In the Founder Institute's 4-Month Core Program, you build a business through a series of structured growth sprints and receive constant feedback on your progress at our weekly online Feedback Sessions. Each session lasts about 3-4 hours, and is led by 3-5 startup CEO or Investor Mentors who share their advice on that week's topic, provide live feedback on your business, and help you analyze and solve any issues you are facing. In addition to the Feedback Sessions, you also convene for Group Meetings and can schedule Office Hours with your Local Leaders and Mentors.
In the Product Development week, you will focus on building and releasing a world-class solution and developing a solid product roadmap. The following session synopsis gives you an exclusive look at how a typical Founder Institute Feedback Session operates, as well as what to expect and how to prepare.
Each session typically begins with progress reports from all program participants. Each founder or team explains the progress they made since the last session, and outlines their biggest challenges or learnings to the cohort.
Then the session moves to talks from experienced Mentors, who will lay out a roadmap on how to build an impactful product and/or service. Topics that will be covered include establishing priorities, brainstorming strategies, outlining features, getting product feedback, creating a roadmap, determining production costs, and more.
Here is an example talk at a Founder Institute session from FI Mentor Phil Libin (former CEO of Evernote).
(please note that the <semester> program will take place 100% online).
Founder Hotseat Pitches and Feedback
Getting consistent feedback throughout the business-building process is extremely helpful.
This is why every session contains multiple "Founder Hotseats", where Founders pitch of their startup, and their progress made in the program, to a panel of Startup Mentors. On a scale of 1 - 5, Founder’s pitches are graded on the clarity of their presentations, the quality of their idea, and more. One important thing to note is that the Founder Institute has a "no threes allowed" policy (read the explanation here). After providing their ratings, Mentors give the Founders critical advice on how to improve the pitch, idea, and business.
Watch a portion of a "Founder Hotseat" session below, with FI Mentors (from left to right) Ron Palmeiri (Founder & CEO of Layer), Phil Libin (CEO of Evernote), Eric Ries (Author of The Lean Startup) and Aaron Patzer (Founder of Mint.com and Fountain).
The final portion of the session is a Q&A discussion in which Founders will have the opportunity to ask the Mentors questions about the challenges they are facing. Here, Founders can hear personal stories from the Mentors themselves, get additional feedback on their progress, how to solve their problems, and more.
Watch a portion of the same Mentor panel answering questions on Product Development below.
The weekly Feedback Sessions are just the beginning.
After each session, Founders have until the following session to complete a challenging set of Growth Sprints, which are designed to take approximately 20-30 hours total. Each sprint contains actionable, structured deliverables to help your business get to traction and funding.
For example, a portion of the Product Development assignment (#2 of 8 total deliverables) is listed below
Deliverable 2. Organize a product brainstorming session with your Advisors, coworkers, friends and / or Working Group members to create a prioritized set of features to develop first (or next). See this sample Roadmap of Prioritized Features worksheet, and try the following methodology:
- During the session, write down a series of “Features” that you want your ultimate offering to have on sticky notes.
- Then, organize the Features on sticky notes into logical “Groups,” which may be in categories like “Registration” or “Search.”
- On a wall, place the important Features on top of less important Features vertically within the Group, and place the more important Group to the right of the less important Groups.
- Batch items from top to bottom and from left to right into named Releases, such "MVP, "Beta" or "Version 1."
In this example, "Step 2" covers creating a Product Specification, and there are eight total steps in the Product Development assignment.
Epic Sprints (aka Special Assignments)
If a Founder falls behind in the program, receives notably poor feedback from the Mentors, or needs to drastically improve an aspect of their business, they may be given an Epic Sprint.
Epic Sprints, which are tailored to each company, are designed to address the poor feedback a Founder has received in order to help them correct the issues in their business. For example, below is an example Epic Sprint that was given to a Founder who received very poor feedback related to their product definition and customer development progress:
EPIC SPRINT - First, study the best practices to complete market research and surveys for your target market, and summarize your conclusions in a one page document. Second, produce a professional fifteen question survey that will help you to understand the needs and issues of your target market. Third, secure 1,000 responses to the survey from your target market via online advertising, social media, and more. Finally, produce a 10+ page PDF report that analyzes the results and outlines conclusions that will influence your product development.
Office Hours provide Founders with the opportunity to speak with the Local Leaders and Mentors for 20 to 30 minutes, to discuss issues they are facing with their business, and address any issues with their progress. To make these meetings efficient, Founders must prepare (1) an agenda of the topics that they would like to cover, and (2) an updated executive summary of their business.
Throughout the program, each Founder is placed into rotating Working Groups with their peers, in order to build camaraderie and allow Founders to help eachother on their Growth Sprints. Working Groups are organized by company stage and are expected to meet at least twice per week in between sessions. Working Groups also have self-selected "Presidents", who take a leadership role and handle additional responsibilities for the group.
To help you complete the sprints efficiently and effectively, Founders also get access to a vast library of resources that include step-by-step guides, templates for things like legal agreements, financial models, and pitch decks, and a collection of top private videos from thousands of Founder Institute sessions from across the globe.
In addition, Founders get access to over $3M in discounted and free services from Founder Institute Partners.
There are at least three "Special Sessions" during the Founder Institute Semester:
- Orientation: In this first session, you’ll meet the cohort, go more in-depth about the program and its expectations.
- Mentor Idea Review: This session, which takes place at the 1/3 point of the program, is 100% devoted to pitching your idea to large number of Mentors (typically at least 10) for feedback on the viability of your startup idea. This is the first major "checkpoint" for the progress of Founders in the program.
- Mentor Progress Review: This session is identical to the "Mentor Idea Review", except that it takes place at the 2/3 point of the program, and focuses Mentor feedback on your program progress, financial model, product development, and scalability.
Many chapters also create additional sessions to address regional and location-specific topics. For example, it is typical for many European chapters to host additional Legal Sessions to ease the burden of incorporating a company, and many Asian chapters also host special sessions on Doing Business in China.