5 Things I Wish I Knew Before 500 Startups

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All set to join a world-class technology accelerator? Here are five key lessons from 500 Startups alumna, co-founder of GreenGar. 

By Thuy Truong (Co-founder, GreenGar)

There are tons of things that I learned throughout my time at 500 startups. However, these are the five specific things I wish I knew better.

Make Better Use of Your Mentor’s Time

There are more than 200 mentors available in 500 Startups’ network. Together with the whole family, (mentors, founders, staff) totals to more than 1000 people. That’s a huge network that any entrepreneur would dream of. Entrepreneurship is a lonesome road, however, having a network gives you no excuse to say, “I don’t know how to do abc or xyz.”

Unless you managed to invent an entire new problem with your startup, there will always be someone in the network that is an expert in what you are dealing with. If you can’t find anyone who has experienced similar problems before, it will be difficult to address issues like how to scale your back-end performances, understanding term sheets, or decoding investors’ message that is specific to your product.

All mentors offer office hours of at least once per month each batch, or even more. Each session is about 30 to 45 minutes. Make the best use of each mentor’s time by studying their profiles. Do your homework. Send them an email about your company and a few questions that you want to discuss before the mentorship session. That is how you will make the best use of both your time and your mentor’s!

Focus on Your Traction, Metrics, and Users, Not Your Product

GreenGar came to 500 Startups with 500,000 monthly active users. What does that mean? I have half a million people to think about every night before I go to sleep, literally. However, we’re not coming to 500 Startups to show off our traction (who cares?), we’re here to make a difference for our company, to take GreenGar to the next level. 500 Startups has a great team that understands distribution and growth hacking. However, it won’t be helpful if you don’t know your metrics. In fact, I think having a great traction like GreenGar has a lot of disadvantages as most people think GreenGar will be doing okay.

We clearly knew how to make apps that people love and we knew how to make money. However, we made a huge mistake. We focused on developing the new product. Our lead developer, myself and my co-founder spent literally 16 hours per day writing 170,000 lines of code per week. We successfully developed the new Whiteboard. However, our metrics did not improve a bit during the three months we spent in doing so. One thing we did right was to listen to Dave McClure’s advice and do intensive user research about our user database. Therefore, at least we knew that the new Whiteboard is the product that all of our users have been waiting for.

Only Focus on the Advice That Matters to You

From the first point, while it is sweet to have 1000 people giving you advice, it can also be the biggest pain in the butt as well. Before Demo Day, we had a month to prepare our final pitch. We pitched to mentors, investors and to each others. “Fake it until you make it” is the term that we use. Everyday, we pitched like it’s the real pitch at the Demo Day. If there were two people watching your pitch, you will get two different pieces of advice. If there were six, you will probably receive five different advice (likely one of them will agree with some other in the group). I literally worked on my pitch and my slide deck everyday! It’s about two to three hours of work everyday, between improving the slides and practice. The bottom line is that everyone will spend time to advise you because they want the best for you. They want you to be able to get the right kind of attention on Demo Day. And more importantly, everyone wants you to succeed.

Lesson learned: There is no wrong advice. However, there are only a few that are valid for certain periods of time or at certain stages of your company. Keep in mind that no one in this world knows your company, your product or your vision better than you.

The Greatest Asset of 500 Startups Is the Co-working Space

Before I joined 500 Startups, I remember someone told me,“Dave McClure is the greatest asset of 500 Startups.” In my opinion, the greatest asset of 500 Startups is the co-working space. I spent 14 to 16 hours in the office every single day. In my own apartment, I don’t even have any furniture. It’s more like a place to crash than a home! But being able to work together with my 500 Startups batchmates, high-speed internet, and a fully stocked refrigerator is like heaven for any startup!

Batch 6 of 500 Startups has over 70 percent of founders originating from outside of the US. It feels like going back to college again, except the guys who sit next to you are spending like 10 to 12 hours per day working. This not only gave me a lot of motivation, but it also gave me new knowledge just by working near them in the same space. For example, no one on my team knew how to set up a server. Adam, CEO of Binpress, is an expert and offered us all the help when he could.

Spend More Time With Your Batchmates and Teammates

With the greatest asset of 500 Startups being the co-working space, I have learned from my batchmates as much as from the mentors and the staff of 500 Startups. Needless to say, 500 Startups have some of the most awesome staff on earth. Everyone is so caring and giving.

Spending time with my batchmates during the accelerator program helped me forge many great friendships. We spent days and nights together at the office, giving each other a hand, support for courage, or just a compliment to make the day better. It really makes you feel better knowing you are not going through this alone.

For many teams who didn’t have an office before, 500 Startups is probably the first time that they can have their team all sitting together in one place. Better yet, many of us live together in the same building or apartment, making it the a great opportunity to spend time with each other. However, we had to avoid the trap of turning into workaholics, this is something I admit, that was hard for me. At the end of the day, you’re building the company not by building the product, but by building the people who will grow the company together with you.

This post is dedicated to all of my batchmates, 500 Startups’ staff, Christine Herron, Marvin Liao, Jun Li, Maneesh, Deepak, Dave, Christine Tsai, George, Max, Melissa, and everyone! This post first appeared on Thuy’s personal blog as Things I Wish I Knew When I Joined 500 Startups.

Did you participate in an accelerator? What do you wish you had known before participating?

Image Credits: Truong Thanh Thuy

ThuyTruong Thanh Thuy is the co-founder of GreenGar, the creator of real-time collaborative applicationWhiteboard. She is a 500 Startups alumnus and spends her time between San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City. Follow her on Twitter at @thuymuoi.