founder instituteAs many of you know over the last few months I’ve been involved in a tech incubator in Palo Alto, CA called the Founder Institute. The program is the brainchild of Adeo Ressi a serial entrepreneur in the tech space, who has deep ties to the Silicon Valley startup community.

To get a truly balanced review of the Founder Institute program I thought I’d put together some thoughts from fellow classmates, you’ll see their thoughts below. Like all incubators the Founder Institute has it’s ups and downs but at the end I walked away with a wealth of knowledge and stellar network that’s priceless.

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Good news! It was not easy, but I just graduated from the Founder Institute! This four-month program helps entrepreneurs get started. It was of tremendous help for us at ObjectFabric to get the basics right and understand the path to a successful launch and fundraising effort. A lot of work remains to be done, and we will now keep working together with the institute and my graduate peers and now friends toward this goal.  I worked with amazing people there, and learned more in a few months than in the entire previous year working on this project. Mentors are successful entrepreneurs that are able to cut through all the noise that you find online when learning to organize your business or pitch your idea, and give concrete and proven advice. The pace of the program is fast and the institute doesn’t wait for you, most founders do not actually make it until the end. I want to thank Adeo Ressi and his team for their amazing work. The institute is now present on all continents and to me, helping entrepreneurs solve problems and improve global well-being is a most noble cause.

Cyprien Noel of Object Fabric

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I made it, I’m a survivor. Over fifty startup dreamers started, fourteen graduated. It was stressful, fun, interactive, educational, exciting, hard, and most of all, an eye opener to what’s ahead. I officially graduated from the Founder Institute Silicon Valley Winter 2010 incubator. Every week we had the best founders in the Bay Area give a talk on a specific topic, I learned things that would have taken me three, four, five startups to learn and that were critical to the launch and growth of my first, ecobold.com. The sessions were run by Adeo Ressi, a founder with a great track record himself. You might or might not have heard of Adeo, but if you ever get the experience of meeting him in person, my best advice is: don’t take it personal. He is there to support and guide you, as long as you’re willing to learn and listen.

Throughout the program I was asked to write a few paragraphs on why I should stay on the program. Twice. I was asked to email my entire group their weaknesses. I was asked to name someone on my group who wasn’t performing. But one of my fond memories is the first day I was actually happy, rather than stressed, to be in the institute (about 3 weeks into the program). I was at Adeo’s office hours and, after looking at some of Ecobold’s videos, he said: “You’re not bad, at least you don’t say stupid things”. Looking back, nothing was hard and everything was realistic. The lessons learned are priceless. If you badly want to be successful, I highly recommend it.

Steffany Boldrini of EcoBold

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“Adeo gives you tough love. If you are looking for an incubator program that will coddle you and nurture you and your idea until somebody funds it, this is not the program for you. Adeo pokes the holes in your plan and it’s your job to plug them. If you don’t, you’re out, sooner or later.” Seth Cohen Screenius

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“Besides all the good things that Founder Institute is; the push that really got me going beyond my usual self and to do more, was the team that was always there for you. The team helped me accomplish a lot and was very instrumental in accelerating my entrepreneurial learning.” Brajeshwar of Levoma.com

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Attending the founder institute is definitely an experience that challenges your intellect and will. Your intellect, because you think you know, but you have no idea the value of information you get from the top notch mentors and advisors. It challenges your will, because at times the option to give up is more attractive than then sticking in. Your will to change things and see through to your graduation will be challenged through assignments, pitch ratings and amongst others, Adeo himself.

In a way FI also reflect real life startup experiences, pivoting of ideas, disapproval by peers most importantly seeing other founders loose or win their way. FI challenged what I believed as an entrepreneur and I learned a lot from mentors from Evernote, Mint.com, Facebook, Match.com, Adify and many more.  I would suggest FI to anyone who is serious about starting a company. If you can survive till graduation you will be that more prepared for the real world. – Wesley Michel of Mosion.

My two cents is goes as follows. First off, I learned a TON at Founder Institute. The caliber of mentors was incredible – people like Jonathan Abrams of Friendster fame, Aaron Patzer (who recently sold his company Mint.com for 170 million dollars) and Phil Libin of Evernote just to name a few.

