we can come to a “code of conduct” of VC or a transparency guideline that can set the right expectations on both sides: the organizers of acceleration programs and the participants in them.

      I reinforce the need for abstraction: if you name it you make it a more singular case and can end up with people not using the framework thinking “this could never happen to me, look at them, they are so nice in their website”

  • Unbelievable. Dying to know who She-who-must-not-be-named is. I guess 2-way due-diligence is a good idea.

  • JoeyWall

    A tip for founders considering a lesser-known program / incubator / accelerator:

    Reach out to founders who have gone through the program. They are usually more than happy to share the good and/or bad.

    • David Cohen

      That’s why we always say to connect with founders@ for any of our companies. we try to make it easy to do reference checking, but it’s not like it’s hard in the first place.

  • eyestrain

    Why are the quotes rendered with gray instead of black? Such low contrast text is hard to read.

    • David Cohen

      sorry about that. don’t use the blockquote much, will look at the style sheet. totally agree.

  • brentchow

    WOW. Thanks for sharing this.

  • btrautsc

    this is unbelievable but 100% expected with the rise of “accelerators”… our team has seen this first hand dealing with nobodies to people with big names. Unprofessionalism, blatant name dropping, much more of ‘what you can do for our program’ than ‘what we *will* do for your startup’…

    glad you shared this and hope flight-to-quality is killing bad actors.

  • lulz

    Νigger

  • Nek

    “Cocaine is a hell of a drug”

  • Jonny
    • Are you accusing them, or promoting them as a good alternative?

      • Jay Zalowitz

        Being an industry focused female MD’d specific verticle-ly (ed-tech) incubator that launched its first class last january (https://www.edsurge.com/n/2012-12-11-nyc-edtech-accelerator-socratic-labs-opens-for-first-cohort) and had its demo day a month later than expected (http://gigaom.com/2013/05/31/two-socratics-labs-startups-that-want-to-make-the-classroom-more-like-the-real-world/) you would have to make your own conclusions on that…

        • AlexandreArchambault

          This is the downside of not naming names. She could be a collateral innocent victim because it might not be her. But good Sherlock’ing there.

          • Jay Zalowitz

            Yeah, unfortunately my startup makes me think like that and gives me massive amounts of referential information against any social link 🙁 I hope nobody gets unfairly screwed because of this post)

          • jmtame

            Hopefully David could chime in and say that it’s definitely not her if that were the case. That would be unfortunate if she/they were incorrectly labeled as the culprit here, although the description seems to match.

          • AlexandreArchambault

            You’re putting David in a horrible position. He needs to deny until someone finds it, and then say nothing? Sure way to expose the author. I’d stay entirely neutral.

            Just shows there’s no easy way to navigate this though.

          • jmtame

            I didn’t post the original link, but someone clearly thought the association was there and it’s now the second comment on this thread with a lot of upvotes. How many other accelerators also describe themselves as community and campus? I can’t imagine there are many, and so maybe the author was giving away too much description if he wanted it to truly remain anonymous.

            Someone had chimed in from Hacker News that went through the program: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6298797

            Make your own conclusions…

          • AlexandreArchambault

            That, or you should be a private eye!
            Seriously though, that might be the best outcome.
            Until she finds this post and can’t resist the urge to defend herself in a foot long post.

          • albeit

            Once you start denying every guess, when you get to the guess that’s correct and have to be quiet, you’ve indicated who it is. So no response is best.

        • PerlChick

          “After settling in, we went over to the space which was billed as campus, community, accelerator, and more. We arrived at the address only to find that it is a co-working space.”

          “Accelerator • Community • Campus” http://www.socraticlabs.com

          Looks like the author didn’t really want this to remain anonymous.

    • JawStillDropped

      Heather Gilchrist / Socratic Labs. Confirmed by her.

      No response to the allegations. None.

      https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-09-04-read-this-story-twice

  • LE

    Perhaps a post on this would be appropriate, if you haven’t done it already:

    “Do your diligence on accelerators!”

    (Because that sounds a bit to much like “find yourself a good lawyer”!)

  • Sergey

    As a Russian citizen, I expected money laundering, or mafia-past investor with certain communication skills or/and argument resolving techniques will show up. What relief/disappointment 😉

  • NO JOIN ACCELERATOR THAT SUCK.

    MOST OF THEM SUCK.

    • Erika Lei Zhang

      most of them suck!? Really!?

      • HOW MANY BIG SUCCESS STARTUPS COME FROM INCUBATOR THAT NOT YC, TECHSTARS, OR 500?

        THAT WHY.

        • It depends on what you call a success.

          Here are the startups from all accelerators that have raised >=$2million (248 of them): http://www.seed-db.com/companies/funding?value=2000000

          Here are the startups from all accelerators that have had exits (155 of them): http://www.seed-db.com/companies/funding?value=exit

          Definitely a few more than just YC/TechStars…

          • $2MILLION KIND OF FUNDING SOMEONE GET FOR AFTERNOON PROTOTYPE AND WEARING RIGHT KIND OF HOODIE.

