Why joining an accelerator was the best thing we ever did

Jo York
May 8, 2014

This article originally featured on Reframed.

Not all accelerators are created equal and we’ve only ever been in one but, hand on heart, after 15 years of building websites, applying for Ignite was THE best business decision we have ever made. We got more out of it than we could ever have imagined and, post accelerator, personally and professionally we’re both in a much better place.

Firstly, a bit of background. Before Reframed we (Kev Price and Jo York), ran a web agency in Newcastle Upon Tyne, through the toughest six years of our lives. We started the business to build awesome products alongside projects for clients. As the years went by the list of internal project ideas grew, but remained mostly untouched with client work taking priority. After all we had to eat. As a result, we would mostly over-deliver and under-charge, in order to build the cool stuff  we wanted to build, regardless of whether the budget was there. In short, the agency model – or at least the version we used – was not the right fit for us. We worked very long hours, became isolated from the amazing tech community in the North East and, at times, became jaded.

It’s important to note, that during this period, when things got too much and we both considered jacking it all in, we never wanted to not work together [or at least Jo feels like that and Kev’s too polite to say :)]. Together we’re a strong team and, as it turns out, would be the very thing that would save us.

Applying for Ignite

Being in Newcastle, we were aware of Ignite and the experiences people talked about. We even have friends working for Ignite alumni companies, yet applying in itself was no easy decision. We had commitments to our agency staff, customers, suppliers and our mortgages. Of course there was also our partners and family to consider, who had already supported us through running the agency. Once again we would have to ask for their support, understanding and prepare  them for the possible risks involved – including, at the minimum, not seeing us very much for the next three months.

OK. Enough of the background, get to the awesome!

We don’t believe it’s over-egging the pudding to say that we learned more in the first few weeks of Ignite than we did in the first few years of running an agency. The process has completely changed the way we think about business, products and development. We became part of an amazing group of founders, mentors and investors who went out of their way to help or make introductions in any way they could. This support network has lasted way beyond the three-month programme and we can’t thank those people enough who have helped us along the process, with everything from honest advice and feedback to taking us through their sales pitch – you know who you are.

With the Ignite brand behind us doors opened into initial conversations that would have taken years on our own. The external mentors we met and the (at times) cutting advice they gave were instrumental in guiding the product. Many of them continue to give up their valuable time to guide us further. Again, we are eternally grateful and  hope to be able to give something back in the future.

We learned life-long skills, such as to how rapid prototype, pitch to investors, how to start conversations and the most important of all: how to take tough feedback and use it to your advantage. We came to the programme to build something awesome, but the first thing we needed to do was separate a truly awesome idea from the-thing-that-you-want-to-build-that-you-believe-is-awesome. This was and will continue to be a fine line.

At the end of the programme we had a clearly defined product and direction, contacts who have opened doors to some amazing meetings that we didn’t dream  we would have at this early stage, and follow-on funding. It was the hardest three months of our working careers, but the most fun. And the big take-home? We’re excited about what we do again.

Without Ignite

Without Ignite, we can honestly say we’d still have been building a product that no one wanted. We’d have got caught up on the development work, without working out what people really wanted. We already had a solution in mind, before we even understood the problem. We’d have still been isolated and worse, forcing ourselves into an agency model that wasn’t right for us. Reframed is where and what it is because of all these elements coming together at that time, in that place – with us willing to listen and explore.

Why Ignite?

The Ignite team are remarkable. Paul, Tristan and Lyndsay were the biggest influences of all during our start-up life. The wealth and depth of experience and knowledge that Ignite has surrounded itself with is exceptional. Campus North, the new home of Ignite and over 150 founders, developers and designers, is a bold move. It will be an amazing place to meet people and be inspired. Newcastle’s start-up community has much to offer and Campus North will be at the heart of it, hosting local tech meet-ups and educational workshops, which is why we fought tooth and nail to get in there too.

Ignite has even challenged the format of its programme to better meet the needs of future teams, extending its length and ditching demo day.

Start by applying

If you’re considering applying for an accelerator (particularly for Ignite), we’re very excited for you. This could change your life in ways you can’t imagine. Leave your ego at the door and commit to truly making a remarkable business, not just the best idea of awesome you had when you didn’t know better. Learn everything you can and play nicely with others – the meetings and relationships you expect to get the least out out, inevitably turn out to be the ones you get the most out of.

The harsh reality is that most start-ups fail, but our experience on Ignite will be with us forever.

Ignite’s Autumn program has just opened for entries this week. So, what are you waiting for?