Remote work is one of the most talked about subjects for companies around the globe right now. Everybody from the corporate behemoths to the founders in a garage are exploring (well.. let’s be real, being forced to explore) some sort of remote pivot and what that could look like for them. Accelerator programs are no exception. In the past, a lot of Accelerators required founders to temporarily relocate to be in the same location for the duration of the program. Now, remote programming is the only viable option.
At Forum Ventures, our winter cohort went remote towards the end of the program. We quickly shifted every meeting to a virtual meeting and we managed to pull it off. However, with our upcoming summer cohort starting in June, we wanted to be ready with a remote plan!
We had to move fast. The team worked tirelessly to build a well thought out, remote-first program, and as July approached, we anxiously awaited how things would turn out.
The first thing we knew we needed to do was deliver our robust programming online. We implemented an eLearning and online community platform called BuddyBoss, where our entire program now lives, including our syllabus, schedule, content, community forums, and resources. Our GCal is fully integrated and founders can join Zoom directly from the platform. It hosts a global directory of founder profiles so that founders can find each other and connect. It also automates many of our mundane tasks like sending out emails with new content, programming, deliverables, and reminders.
It has become our one-stop-shop for founders to access all things Forum Ventures!
We’ve also adopted Zoom (yes, yes, we know... we’re not special here), to host everything program related: speaker sessions, workshops, office hours, weekly 1-to-1 meetings with our Managing Directors, cohort weekly brunches, and social events like trivia and happy hours. Yes, our founders (and our own teams!) definitely have Zoom fatigue, but we mitigate this by providing awesome content and making everything fun and engaging. A little bit of elevator music at the beginning of a session and having folks bust a move once in a while goes a long way!
One perk that emerged unexpectedly is that we’ve been able to expand mentor sessions globally. Before COVID, guest mentors spoke to only a single cohort at a time in-person, but now, in this new virtual world, there are no limitations on founders to join sessions happening in different locations – a major bonus for this cohort! We still do have some cohort-specific speakers, as challenges in the Valley are going to look and feel different to New York, which is going to look and feel different to Toronto – and we need to make sure the topics, speakers, and discussions are relevant to each group. However, everyone in our program now has access to more of our speakers regardless of where they reside.
Lastly, we’re leveraging our founder Slack channel, where our current cohorts and alumni can connect, ask questions, share news, invite others to beta test, send around job postings, and offer product discounts to each other. This cohort, we’ve launched resource group channels on Slack as one of our diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives, so that underserved founders can connect with each other through their startup journey. And while we’ve always had Slack as part of our stack, our founders are leaning on it way more now to connect and build a community across cities and cohorts than we’ve ever seen before.
We’re halfway through our first ever fully-virtual program and we can confidently say that it’s working. While we were a little trepid at the start of the program, the pros most definitely outweigh the cons. We’ve been able to share resources and connect more easily across locations, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of the perks of remote that emerged (hello meetings in pjs!), and we’ve been able to add value to our founders from afar. We’re also lucky to have a group of founders that have pivoted and flexed alongside us when they didn’t expect a remote program.
“We’ve been part of 4 Accelerators/Incubators - this first week has been more productive and helpful than all those put together”
While we’re excited about all we’ve been able to build and provide virtually, nobody can argue that connecting in person is still hugely important to building relationships with mentors, peers, and investors. Our individual cohorts are still getting together for socially distanced hang outs where it’s safe to do so, like 1-to-1 outdoor coffees and themed get togethers in large outdoor, open spaces. Nothing can replace that face to face connecting!
One of the first things we did to compensate for missing out on watercooler talk with our founders was over-communicated through email, Slack, and our online portal. We heard from our founders that it was a little too much, and a little too disconnected. We are working on consolidating all these communications to make sure we don’t create email fatigue. We’re also playing around with meeting length since it turns out that when you’re not in person, you don’t always need as long. So we’re restructuring meetings to better suit a virtual setting, including duration, content, and format.
Making all these changes is crucial, but the one thing we’ve maintained from behind a screen is being human and believing in humans. We’re all going through a global pandemic and founders already have the toughest job as is, so we make sure we’re always there for them even from afar.
"Forum Ventures was the best decision we've ever made. Seriously, you guys have made such an impact on our business. We are huge evangelists for you if you ever want us to talk to other founders, just let us know. One of our investors asked us about the experience and we have not been able to stop talking about all the good things you and the community have done for the business… and we're only halfway through the program. Thank you."
Pre-COVID, Forum Ventures already had the ball rolling for developing a remote cohort. We’re a firm believer that great startups come from all over the world and not all founders have the means or flexibility to move to one of our three cities. It’s still in the works, but we’re even more excited to launch a distributed cohort available to B2B SaaS founders everywhere after seeing how well our program has translated online, as well as the possibilities for unlocking a different value set only available digitally.
As we head into investor “week” (we do it rolling style over here), we’re navigating yet another area of our program that has traditionally been in person. We foresee more willingness to take meetings on the part of investors as it’s easier to hop on Zoom than travel in person. This will definitely be a bonus for our founders!
We’re all in this together, and our founders have been amazing, open-minded, and on board with everything we’re able to offer virtually. We’re lucky to have this group of people and can’t wait to share in their success going forward.
We're now accepting Winter 2022 applications! If you are or know an incredible founder in the B2B SaaS space that you'd like to see fast-tracked in our application process, please refer them to us! We'll be reviewing all applications in Q4.