            ME, GRIMLOCK, SAY ONLY DEFINITION OF SUCCESS IS ACTUALLY SUCCEED. NOT FAIL SLOWER AFTER GET CHECK.

          • Getting $50M isn’t a sign of success. Doing something of valley with it is.

          • Agree that funding isn’t a good measure of success. (Though disagree with the cynicism of “wearing right kind of hoodie” remark.)

            “Definition of success is actually succeed” doesn’t say anything. Most people would call a profitable, growing company a success but there aren’t any public metrics about that. Exits are a measure of success because they value a company. So the 156 companies that have exited *are* successes to some degree. Their breakdown:
            67 from Y Combinator
            28 from TechStars
            7 from 500startups
            6 from Seedcamp
            6 from i/o ventures
            6 from Angelpad

            (Note the 500startups *accelerator* is just a subset of the 500startups *portfolio*. We shouldn’t just the accelerator on the basis of the performance of the portfolio, but instead of the performance of the accelerated companies.)

        • I don’t agree with that. The Global Accelerator Network has some good ones. Big success in one town might be different than another as well.

  • ho.ly.macro

    I hope the details come out one day.

  • KGC

    Sounds like a story for TheFunded.com

  • Ron

    This doesn’t have much to do with the posting. I met you once in Colorado, I traveled down for the thing you guys had going on at the time, I took a few days off of a busy work week and really planned it out, I decided to say hello, but not to sound mean you acted like a complete “Dick” and brushed me off, I just tried to say hello and maybe talk about my startup. I understand you were busy, (during break) but at least look at a person. I am sure you didn’t mean much by it, but first impression are definitely something.

    • Sorry about that Ron – email me at David at Techstars so I can fix it.
      -Sent while walking into stuff.

    • David Quail

      I can’t speak for David C but I can for his current and past partners at Techstars – Namely David Tisch and Brad Feld.

      I’ve been introduced to them on a couple occasions and talked with them both for investment. They both “passed” but both provided good feedback, insights, and timely, courteous responses. I’d go back to them in a heartbeat if it’s ever a fit. The same can’t be said for most “no”s …

    • TheWolfInMe

      Ron I remain anonymous not to be sucking up to David however every time I have connected he has been responsive though it took a few days and I am not part of the reference network, dont have a billion $ startup & my mails were random. In short, no incentive to respond apart from being approachable to startup founders. Also I am from the other side of the globe
      Here are some tips:
      – If your talking about your startup (Be Direct) Get to the point and ask for help you need
      – David is an introvert and can appear to be outlandish that does not mean he is not interested
      – If you want a meeting / conversation make a request. It might take a month to get through
      – Read the blog post (the perfect email / coffee or lunch)

      If you leave you contact on this email In am happy to share more

  • Pizzicato Five Fan

    I don’t know how to write this without sounding sarcastic on the internet but allow me to try. You’re smarter and more successful than I am but you keep writing just “diligence” when I think you mean “due diligence.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Due_diligence

    Your sentences should read “do your due diligence.” In fact, the graphic at the top of your page even says “due diligence.”

    • albeit

      perhaps because the meaning is clear enough already.

    • 100% correct. I often use the term “diligence” as shorthand for “due diligence” as many people in the industry do. But I should have written “due diligence”.

  • GuillaumeBalaine

    NYC is full of so called incubators which are co working spaces with business men pressuring young vulnerable entrepreneurs to get equity in their startups in exchange of nothing.

    • Jessica Darko

      Let me reword that to be a little broader, and I think you’ll be surprised at how much it applies:

      “[Startup Accellerators mostly] are co working spaces with business men [who call themselves “mentors”] pressuring young vulnerable entrepreneurs to get equity in their startups in exchange of nothing [more than a few months rent].”

      How much does it cost to live in SF, NYC, Boston, or Seattle? 3 people is about $5,000 a month, right? Multiply that by 4 months, realistically, and you’ve got the $20,000 that the typical accelerator invests.

      So, you give up equity, you get enough money to survive during the program, and the pressure of “mentors” who, at the very least, vary widely in value.

      • rfk

        But what value is there in living in such a high burnrate location while you’re still UTR?

        • Jessica Darko

          A lot of times people rationalize their emotional responses and try to justify them as rational…. so “it feels cool to be where the action is, surrounded by all these killer bros who are crushing it, in the center of the [software/finance/movie] industry” somehow seems like a rational thing to do.

          One thing that’s fascinating to me is how much these programs spend on pitching. It seems like at least half of the effort is in crafting a pitch. And watching the resulting pitches, it’s amazing how formulaic they are.

          There’s an adage about you go where you’re headed…. if you focus on selling equity then that’s what you’ll do. IF you focus on building a product, that’s what you’ll do. You can’t really focus on both.

          Plus, if you’re not chasing dumb money, you can live in the middle of nowhere with cows. Not only does it extend your runway, the cows are not as distracting as the Big City.

          • AlexandreArchambault

            Interesting perspective on selling equity, focus and pitches. I do agree that a lot seems to be going into the pitch, but at the same time, it seems to be the only important thing (besides product and traction) that will get you many birds killed with one stone and extract as much value as you can out of those couple of weeks.

