First Mentor Meetings at The Microsoft Accelerator, Kinect Class, powered by TechStars

A picture of the Kinect Accelerator office
The Kinect Accelerator Office

The Microsoft Accelerator, Kinect Class, powered by TechStars.

Yep, quite the name. I liked the original name better, The Kinect Accelerator, although it was also “powered by TechStars”. The name change makes it sound like Microsoft may have other types of classes. Stay tuned, I bet there will be news about this soon.

If you don’t know what this accelerator is, you can find out more here. Suffice to say, there are some cool teams doing crazy stuff with the Kinect device. Mashable talks a bit more about it here and references the press release about the 11 teams.

The name may be a mouthful, but that doesn’t stop the group of eleven teams from being awesome. Thanks to a generous offer from Dave Malcolm, the managing director for the program, I’ve joined a group of 25 other mentors to help these teams create world-class businesses. A few days ago was my first long mentor stretch of meetings with the teams, and it was a lot of fun.  I spent an hour each with four of the teams, and then I was able to watch the teams weekly demos.  It was quite inspiring.

I mean, here are a group of people at a similar stage in their business creation process that I am at with FANZO, and they are all asking the same questions I am. And, funny enough, it’s a lot easier to answer those questions as a mentor than it is to do so as a CEO. I thought I would share a few of the common questions, this being only the 2nd week of the three-month program, for those other teams I haven’t had a chance to chat with yet, and for those other entrepreneurs out there looking to move ahead.

Who is my customer?

This was probably the most discussed question.  This is probably not surprising given that it is one of the hardest startup questions to answer.  What was interesting, however, is that each team seemed to already have the answer, they just couldn’t let go of all the other possibilities.  One team is focusing on the interior decorating vertical, and was trying to decide between working with design firms or going straight to customers.  This seemed an easy answer to me, but the allure of the mass market is hard to ignore when you are in the thick of it.  My advice, pick a passionate subset who would see the most benefit from your idea, and focus strictly on them.  You can always pivot later.

How can I get in touch with someone in my target market?

For some the answer to this is easy.  Buy a few clicks on google, and away you go.  But if you are doing business to business stuff, or have a unique set of customers, it can be a bit more challenging.  One of the teams in working in the health care space.  They would like to get in touch with someone locally who is working with people who have a specific ailment.  They would also like to chat with someone in the insurance world.  This is where Steve Blank’s “get out of the building” can really pay off.  You just gotta start making phone calls and buying lots of people coffee.  Your drinking a ton of it anyway, might as well get some use out of the time.  It is good to work your network, definitely start there, but don’t be afraid to just google for people.  You’d be amazed at how helpful even busy people can be.  Especially in the northwest…

Can you help me with technical/product problem X?

One of the nice things about being a geek is that people ask you geeky questions.  It was fun to geek out about software update strategies,  brainstorm some ideas to address lighting concerns.  I love this stuff, so it was a joy to work on product stuff with some amazing technologists.  The key is to have no fear.  Every problem is surmountable, if you just look at it the right way.  And asking for help can really help you identify that unique perspective.  It is something I practice as often as I can.  It’s part of the reason I really miss pair programming now that I am working on FANZO alone. (Hope to fix that soon..:)

What is the thing that is keeping you up at night?

This isn’t a question the teams have asked me, but one I have been asking the teams.  When Brad Feld gave his chat about being a great mentor, one of the stories he shared was how he has been working with teams recently.  He doesn’t have much time, so he asks this question and they work on that.  I love the open-ended part of this question.  Founders are people first, and they run into lots of challenges that have nothing to do with the business, but can totally kill their progress.  This allows a discussion about those things with a person who has been there.  Great question leads to great discourse.

All for now.  Looking forward to my next half day with the teams.  I’ll be meeting at least three new teams, so I’m looking forward to hearing some more good questions.  In the meantime, if you have a question, and answer or both, feel free to drop it in the comments.  Thanks!

About Paul

Startup founder, father of 3 girls, Notre Dame alumnus, agile practitioner and tech enthusiast. I love building great companies to solve cool problems.
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