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Invaluable insight along with ping pong and Xbox

Microsoft's awesome accelerator

Paul Surtees in alternative finance
Jun 28

Back in March, I was excited to hear that Capitalise had been selected to be part of Microsoft's accelerator program.  We were one of 12 companies chosen to participate in the accelerator, which aims to help firms scale their business, bring innovative services to market, and reach new customers.


The program runs for four months and, as I prepare for my pitch presentation on Thursday, I find myself reflecting on some of the key take-aways from this invaluable opportunity.

'Storytelling not exposition.  Less is more.'


Day one induction set the scene for the departure from our comfort zone that would become so common throughout the program.  With all the members together, Tim Benton, impact specialist at Microsoft Accelerator, transformed us from strangers into colleagues in just three hours.  


Through the use of theatre, we took just six words and turned them into mini-plays, quickly becoming leprechauns, rainbows, husbands and much, much more.  The actor inside me escaped and silent storytelling was a reality.  Whilst this might seem strange to some (and even me at the time!), the concept of effective pitch delivery was born.  Storytelling not exposition.  Less is more.  This lesson has proven invaluable as I prepare for my pitch on Thursday.


Whilst there is ping pong, Xbox and a beer fridge at the Microsoft Accelerator office, it was clear from the start that this was about accelerating into series A funding.  Warwick Hill, the CEO at Microsoft Accelerator, led a series of CEO round tables.  These served as a powerful reminder that leading a company, regardless of size, can be a lonely experience.


Like all of the team, Warwick does not suffer fools gladly.  At our first round table, he shut the door and set the ground rules with the main one being, "what is said in this room, stays in this room."  He then asked us the tough questions and whilst we were sheepish at first, we eventually all opened up.  For me, it was helpful to share openly with people so able to empathise with the challenges we collectively face - growing at capacity, hiring issues, future funding and changes to our 'go-to-market' strategies.

Answering the difficult questions. . .


Most of us are trying to solve problems digitally and are just trying to juggle design with functionality to arrive at the 1-click nirvana.  Some of you might have read a book called 'The Lean Startup,' by Eric Ries, but I wonder how many of you have been part of the '5-whys' exercise?


This was the most rewarding one-to-one business canvas session I had but was also much like sitting with my four year-old son, forcing me to answer questions such as, "Why, daddy, have you built your logic gates in typeform manner?  Why, daddy, have you designed them for millennials?  Why have you designed a commercial finance product for mobile?  Why don't you force a higher client conviction?  Why does this make for a better conversion?" 


This session led to a long weekend of soul searching, after which we broke down our model, iterated and two weeks later, our conversion was jumping.  Warwick is like a terrier - two and a half weeks later, I was back in the '5-whys' seat again.


There have been so many great meetings - sometimes educational, others inspirational, and many commercial.  My favourite sessions were with Devin Hunt.  He's a YCombinator alum so he knows a thing or two about accelerators.  Having also lived the San Francisco dream, he shared it vividly.  That said, the most inspirational session for me was with Cristobal Conde - he tells one hell of a story.

Moving forward. . .


So as the sun sets on our time in the Microsoft Accelerator house and demo day fast approaches, I'll always remember this shared experience of being surrounded by like-minded founders, looking to make a success of their business.  During the four months we were together, we have solved problems together, made introductions, collaborated on projects, visited Downing Street and moved collectively forward.


Whilst there will be no leprechauns or rainbows during my pitch, the lessons I learned on day one are still fresh in my mind, and I'll certainly put them to practice during my pitch on Thursday.


I want to say a huge thank you to Microsoft, Warwick, John D, Kevin and Johnny.  I look forward to being an accelerator alum and growing with the program's continued guidance.  Also, I look forward to seeing the other businesses, my cohort, give their pitches too.  Good luck to Pinipa, Furo, Fitwell, Simedx, Instanda, Dendrite, Crowdaura, Altitude Angel, Docxpresso, and Glisser.

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