The Alchemist Accelerator: A Closer Look
What is the Alchemist Accelerator?
The Alchemist Accelerator is an accelerator exclusively for startups whose revenue comes from enterprises, not consumers. We are passionate about the needs of enterprise seed ventures, and believe they are different enough to warrant a program specifically for them. The accelerator focuses on enterprise customer development, sales (direct and online), market validation, and a structured path to fundraising. We have the most sought after advisor faculty, guest lecturers, venture capitalists, and Fortune 100 customers primed to be resources for you. And we are very excited about building a fellowship of founders building change the world companies that sell to the enterprise.
What qualifies as an "Enterprise Startup"?
The definition of an "enterprise startup" is based on where the revenue comes from. It's not based on the offering. "B2B" (e.g. Salesforce) and "B2B2C" (e.g. Square) both qualify. All business models (license, SaaS, Freemium) are welcome. If the major revenue source for the business is from enterprises or organizations -- be them large or SMBs -- you qualify. You can sell direct or online (or a combination). Infrastructure, application, services, non-category-fitters -- all are welcome.
Who are the backers of the Accelerator?
The backers of the Accelerator are Cisco Systems, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Foundation Capital, Khosla Ventures, Salesforce.com, Sapphire Ventures, Siemens, and US Venture Partners. We chose these backers because they believe strongly in the vision of the program. While we invite them into the program because we value their guidance and feedback, they have no rights / you have no obligations to take money from them.
When and where is the program?
The next accelerator program begins April 9. You need to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, but can choose where you work (there is strong precedence for game-changing companies built by co-founders who started out of their homes but with access to peers close by.) The accelerator has co-working space you can choose to work out of in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and limited space in Menlo Park (space available as long as capacity exists). There are weekly gatherings on Thursday nights (this gathering -- like all of the accelerators' offerings -- are optional). The gathering will feature a talk, and an opportunity to check in with your peers (and food!). There will be other workshops, intensives, faculty office hours, networking events, and brokered customer meetings throughout the program you can use based on your interests.
Can you share any key metrics on the performance of Alchemist?
As of September 24, 2014, 54 companies have gone through an Alchemist Demo Day. 30 companies have received an institutional investment or a signficant seed (a raise of $1 million or more, even if no institutions participated in the raise). For these 30 companies, the average raise is $2 million. 3 companies have been acquired (Cisco acquired Assemblage, Dropbox acquired Mobilespan, Otoy acquired AppSlingr).
What do you look for in evaluating applications?
The most important element is the team. In the team, we first look at the technical founder(s). The technical founder must be distinctive. While we don't have any strict criteria, we find that the most distinctive technical founders exhibit these common traits: very strong technical chops, tenacity, ability to explain complicated things clearly, judgment in making good tradeoffs, good product sense, and a passion for outcomes, not process.
We prefer teams of 2 or 3. We will admit purely technical teams, but the ideal team has one or two technical co-founders, and one business-side co-founder.
We find that the best business side co-founders exhibit the dual traits of being able to sell a vision convincingly to customers / VCs / employees AND the ability to tactically know the 3 next things that need to get done to drive the business forward. If the company will be involved in direct sales to the enterprise, we look for strong sales-centric business leaders. If the company is focused on online sales, business co-founders with a keen sense of customer acquisition, conversion, retention, and design are valued.
We will be looking for founding teams that great talent will want to join.
Prior experience in the enterprise is not required. Though if you have prior experience that provides an unfair advantage to your new venture, that is a good thing.
We also place importance -- though secondary to the team -- on the market. Our focus is on markets that are large enough to warrant the interest of the top venture funds. We will admit stellar teams who do not have a clear market focus yet.
Our program is not designed for entrepreneurs looking to be acquired in 18 months. Our program is designed for entrepreneurs that are motivated by something deeper to change the world on a large scale.
Can I apply without an idea?
Yes. In the "offering" section of the application, note that you are "Applying without an Idea" or tell us whatever you can about ideas you are exploring.
When is the application due?
We will having rolling application deadlines. You can submit an application at any time up until the program starts, though it is easier to be admitted the earlier you apply. We are targeting 12 teams.
When will I be notified if I am moving forward in the process after submitting my application?
You will receive notice within two weeks of the next Application Deadline if you have advanced to an invitation to interview. The interview will be an in-person or via skype pitch in front of our screening committee. We will notify you within 4 days after the pitch if you are extended a spot in the accelerator, and the terms. You will need to decide within 7 days after receiving an offer if you would like to accept as we will need to say no to others if you join us.
What do I get if I join?