            By honing the pitch, you need to focus on pain points, your value proposal, the UX, the magic your product brings, and focus on them. All things that will make you better entrepreneurs.

            I do agree that the pitch delivery per se on demo day is given too much importance.

            However, not so sure about your cow bit… The value of the ecosystem many entrepreneurs create when they work and live in proximity is not to be undervalued. It’s not Silicon Prairie…

          • GuillaumeBalaine

            I was building two products starting July and blew my runway (10000$) in the US in 75 days. Had I left my apartment and gone to the country to start building I’d have more than half left. But then again I wouldn’t have had all the experience I had and I wouldn’t have got so many people challenging me on a daily basis. I guess it’s a tradeoff.

        • GuillaumeBalaine

          The value is in the people you meet, basically going there is as much if not more about networking and hiring for your startup than actually building the product.

  • Jessica Darko

    Why we won’t ever apply to TechStars (again):
    — We applied once. Apparently we got pretty far. We got a bunch of questions from one of the evaluators. But the questions had no context. They were extremely terse and it was pretty clear he was operating under some misapprehensions. We responded as best we could, but the followups showed he was still operating under misapprehensions. We didn’t get in, and of course, we got ZERO feedback as to why. This forces us to conclude that the person doing the evaluation (whose name we knew and we googled enough to know his background) was not really in a position to give us a fair shake.

    — You request/require a great deal of effort be put into the application. That’s fine, we did it. But you give zero feedback. Sorry, but you should at least give us the notes. Even if the conclusions you reach are wrong- that tells us where we need to work on our pitch. Maybe a lot of people don’t make it past the first filter, fine, but when you make it to later rounds, to the point where we’re spending significant time answering questions (in this case a great deal of effort was spent trying to figure out what the question really was) you should give notes.

    — Despite this, we applied for the “minority techstars” program which isn’t an accelerator but we thought we could use the mentorship. So, we make it almost all the way to a major techstars program, miss out, but we don’t qualify for the minority one? Other than acknowledging the application, we never got a response, not even a form letter saying “no”. (It’s been more than a year now.)

    — We watched the TV show and we read a great many articles where managers of TechStars programs were interviewed, and on more than one occasion these managers said profoundly douchy things (particularly David Tisch, in my opinion.) Things that make us think that its a game to them, that they don’t take their responsibilities seriously. Which makes sense, you’re betting on a lot of companies and if any of them succeed you win. It doesn’t matter if you’re not really qualified to run such a program, does it? (Not a comment on you specifically, David, just a general one.)

    — Specifically, seeing companies in the TV show being given bad advice, or advice that comes from the whim of the “mentor” rather than from an understanding of what the company is, and what they are doing, gives a very bad impression.

    In my experience working for startups as an employee– I did this for a decade before founding my first company– I discovered that Venture Capitalists were one of the primary causes of failure. They gave bad or self serving advice that caused the company to miss the market or sell itself short. I saw VCs string companies along until they were near going under before funding, so that they could have better terms — after forcing bad decisions on them to the benefit of the VC. For example, one company had a small team doing contract work for clients and that work was about %50 for the product and %50 for the clients, the other team was doing all product work. They were essentially self sustaining on that money, and so the product was being developed without outside investment, the VC early in negotiations told them to “focus” and made them shut down the consulting business….and then let them sit for 6 months without that income until they needed a bridge loan (on generous terms– for the VC) before getting funded. The VC got a much bigger chunk as a result.

    These events left me very wary of VCs, and alas, after spending too much time attempting to pitch accelerators, I was forced to reach the conclusion that accelerators are no better than VCs. Sure the deal terms are a bit better and more standardized, but that’s a result of economics, not accelerators being better run or a better model.

    In conclusion, the lesson I learned from experience is, build a real company ,that makes money, survive on that money, and don’t waste time on seeking outside investment. Even accelerators suck up *way* too much time from founders, time that is better spent on the product and feedback from the market. No mentor is going to give you advice that is more valuable than the market, and the cost of that advice, both in time and in errors far exceeds getting that advice for free from the market.

    Hell, if you look at the companies being accepted by accelerators– from YC to TechStars to 500 Startups, a good %70-%80 of them are BS built-to-flip dot-com style companies. It’s clear you’re looking for these kinds of “grow-real-fast-because-there’s-no-real-technology” companies, and if we were to pursue that route we’d be forced to become one of those kinds of companies.

    Remember what startups are supposed to be– businesses starting out. Not equity-selling-machines designed to flip in an aquisition to a larger entity that really, for the most part, just wants more employees. But businesses that are just small.

    The startup scene right now is really broken, and unfortunately, the preponderance of accelerators is part of the problem. Yes, it costs less to build an instagram, but you’re not funding future instagrams, and for every instagram there are 1,000,000 instagrams that are worth precisely $0.

    Or put another way– it’s easier to get $5M on a 1 in 1,000,000,000 chance of being worth $1B than it is to get $500k on a 1 in 3 chance of being worth $40M. That’s bad math.

    Time to stop building (and funding) “startups” and time to stop guiding these kids into making these “startups” and time to start building businesses.

    Because this bubble, she is going to burst.

