Life in an accelerator, continued

This post was originally published in June, but is updated in the section entitled “part 2”

A good friend of mine named Joe Shiraz is taking his company, ServiceBot, through an accelerator based in Memphis that is backed by Start Co and ServiceMaster, one of the largest home services companies in the nation. The accelerator is focused on home services startup and Joe’s company ServiceBot, is part of their first cohort. Joe joined the 100 day accelerator in return for a $50,000 investment structured as part of a $1,000,000 SAFE.

I asked Joe if I could chronicle his life in an accelerator in the hope that it would give an inside look of what it’s like and whether it’s worth it. Below is a discussion of Joe’s experience during the first two weeks.

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What does ServiceBot do and why did you decide to join this accelerator now? According to Joe, “ServiceBot is a SaaS platform that uses bots and machine learning to automate most of the tasks required to run a home services business. ServiceBot includes CRM, field service management, dispatch, back office management, and automated customer communication. We can reduce the overhead of our customers by 20% to 40%.” Even though ServiceBot has a beta and customers (typically too far along for most accelerators), Joe joined because the opportunity to work with ServiceMaster was too good to pass up. According to Joe, “I don’t know of any other home services accelerators in the country, especially not one that provides the validation and stamp of approval that comes from working with a Fortune1000 company like ServiceMaster.”

What have you achieved or experienced in the first 2 weeks that you wouldn’t have gotten done or experienced otherwise? Joe is in the accelerator with 6 other home service companies so the collaboration he’s enjoyed is unparalleled. Joe explained “an entire city might have a couple home services startups I can problem solve with whereas now I share an office with 6 peers, 15 founders and co-founders, and ServiceMaster.” Working alongside founders like him in the same industry is not something he could do in Austin (his company’s HQ).

Another benefit of being in Memphis away from home is that Joe has no distractions. He’s away from his friends, his house, and his normal life which means he’s laser focuses on building his company. For instance, “this past Sunday I stayed at the office working with other founders until midnight, because what else am I going to do? If I was back in Austin, I would have been asleep, working on the house, watching tv, or doing something that wasn’t related to building the business.”

His new friends are people working in the accelerator so when he does go do something social with friends, he’s not talking about his personal life or common interests, he’s talking about the challenges of building a business. “Your entire social circle is focused on building a home service company. Your bullshit conversations are about your startup and their startup, not social circle gossip.”

How has being in an ecosystem like Memphis been better and worse than being in an ecosystem like Austin? While Memphis isn’t a big startup ecosystem relative to Austin, Memphis has a very opening and welcome startup community that treats their startups like they’re special. According to Joe “I’ve met with a number of executives in Memphis that are very excited to help out whereas in Austin, there are plenty of startups so executives aren’t as open to meeting. In Austin, because the ecosystem is so developed, if I reach out to someone for help I might get blown off if that person is busy because he figures ‘this is Austin, someone else can help Joe’. Here though it feels like people go way out of their way to meet and make connections. They want you to succeed for the sake of advancing Memphis. The city is hungry for big startup wins so everyone is engaged.”

After just 2 weeks, Joe has met state officials of Tennessee already. “I also got to pitch Steve Case when Rise of The Rest was here, thanks to the accelerator. In Austin, there are so many startups it’s unlikely I would have ended up on his bus like that.” Joe loves Austin and the ecosystem there, but there are opportunities Joe is able to take advantage of that he wouldnt have if he was one of thousands of startups in a more developed ecosystem like Austin or San Francisco.

Joe did highlight that Memphis has all the disadvantages of any small market, the most obvious being lack of capital: “I know I’m going to have to go to the West Coast to raise.” That said, there is a chance Joe relocates to Memphis after the accelerator is done even though he owns a home and has a great social life in Austin. “The partnership with ServiceMaster is that valuable to me, especially if it continues to be beneficial. There is also a gritiness and scrappiness here that I want to be a part of.”

How has your day to day changed being in an accelerator versus being on your own? Joe is far less lonely. In Austin, he’s a single founder looking for a technical co-founder. “In Memphis, I’m still a single founder looking for a technical founder, but Ive got the support system of the accelerator.”

Accelerators are supposed to be intense and all encompassing. How disruptive has this been to your life? According to Joe, “it’s disruptive, no doubt about it, but it’s disruptive in a good way. I was yanked out of my life and moved to a new city to build my startup for 100 days, so it’s put all the focus on my company. The work I get done in the next 100 days of this accelerator would take at least a year or more in Austin just thanks to the focus being in a new city forces on me.”

Overall, I got the sense that an industry focused accelerator far away from home is making a world of difference for Joe. It’s early and the 100 days is far from complete, but so far so good. We’ll continue this Life in an accelerator blog series in 2 weeks when Joe and I chat again. Stay tuned.

Life in an accelerator: part 2

Joe and his company ServiceBot have officially hit the 2 month mark in the ServiceMaster accelerator. Below is a transcript of my latest conversation with Joe, discussing his experience.

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What has been the biggest benefit so far? The credibility. The credibility of being in the accelerator program backed by Service Master helped Joe recruit a CTO/co-founder named Bill Dougthy. ServiceMaster gave Joe the credibility he needed to attract Bill, as well as a junior developer. According to Joe “being here has allowed me build a strong development team that is excited to work on the product, now I just need to get them customers.” Being associated with ServiceMaster has also assisted Joe with customer traction — they introduced him to larger prospects that have agreed to buy the product once it’s ready.

What are you expecting to achieve in the last month with the accelerator? Now it’s time to talk to investors. Joe is taking his first few meetings with angels in Memphis and the surrounding area. Joe’s goal in the last month is to raise some angel funds or at least generate strong momentum to close a seed round later in the year.

Does being in Memphis continue to be an asset? Memphis has three of the largest home services companies in the nation: Tru Green, ServiceMaster, and Front Door. The accelerator’s location in Memphis has gotten Joe close to these potentially large customers. Additionally, given that these companies are local, Joe has access to a large experienced workforce within the service industry that he can pull from.

Do you plan to return to Austin once the accelerator is over. Joe actually plans to split time between Austin and Memphis. Both cities have unique strengths Joe can leverage: Austin has a well developed startup ecosystem, there is a lot of developer talent, and the pool of capital is deep. Memphis however has three of the largest home services companies, Joe has been given free office space with ServiceMaster where he can continue to grow the business, and the sales and support talent in Memphis specifically in home services is well-qualified and less expensive than it would be in Austin.

You came from Austin to be a part of this accelerator. Has participating in the accelerator been worth the move to Memphis and the disruption in your personal life? Joe hates this question: “I’m here. I can’t think about it.” He expounded though: he’s made a lot of friends, met a lot of entrepreneurs, and has enjoyed Memphis. He does feel like his time away from Austin has allowed some of his relationships to get stale, both personally and professionally. Socially it’s bitter sweet: he’s made great friend in Memphis but is disconnected from great friends he had in Austin. Professionally, Joe is stressed out about fundraising and he does worry that being away from Austin hasn’t allowed him to develop relationships there with capital providers. He isn’t sure how that will impact his ability to raise capital. At the same time, this process has allowed him to build a team and a relationship with ServiceMaster that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

We’ll have one more update once Joe completes the accelerator. We’ll keep you posted.

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co-founder at Blossom Street Ventures

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