I took a sabbatical from my consulting work this summer to participate in the iAccelerator program. This is a program for early stage software startups, similar to YCombinator, but the first of it's kind (I believe) in India.
I enjoy teaching programming, I have taught programming classes at a college, done corporate workshops, and more recently have been working on a website for participatory learning. This time I was looking for a different kind of mentoring experience, something which would be free form and fun. After a discussion with Freeman, I decided to go spend the summer at iAccelerator.
In the first few days of the program we had introductions by all the teams where they spoke about their product and vision. This was followed by a session on team building and thinking out of the box, a few legal sessions, sessions on accounting and company law, and several other mentoring sessions. All this is very useful for early stage software stratups, especially when they are founded by techies who are excelent hackers but need some help with legal and business stuff.
iAccelerator had ten very motivated and talented teams. I split my time helping them with technical stuff and working on my participatory learning project.
We worked out of a large hall, converted very tastefully into a working area. Each team had their own space towards the walls, and the centre was furnished with couches, projector, a large whiteboard (where we had presentations and brainstorming sessions) and a wii for fun and entertainment.
Even though everyone had their own work areas, many people chose to work on the couches. Working from the couches was a lot more fun and it gave opportunities for discussions, knowledge exchange, and friendly bantering. The couch culture (as I call this) in retrospect has been a very important part of the cameredierie and the excellent environment we had among us.
A good, positive, and helpful environment is one of the best things in such a program. Whenever anyone was stuck with a problem, or needed help with something new, they would always find someone who had that knowledge and was willing to share it. Everyone had their unique strengths, and collectively we all had a lot of talent which flowed freely. Entrepreneurship is also often a journey of highs and lows. There are times when you feel like your product will take over the world, and then there are times which can be described as not so pleasant. Being in a good environment with friends, means that you are not in this alone. If someone is down he can be sure that his buddies will pull him up.
One team found their first few customers within the group itself, and another team made a kick-ass software for internal communication which had passionate users from day one.
Ever so often we would have mentors, and successful entrepreneurs come talk to us about various things related to business and startups. Many guests spoke about their journey as entrepreneurs, their successes, failures, and lessons learned. Besides these sessions, we were also invited for many talks given by various mentors to the IIM students. This was a benefit of being on the IIM-A campus. Several mentors also worked one on one with the teams to help them with their vision and business plans.
Since we all had technical skills, internally we did several TechTalks on topics such as security, Amazon EC2 & cloud computing, designing with GIMP, JQuery, version control with SVN and Git, and many more. Sometimes we played tech videos from the Internet and had discussions around them. These sessions were a lot of fun and we all learned from them.
Since Freeman has successfully created and exited a startup in the past, he had many insights about how to run a startup. He shared his knowledge and insights with everyone, helping with business plans, vision, fund raising pitches, and many other nitty gritties of creating startups.
However, it was not just work all the time. We had a great time watching MTV while eating breakfast in the college mess. I can now tell you that watching MTV is far better than reading the morning newspaper. We played ping pong (Freeman and me had some really fun and intense ping pong sessions) ... we played cricket... on weekends we watched movies on the office projector. We also had a lot of diverse talent in the group. Jeevan Ram rocked everyone with his dancing and Ghazal made us laugh with his mimicry.
It's amazing how well we all got to know each other in just a few months. Thinking back, this was the best time I have had after graduating. Most importantly, I cannot stress enough the fact that I made really good friends, and I am very grateful for the wonderful time we all spent together.
This year's iA program will end in a few weeks. I wish all the teams lot of success and good luck.