I have an idea about providing support for pre-investment & pre-revenue product development which I’ve been discussing with various people in Brighton for over a year now. It’s called BootCycle and it’s an approach to mashing up some of the best bits of Y Combinator, BarCamp, OpenCoffee, Coworking & Hack Day to help people launch products. I ran a session at BarCamp Bournemouth to get some more feedback and it again came up in conversation at Open Hack London this weekend. I felt it probably about time that I stuck it in my blog…
Wouldn’t it be nice if more people building new products could gain easier access to many of the non-financial benefits of being involved in Y Combinator or Seedcamp? If you’re not familiar with either of these organisations they invest small amounts of cash in groups of 10 to 20 early stage technology companies at a time through one or two annual funding cycles. The amount they invest and the amount of equity they ask for in return is much less than traditional investors and they don’t expect a business plan. They invest in smart teams with good ideas and make funding decisions very quickly. It’s not all about the money though, the teams benefit most from gaining close ties to other start-ups and raised profiles that lead to useful connections with partners, customers, investors and the media.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to interview for one of Y Combinator’s funding cycles in April 2008. I did not secure funding as a result of the short application form and 10 minute interview but I did gain some really interesting insights into how Y Combinator works. During the 10 days I spent in Silicon Valley I made some great connections with various teams that have been funded by Y Combinator and others around the edges of the Y Combinator community. The one thing that blew me away was how well connected people were and how easy it was to make new connections under the single highly respected Y Combinator brand. I’ve since started to see similar things happen around the Seedcamp brand in Europe.
In a world a little removed from the Y Combinator / Seedcamp startup scenes, I’ve been involved in the BarCamp unconference community since attending BarCampLondon2 in February 2007, the OpenCoffee networking community since founding OpenCoffeeSussex in June 2007, the coworking community since opening The Skiff in November 2008 and the Hack Day developer community since participating in Hack the Government Day in February this year. These communities have flourished over the past couple of years. Being a part of them creates a common language through which interesting conversations can be started, useful connections can be made and brilliant projects can be delivered. However, none of them get close to creating a community as productive as Y Combinator is for turning ideas into investment or revenue ready products.
The key thing I want to make happen with BootCycle is for a group of teams working on technology startups to work together towards a common goal over a fixed period of time. That common goal would be similar to that of Y Combinator’s Demo Day, the first day on which people outside the group get to see the things that have been built. The time period running up to the demo day would be 10 weeks which is the same amount of time Y Combinator works within. The benefits of this would be:
1) Collectively they would be interesting enough for key investors and members of the media to come to see them. They won’t have to waste time looking for investors & media contacts on their own.
2) They could work together to solve common problems that can often be a big distraction from a startup’s core businesses. They won’t have to waste time on legal and financial stuff.
3) By meeting every week for the 10 weeks they would motivate each other to keep going even through the low times. Learning at a similar pace to when attending a BarCamp, maintaining productivity levels similar to that of a Hack Day and making great connections like those which can be made through coworking and at an OpenCoffee.
I’m primarily interested in making this work with people who are bootstrapping their startups by working on them part-time. This is because it’s the situation I’m in. I also think trying to secure funding to make this work any other way would take too long and add loads of bureaucracy that will again distract people from actually getting their products built.
I’d like BootCycle to operate in a very similar way to the BarCamp movement, avoiding having anything to do with cash and depending instead on sponsors to provide a minimum level of direct support. I also want to be clear that I’m not proposing the creation of any kind of investment organisation, equity will not be taken in the startups that are supported. If the approach works and can be refined through an initial cycle where I am in Brighton, UK I’d be very happy to see other people replicating it where they are.
I’m very keen for this to be primarily about peer support, there are always loads of people that want to be mentors for these sorts of things but it’s difficult to choose those that would add real value rather than creating more distractions. I would bring in a handful of experienced people to speak at the weekly events that may also provide some mentoring. I’d also organise a couple of more open networking events to help people make a few extra connections.
I’m running a meeting to gauge interest in BootCycle from teams and individuals with pre-investment or pre-revenue products or ideas and the development skills to get them launched. It will take place on Tuesday 26th May from 7:30pm at The Skiff in Brighton. Hope to see some of you there!
It would be wonderful if you could share your thoughts with a comment below.
 This said, if any of you have £100K - £150K you’d be willing to invest across 4 to 8 very early stage companies please drop me a line (email@example.com). You’d need to commit to putting all the money in and choosing where it goes based on little more than a 10 minute conversation with each team. You’d also need to be happy with giving each startup a valuation of around £250K based on their team and idea alone. I’d guess that 20-30% of the cash would probably need to be spent on legal stuff with the rest going towards living costs for the product developers and some expenses.