The program's been designed based on input from successful entrepreneurs. A few key elements to know about:
* The program will provide a small cash investment in the form of a note you can take if you like. It will depend on the number of founders on the team. The program has a "tuition" charge (roughly $1K / founder / month) -- we'll provide additional capital in the note to cover the tuition charge if you like. The average cash investment is $28K (net of the additional cash provided to cover the tuition fee).
* The program does provide co-working space in San Francisco, Santa Clara, and limited space in Menlo Park (all space is subject to availability). You do not need to use our co-working space to participate in the program. We want you to choose an environment you like for building your culture and team.
* All elements of the program, except the Demo Day, are optional. You do not need to attend any events if you don't want to.
* At the beginning of the program, you will submit a profile snapshot of your company and needs. We will syndicate your profile with a trusted network of Customer Prospects (typically Fortune 100 companies), Feedback Coaches for Fundraising (typically trusted Venture Capitalists), and Mentors (our Network of Advisors). We will also have an opportunity for you to casually meet all of these people during a meet & greet. We will then set up 1:1 meetings with people who want to help you build your company -- with a core focus on customers (who could do a proof of concept if the fit is right) and VC's (who will give you feedback with the understanding that you are not in pitching mode yet). The intent is for you to meet 1:1 with both groups throughout the first half of the program as you fine tune your offering and pitch.
* Every Thursday evening, we have a group evening check-in. It takes place from 5:30 - 9:00 pm. You will check in with the rest of your peers (show what you've accomplished in the past week), get feedback on roadblocks you are facing, and attend a focused lecture.
* During the week, the core faculty will have open office hours reserved for the participants. You can sign up for an office hour slot, and are welcome to listen in on office hours of others if they are wrestling with the same issue (if they consent to have the office hour slot be open).
* During the second half of the program, we will selectively facilitate the process of practicing pitching -- both to VC's and new customer prospects.
* We will host a demo day towards the end of the program where you will get access to pitch to the top funding sources. We also will host guest lectures, roundtable discussions, and other social events you are invited to.
Which Venture Capital Funds or Strategics have invested in startups that have gone through your program?
Many. Besides our backers (Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Foundation Capital, Khosla Ventures, and US Venture Partners), some of the other institutions that have invested in our companies include: Alta, Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer, Bowery Capital, Citrix, Data Collective, Draper Associates, Felicis Ventures, Founders Fund, Greylock, K9 Ventures, Menlo Ventures, Redpoint, Salesforce.com, Storm Ventures, Tugboat, True Ventures, and Voyager Capital. See here for a list of featured funds.
What does it cost to join?
There is an ask of single-digit common equity that will vary depending on the business. The accelerator may also ask for the right to invest a minority / non-threatening co-investment in your Series A. The average ask is 5.0% of equity but there is a wide range.
What stage founders do you take?
Any founders who have not raised an institutional Series A round (typically, if you have not raised more than $2M already) qualify. Our main focus is on the teams. We've accepted very early companies: teams where the co-founders have been accepted, their last day at work was on Monday, and joined the accelerator that Thursday. Those decisions are usually driven by the standout caliber of the individuals. And we've accepted companies that have fully functional products. The common thread is the quality of the people. And the accelerator provides a structured path to fundraising, customers, and mentorship which we've found is helpful to companies across the spectrum.
What if we need more money than the cash provided by the accelerator before the Demo Day occurs?
We do not exclude you from fundraising prior to Demo Day if you need to. About half of the companies in the accelerator do small raises (range has been $50K - $1.5m) prior to the Demo Day. The accelerator can facilitate intros to angels and funds prior to the Demo Day for these needs, and our founders often tap their own networks for raises too prior to the Demo Day. Most companies prefer to raise just what they need to take them through the Demo Day comfortably -- it's most efficient to really focus on customer and product development with your time, and then use the Demo Day to focus on fundraising and business development.
Do you accept founders who are from outside the United States?
Yes. We have accepted founders historically from Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, and Asia. If you have not already done so, you will need to set up a US Incorporated entity to be a part of Alchemist (which we can help do and cover the filing fees to do so). But all founders are encouraged to apply. If you are an international founder, you are part of a rich history of foreign-born entrepreneurs who have built many of Silicon Valley's great companies, and we want to continue that tradition!
How do Visa work for international admits?
Alchemist will provide a letter of endorsement that can be used as part of your application process for a Visa. Our founders typically will come for 3 month stints (or 6 month stints if they have a Business Visa granted) during the beginning of the program, and then return for the final weeks in preparation for Demo Day. However, your specific Visa situation will be influenced by the country you are coming from and your specific situation.
What if I have more questions I need answered before I apply?
Let us know what they are -- they are welcomed. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!