“the market is the reality check”

Don Ritzen (left) en Rune Theill (right)
of Rockstart Accelerator




Hi guys, how are you doing?

We’re doing fine. It’s very busy getting the 10 startups ready for Demo Day. But that gives a lot of energy as well.

What do you do at Rockstart Accelerator?

Rune: I’m the program director and Don is the managing director.

What’s the difference?

Don (smiling): There is definitely a difference! On a more general level I look at all the different stakeholders who are excited to help all the startups at Rockstart Accelerator. I talk to the partners, sponsors and the investors around Demo Day. And I’m making sure that all these partners are involved and know what’s going on and are excited to be part of our community.
Rune: Where Don is more externally focused, I look more to the near future to see what the next step for us is going to be. I’m also more involved in the Accelerator on a daily operational basis. I connect startups and mentors. And I’m trying to understand the next step forward for the startups. Where do they need to go next? Within the program I try to connect them with the right mentors.

How did you come up with the idea of the Accelerator?

Don: Together with James Digby, one of the co-founders, I did Startup Weekends. We brought Startup Weekends to the Netherlands and run several events throughout Europe. At the same time I was working at a Tech startup in Amsterdam, I kind of knew the phenomenon accelerator. We thought it would be great to have such an initiative here in Amsterdam, to really help startups to the next level. We saw that after Startup Weekends some of the startups did well, while others crashed and burned. We thought: how can we help these startups and increase their chances of success?

How did the Startup Weekend transform into Rockstart Accelerator?

Don: Well, I didn’t really transform. I met Oscar at the Startup Weekends where he came to coach as a mentor. Together with James Digby I was thinking about starting an accelerator, we saw Oscar’s first Rockstart video and immediately thought there was something there…  Later, when we were in a more concrete stage, we started talking to Oscar and heard the full story of Rockstart. We got inspired because we saw how the different phases of a startup struggle translated in the building blocks of Rockstart.

Why startups?

Don: I think the roller coaster, the energy, the fact that they got so much done in one day. And they are all very passionate about what they do. They all have their strong and weak points but no matter what, during the program you see them taking massive steps, go faster and think bigger.

What were you guys expecting 100 days ago at the start of Rockstart Accelerator?

Don (sighing): I was surprised it went so fast.
Rune: I was in the beginning quite surprised about the amount of teams that applied. We kind of knew the standard volume but this was kind of an overwhelming response.

How many applied?

Rune: 354

How did you select the final 10 out of all those startups?

Rune: Together with the VC’s and Business Angels we looked at all the applications and from there we narrowed it down to 40. And with these 40 our selection committee did Skype interviews. We went from 40 to 20 after that and the last 20 where invited to Amsterdam. In the end only 16 startups were pitching. The other 4 were already selected as we knew them personally, or had so much traction that there was no need for them to pitch.

Talking about pitching, you told the last 20 startups almost immediately after their pitch at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam who would be part of the first Rockstart Accelerator.

Rune: We held the pitches between 1pm-5pm and at 6pm announced the winners.

What was important in the selection criteria?
Rune: The basic requirement was that they already formed a team and had started working together. That left out quite a few applicants, at least the single founders.
Don: Because an accelerator is so intense, you can’t do it as a one man show.

Alright. That’s good to know for all the startups who want to join the next Accelerator.
Rune: Basically if you want to go into an accelerator you always hear about how successful they are and how they grow big. The idea about the accelerator is that you really get a lot of feedback and that you can handle al that feedback and connect with other founders and discuss your development. That’s why you have to be with two or more people because you have to be capable to receive all the information you get.

Since the teams are so different, how did you get a good feeling about their strengths and weaknesses?

Don: What you see is that a technical team lacks sales or business development for instance. As a startup you have to decide at the beginning of the program who is doing what within your team. You have to trust each others talents and qualities.

Was it hard to coach them?

Rune: Well some people join the program and they know from day 1 what they want from the program. And some come in and don’t know exactly how to benefit from the program. Of course it’s easier if you already know what you want.

What’s your overall feeling of this fist accelerator?

Don: I think there was incredible progress for the teams and the way they validated what they’re doing.

Which insights did you get from the first Rockstart Accelerator?
Rune: Uhhm, the greatest insight……… I think before you talk to your customers you don’t really know a lot about your product. We knew that already but it’s just been validated during this Accelerator.

You only know what you product or service is worth if you do a reality check on the market?

Rune: Yeah, definitely. But on the more personal level, if you wanna succeed it’s about focus. As a business you really have to find out exactly what you going for.

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