    • I’m bummed and very sorry that you had a bad experience applying to Techstars. Feel free to email me at david at techstars dot com if you are game, as I’d love to make it up to you. One of our goals is to respond to every one who asks for feedback, but it’s obviously difficult given the volume. If we failed there I want to use it to improve.

    • Rajiv Mukherjee

      I agree with some of your points have a feedback mechanism for all the startups that apply for incubators, accelerators, business plan competions, etc. Since we also faced this challenges we thought solving the problem by creating a platform where you get feedback on various aspects related to your Team DnA, Business model clarity, product readiness, reapetability, scalabilty , etc which helps you reach the next milestone. If your Idea is public you will get peer-peer & early adopter review http://fhsidealab.com/leaderboard/public-leaderboard
      If your idea is private you will get review from mentors . The platform is very intuitive to use by all stakeholders. Will love comments from all of you

  • Thanks for posting this, David, as horrible a story as it is. As you wrote in your WSJ piece, I agree 1000% about accelerators needing to be transparent, which is why I created Seed-DB. I want to make it easier for entrepreneurs to do their due diligence on accelerators, and see hard data on results from previous classes. Of course that’s always going to be significantly harder for first cohorts of any program, but this story was ridiculous.

    (http://www.seed-db.com for anyone curious about where to go)

  • Guest

    Hey David,

  • James Banner

    I am not from US, but what do you guys intend to get when joining “accelerators” ?

    -> Money ? Aren’t you better of building with your own money?If you don’t have how about funding it with your consulting time?

    -> Cheap/free working place ? What’s wrong with your basement ?

    -> Exposure/Connections ? Why not make a good product and let them come naturally ?

    • antanas

      it’s called “accelerator” with purpose – you actually CAN do everything by your own, but it will be slower/harder . Sometimes founder is willing to sacrifice some chunk of shares or something to have this initial process faster.

  • Terry Smith

    The light attracts bugs.

  • Hugo

    Holy Sharknado! Thanks, David, for providing a venue for this story. Not knowing the source/author directly, it seems reasonable that this story itself deserves cautious scrutiny. However, since when does “caveat emptor” not apply to the tech industry at large, most certainly to the “startup/VC/incubator” segment? I’m with Sergey – I expected money laundering, mafia loan sharks, and body part harvesting. It’s common knowledge (unless you quit the university for a tech startup!) that boom cycles hyper-breed scoundrels and hucksters; does anyone really believe ALL incubators are the Mother of Mary, Holy Sisters of Wisdom? What’s true for most any transaction, is also true for the entire tech/startup industry: check it out, dig deep, and beware consequences of the blue pill. It’s still the Wild West, and no better in NYC.
    In contrast, consider the obverse: I’m very cautious about how/when to engage startup teams; all advisors, mentors, coaches, and investors can easily share their various versions of bad experiences with startups. Too many to list here. In the final analysis, however, there is a very good reason why incubators are most often referred to as “Boot Camps.” Well deserved, altho the need for “due diligence” cuts both ways, for sure.

  • Dan

    Great post David. Given the anonymity requested, what’s your advice on the type of diligence people should do on accelerators (or more likely the MD) before they apply?

    Many of those breakdowns seem like personality or stress behaviours on a badly suited MD appointment – did the other teams have similar experiences or just this one singled out?

    Cheers

    • As I said in the WSJ post – two things: 1) talk to a variety of founders (not just the ones they tell you to talk to) like you’d do with a job applicant. remember that one bad story doesn’t mean it’s a bad program. look for trends. 2) ask for transparent results like Techstars posts at http://www.techstars.com/companies/stats.

  • Caveat emptor. And that goes double or triple in an environment of booming frenzy.

  • Wow – I guess with the rise of accelerators this was bound to happen – but WOW!!

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  • Unfortunately for every great accelerator success there are 9 cautionary tales. Like the $100M dollar lottery winner, the success stories drive the kind of irrational exuberance around potential founders that blind them to the charlatans willing to skin them. There are many more charlatans than there are Y Combinators or Tech Stars. There are very few Super Accelerators!

  • yep, us too

    We had a terrible time with our GAN accelerator experience (not your fault David!). I agree that startups should do due diligence where possible in the time available. I agree accelerators should be transparent and would love to see the stats posts for this specific accelerator.

    Unfortunately the quant stats only tell part of the picture. It takes time for the market (stats and investors) to see the possible outcomes so 2, 3, 4 classes of 7-10 companies could cycle through before the market discovers the quality issue. And it can be very hard for founders that have been through the program to be candid with potential recruits given community, relationship concerns or concerns about lack of access to future help, if any. The MD can just say “the teams didn’t execute” or something similar. It can get public and nasty quickly. And if you want the program to succeed but you know the management/staff are the issue, how do you clarify that without blowing up the whole program? (I too would love suggestions on how to handle these tough conversations afterwards.)

    It would be great if there was a site like TheFunded for accelerators, with qualitative experiences and personal, anonymous rankings on 1) access to investors/partners 2) mentors 3) coworking space 4) access to a network of other startups.

    Sorry for the rant, but our experience with an accelerator was one of the toughest experiences we’ve had to go through as a company, team, and individuals in a community.

