Originally published 19 May 2020. Anything without a date was added then. As I add more or more context, will tag with a date.
A s an entrepreneur beginning to contemplate what’s next, I’ve been exploring numerous new communities since the beginning of this year. I’d like to share some emerging communities, networks and opportunities that I’ve found powerful and some I still hope to explore.
The silver lining of COVID is that it’s shown how strong team our team at Streetlight is and allowed a deepening relationship with my partner. These two factors and working from home have really given me time and space to explore.
As a natural connector of diverse communities and someone who previously built pipeline for an early-stage incubator, it’s been a joy to come out of deep building mode and rebuild muscles that’ll be critical for when I become an investor myself. It’s also nice to get back into a groove of not just asking for help (which can be tough when you’re facing challenge after challenge as a nonprofit entrepreneur), but finding ways to offer value and give before you get.
Given COVID, it’s never been easier to connect globally with communities, and Johannesburg, South Africa has been a surprisingly good global base. I’m 6 hours ahead of US East Coast, 1 hour ahead of London, 1 hour behind Tel Aviv, 2 hours behind Dubai and 6 hours behind Singapore / APAC. The West Coast can be challenging at times (given I’m 9 hours ahead), but I’ve made it work when given sufficient advanced notice to adjust my sleep schedule.
Finally, it’s been fun joining a range of communities and getting the feel for the vibe of those communities digitally. I love the serendipity of connections, ideas and opportunities within and across these communities.
Access to VCs
1) Added 22 Jun 2020: DocSend has begun doing something totally fascinating. Based on all the decks they see exchanged between entrepreneurs and investors, they’ve published interesting research and reports including Startup Index (Pitch Deck Interest) (updated weekly since 11 May 2020), Funders Who Are Still Giving Term Sheets and 2020 Pre-Seed Fundraising Research Report.
But most intriguing of all, they’ve launched the DocSend Fundraising Network. Participating startups who send their deck and meet DocSend’s quality bar (based on 100k+ successful decks they’ve seen), they’ll make warm intros to matching VCs (whose criteria your deck/startup meets). This could be a great opportunity especially for entrepreneurs from non traditional/underserved backgrounds looking to raise your first round.
2) NFX launched Fast Seed during COVI-19 whereby they guaranteed a 9 day turnaround on startups pitches submitted. Of course, it’s they’re first time doing this so some kinks, but some great responses from those who’ve gone through it as well. UPDATE as of 22 Jun 2020: the current window for this opportunity has closed but you can add your email to be notified if they do it in the future.
Venture Deals is a great example geared toward helping people understand how to raise venture funding. Techstars and Kauffman Fellows ran the last cohort Mar 8-May 1, 2020. I put a team together and then deprioritized learning this skill until the time when I’m actually raising venture funding (sorry, Team Meta!), but it was cool nonethless to bring people together from India, Nigeria, the UK and the US (including someone I had previously met in another community!). They were using the NovoEd online learning platform for course content, lecture videos, assignments, team formation and community engagement.
As a result of connecting with fellow classmates, I was asked to be a mentor for Startup Weekend UK which otherwise would not have happened if not for the course bringing people together, the initiative I took to connect with fellow classmates, and those who replied! Startup Weekend has been around for a while as a part of the global startup ecosystem and as of 2015 owned by Techstars. I had in fact previously work with some tremendous folks to organize Startup Weekend Edu NYC 2014, 2015 and 2016.
UPDATE, 09 Jun 2020: From Brad Feld’s email: We are running the Venture Deals Online Course from June 28, 2020 — August 21, 2020. We usually only run it twice a year (Spring and Fall), but given the Covid crisis, we’ve had many requests to run it this summer.
Hustle is a content brand focused on interesting economic and business stories founded by Sam Parr, and they’ve also launched a premium brand called Trends. Enticed by a $1 trial period and their new lectures format, I joined for a time and got to see two fantastic lectures by Gagan Biyani (Udemy, Lyft and Sprig) and one by Nik Sharma (on launching brands full of incredible specific, tactical advice and examples). They also did a lecture on what trends and behaviors might last through and after COVID-19.
Although I left after the trial period ended, I am seriously considering rejoining for the year as I’ve seen other great sessions. I didn’t stick around long enough to get a full sense for the community, but there definitely is one as well. From what I saw, people in the Facebook Group were posting interesting questions and responses — such as examples of real businesses that were built using no-code tools or how to build, grow & monetize a newsletter audience (obviously something they are very well positioned to speak on)!
