What I've learned from my first year at Ignite - Jo York

Jo York, CEO
November 3, 2022

Just over a year ago, in October 2021, I wrote an article about my experience of being on an Ignite Accelerator (https://medium.com/@joyork/change-your-life-apply-for-ignite-3786ac542a13).

I knew the programme had changed my life in so many ways for the better. But here are 7 things I didn’t know before running both a Pre-Accelerator and an Accelerator, which led me to work closely with over 20 startups & speaking to more than 100 founders over the last 12 months.

1) People don’t apply for Ignite programmes because they think they know too little

We often have preconceived ideas about what successful founders look like.There are so many articles about what habits they have and what traits they exhibit. Often there’s too much emphasis on tactics on how to build a successful startup and far too little about the fundamentals.

Comparing yourself to Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, it’s very easy to find a reason why you’re not them. But here’s the bit people overlook: neither of them started as great founders. They made mistakes and worked it out along the way.

In my experience, being a good founder is all about:problem-founder-fit (how well a founder knows the problem they want to solve or how experienced they are in the potential solution), tenacity and the ability to take on feedback. It’s less about age, gender, ethnicity or education.

You don’t have to be 20 something and fresh out of uni — you can be, but often living the problem you’re trying to solve or working in a relevant field has its own advantages. Pre-existing networks and some life experiences to build upon can be just as useful. Some of our most successful Ignite alumni have had previous careers in very different fields.

You don’t have to be a “techie” — the hardest thing to get right is to build something people actually want, rather than the process of building the product itself. There are so many no-code tools out there that will allow you to get prototypes into your customers’ hands quicker than you can write a brief for a developer, once you’ve figured out what they need. Some of our teams have raised over £1m before they built the product, all by proving there’s a market first.

You don’t need a co-founder — in the past, investors have steered away from single founders. But as discussed in Harvard Business Review’s article on single founder success, solo founders are twice as likely to succeed, and DocSend reported that solo founders raised more money than multi-founder teams in 2022. Yes, as a solo founder you’re more likely to have skills and knowledge gaps that need to be filled, but there are other ways to fill them than picking a co-founder too early on.

2) People don’t apply for Ignite programmes because they think they know too much or have made enough progress

I get it — this was me 9 years ago when I applied for Ignite. I had a computing degree, had been building interfaces since 1998, and co-ran a full service web agency for 7 years. I thought I knew how it all worked.

But on our Ignite Accelerator programme in 2013, I quickly found out that building a product is very different to providing a service or consultancy. I had a lot to learn. You don’t know what you don’t know.

What’s more, we didn’t have to do it on our own. Startups are hard enough, why make it harder?

There’s so much to hold in your head with a startup. There is what your product is now, and every possible future and feature you can see for it. Often you need someone else to tell you to do the thing that you would have told someone else to do.

Sometimes, teams apply for the programme who already have investment and/or revenue. They just want accountability to stay on track. Of course we provide that, but they often get way more than expected.

If you have investment — great! You’re going to need help knowing the best things to spend it on. How do you prepare for your next round?

If you have customers — awesome! You’re going to need more right? And onboard them faster and cheaper!

3) Ignite is still as relevant today as when it started back in 2011

There’s so much more information out there about the theory of startups than there was a decade ago, but that’s only part of the journey. Ignite is the difference between having a map, and having an experienced guide. We surround our founders with people that have been there and done it. We understand the nuance, because we’ve lived it.

Our approach has evolved, as has our understanding of what founders need. We have 11 years of frameworks, models and contacts. So, when a problem comes up we can point you to the solution, help you work through it, or introduce you to others that have experienced similar issues and are happy to give you advice.

We’ve got a good feel for what still works and what’s outdated advice, because we surround ourselves with founders every day.

4) Accelerator programmes need to be bespoke to the needs of their cohorts

OK, I knew this to some degree before I joined Ignite, but I didn’t realise how much the teams would need different things at different times. In startup life things can (and should) change very quickly. When it does, you need to adapt quickly to make the most of the opportunity.

For instance, I wasn’t expecting to have to provide investment theory in week 1, but when one of pre-accelerator teams met their lead Angel in their first investment round at our launch party, we obviously leapt into action to support them.

Neither was I expecting to create a whole new systematic process to identify customer/problem fit — but that’s what was needed.

This is why it’s so important to be surrounded by people that have lived and breathed startup life, we can adapt to what you need, when you need it.

5) Support doesn’t stop after the programme

We become your biggest cheerleaders, as does your cohort and the other Ignite alumni. Over 550 of us have been through programmes, and we’re a supportive bunch. We’re always looking for ways to support our alumni, as the tools, tactics and stage of business changes. We’re still here when you need us, with workshops, intros or just a friendly ear.

Applications for our 2023 pre-accelerator programme starting in January closes on Monday 7 of November. You can apply here: https://www.ignite.io

I’d love to hear from you.