Life as a Rebel / Week 2

Week two begins with me completely underestimating my weekend workout and limping all the way upstairs to the offices. Obviously not the best way to start. I get to the office at 9:07 as opposed to my 9 o’clock from last week and am surprised to find almost everyone already there, looking slightly jumpy and vaguely deer-like.

Today is our first day of one-on-one meetings with Bill, and you can see it clearly in their faces.

Steering myself out of the communal nervousness, I keep busy making my decks following the formats we got last Friday. We are told to bring our business plan, but it’s a 10-minute meeting and my business plan is 22 pages long so I expect things will go a little different.

I am not mistaken. Once I get in, we spend a couple of precious minutes talking about my tattoo (my company logo — a “semi-smart choice” according to Bill and honestly, I see where he’s coming from) and dive right into my business. By minute 9 he’s already given me a business goal: short, concise, real. I haven’t had a proper one in what feels like months. I write everything down a bit too excitedly. I am SO ready.

Lunchtime is spent with the Latino crew since of course we have already banded together. We end up talking about a detail about the office that’s been especially mindboggling to us: it is deadly quiet. A considerable amount of people are still sitting by their desks and working, which is not weird in itself, but we all agree we’re used to constant background chit-chatter and not-so-background music. I never thought I’d miss working to the rhythm of freaking reggaetón of all things, and yet here I am. Clearly the silence gets to me.

During the afternoon we have a Lean Canvas session, complete with a Youtube video of Eric Ries and all, and commentary provided by Bill. He redefines value proposition for us (“the cluster of things you claim as rightfully yours and you express brilliantly”), gives us some great pointers on growth and metrics (“What in your business is growing on the right direction that will convince an investor to invest?”), and reminds us that startup life is all about testing and learning, and that “every moment of your startup is a learning experience.” Impressively uplifting considering the previous Welcome To Hell speech of last week. So of course, we ask him about that. “That was also a test.” he says grinning. “You all passed!”

Next day passes in a blur of Financials and Startup 101 classes where I am reminded that not taking accounting lessons while I was still at Uni still ranks as one of my worst startup-related mistakes so far. The take-aways are simple enough, though. “The whole point about investment,” says Steve McCann, CFO for SOSV, “is to make yourself attractive to investors, which takes time and work. Being unattractive, however, is fairly easy: Not knowing your finances is probably the fastest way to do it.”

So, next time you want to shut down those too insistent investors that keep chasing you say I Have No Clue Where The Money Went and watch them run. Since, you know, us startup founders are followed 24/7 by people throwing money at our faces, otherwise why would we do this, right?

Right.

In a ridiculous turn of events that sounds as fake as my previous paragraph, next day our prototype is ready. It only took asking just about everyone of Rebel’s staff for a favor and walking the length of Cork twice in search for materials (disclaimer: Cork is a very small town but getting lost on purpose is very fun). Now the thing is, I have worked on co-works, incubators and that sort of environment before, and most tell you that you can ask for advice, support, contacts at any moment and they’ll jump to assist you. I never found that to be the case before. But here it really is an Ask And You Shall Receive kind of word — be it somebody’s time and advice, contacts both key and mundane, and general, good ol’ help. It’s only week 2 and I already feel more supported than well, ever, even if the Program Manager legit absconded the next time I ran into him in case I asked him for another favor (which I did and he complied. Shout-out to the lovely Steve for really being lovely).

Suddenly it’s Thursday and there’s another collective freakout. This will be the first time we pitch to Bill and get actual feedback from him. No more poker face and slight eyebrow lifts — now we’re getting the truth, harsh and cold and maybe too real for comfort. We all gather in a glass office and sit in a circle, impatient and nervous. Instead of launching right into the pitches, Bill takes some time to make sure we understand why we’re doing what we do, and how important it is that we honor it. “Your business works in language first,” he says, and my inner linguist sobs in a corner of my mind. “Even the impact you have happens in language first.”

Language and science have competed for my affection since I was a child, and for years I tried to make people in the scientific sphere people back home understand why language, the worldbuilder, mind-changing language, is not something you can leave behind just because someone told you it was either numbers of words and you think numbers can speak by themselves when you expose them, bare, to the world. Things are as we talk about them, we impregnate them with bias and infuse them with truth, and I was never taken seriously when I tried to say that back in engineering school and yet here I am, sitting in a glass room in one of the most prestigious business accelerators in the world, surrounded by thinkers and makers and getting told, finally, that we’re also storymakers, languageshapers, worders.

A few of us shift on our seats. Others stare at their hands, heads bowed. Most just stare. The stakes seem higher now, somehow. Bill instructs us to follow him as he breathes, holds, and lets it out in a sigh. Whenever you’re feeling too much, he says, remember: most human emotions can’t survive a single sigh.

There are a few nods. There’s a collective inhalation. A moment of silence, and a sigh.

We begin.

 

(Onwards to week 3)

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