3 Lessons I Learned from the Founder Institute

Vlad Pitching Grant Snap

Vlad Pitching Grant Snap. Thanks Gilbert (@blueclock) for the photos!

55 people applied, 22 were selected, 7 survived and I won the Founder Institute Brussels fall semester with my startup. What a ride!

One of the things that makes life so interesting for me is constant learning. And I don’t think I ever learned so much in four months time, as I did during this program.

I’d like to share my top three lessons with you.

1. Feedback really matters. I got feedback from 26 experienced entrepreneurs, and many, many times from my wonderful peers in the program. Two things really surprised me.

The first one is the effectiveness of the short pitching format. I got to a point of believing the pitch to be a real reflection of the quality of your business idea, and the work you’ve put in it. We were forced to explain the complete business model in 3 minutes. We had to make a compelling story that clearly shows our customer, their problem, our product, market, competition, business model and projections, route to market and our team. And every time you would address one issue, another one would show up.

The second surprise was the effectiveness of mentor feedback. I started out by thinking that the only feedback that really matters is the one from your customers. How will other entrepreneurs, I thought, with little or no knowledge of your domain, ever be able to give you meaningful feedback? It turns out, they can. After hearing your story for three minutes. Especially for the early stage startups that we all are.

Remarks we got weren’t always easy to hear, and many times we were confused about what to do about them. The best remarks required you to dig deeper and work harder on a particular aspect (e.g. product, or the revenue model).

2. You get to choose your market, and choosing early is important. Our second week’s assignment was to study three potential markets, and choose one with the biggest potential. Desk research of three markets in one week time. This was one of the most useful assignments I had.

I was researching (1) the market of online collaborative writing tools, (2) online project management and collaboration tools (groupware), and (3) the  gamification market (not a real market yet).  And after looking at the size, dynamics and the major competitors, I decided none of the three were where I wanted to be with my product. So I went on to research the fourth one: a €375 billion grant market.

3. You will make plenty of rookie mistakes as a first-time founder. I am grateful to the Institute and the mentors for saving me from quite a few. Choosing a wrong market. Targeting the wrong customer segment. Not thinking through agreements between co-founders. Not paying enough attention on branding and naming (or spending too much time on it). Not taking care of legal aspects. And so on and so forth.

I am glad I’ve done it. I would have never been so far in such a short time. At the same time, I am glad it’s over, and I am looking forward focusing on my product.

What are your major lessons or questions about such a program?



  1. A great summary of the Founder Institute experience. As one of the peers I can honestly say your victory was well earned.
    If I could use only one word to describe the experience it would be “Momentum”. Each week you have to look at and build a part of your business, if you don’t, you have to drop out, no excuses.
    As you say, I wouldn’t have advanced so much in such a short period of time.
    I can advise anyone with the ambition to start his own business to participate in a startup program. You will definatly learn some valuable lessons.

  2. As a peer, I also agree.

    Great roadmap to build your business, pushing you to think every points that are or will be important. Deadlines to keep you in the movement (and keep you away to overthink and procrastinate). Peers and mentors offering plenty of feedbacks, advices and a great network. Milestones forcing you to decide and … progress.

    Ho, and well done Vlad ;) .

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