Founder Institute Graduation

There was a great article recently in the New York Times about how anyone – you or me – could become a memory master. (See: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/02/20/magazine/mind-secrets.html.) I found it very interesting that the same technique used to train speed typists can be used to improve our memory capacity. It goes something like this: left to our own devices, we will reach a certain comfort level in our performance, our ‘plateau,’ beyond which we do not seem to advance. To break through to a new level, we have to carefully study our existing technique, and fix one thing at a time. We have to be willing to tolerate total failure and going backwards in our current level of performance to improve. This is how the good become great.

Having survived the gauntlet that is the Founder Institute, I can fully appreciate this. I feel I am functioning now at a totally different level of performance than when I entered this program for entrepreneurs 4 months earlier. The FI is a 13-session course for founders who commit to building “meaningful and enduring” high-tech businesses. During these 13 sessions, your protective coating of hubris is broken so you can rise to another level. There is no guarantee, of course, that our business will succeed, but I feel like my start-up knowledge has been advanced by several years.

It is hard not to learn a lot just from listening to successful entrepreneurs like Aaron Patzer, Gabe Zichermann, Munjal Shah, Phil Libin, Philip Kaplan, Rajesh Setty, Stephen Meade, Ziv Gillat and others. More importantly, you get to hear face-to-face from these great mentors why your idea is stupid and your business sucks, which is FAR more valuable than a ‘come back when you have traction’ pass from a polite VC.

Key to the whole program is the leader and Founder of FI, Adeo Ressi. He is not for everyone. First of all, you need to have a sense of humor. He does, and if you can’t laugh at yourself, he’ll make sure everyone else does. Secondly, you have to be serious about your business. He is. This is not a ‘class’ but a program to accelerate your start-up, so come prepared to work hard. If you are just toying with starting something of your own and plan on keeping your day job, this is likely not for you. Also, Adeo has what I call a Simpsons-style love for entrepreneurs that does not fit everyone. There’s a “Life in Heaven” cartoon by Matt Groening, the Simpsons creator, hanging in my office that explains what I mean. It’d be better if you could see the Jeff and Akbar characters but here is the dialog:
Jeff (I think): “Do you love me?”
Akbar (the other one): “I love you like a platter of day-old mutton.
I love you like a severely gnawed rawhide chew toy.
I love you like a goat-meat patty melt.
I love you like a big ol’ chunk of gristle you can’t quite swallow.
I love you like a five pieces of beef jerky jammed in your mouth at once.
I love you like Grandma’s brisket left out on the kitchen counter overnight.”
Jeff: “What kind of love is this?”
Akbar: “Tough love.”

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.

Lastly, but not leastly, are the incredible fellow travelers you meet in the program. This is one of the big unsung benefits of FI. Not everyone finishes but everyone accepted is pretty special to begin with. More than 50 of us started our Winter Silicon Valley “semester” but only 14 of us “graduated.” The 13 friends I made during this period are going to be awesome businesspeople and I look forward to hearing about their future successes. Many thanks to Amol Kher (healthmobs), Brajeshwar Oinam (Levoma), Cyprien Noel (ObjectFabric), Fernando Pizarro (Cinecandy), Gaurav Sharma (Right Buy), Jason Seed (Ready2Sign), Jaya Hangal (Family Alley), Maren Kate (Zirtual), Navin Bathija (Neo), Rohit Nallapeta (adNuance), Sanjay Malhotra (Clevrr), Steffany Boldrini (Ecobold), and Wesly Michel (Mosion) for supporting me and making this journey worthwhile no matter what else happens.

Seth Cohen
Founder Screenius, Inc.
Founder Institute Graduate

sethmcohen [at] gmail [dot] com
(four-zero-eight) three-one-three - seven-one-eight-seven

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