Focusing on founders – the Founder Institute

There are numerous seed and incubator programs in operation, all geared towards getting startups on their feet, funded and on their way. Most of these programs have a similar framework. Startups pitch an idea, and the program decides which are the best investments for their time and money. The incubator then works with that handful of startups and focuses on helping them get going over a few weeks or months, with varying amounts of money, visiting mentors, speakers etc. In return they get a piece of the startup’s pie.

Incubators are a prized involvement for a startup so the application process is highly competitive. For example, in 2009, Boulder-based Techstars’ third year, they received 527 applications from all over the world. The program then had the daunting task of whittling it down by about 90%.

A new type of program entered the fray this year. Silicon Valley-based The Founder Institute, headed by Adeo Ressi, launched The Funded, an incubator which features interaction with a range of mentors, all geared towards helping get startups off the ground. However, the Funded has a different perspective than most others.FI logo

You’re more than welcome to go through the program in detail if you follow the earlier link, but to me the key aspect is that The Funded’s program focuses on the founders themselves, not just one startup idea that they have. Looking at most successful entrepreneurs today, many of them have ideas that ultimately didn’t work out – but The Founder Institute believes that one failure doesn’t automatically make them a bad selection for an incubator. Instead, focusing on working with people who have all the particular founder qualities necessary to build great companies is far more likely to produce dividends.

The Founder Institute invited people to complete an application outlining themselves and their startup idea (like the other incubators do). But after that, those applicants deemed to have the most promising/fitting qualities were invited to undertake a 5-part test. As a result, there are startups in all sorts of different areas, at all stages of development. The test we each sat was produced by the Founder Institute in collaboration with other specialists – the idea is to gain a quantifiable reflection of those who are most likely to ‘make it’ based on their personality and IQ traits (of course, much of the results of this will not be apparent for a while yet – we have to launch ourselves to see the outcomes).

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Undertaking the test was a real adventure.

Each of our three founders was invited to take the test. It was delivered online, parts of it were timed, and one whole section was on vocabulary. It reminded me a lot of a cross between an IQ test and the GRE exam. There was even some math (shudder) – and questions that looked like they could have needed to include math but didn’t (IQ). It took about 1.5 hours to get through it all, and we sat it independently (I did mine at 6am before the kids got up. Jed did his that evening after I’d gone to bed.)

The funniest part was that scribetribe’s founders had a phone conference to talk about various things the evening after we’d all done the test. It was done and over. But Jed, Daz and I were still talking about the questions. “What did you put for this?” “Oh, I ran out of time in that section.” Littered with shared laughter, there was a really serious, telling side of us all in our focus on having done the best we possibly could. It really showed to me how there are little aspects to our personalities which complement each other’s, help us work really well together, and at the same time amplify each other’s particular strengths. It was very interesting to see how competitive Jed and I can be with each other (but he cares more than I. I would never repeatedly point out that I got a question right that he didn’t. Even though I did ;)) Just as you would in high school, we worked out the answers to the few questions we could remember and reflected on our (well… my) agony in not being able to make sense of others.

At the end of it all, all three of us were accepted into the program, which has just 75 founders for 2009, its inaugural year. All the founders are broken into smaller working groups to work on each week’s assignments, to discuss and brainstorm – it’s fabulous because all three of us are in different working groups, and are contributing and receiving complementary information in those smaller brainstorms. We also, of course, all work together one day a week, have classes with mentors focused on particular areas from ideation to accounting to marketing.

Even funnier than the test? The fact that after each of us had our first working group meeting, I said to Jed, “my group voted me president.” Jed replied, “so did mine.”

We are each thrilled to be part of the Funded – it’s providing each of us with things we need to really make an incredible company together. And with our focus, energy and excitement, Scribetribe’s alpha launch at the end of this summer is going to be phenomenal.

2 comments

  • I’m taking the test this weekend…Personality test is great…I’ll do awesome! But the more I read about the test, the more anxiety I am getting.Taking tests is so challenging for me, and I have always felt that tests have frustrated me b/c of goals like the Founding Institute…MATH? Arg! I CAN DO THIS!

  • Perhaps your test is different to mine, but please do not automatically think that there is math to test your math skills. Instead, it’s to test your processes and rationale. There were a few questions that considered your processing abilities, and ways of looking at problems. Believe me, math is my bugbear too. There is a reason why the last class left in my PhD coursework is quant methods 😉 But for FI, I did the test – and obviously passed it (whatever that means). Good luck and stop thinking about how challenged you are by math, and think more about how accomplished you are in your ability to get things done! 🙂 FI doesn’t want your ability to use a calculator – it wants your ability to look at problems with a meta-view and how you solve them.

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