    • I’m hearing way too many of these stories. That’s why I wanted to post one to get people thinking about doing more reference checking. If you can’t talk to the founders who have been through the program and you can’t see the results plainly, ask yourself why. If it’s because the program is brand new – OK. You’re taking that chance and it may turn out fine. Check on the person running it and ask to talk with some of the companies they’ve invested in previously as an angel or VC. Still none? look out, just be careful.

    • I’m incredibly sorry to hear that you had a negative experience at a GAN accelerator. We are highly selective about the accelerators we invite to the network and your story is disconcerting to see. If you are open to it, I would appreciate hearing from you [sarahjane at gan dot co] so we may take your feedback on the program into consideration as well as see if we may be able to make things right by you.

  • Startup New Zealand

    Awesome post David! In 2011 we entered an accelerator program in Poland and there were a total of six startups there. The accelerator invested $ 6000 for 10 % however there was a skewed provision that the investor have vested control equivalent to a 90 % shareholding (only possible in draconian East European system) and the term sheet provided for a forced sale. The irony was the term sheet we got at the time of acceptance was plain and simple and the term sheet we were made to sign on arrival / incorporation (after traveling half the globe) was reference to the stated

    Long story short six months down the line four of the six startups were illegitimately acquired by the Accelerator leaving the founders high and dry. In our particular case we managed to get a follow up investment offer independently and when we conveyed it to the investors they asked for a immediate 6 X payback. We simply gave up and let the venture go, transferred complete ownership to the accelerator / investors

    I still have all the paperwork to assert the started and happy to share the same ref. the acceptance term sheet and the changed term sheet on arrival, the email where the investor asks for an immediate 6 X payback or threat to drive us to the ground and am happy to back up the talk and name the accelerator but its not fitting on someone else blog post

    On the contrary GAN Accredited Accelerators have the cleanest term sheets with no room for the founder getting screwed and our lesson learned as startup founders is simple, if you have to get into an Accelerator make sure its part of the GAN else its y-combinator else just ask your accelerator to go by the term sheet format as GAN and if they dont comply give things a hard thought

    • GAN does a nice job of enforcing market standards in term sheets – it’s something they ask for up front and decline to admit accelerators that have out of market terms.

  • Guest Poster

    I am proud to be a part of the accelerator that I believe you are referencing and continue to grow our business as a result of our direct involvement.

    Before I went off to college, the best advice that my mentor gave me at the time was, “Any program, any experience – is what you make of it.” I never forgot this advice and took it with me into the startup and business world.

    I, too, have participated in two accelerators. I saw companies stay, leave, grow, teams rebuild, strengths, weaknesses, agreements, disagreements, founders go on to other ventures, and more.

    I have learned that in business – differences arise. I’ve done business with organizations and people – where I’ve had negative experiences and others have had positive experiences – and vice versa. Exercise:
    Close your eyes. Think back to all of your business and work experiences. Think
    of at least one person that would love to write a scathing review about you. We all – whether it be just or unjust – can think of someone.

    Startups are hard. And it’s always easy to blame someone or some event for setbacks. If only this. If only that. There’s not a one-size fits all methodology for any start-up.

    My first concern is that this post does not address the accelerator itself but mainly “the MD” or the person running the accelerator.

    Second, great opinion and editorial writing (even in blogs) often takes into account other players involved in the process/situation/organization for their input – not just a one-sided view. Other companies were involved in
    the cohort and continue to find support and build from their accelerator experience. Perhaps it would be beneficial to speak with many of them.

    Third, it is imperative in teaching young entrepreneurs to navigate what they perceive as difficult experiences, how they can be approached and utilized in their favor in a multitude of ways, and that the responsibility to themselves and their shareholders, as the leader of emerging companies, is to help move their company forward.

    An apt title for the piece could be – “Learning from your StartUp Experiences.”

    Here are some reinforcements in getting this follow-up piece started:

    Before entering an accelerator, be sure to have mentors and perhaps a board of advisors to help you make the most of your experience. Check your mindset. Are you expecting to walk into an accelerator and have all your
    startup problems solved?

    Access to “influential people” isn’t necessarily going to move your startup forward.

    When anyone tells you, “You don’t want to work with them.” Stop. Pause. Reflect. Do your research. Have meetings. Make the best decision for your company, not based out of fear.

    Know what you want to get out of the process. If you’re not getting something you want – ask. For example in our first accelerator, I needed assistance with detailed financial modeling, it wasn’t necessarily provided – but we asked – and began working with an experienced CFO.

    Let’s support entrepreneurs out there with practical advice, tips, resources to make the most out of their accelerator experience. Rants with personal attacks serve no purpose other than to embed fear and negativity
    in others, and quite frankly reflects poorly on startups as we navigate deals with large companies or new consumer bases, who are always often reluctant to do business with startups. This type of pettiness only affirms their reservations.

    In the start-up community, many of us work hard to build an ecosystem of support. That’s 90% of this game, building, great mentors, advisors, teams to work through challenging problems and bring something useful
    and transformational to the market. The accelerator you reference was a boon in supporting our company in doing just that.

