Last Tuesday I drove to Newcastle for Ignite’s distributed accelerator programme. It was the final stage of the application process for the Ignite Accelerator, and I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Everything about accelerators scare me. It’s a world that I’m not familiar with. Prior to last week, I did’t know the difference between a Venture Capitalist and an Angel Investor.

I’ve never had someone tear apart my business before, albeit constructively. My mum always tells me I’m doing a great job.

The week before Ignite I had reached a milestone at With Jack. I hit the 100 customer mark and was feeling confident. This metric validated my business.

With a conversion rate of 30%+, it was an indication to keep on trucking to 1000.

  • 100 Customers = Validation
  • 1000 Customers = Profitable business
  • 10,000 Customers = Lifestyle business
  • 100,000 Customers = Multi-million pound business

My confidence didn’t last. A couple of days before setting off for Newcastle, doubt set in.

I’m not good enough as a founder. My business isn’t solving a big enough problem. Everyone is going to be further along than me. What if I don’t know my figures? I’m afraid I’ll look stupid.

It turns out this was normal. Having spoken to the other startups at the offsite, most felt the same way.

Some of the other startups at Ignite off-site

The Application Process

What followed was an intense, 2-day programme.

The first half of each day comprised of workshops on growth, hiring and more. I took a ton of notes in these sessions and came away with actionable tips—some of which I’ve implemented with positive effect.

This part of the day provided more value than many of the £200+ conferences I’ve attended.

In the afternoon we had Office Hours with investors, mentors and the Ignite team. This part of the day was challenging and tested each of us as founders.

A Brief Backstory…

My background is unconventional. 12 years ago I inherited my Dad’s insurance business. From the age of 18 I worked from home until moving into a co-working space in 2013. That’s 8 years of working from home!

For several of those years I also battled a crippling anxiety disorder. At my anxiety’s peak, I didn’t leave the house for fear of having panic attacks. It took over my life.

I don’t recognise that person anymore, but I often joke that the 8 years I spent working from home—and with the little social interaction I had—my social skills have been affected. In other words, this was way out of my comfort zone!

I was asked difficult questions. I didn’t have answers to all of them. At times it looked like I don’t know what I’m doing. I met disinterested and stony-faced Venture Capitalists. I went into these sessions feeling proud of what I’m building, but left wondering why I was even there.

While some of what I’m saying sounds negative, it isn’t.

Being a solo founder, I need to have a network of people who question my beliefs. Test my assumptions. Challenge my theories. I believe that’s what will take With Jack from 100 customers to 1000 and beyond.

After feeling exhausted and bruised, we ended the first day with a 3 minute pitch.

Despite doing a bit of public speaking, it’s still an uncomfortable process for me. But this was different. Everyone in that room was in the same boat. Sharing the experience and knowing what we were all going through, everyone was rooting for one another. There was a lot of support.

Day two followed the same format. This time I felt prepared for stony-faced Venture Capitalists. I felt prepared for difficult questions. I felt prepared to doubt myself.

After embracing the uneasiness of it all, I ended the experience on a high.

Some of the other startups at Ignite off-site

Why Did I Apply To Ignite?

What problems is With Jack facing that compelled me to apply to Ignite?

  • I’m a solo founder and need a network of mentors around me.
  • My conversion rate is great, but I’m lacking volume. How do I scale and get more customers?
  • I burned through my cash on developing Jack’s customer journey.

An unexpected upside of Ignite was meeting other early-stage startup founders. I don’t have many friends in this circle.

Although I love my friends, I sometimes feel I’m wired up differently. I want to talk about business, marketing and the problems I’m facing growing With Jack. None of my friends find this interesting. I can see their eyes glaze over when I try to talk about Jack—or they just don’t reply to my texts!

There was an instant bond with the group. I liked everybody I met. So much so that if I don’t get accepted onto the Ignite programme, I won’t feel resentment or bitterness. I’ll be happy for the startups that get through.

I extracted enough value from the offsite that my 48 hours in Newcastle, irrespective of the outcome, was worthwhile. What a whirlwind experience!