“I made new friendships with CEOs from around the world building products solving a variety of problems.”

By Poornima Vijayashanker (Founder & CEO, BizeeBee)

When I left Mint.com to start BizeeBee, a number of startup incubators approached me about joining.

While I liked the concept of having focused time to think, learn, and mentors who had help build some pretty amazing technology companies, I decided against joining an incubator.

I needed some time to myself, and quite frankly, I wanted the first six months of starting BizeeBee to be unstructured. Instead of spending time inside brainstorming, I got outside and met potential customers. I interviewed a number of them to understand their needs before a single line of code was written.

After the initial prototype was built, launched, and I had raised a seed round of funding an investor and mentor suggested that I look into Astia. I had heard about Astia before and had also seen many success stories come out of it.

I initially applied to be a part of the NYC class in April 2011, but after my initial screening the group decided that the business was not far enough along yet to be a part of the program. I went back to building the business. Six months later, I applied for Astia’s San Francisco October 2011 class. We had built out more of the business, and I think truthfully I just got better at pitching, and defining the vision for BizeeBee.

What I Liked About Astia’s Week-Long Program

  1. It focused on building the entire business. Astia primarily services companies focused on high growth opportunities, and their curriculum is aligned with this vision. They brought in speakers who had been CEOs of gaming companies, biotech companies, tech companies, design firms, and business coaches who work directly with CEOs. These speakers focused on motivating the young portfolio companies’ CEOs through storytelling, and hands on workshops from positioning and fundraising to board room decorum.
  2. Women led but not all participants are women. Astia allows each portfolio company to bring members of the founding team to participate. This enriched the conversation for many companies. It wasn’t just about the CEO, it was about sharing company problems, and learning ways to solve them together. There were many men in the audience who were co-founders and early employees, who were encouraged to participate.
  3. Brings out the best in even the shyest CEO. Starting a company is tough, and every CEO wonders if they are doing things right. At the beginning of the program, I noticed women who had many advanced degrees and years of experience fear pitching their company. Then during the course of the week, an interesting phenomenon emerged – the women in my group actually became more confident! Many who initially stumbled through their 30 second elevator pitch were ready to take center stage. They became perfectly poised and eloquent – after just one week!

These Aren’t Your Typical Silicon Valley Tech Startups

I made new friendships with CEOs from around the world who were building products that were solving a variety of problems, everything from diagnosing autism to helping menopausal women suffering hot flashes! I learned from these founders and CEOs because we each thought a little differently based on our companies being in different industries. Astia also pulled in an international crowd, and I got to learn about the challenges people have in starting companies in other countries.

Beyond the Week

In picking an incubator or any organization to support your company, it’s important to keep in mind that every experience is what you make of it. You cannot expect an organization like Astia to guarantee your company’s success. What you can expect is for them to help create more opportunities for you. But as a founder and CEO, you still have to make use of them and leverage their network.

I stay in close contact with Astia, requesting for introductions to investors and advisors. They are always willing to lend an ear when I need to talk through a problem.

There are many such programs popping up – there is the illustrious YC, 500 Startups, AngelPad, I/O Ventures, SpringBoard and countless others.

Find the one that fits with your company’s goals, and certainly don’t feel like you have to start with one. You can visit the concept of incubating when you and your company are ready.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Poornima Vijayashanker is Founder & CEO of BizeeBee. Prior to that, she was at Mint where she began as employee #3 in 2006, and stayed through the startup’s acquisition by Intuit for $170M in 2010. Prior to Mint, she was in the Master’s degree program for computer science at Stanford University but dropped out to join Mint. Poornima holds a double degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University. Poornima blogs on Femgineer.com and is a competitive yoga. Follow her on Twitter at @poornima.