Are groups and cohorts the key to startup success?

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The formula to startup success …

Sorry if you came here for the holy grail. What if I told you that there is no “secret to success”?

I used to think success was about having a great idea and putting in a shit-load of hard work, but if that were true, then success = idea + hardwork would be the winning formula. Which it clearly isn’t. The more I’ve observed success, through the our portfolio companies, the more I realise that the winning formula is closer to ((idea + hardwork) + timing)^network. That is, success is having a great idea crossed with hard work, with good timing, raised to the power of your network. The network has an exponential effect on success, which is summed up by the adage “it’s not what you know, but who you know”.

My thesis on building Australia’s most successful accelerator has always been contrarian. Rather than looking for success metrics, we look at failures, or rather the risks involved in entrepreneurship and we develop systems and processes for mitigating those risks. Our whole company is structured in a way which reflects this. In the same vain, I wanted to identify how could we, as an organisation, help founders with this “networks” thing.

The power of a good network

The value of a good network is not disputed. Recently, CEO of Canva Melanie Perkins blogged about her success and learnings and mapped her network, bringing the value of her entire network back to one single connection, Bill Tai. The connection, was made somewhat by chance (good timing) but the connection resulted in her capital investment, her mentors, and the first key hires of her team. Melanie credits a large portion of her success to her network, which when combined by her brilliant idea and her incredible hard work with a dash of good timing would support my pseudo-science formula above.

But without that first introduction, how does a founder, particularly a first-time founder, build their network?

SheStarts Facebook, LinkedIn and Google
SheStarts1 cohort visits LinkedIn, Facebook and Google in San Francisco to build some powerful relationships.

What’s a cohort?

But first, what is a cohort? In the world of startups and accelerators, a cohort is a group of startups who are participating in the program at the same time.  It’s kind of like how a “grade” is a group of students participating in an academic year at the same time.

Cohorts as mini-networks

What we realised when running our Workplace of the Future program, was that our cohorts of startups were in themselves “mini networks”. Our founders were collaborating much more and were helping each other with their connections and networks. Suddenly the power of the network was not just limited to BlueChilli’s, we had a compounding effect, a network of networks if you will.

If we subscribe to the power of networks, a large part of a entrepreneur’s success will be down to the strength of their network.  Even though they may not have started a company before and have a weak “VC network, we can demonstrate that successful founders building industry focused startups have established a network in that industry.  We can then bring relevant corporate partners and VCs who are also interested in the industry.

This means when we bring together a group of startups that are focused on solving problems in health, or that are looking to use block chain technologies for smart cities, each founder’s network is instantly grown by being connected to other founders.

Not only that, but having a group of individuals who are all sharing in the same experiences is often worth more than any education, capital, introduction or group of engineers. Having someone who understands what you’re going through to talk to when you’re feeling low, or someone to high five with when you’re feeling awesome is invaluable.

The City Connect cohort are working together to build smarter cities.

Cohorts as the model

So based on the experiments, dissecting what failure means and the power of networks and as part of our constant focus on putting our founders first, we’ve changed the way applications are done at BlueChilli.

We invest in cohorts three times a year focused around key industry and technology sectors. From health to inclusivity to smart cities to energy. By bringing together founders around common shared experiences and leveraging everyone’s networks, we can help our startups be the most successful they can be.

I have an awesome idea, how do I apply?

If you have an awesome idea, first thing is to do is check out our programs page for the next opening and what their industry focus is.  If a program is open you’ll be able to apply immediately.  If a program is not yet open, you will be able to pre-register your interest by leaving your contact details and we’ll get in touch with you before it opens.  We get close to 1000 applications per program so it’s super competitive, be sure to check out startup-u to be the best you possibly can come application time.

The cohort from SheStarts2 is ready to change the world.