If you have an idea and don’t know how to get started the Founder Institute offers a step by step program that will take you from idea > to iteration > to a better idea > back to iteration > to a final idea > to a bunch of hard tasks that will make your business better > to graduation. After you graduate you’ll have a wealth of knowledge under your belt, a solid networks of mentors and classmates to rely on and a new found understanding of what it takes to build a meaningful tech company.

I went into the program with a broad idea for a freelance job board named Zirtual. I left with a much more specific concept and a plan to go to market in the future. For now I’m focusing on getting Virtual Zeta to a point of profitability where it’s profits can pay to “bootstrap” Zirtual before we seek angel funding. My partner and I know we’ll get a much better valuation when our startup is up, running and has traction than we would with just an idea and a basic structure built out. This isn’t the “traditional” model in Silicon Valley but it’s ours (I don’t like tradition anyways) and I think in the future we’ll be incredibly happy with the results as I know Virtual Zeta will (and is) going to do well and soon Zirtual will be kicking some serious butt also.

Note: Founder Institute is not for the shy, scared or weak. Adeo is relentless at honing your idea down to something he approves of and thinks can scale. Sometimes you will hate him, others you will be eternally grateful for his wisdom. It’s a very hot and cold relationship, but a worthwhile one none-the-less.

Also, if you’re building a business that doesn’t need capital (venture or otherwise) I’d still suggest you try an incubator program because it will teach you so much. If you’re looking to get funding then a program like Founder Institute will genuinely improve your concept and help you get the ball rolling. Some notable graduates from Founder’s that have gone on to build out their company and get funding include: Retailigence, Udemy and Lets Lunch.

If you’ve been in an incubator, agree or disagree with the reviews above I’d love to hear your two cents :) Also if you have questions about Founder’s feel free to email me or ask them in the comments section below.

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  • James

    Nice! But, not very objective review! How about the other 50′s POV?

  • James

    Nice! But, not very objective review! How about the other 50′s POV?

  • http://harvestwages.com harvestwages

    Hey Maren,
    I’m glad you could improve your entrepreneurial instincts at the Founder Institute.
    I too inten to be there some time next year

  • http://www.VirtualZeta.com Maren Kate

    Let me know when you go and I can answer any questions you may have :)

  • http://www.VirtualZeta.com Maren Kate

    Actually only 12 made it through out of 50 – and these were the only people who offered :) So as objective as I could make it.

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  • http://website-in-a-weekend.net/ Dave Doolin

     I need to do this, or something similar. I’ve been bent on bootstrapping myself and flying solo. It’s not working. While I’m super leary of being funded (from startup experience version dot com I), I can now see the education is priceless. 

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  • None

    You have problems with self-esteem if you regard Adeo Ressi and the founder’s institute as helping you.

  • http://www.VirtualZeta.com Maren Kate

    Ha – that’s funny – I do agree that he can be a jerk 90% of the time, but it did help me learn more about starting up than I would have on my own.

  • Hellokitty

    Don’t bother working for Zirtual they’re a scam. They won’t pay you what they say they will and they definitely won’t pay you on time. Also, the clique they have in SF delegates all the work to the new assistant’s until the workload is light and then they transfer. Neither the client will be happy (especially since they don’t really tell you what you get) or you in the end. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/C2VBODB2SCP5FRZ5A2PSPIFCLE Jentilefish

    why is it you think that so many didn’t make it to the end? is it their idea didn’t hold water? 

  • http://www.facebook.com/se7astian Sebastian Boneta

    The Founder Institute is like a crash course tech MBA. It’s education 2.0 — no fancy degree, just the knowledge, tools, and contacts to press forward. Like all knowledge and tools, you have to work hard to acquire them, and in the end, they are what you make of them. For me, definitely worth the 3.5% of equity that we gave up to the Institute, our mentors, and fellow classmates. Onwards.

  • Bo Schaefer

    To get a truly balanced review of the Founder Institute program I
    thought I’d put together some thoughts from fellow classmates, you’ll
    see their thoughts below. Like all incubators the Founder Institute has
    it’s ups and downs but at the end I walked away with a wealth of
    knowledge and stellar network that’s priceless.

    http://www.metropolitanlogistics.com/ocean-freight/

  • Lurker

    The above link doesn’t include any information about Founder Institute.

  • Cindy

    Hello. I’m accepted to join the program in March but skeptical about the 3.5% warrant and 10 year bonus share. What do you think about this trade off? Is it worthy? Can I avoid giving up my stock?