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Welcome Alex Farcet, you are responsible for a company that offers a new way of founding. We will shortly after have a closer look at that. But first, please introduce yourself: Who are you, what did you learn, what is your job?
Alex Farcet: Well I’m a bit of a globe trotter - I am a French citizen but I was born in Spain to French and American parents, grew up in Africa, went to boarding school in England and an American High School in Zaïre. I am married to a Dane and have lived 9 years in Denmark. Following a senior career with DHL my life took a turn and I became an independent consultant and entrepreneur in 2007. I’ve been working with Danish startups since then and I cover the Danish entrepreneurship scene via my site called www.startupdenmark.dk. I’m also a Business Angel. I’ve been interviewing interesting entrepreneurs and investors for the Startupdenmark.dk and last October I interviewed Martin Bjergegaard who is one of the founding partners of Rainmaking - they call themselves a "startup factory" (12 startups in the past 3 years). Martin and I had a great discussion and we discovered that we shared the ambition of starting an "accelerator" covering the Nordics. I now work with Carsten Kølbek, one of the other three Rainmaking partners, who is based in London and is really passionate about Startupbootcamp.
So you want to introduce your startup incubator "startup bootcamp" to Europe's north. What is the big deal about it?
Farcet: The big deal is there’s nothing similar available in the region. I actually don’t like the word "incubator" because too often it’s a place where startups get some office space and a few services. Startupbootcamp provides free office space of course, but also some micro capital (we like to call it "excuse-removing cash") and most importantly, access to awesome mentors as well as exposure to investors. We’re not re-inventing the wheel of course, we’re inspired by Techstars which is a US-based accelerator founded by David Cohen. We invited David over in December and he was totally "open source" with us so we’ve taken the best parts and adapted them to the region and culture.
So you told us about what the future founders will get if they cooperate with you. But what do they have to give? I guess you don't give away your money and your commitment for free?
Farcet: In return for all the above, we take a 5% to 10% equity stake in the startups. What’s important to note is that we want to be seen as co-founders, not investors. We see ourselves as being on the same side of the table as the entrepreneurs. So of course for them the question is "does the value of my startup increase by more than 5% to 10% by going through Startupbootcamp?". For us that’s a clear YES. Would you give up a bit of equity to get access to 50+ mentors who are all serial entrepreneurs and gurus in their field, to work in synergy with 9 other startups in an intense and fun shared environment, to get the stamp of approval which Startupbootcamp participation will provide and to be exposed, via Investor Day, to dozens of investors in one fell swoop?
Will the startup bootcamp be a kind of experiment to you or are you guys experienced in startup projects?
Farcet: This is definitely a long term project. It’s like wine, it’s going to get better the older it gets. The more successful startups we have coming out of each program, the better the applicants will be for the next which will create a virtuous cycle. And yes between us and the mentor group we have over 100 startups of experience to share.
I guess you won't accept just any project to become part of the startup boot camp. What will the filters be?
Farcet: There’s a rather simple application form on our site but in a nutshell our criteria are 75% about the candidate team and 25% about the business idea. We know that the idea (more specifically the product and business model) will evolve, that’s the point of the program. It’s much harder to suddenly become a driven, focused entrepreneur. So we’re going to mostly focus on the team. What is their track record? Do they have the right combination of technical and sales skills? Do we share values. By the way, we don’t think one-man bands can make great startups in 3 months so we expect teams of at least two to apply.
What's exactly waiting for the participants? Where will they live? Where will they work? How will the daily cooperation will be with you guys?
Farcet: The program is quite loose, on purpose. Each startup may be at a different stage in terms of product development and market access. Roughly said, the first month is about shaping (are you running in the right direction?), the second month is about building (get prototypes and betas in front of users) and the last month is about selling (get your first customers, validate your business model). But we’re going to be very deadline driven; from day one we’ll be counting down to Investor Day.
As for where they live, that will be up to the teams, though we expect them to be in Copenhagen for the duration of the program – that’s where the interaction with the mentors is going to be. We’re going to be in a really cool shared office with different working spaces. We know from having spoken to graduates of similar programs that a lot of additional value comes from sharing space with other entrepreneurs in the program. We’re looking at a number of location options right now. One of the positive aspects of the recent financial crisis is that it’s a buyer’s market in real estate.
All the business plans, the presentations and communication will be in English, I suppose?
Farcet: Yes. So far 80% of applicants are actually from outside the Nordic region. Plus our startups are going to be born global, many of our mentors are English speaking, and we’re going to have international investors so it’s a no brainer.
In Germany we still think that founding is a severe matter: Founders get in monetary debt, they play at high risk of failing their goals. You don't share that point of view, it seems to me, as you are adding a fun and adventure component to the subject. Am I right? Why do you want it that way and no other?
Farcet: What is more exciting than starting with an idea and building up a company from the ground? People working in large companies with (so-called) safe salaries often forget that at some point in the past one or several founders took a risk to get their company going. As for being in debt, things have dramatically changed recently. If you’re working on a web-based service or mobile apps, you can get a product in front of customers with very little investment. Users are comfortable working with beta products, you can rent scalable server space, you can outsource development to highly qualified people, and so on. We’re big believers in the "lean startup" movement. But back to the risk taking and having fun that’s why we focus 75% of the team – we have to see that they have entrepreneurship in their blood and we have to like each other.
Did you yourself already found a startup? If so: What has it been and how did you succeed?
Farcet: I don’t have a long track record of startups and exits behind me. I was a succesful independent consultant and I launched Nordicstartupjobs.com which has now merged with Startupjobs.eu. I sit on a couple of startup boards and do lots of coaching (especially in business models and pitching to investors). And I’ve worked with a number of startups especially in Business Development. My real skills are in connecting people (I’ve recruited most of the mentors) and being a really strong coach. But let’s be honest, Startupbootcamp isn’t about me. Mostly it’s about having access to all those amazing mentors. It would take you over a year to meet all these successful busy people if you started now. Same thing with the investors. My role is to pull it all together, much like a movie producer.
What are the plans for next years startup bootcamp? Do you already think of further options or new offers?
Farcet: Our primary focus is to ensure that Startupbootcamp is a huge success. In the mid-term we want to expand our footprint. Startupbootcamp and similar programs are actually quite community focused so it makes sense to have presence in the major startup hubs. If you look at Techstars in the US they started in Boulder, Colorado, then opened Techstars Boston and recently launched in Seattle, Washington. So they cover the East coast, the mid-West and the West coast. We think there’s room for similar development in Europe. We’ve got northern Europe covered, London is an obvious destination, and Barcelona is really up and coming. Then there’s Germany and France who are quite strong cultures with large local markets. So there’s plenty of room to expand.
Thank you Alex, for your time. I hope you will succeed and soon we can have a look at your participants "babies".
Thank you very much. We hope to see lots of amazing German candidates for Startupbootcamp - applications close end of June ;D.
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