Interviewee: Michael Cardamone, Managing Director at Acceleprise San Francisco
Interviewer: Jorge Soto, Host at Sotoventures
Jorge: What is your professional background and how did you get into startups?
Michael: I graduated from business school in 2008 and knew I wanted to move out to San Francisco to get into technology. I was lucky enough to be the first business development (“BD”) hire at Box in 2008 and have been in tech ever since. I later went to another startup called AcademixDirect where I led BD and Partner Marketing.
In January 2014, I left AcademixDirect to start Acceleprise in San Francisco and by June of that year we did our first close on the fund and announced it.
We are now starting our 4th cohort and have invested in 30+ early stage SaaS companies.
Jorge: Tell me about Acceleprise. What inspired you to launch this program and what is the short and long term vision for the program?
Michael: Acceleprise is a SaaS focused accelerator backed by great operators like Nick Mehta (CEO of Gainsight, Karen Appleton (Early Exec at Box), Rowan Trollope (Senior Exec at Cisco), Tien Tzuo (CEO of Zuora), and many more successful founders & executives.
We felt that if we could get enough great people involved who have built SaaS companies, our collective operating experiences and networks could add a lot of value to pre-seed SaaS companies. We also feel like there are so many opportunities to build value and wanted to be a part of building the next generation of great SaaS companies.
Jorge: What trends have you observed within the saas startup world over the past few years?
Michael: The adoption of SaaS products is accelerating quickly. Back in 2008 when I started at Box, you had to really educate the buyer on the value of cloud based software and that just isn’t the case very often today. With that said, cloud software still makes up a relatively small percent of the overall spend on software, so there is still a lot of opportunity to create massive companies.
The availability of artificial intelligence technology is allowing SaaS companies to build AI into their products and drastically improve efficiencies across workflows, which enables them to steal meaningful market share away from incumbents. More investors pay attention to SaaS now than I have seen since being in the Bay Area.
Building on platforms – many good companies are being built on platforms like Force.com, Box and I’m sure Slack is next. The companies make it easier to go to market and can often help with distribution. The bar for raising institutional seed capital has creeped up over the last couple of years as more capital flows in at the angel and pre-seed level and the larger seed funds now have the luxury of waiting to see traction.
Jorge: What tips would you give a bootstrapped or seed level founder about how to effectively build a minimum viable product (“MVP”)?
Michael: Talk to as many customers as possible! Too many companies still spend time building a fully functional product before talking to a lot of customers and they often have to go back to the drawing board once they start to sell. Get feedback before you start building and then iterate quickly once an MVP is built.
Jorge: Once a founder has a basic MVP, what steps should they follow when trying to validate that they are building the right product for the right customer?
Michael: If you talk to a lot of customers prior to building it, you will be in a better starting place with your MVP. Once it is launched, work closely with a relatively small number of pilot customers and be very hands on with them as they start testing it. Also try to pilot it across several types of customers or teams within companies to see who is engaging with it the most.
All of this will allow you to really hone in on what messaging is resonating the best and will help you clearly define your ideal customer profiles. Lastly, don’t be afraid to have pricing conversations early, so you make sure what customers are willing to pay aligns with what you expect to charge.
Jorge: If I am a b2b saas founder and want to apply to Acceleprise, how can I go about sending my application?
Michael: We collect applications through AngelList, so companies can apply there. It also helps a lot to get an intro to us through one of our founders, mentors or from another investor that knows us.
Jorge: Any tips or other advice you would like to share with the audience?
Michael: In the early days especially, focus on getting raving fans for customers, not just sheer # of customers. Make sure you can clearly articulate the problem you are solving and that you have the experience that puts you in the unique position to solve it.
Make sure you can answer the question, Why Now? Seek out mentors and advisors early. Building a company from scratch is really hard and having a solid support system around you can make a big difference.