    I encourage you to reach out to other companies involved in this accelerator and run a more useful piece that entrepreneurs can learn and grow from as we navigate this up and down start-up world together.

    • Underwhelmed

      Sounds like someone’s trying to do damage control. That you, Heather?

      • gilchristh

        Nope, wasn’t me, Julian. I imagine David might be able to look up the email address of the commenter to verify that it wasn’t.

        • Guest

          Actually, It wasn’t me. If I have something to say to you directly, I have no issue using my own profile.

          • gilchristh

            …says the guest poster.

  • Startup founder

    As a startup founder who has gone through two accelerator programs, I can tell you that there is always a certain level of attrition, where startups either leave during the program for creative differences or dissolve their companies immediately following demo day. This industry is just not cut out for everyone. In response to David Cohen’s recent post about the horrifying accelerator story, I was a member of this same cohort. My view is that any accelerator program, or any formal educational training for that matter, is only as valuable as the effort you put into it. My company has grown exponentially in value and potential because of the opportunities afforded me through this accelerator. I considered the MD of this program a respected mentor whom I’ve learned a great deal from, especially with respect to our particular vertical. I made the most of every opportunity, made amazing connections, asked a thousand questions and listened more than I spoke This complete account by the anonymous whistleblower is more a reflection of a clash between two strong minded individuals than it is a glimpse into an allegedly dysfunctional accelerator. There was nothing dysfunctional about it, whatever this founder experienced is his own (and his roomate’s) interpretation as it relates to their own business decisions, or lack thereof, it is not the views and opinions of the rest of the cohort. If mentor relationships were not fruitful for this person, that is indicative of the person’s interpersonal and networking skills, not the program. All I ever needed from the MD was an email address or at most an email intro and I took it from there and made it work. As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water…” In this business, we should all take accountability for our own failures and not blame those who extend a hand to support our dreams when no one else did. If he really felt he gained nothing from the program, he should’ve given the money back and said thanks for the opportunity. Otherwise, consider the experiences good and bad you have learned from while living in NYC for four months, become the wiser and K.I.M, keep it movin.

    • PerlChick

      This post seems pretty fishy. No acknowledgement of any of the authors allegations or mention of any failings at all? Why not respond to the specific allegations?

      • startup founder

        I’m not replying to the allegations because I know both involved and am not trying to involve myself into their personal matters. I can only speak to what affected the cohort as a whole. Mentors were provided, opportunities and guidance were afforded and I made the most of the whole experience. I’ve heard both sides of the story from both parties and it just seems more like a clash in personalities and said founder not responding well to strong advice. Many of us have grown exponentially and have reached new heights thanks to this accelerator program.

        • Not Buying It

          Sorry, but not buying it. The author’s allegations say things like “Everyone was promised $[redacted]K but some companies are low-balled with $[$10,000 less than the previous number]”, “She’d moved the date of the demo day almost a full month back from what we were told it was at the start of the program.”, and “She blows up at him via text message hurling personal insults, calling him a quitter saying things like “This is why your cofounder quit” and “you’re in my program, I’m not in yours”.” Those have nothing to do with personality conflicts or advice. They are either true or they are not.

          • startup founder

            None of the cohort founder discussed finances, I personally never asked how much any of the other founders got. I negotiated my own deal for equity/investment, what anyone else got is none of my business. Don’t know what the original date was of demo day to know if it was pushed back but who cares, why is this a big deal? And I don’t pay his phone bill and don’t read his text messages, like I said, anything discussed between them in private had no bearing on me or any other company.

    • NoBS

      The fact that you can call all this a “reflection of a clash between two strong minded individuals” says a LOT about you. 2 of the MD’s own team members quit and confirmed to the founder that she lied and schemed amongst other things. She kicked out another founder then let him back in several times; where does that count as professionalism? Boldface lying until founder pulled up his log to show she deleted msgs to change story appearance/tone before showing to others? Wow.

      Many of the specific allegations affected the cohort, including suddenly changing the source, possibility and amount of funding on arrival, providing & cancelling mentors, sessions and speakers that never materialized, etc. On other forums, other cohort members say this founder isn’t lying. So if indeed, you are a member of the cohort AND a neutral party (not the MD/one of her lackeys), then identify yourself.

    • It’s an excellent point. Different companies can have different experiences. One incident should not be viewed as representative of every experience. It’s the same reason you check many references of a job applicant, and not just the ones given to you by them! One “red flag” is not a killer, it’s the trend that matters.

  • ArcTanGentleman

    Translation in english… what’s an accelerator… vertical what? Some of us are first time visitors. Also, if these are startup buzzwords, I tend to avoid them as I find them more useful for exciting the uninformed and making them think they understand.

  • Thanks for sharing – What an unbelievable story!

  • Startup New Zealand

    How about a Startup Accelerator rating wiki / application with fair rules and transparency

  • It sounds like theFunded.com needs to expand their service to include incubators.

  • I know….

    Heather Gilchrist of Socratic Labs. No more guessing.

