When people ask me about my time in SF for the 500 Start-ups Accelerator program, they are shocked and surprised. It’s not the usual response of “it was an amazing time” and “I had the time of my life”. Yes, fine, SF is a breath-taking and beautiful city (once you learn how to avoid the bad parts), but my time there was not as amazing as you may think. Let me break it down for you.
We were a month late to the program
I arrived in SF on May 15th, while my co-founder arrived on May 1st. The program started April 1st. Apparently there was a full on-boarding orientation which included introductions and guidance in the way of goals and milestones in that first week or two. We missed it all, so when I arrived, I didn’t know anyone and just had to jump in. It took me about 6 weeks to get to know people and figure things out.
We were too early stage for this program
You try to say no to money when you are dead broke and need it. But, looking back, it didn’t help us, it hindered us. Although, we had a fully developed website, and were fully operational, we needed to be consistent in our product offerings and customer service for a few more months. We also needed to build up our customer base and work on our product – market fit. We had no solid traction either. I needed to be in India where our business was to ensure we were cranking out looks consistently and our customers were happy. Perhaps, I wasn’t the right person on the team to be there the entire time. The focus of 500 Start-ups at the end of the day is to raise money. Half the program is geared towards that – I don’t think we were in the best shape to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps more like $25K to $50K. Also, SF is the last place on earth to go if you’re a fashion start-up, but I digress.
We lived in SF not Mountain View
When I arrived in SF, it was only because my co-founder’s friend was on vacation so it was okay for me to crash in her room for the week she was gone. It was next to impossible to find a place in Mountain View, let alone SF. The day before I had to leave the place I was staying, I happened to run into a really close friend of mine randomly on the street. I didn’t waste anytime asking/begging her for her extra key of her 500 square foot studio. We did end up finding a place eventually, beside one of the worst areas of SF, which was a 30 minute walk from the 50 minute train to the Mountain View office. All the other companies were staying in a place near the office which no longer took month to month leasing. The commute was killer and exhausted me. What I realized halfway through the program was that the whole point of it was to get to know the 29 other companies, all who had various breadth of knowledge from around the world. Living far away ruined our chance of bonding and getting to know anyone closely. Although, I did eventually become friends with everyone around the last few weeks/days of the program.
The “Living” Situation
After scouring craigslist and airbnb everyday, we eventually found a studio apartment that had a full kitchen, with some space to sit and even a couch. But, there was no privacy. I offered to take the couch, after my co-founder was sleeping on a friend’s floor for 3 weeks prior. Thankfully, I got along with my co-founder brilliantly and we had minimal issues, but it was definitely challenging. I value my privacy and alone time, and there was basically none.
Pitch Prep Stress
I talked about this in an earlier post. Generally, I’ve always been good at public speaking and I actually enjoy it. But, I found doing this pitch extremely challenging and not in a good way. It took a lot of work, and some much needed guidance to perform something that passed for a 6/10 at the very least.
General Bad Luck
I’m not one to have bad luck, if anything I’m fairly lucky and fortunate. While in SF, I had to get an emergency double root canal, which I still don’t have crowns for. I was on painkillers for a few days. Later, our company card was stolen and used in Utah for $2500 (which we later recovered). My driver’s license expired 3 days after I arrived in SF and I could only renew it in person in Toronto. That left us with no way out of the city to take any road trips. There were a few other minor incidents but in general, I tried to make the best out of the situation.
In the end, I am fortunate to have met all 30 companies whose founders are brilliant and amazing individuals. Silicon Valley is filled with people who have “been there done that” like no where else in the world. The experience of meeting all these people was invaluable. Being a part of the “500 family” is worthwhile just for the network, and this is a lifetime membership! It was definitely a tough time, but I know we got into this program, because all four of us are seasoned entrepreneurs that can do anything if we just focus and put our mind to it. I know now I am seen as the underdog who probably won’t make it, but little do they know how strong and crazy I truly am. I never give up.
If I was to do it again, I wouldn’t have stayed the entire time, I would have switched places with someone else from my team. I also would have stayed in Mountain View in my own place if I could help it and make more of an effort to get to know more people in the other companies. Having a license would have helped and of course putting my health first. Often times, health takes a back seat in startup life, but without your health you’re stuck on a couch on painkillers feeling like crap.