Competitions / (Virtual) Accelerators
1) Pioneer.app — started by former YCombinator Partner Daniel Gross — is a newer ‘virtual accelerator’ sourcing founders globally, and requiring them to compete. Complete enough milestones with sufficient points to make it into the top 50 of your cohort and you get funding.
While I haven’t participated, I got to watch one of their recent livestreamed pitches, and what I most enjoyed was the great Q&A by entrepreneurs after each pitch — guest judges have included Tyler Cowen (mentioned above) to Rahul Vohra, Founder of Superhuman. They’ve also built a chat feature so you can connect with founders and other viewers.
2) Added 5 Jun 2020: Launch Accelerator by Jason Calacanis who has built an initial killer track record as an entrepreneur and investor (sold Weblogs and wrote first check to Travis of Uber when he was at Seqouia) and a large brand (podcast, accelerator, festival/conference, syndicate, book and more). Jason and co had a virtual demo day for Class 17 (recording available here). Class 18 added by me 10 Sep 2020 here.
- Solo — trucking as a service (TaaS) to enable drivers to be their own boss (my $3)
- Nude Barre — lingerie in your shade (my #1)
- HoneyFi — financial app for couples to increase transparency and hit savings goals
- EyeRate — platform to increase to reward employees for facilitating positive customer engagement online and increase online reputation (starting w beauty and spa chains)
- Punt Club — creating sports betting clubs among friends
- Paragon One — college students gain real-world externships (my #2)
- TechMate — on demand tech support for distributed workforce
Added 21 May 2020: South Park Commons is another fascinating community and opportunity, self-described as a collective of technologists, tinkerers and entrepreneurs who have come together to freely learn, explore new ideas, and help each other launch our next venture. Found it as a result of a session Index Ventures is hosting through Satya Patel of Homebrew Ventures, and saw someone on the panel from this org and was curious to figure what they do.
1) BeOnDeck is a fellowship entering its fourth cohort cofounded by Erik Torenberg, who also co-founded a scout fund backed by the likes of Hoffman, Gates, Zuckerberg, and Bezos. It’s an 8 week program for people looking to start something now. I have a good friend who was part of ODF (On Deck Fellowship) Cohort 1, and I just finished participating in Cohort 4. In addition to vetting participants through application and interview, they work hard to batch people by stage, and ideally at the early stages of actively working on their next startups.
They ran Cohorts 1 & 2 predominately in person in San Francisco; COVID-19 forced them to run Cohort 3 virtually which is how they will likely do it going forward. They use Slack as their community engagement tool.
2) Emergent Ventures is led by Tyler Cowen for Marginal Revolution and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and despite including ventures in the name, is a fellowship or grants based program for people working on a fascinating array of projects from:
- Kelly Smith’s for-profit project to further extend a parent-run charter school system in Arizona (now Prenda which has gone through YCombinator) to
- Andy Matuschak’s improving the book as a method for learning (which has evolved into tools of thought). to reimaginging the corporate research to launching a microschool network.
They’ve announced eight Cohorts to-date, and I’ve applied with hopes to join Cohort 9. They’ve also launched a special Fast Grants program for COVID-19.
3) 4.0 Schools is the early-stage education incubator I used to work and has evolved from an incubator into a (virtual) Tiny Fellowship. They have a current cohort in progress and for anyone exploring education ideas, they have always done a tremendous job at finding values-aligned, driven, talented individuals and creating a powerful community. When I worked there, we started using Slack as a community engagement tool in 2015.
There are tools like GSBuilds for startups founded by Stanford GSB alumni, internal networks, and also funds who focus on startups founded at school (like Dorm Room Fund, Contrary Cap, and Pear Dorm). Increasingly, I’m working to build a network that spans business schools and that I hope will increasingly allow for successful exits like those analyzed by Jonathan Smith of HBS and Nnamdi Okike of 645 Ventures. Friends who’ve been admitted for the Class of 2022 at various schools have mentioned different schools using tools like Slack and Workplace for recruitment and engagement.
As a result of introductions, I’ve found interesting potential cofounders who I’ve started building and validating ideas with.
These are newer to me and I haven’t been able to engage yet, but I just found and read this great run down of their history by Jules Ehrhardt and shared with my by Katherine Liew (founder of FKTRY and MITidm class of 2021, respectively).
Pre-company opportunities like Entrepreneur First and Antler seem most applicable and likely to surface some really interesting opportunities. In addition to long running incubators like IdeaLab and Betaworks (with their themed camps being an interesting recent feature and approach and GIPHY’s acquisition by Facebook a very recent win).
There are countless others I’m sure I’m missing, so if you run a community or know of one, let me know! As I find and explore more, I hope to update this list. Comment here on Medium or Tweet at me @ davidthefu.