  • David– you could form a “Justice League” or Elders group that gives feedback for new accelerators/incubators, creates guidelines for transparency and there could be some voting on what standards need to be met to get the ‘stamp of approval’. That way new startups would have some place to go when researching these programs, what to look out for, etc. Graduates could add their advice, feedback after participating, it could be a clearinghouse of sorts for the industry.
    ??
    I’ve had my own run-ins with sociopathic entrepreneurs and it’s no fun. I wouldn’t have believed that entrepreneurs (or human beings) could behave so badly if I hadn’t experienced it first hand.

    If you do form an Accelerator Justice League – there would definitely need to be capes. 😉

  • Fabio Krauss Stabel

    That`s rough…. It’s not like you can make a Glassdoor page about an accelerator…. they deal with so few people per batch that every single feedback could be traced back to the writers.

    We face the same kind of situation with investors here in Brazil, the worse thing is that it’s not only with small investors, the big ones too.

    Due Diligence is crucial. Thanks for the post!

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  • siliconlaunch

    What is the alternative to using an accelerator/incubator? A one to one mentor?

  • Don’t be naive about the value proposition accelerators make. The good ones offer transparency and have a track record, which you can do some research on because they are proud of it. Just like an investor is supposed to do due diligence, so are startups supposed to do due diligence. After all you are entering into a business agreement (equity, money, your time) and you need to make a business decision about whether it is worth it and whether what’s on offer is any good.

    This has all the signs of a company that went in naively on the promise of golden mountains and found themselves with a limited budget for rent, office space, legal, and a lot of smoke and mirrors when it came to mentoring, and other supposed value.

    Sadly, there are a lot of amateurs in the market currently on both the startup side and the accelerator side. Accelerators are trying to bootstrap startups on what is a tiny shoe string budget compared to what is called seed funding out there in the real world (500K and upwards). That kind of small budget does not tend to attract the best & brightest people in the industry when it comes to mentoring. Realistically, you are going to get people who are possibly not the most successful entrepreneurs ever trying to mentor some other ones who definitely aren’t either for how ever long 25K or 50K lasts you (the typical accelerator shoe string budget). The main goal of such programs is to coach the odd company that actually stands a chance towards proper funding and get rid of the rest as cheaply as possible while wasting as little time as possible.

    • Yikes

      Most accelerators do provide office space, legal services, a small investment and mentorship in exchange for a small percentage of ownership. The mentors aren’t paid for their involvement. The companies use those resources to focus/work on their product and their market so that they can raise enough cash to get to the next stage. This story has all the signs of bait and switch because the accelerator took the percentage of ownership but didn’t provide the resources.

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  • BestJohnD

    Yeah, my reaction was the same as yours. I think I might even have added “WTF?”

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  • marccanter

    Tee hee Hee – its always fun for me to hear these stories – as the tech press 99.99% of the time plays favorites to VCs and Accelerators, Incubators and the such. The tech press thrives, is paid for and owned by the investor community and its us “entrepreneurs” that are the fodder.

    Try doing this – and being over the age of 50. Then you’ll REALLY have fun.

    🙂

    Kudos to David Cohen for having the balls to print this. Now over to Edsurge – where the truth is revealed – who this guy is and who is the Accelerator and “pseudo” All-star.

    Now ask yourself – if this Accelerator psuedo all-star – from Grockit – acts this way:
    – why is she no longer at Grockit?
    – who else has she screwed?
    – where are all these “so-called” mentors?
    – who else – that you’ve been told – is also FOS?

  • cjwesterberg

    Important post – not surprised by the story, sadly. We (the media in many forms) promote the golden ring of entrepreneurism yet what actually can happen to bootstrapping unsuspecting entrepreneurs is pathetic. Due diligence is good advice but there also is a power play that is unavoidable especially when it comes to money’s honey to keep the engine running. Add possible naivete that may come with lack of experience, cock-eyed optimism and/or the singular drive or vision that an entrepreneur needs to build a biz and get over the humps – – isn’t that the point of mentorship?

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  • bethebutterfly

    I don’t normally get involved in things like this, but I know Heather and I think this kind of “Burn her at the stake” is truly awful and does not feel right in the spirit of what we are all trying to do. Shit fails and gets fucked up all the time. This is ALL an experiment. Even the best accelerators admit they are still trying to “get it right”.

    This is not an attempt to wash over bad behavior from either side.
    I think it is fine to learn from mistakes and to deconstruct and analyze why something went wrong, but I think it is intolerable that we treat another hard working, well meaning, human being like this online in a public forum. I can’t speak for what she did or did not do, but I can say that she doesn’t deserve a public slaughter.

    We are all adults and as entrepreneurs you need to take full 100% responsibility for the things that happen to you in this game and in life. That letter was full of blame and histrionics. These comments are also immature and a bunch of people enjoying someone else’s demise in order to feel better about their own self-doubt.

    David, with all due respect, I understand you got a letter, but did you do any checking before putting it online? Any respectable news organization would have done their own due diligence before posting. I am wondering if you posted it to truly be helpful.

    The whole thing is disappointing.

