How to Successfully Apply to 500 Startups (Part 3/3)

This is the third part in my story about how Kibin was able to secure a spot in the current 500 Startups class.  Read part one and part two before this one.

Done Deal? – (May 11th – 15th)

I was continuously consulting with Van.  He would let me know if he heard any internal whispers regarding the timing of the next class. Turns out, they were due to come in “this and next week”.  I hit panic mode again and started stressing out.  I tried talking to Hong, but he wasn’t giving any information.  So I decided to drop Dave a DM again.  To my surprise, he replied within an hour with his cell phone number, telling me to drop him a call “tomorrow”.

Bam!  It was on.  I quickly notified Jim I’d be coming down to Mountain View the next day (May 12th).  The plan was to call Dave and be accessible so we could rush over and hopefully get a meeting.  We were pumped and figured this could only mean good things.

But things did not go nearly as I had planned.  I had called Dave McClure around 10:00am and got his voice mail.  I left a message and waited about an hour and a half.  No response.  I proceeded to drop him a text and received a rather quick reply.

Dave was “slammed” and didn’t have time to meet or even chat.  He told us to ping him “tomorrow”.  Worse yet, this text conversation told me one huge thing: Christine Tsai hadn’t even mentioned us to Dave.  Dave asked if we had sent a summary over yet.  Why yes, in fact we met with Christine weeks ago!  As I said before: don’t be patient, don’t wait, always be doing something.

Distraught yet again, I packed up and went home.  As I rode the train, I knew it was time to take action.  I decided I’d nicely call Christine out via email for not speaking with Dave about us at all yet and I made a point in copying Dave on the email.  She replied within hours, introducing us to Paul Singh, another 500 Startups mentor who was coming on to help run things.  Paul was also quick to chime in and we were able to schedule a time to chat for the very next day, May 13th.  I was excited and optimistic once again.

The conversation with Paul went extremely well.  He had one concern, but admitted it wasn’t anything that would be a potential deal breaker.  Paul even had a bit of Freudian slip when he said we’d “be seeing him in the office a lot”. We hung up the phone after 45 minutes with Paul notifying us he’d chat with Christine and we’d be hearing from her shortly (either that day or in the next few).

We were pretty stoked and more optimistic than ever.  However, learning my lesson from the last time I was told “you’ll hear soon”, I texted Dave since we were supposed to have our second attempt at a phone chat that day.  He got back to me a few hours later, wanting to chat in 30 minutes (about 8:30pm). Luckily, I was home working on a Friday night rather than out having fun. We chatted for a while and I gave him the low-down on what we’ve been doing, why 500 Startups makes perfect sense for us, etc.

Dave started talking about “options”.  He said, maybe we could work out of the office for awhile without an investment.  Maybe a future class would make more sense.  I continued to listen, but it wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. The only option I wanted was to enter the next 500 class and be treated as such.

Dave wanted us to find a few more mentors that would be good to speak with about Kibin.  The idea was these people would better understand our business and be able to give us a thumbs up.  He was obviously driving and couldn’t think of anyone ideal off-hand.  His last bit of advice was something along the lines of “just keep being persistent without being annoying”.

I spent the rest of the night in attack mode.  I stalked 500 Startup mentors on LinkedIn, trying to find some good ones to speak with.  I sent an email to Rob Angarita, asking if he knew anyone in the mentor list.  I sent Mark Suster another email asking if he could put in yet another good word for us.  I went to the Crocodoc website and got on their live chat support.  As luck would have it, Ryan Damico answered.  I wanted to make sure he didn’t have any qualms about us coming into the 500 Startup family since I never heard from him in my previous email.  We scheduled a time to talk on Saturday.  I was doing everything I could once again.

I woke up to an email from Mark Suster saying he sent a strong endorsement for us.  I chatted with Ryan Damico later that day and he assured me that he had no problems with us entering the class.  Christine Tsai had apparently already spoken with him, so that loose end was already tied.  I also emailed Dave and Christine with the list of mentors I thought would be good for us to talk with.

Later that night I received an email from Paul Singh titled, “Kibin next steps”. It offered us a spot in the 500 Startups program for 30 days without investment. It was a trial period.  If we achieved a handful of milestones we’d be considered for the program full-time.  It was clear that we’d be treated like everyone else except for the investment and any press releases about the class.

Jim and I showed up at the 500 Startups office just two days later on May 18th.  The program officially started on the 23rd, but we were staking our claim on desks.

The following week, once the program officially started, we began working our asses off. We went through the design boot-camp, several office hours sessions, meetings with mentors, and began redesigning our entire user experience.  We made more progress in the next week and half than we had in the last two months.

Before we had even been there two full weeks, we sat down with Paul for what was ostensibly a routine office hours meeting.  But it wasn’t routine at all.  Paul told us that we’d been making so much progress that they wanted to move forward with us rather than waiting the full 30 days.  We were stoked to officially be part of the program.

So, have we slowed down or started working less since our official acceptance to the program?  Quite the contrary. Even though the papers are signed and the wires are hitting our bank account, we’re moving as fast as ever and just released a complete overhaul to our UI/UX. I’ve been sleeping even more nights in the office and we’re pushing harder than ever.

The amount of significance I placed on getting us into 500 Startups may seem excessive, or even trivial to some.  But it was one of those decisions that simply felt right.  Its tough to explain the instinctual feeling I often experience in my decision making process. Without it, I find myself hesitant to move forward, knowing something doesn’t quite ‘feel right’.  But when I do find that feeling, I’ll stop at nothing until I either satisfy it or prove it wrong.  Its very rarely the latter.

I also understand how difficult it is to convey the mental anguish I experienced throughout this process.  In a sort of masochistic way, I enjoy the extreme highs and lows that seem increasingly more common as we continue to show more and more progress in this journey. There’s nothing like the highs, but they’re so quickly taken for granted that you learn there’s nothing like the lows to motivate and teach you to appreciate the few highs you’ll experience.

So was it worth it?  500 Startups has more than exceeded my expectations.  I can’t begin to imagine what we’d be doing if we weren’t in the program.  But I’ll leave it at that in fear of spoiling the details for those of you still planning to see the show.

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