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The Startmate experience

If you’re doing a startup, get into a good accelerator.

For four months in 2013 I was going through a life-transforming experience: participation in Australia’s top startup accelerator, Startmate. It was an emotional roller-coaster full of exciting opportunities, important lessons, incredible motivation and hard work. Here’s a picture worth a thousand words…

7pm Anywhere revision number over time.

The project I worked on with my co-founder Amir was 7pm Anywhere, a new take on online dating. We got into Startmate along with 7 other teams in December last year and the program started in January.

Every week until April all eight teams worked in the same office, talked to mentors, learned about startup financing, practiced pitching and then worked some more. All with the same goal: to build a successful business, pitch to investors in Australia and Silicon Valley and raise a seed round.

I improved as a programmer enormously (7pm Anywhere posed some interesting challenges) but much more valuable was the whole lean startup experience. It is really like an enlightenment. Today I almost feel physical pain watching other people (or recall my own past self) building huge complex products without a shred of validation from potential customers.

Another thing I learned was the importance of building a loyal customer fan base and keeping in touch with them regularly. Whenever I interact with a business now I cannot help but notice how much effort they are putting into customer relations. Especially coming back to the Czech Republic for a while feels like a blast from the past. Most businesses here simply do not care about their customers.

The biggest advantage of Startmate was the opportunity to working alongside other motivated teams and to talk to inspiring and always very helpful mentors. The startup ecosystem is a microcosm that seems unbelievable from the outside. To succeed, you need to immerse yourself in this environment and be around people solving the same problems and facing the same challenges as you.

Happy ending

In the end, I split up with Amir as we both concluded that there was no way the two of us could work together to make 7pm Anywhere a successful business. The biggest lesson from this startup was very personal: choose well what you want to work on and with whom. Being the only technical guy in a business where the whole product is software and servers, while not being particularly excited about online dating… without going into details let’s just say it was less than enjoyable.

While Amir decided to stay with the project all development stopped and the site is effectively shut down. It was heartbreaking to leave behind a project that I nursed for 14 months as my only child, but it was still a happy ending. The learning in such a short time was enormous. I met so many great people in Startmate and my coding skills reached a whole new level.

And I think I found the key to happiness: do slightly less web development and much more mathematics. YMMV ;-)

July 2, MMXIII — Programming, Projects, Life Lessons.