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The Founder Institute was my Startup Muse, by Tom Frazier

Posted by Jonathan Greechan on 2012-07-03

The first Sydney Founder Institute program concluded a few weeks ago, with seven promising graduate companies. One of the newly graduated founders, Tom Frazier (Co-Founder of ProcessGo!), posted a review of his experience with the program on his company blog. According to Tom, "The Founder Institute has become this thing that helps people articulate their ideas, bonds founders within a community and channels creativity into a funnel, and spits out amazing little businesses with big ambitions."

ProcessGo! makes it easy for enterprise businesses to discover their optimal business process and easily evaluate different back-office suppliers. The company also counts Matt Allen and Doug Hudgeon as Foudner Institute Graduates and Co-Founders.

You can read the full article on the ProcessGo! Blog here. Below it is republished. 


"It seems that the startup tech world in Australia is absolutely on fire right now.  There are incubators popping up all over the country, coworking spaces opening up that offer different communities, accelerators to help promote and grow businesses... and then there is The Founder Institute, which provides the most promising environment of all: inspiration and perspiration.

Let me set the scene:

In July 2009 I founded my first real tech startup.  It wasn't a scalable "cloud" company like most startups these days, but it was extremely dependant on technology that didn't exist.  It was called SmirkAbout, and our merry little band of 2 co-founders (me and a fantastic chap named Andrew) and a handful of designers set out to make protective skins for over 500 mobile devices designed by independant artists.  It had a handful of problems that needed to be overcome (skip past these if you aren't interested in mobile nor art):

  1. All devices are physically unique.  Laptops have a landscape aspect ratio whereas mobiles are held in a portrait position and things like the Nintendo DS or Wii controller don't fit into any size category.  In addition they all have oddly located quirks like cameras, buttons and hidden sensors.  By hand, we painstakingly measured to the 1/4 mm every nuance of every side of hundreds of devices.
  2. Artwork is as unique as the device.  Since the focal point of art is both subjective and unique to each piece it needed to be laid out differently for each device as well.  For SmirkAbout that meant creating a promotional image (front and back of the device with that design as a web-ready image), a printable product (which is a complicated mess of PDF X/1-a and other nonsensicle print stuff) as well as any matching digital assets.  For all of our mobile products they had matching wallpapers each configured to the exact size and resolution of each screen.  What this means is that to sell 1 design on 1 device requires at least 3 sets of images so for our catalogue of 500,000 products we had a minimum of 1.5M digital assets to create and manage.  It blew out to nearly 5M after serving multiple sizes.
  3. On demand printing.  With 500,000 products we didn't want to have any inventory and wanted to create each product on demand as it was ordered.  Back then (and still pretty true), there wasn't an easy way to go from order to print to cut to package on demand..  We had to built a unique system that would allow us to automate nearly 100% of this process to reduce errors and keep our shop lean and mean. 
  4. Oh yeah... ecommerce that could support 500k products.  Fail.  There was none.  We were forced to heavily modify Magento in its early days to make this work.  Just to add one more spanner in the works we wanted all our products to be sold in 10 different countries and currencies around the world which put our list of SKUs (stock keeping units) at/above 5 million!

The details of those problems aren't important.  The point I am trying to make is that these were all independently difficult and there wasn't a lot of support out there for any of them.  While I am sure there were great people out there that we could talk to they were hard to find and even harder to convince them to help.  We muddled through, succeeded in doing all of the above and did it all with a local Sydney team and our own homegrown local Sydney manufacturing centre.  You know when people say "you can take the long way or ..." - well let me tell you that was the looooong way.  I am better for having done it but it was 2+ years of working 12-18 hour days for 7 days a week.  I put my life on hold for those lessons so they will be etched in my blood, sweat and tears for every future venture to come.

Now back to Founder Institute.  I took a 6 month break after semi-successfully exiting that company and began my journey for a new startup.  Enter ProcessGo!, the simple way to compare big, important, complex, expensive business processes.  Matt, Doug and I decided to use the Founder Institute as a shared experience for our then company called Pitchmap.  My career experience to date has shown me that a great shared experience with a small group of passionate people goes a long way.  So we had a goal that we would finish as the top founders in the inaugural class here in Sydney or we wouldn't do it at all.  From March to June we slaved away at all of the tasks required in the homework, listened to all the mentors share their battle scars, slogged through the numerous team meetings (and drinking sessions).  Let there be no ambiguity - it was hard work.  You could feel the startup in the air.  Companies were forming and people were no longer pitching vaporware.  Things were taking shape and it was fantastic.  It was hard to put my finger on why it worked but it most definitely did.

Since graduation I have had some time to reflect and I realise the reason the Founder Institute works is because it is a muse.  It is weird to think of Adeo Ressi, the straight talking bald man that is changing the worldwide startup scene, as a muse - but I guess he is.  The Founder Institute has become this thing that helps people articulate their ideas, bonds founders within a community, and channels creativity into a funnel and spits out amazing little businesses with big ambitions.  The only secret sauce is you do all of the work in a short period of time or you fail and are kicked out.  Simple.

Most of the other accelerators and incubators out there have one major point of contrast to Founder Institute - they don't actively kick you out if you aren't good enough.  Don't get me wrong here... pleeeease... I think they all have a place in the ecosystem and offer a whole lot of value, but they are incentivised to make the founders and companies succeed.  To get into those programs money is given to the startup so the program wants them to finish.  If you fail it is a pile of cash flushed away.  Also, by definition, they are trying to accelerate the growth of your company whereas most of the FI founders are still at the idea stage.

Founder Institute actively tests each founder on a daily basis for 4 months.  You get kicked out if you fall behind.  You get kicked out if you can't pitch.  You get kicked out if your idea doesn't become razor sharp.  The mentors can kick you out, the facilitators can kick you out and you can checkout anytime you want.  Adeo's system is hard, just like the real world problems you face with a startup, and it kicks you in the teeth even if/when you are down.  Furthermore, most people go in without having a company so it is more like a entreprenurial bootcamp than company-builder, but since a startup revolves around its founder, the latter also becomes true.

ProcessGo! is here and growing by the day.  Matt, Doug and I are better for being through the Founder Institute and that means our company is too.  If we keep having wins at this pace we won't just be solving the massive enterprise problem of adding perspective to business process, but we'll show that every founder needs a startup muse."

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