The 500 experience has definitely helped us grow in many unimaginable ways, more than I can list…
By Aihui Ong (Founder & CEO, Love With Food)

There are so many incubator/accelerator programs in Silicon Valley (e.g. AngelPad, 500 Startups, YC) and each has a different application process, providing different levels of investment in exchange for equity. However, they all share a common trait – they aim to open doors for you, help propel you to the next stage of your startup growth. What they don’t do is spoon-feeding. Hand holding not included.

Love With Food is fortunate to be part of 500 Startups (graduated Feb’12), one of the top 10 startup incubators and accelerators in the world.

Many have asked about my experience at 500 and also requested to be referred into the program. What shocked me was a common assumption, life after 500 is a bed of roses AKA fundraising will be a smooth ride, getting press is a piece of cake! Haha, dream on! 500 will help open doors for you, but it’s still up to you to hustle to make things happen.

When I pitched to 500 almost a year ago, Paul Singh asked “How big is your team” and my answer was “ONE”. Yes, just me, from being the sys admin to Rails developer, from sales/marketing to customer support. Today, we are a team of five and a half. The 500 experience has definitely helped us grow in many unimaginable ways, more than I can list in this blog post.

Here are the top ways 500 has helped me and my startup:

1. Team

Yes, the $50K was helpful but the branding of 500 helped me convince two very talented individuals to join the team. Not everyone can work in a startup and Katie who was a food writer decided to take the leap of faith to join the roller-coaster startup ride.

As everyone knows, talented engineers are hard to come by. I remembered reading Hendy’s github account and knew he would be the ideal CTO. After a 20 minutes conversation, he hopped on the next flight and 17 hours later, he was working with us at 500.

2. Workspace = Camaraderie

I really love the fact that we were given a workspace for four months. We were strangers on Day One but by the end of the four months, we were family. Working together helped us built a bond that I know will last a life time. It’s amazing how we all came together to exchange ideas, lend a helping hand to one another.

For me, I can’t thank the class of F11 enough for cheering me along. Being a single founder is hard, but the support I’ve gotten helped me persevere on!

3. Discounts = Save $$$

Heroku, Amazon, Sendgrid, Mailchimp, Rackspace, Optimizely and many more. I bet you use at least one of these service providers.

As a 500 company, some of these are provided to us at a hugh discount or even FREE!!!

4. Mentors

Whether you are building a mobile app, an enterprise business or even an e-commerce startup, there’s a huge array of experienced entrepreneurs whom you can tap into. They are part of the 500 mentor network. I’ve reached out to several to talk shop, to learn from them and potentially partner with one another.

Even when we needed physical help the first month we launched our boxes, mentors like James Levine and Hong Quan were eager to step up!

5. Community

500 is not just a four-month experience. It doesn’t end. 500 has invested in more than 300 startups and we are all brought together by this online community, sort of like a private Quora. As startups, we are always faced with unknowns and questions, it’s so easy to post your questions and everyone is always so eager to respond and help.

This knowledge sharing is priceless. It’s such a great platform to learn from other founders and hear their experiences. Need an intro to someone? Just ask, and someone in the community will try to help. I needed an intro to the founders of Warby Parker and one of the founders responded, “My brother-in-law might know one of the founders, I’ll try to connect.” I was floored!

6. Events / Talks

Need advice? Just reserve one of the many office hours slots at 500. Luminaries of Silicon Valley are often invited to speak at 500 too. All these internal events are awesome but 500 also partners with other events to bring more awesomeness to their portfolio companies (e.g. the upcoming Hawaiian Food and Wine Festival which Love With Food will be participating. Yippee!)

7. Big Brands

500 is alway thinking of ways to partner with big brands and also help their portfolio companies partner with big brands. Over the last couple of months, we’ve been given the opportunity to present to top executives from General Mills, American Express and Disney.

8. Press

Demo Day, the day to showcase your startup to investors and also get press attention. Every Silicon Valley tech press was there and competing with other 30+ companies to get press attention wasn’t easy.

Thanks to Hong, my informant, I chased Alexia Tsotsis of TechCrunch (which you can read more here) into the bathroom and convinced her why she should pick us as one of the top seven. Being a female founder has its advantages!

Demo Day is such a great event to build relationships with members of the press. A few months after Demo Day, some journalists actually contacted me to get a quote for their stories.

9. Investors

Some of the investors at Demo Day took a second meeting while other investors I met through other channels took a meeting because we were part of 500. The 500 brand acts as their filter. It has also helped us rise above the noise on AngelList where there are thousands of startups fundraising. Because of that, I actually met and closed three investors on AngelList.

10. Dave McClure

Dave McClure has invested in more than 300 companies and he truly cares about each one of them, but if you need his attention, you just need to yell louder than the rest. Back in February when we just started fund raising, I was struggling. I couldn’t get enough meetings.

All Dave said was “You just need a little push.” And that little push started to snowball. I would text him at 1am for help, and he would reply at 1:05am. This guy is not human. He doesn’t sleep. Whatever creature he is, I’m glad he’s on our side 🙂

Startup life is never a cakewalk, not even after 500. The 500 experience will open doors for you and it’s up to you to seize the opportunities and make things happen.

This post was originally posted at Aihui Ong’s blog.

About the guest blogger: Aihui Ong is the Founder and CEO of Love With Food, a subscription service that delivers a box of gourmet samples to your door for $10 a month. For every box sent, a meal is donated to feed hungry children in America. She started her first business in her dorm room while pursuing her undergraduate computer science degree in Singapore and now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. Follow her on Twitter at @aihui and her startup at @LoveWithFood.