    • I could not agree more about the spirit of this, it’s a shame that others feel they need to attack someone based on a single data point out of many. And yes, I did the checking that I documented in the post, and no more. The point here was simply “do your due diligence.” I think the smart and reasonable people take only that away from this post and about all the other noise, well, the haters just gotta hate. Let’s all just recognize that those are not the people we are trying to help or that should drive our thinking. Most people I have spoken to about this whom I admire took away the point, and no more. Even if they read the follow on, they rightly assume it’s just one data point and not enough to form an opinion of any one person or program. I strongly encourage all readers to remember the point while not passing judgement on anyone in particular.

      • gilchristh

        I can assure you that Valleywag and PandoDaily took a little but more than that away, and I think it flat-out sucks that you, David–the only person who could have looked at both sides (you definitely knew who the author was, and you could very easily have identified me from the “redacted” information)–chose not to do any due diligence on the subject of the post before posting…about due diligence! Painfully ironic.

      • bethebutterfly

        David I completely understand why you wrote the post and I am sure this is not the first story you have heard, but I think you are shirking responsibility here. Your response comment is kind of like “Oh well” without recognizing the impact publishing the letter verbatim will have on both party’s careers. (Neither come out smelling like roses here.) This kind of stunt is not going to get the author any closer to funding, and if anything makes him sound like a bitter founder who couldn’t take responsibility for his own business.

        “The people you admire” – Who? Other incubators leaders? I am pretty sure you aren’t talking about your readers or PandoDaily or ValleyWag. Because they clearly did not come away with that point. You are influential in the startup community and you are looked at as a leader. With that comes responsibility and this post was anything but responsible. If he had gone to Pando directly (or any other ‘news’ source) they wouldn’t have published it without researching both sides, but because you published it, they could then write about it. Even if he published it himself, it would have been an angry rant from a founder. By publishing it on your blog, you gave it legitimacy.

        Perhaps in the future, the better thing to do would be to spend the time dissecting the learning points instead of a quick “copy and paste”. Again, I don’t care what happened. It isn’t my business and I doubt we will ever know the true story. I care about people owning their shit and respecting the power and influence they have and how that effects the lives and lively-hoods of others.

        • OK, I respect your opinion. Once again, the only point is was trying to make is that you can end up feeling like this person felt if you don’t do background on an accelerator that your’e considering. I am not sure how to say any more emphatically that I strongly encourage everyone not to pass judgement based on a single data point and that yes, this is one side of this particular story. you advice on dissecting the learning points is good, however, i had already done that on a WSJ post which I referred to here. People appreciate stories, and I thought this one was interesting and useful to founders.

  • I’m a Startup Founder at http://cheekd.com. For the record and just to shed some positive light on the subject, the referenced MD of Socratic Labs has been a huge support to me in building my business. I’ve looked to her for advice many times over the past couple of years. Not only has she been an incredible mentor to me, I trust and respect her and honestly look up to her in a way I couldn’t begin to explain. That’s all I got. -Cheek

  • Ibnu Hajar Ulinnuha

    Hi David, i noticed some Indonesian language, “gratis”, does this accelerator and author comes from Indonesia ?

    • i don’t think the term is unique to Indonesia.

  • So that’s one version of the story. What else could have happened? We all tell stories in our heads that make us feel better about ourselves. What if the story was more like this? http://drivenforward.com/blog/learnmeterics-gets-acceleritus

  • Accelerator Enthuiast

    If a picture is worth a thousand words an application is worth a thousand discussions, Being a startup founder I feel passionately about share accelerator experiences and taking an informed decision before joining an accelerator on the basis of feedback.

    On that note I quickly prototyped an application where startup founders can list the accelerator programs they have
    attended and be open to receiving messages and sharing feedback around
    startup accelerators http://www.brandenglish.co.in/accelerator

    Its very simple to start with an MVP format Let me know what you (startup founder) think, share feedback

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  • Confused by this story

    I’m confused by this story for MANY reasons:

    Let’s start at the beginning – you (whomever supposedly redacted information) claim that you’re not including any identifying information, yet you chose to say “She” instead of using a S/He or some other anonymous option – they, the person, etc.

    That seems like you were trying to identify the person.

    Secondly, this story is way too convoluted in many ways, mainly because it’s too long and repetitive.

    “She seemed to think that if she could “turn us against each other” that she’d get what she wanted.” is what he writes at first, then later goes on to say “I later found out that she was trying to turn us against each other to get what she wanted.”

    When “she” asked you what you wanted to stay in the program that you thought was full of lies and BS – why didn’t you just say NOTHING, I want to be done with it? If you were such a good person and you didn’t want to be caught up in the BS. If you gave your terms (whether she met them or not), it seems like you’re saying “I think you’re full of crap, but I’ll stay as long as I get what I want.” If that’s the case, then I don’t see the difference between what you’re doing – using people/situations to your advantage – and what you’re accusing her of doing – using people/situations to her advantage.

    Why is it wrong if she did it and not wrong for you?

  • Really sad.
    -MS
    Catalyzer Startup Accelerator
    catalyzer.co

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  • dave

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  • People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones… as the saying goes. I won’t say any more. (a formal communication is coming your way later today) ~ Despite extraordinarily challenging circumstances I have maintained a professional attitude, disposition and conduct… and resisted doing what the writer above has done.