A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Accelerating Human Growth Through Participation #K5Launch #startups #accelerators #venturecapital

Tom Taulli was kind enough to run a tiny piece on K5 this week in Forbes (thank you, Tom). I wanted to tell more of the full story of what we're up to here, because I am very proud - and also very humbled - by the work we're doing with the accelerator.

For starters, K5 is not your typical accelerator. There are a number reasons why this is the case, not the least of which is the fact that we approach the investment process in a very unique way.

On K5's differentiation:

It is no great surprise that the worlds of technology, investment, business and culture are converging. In some ways, they are colliding. We are transacting in an economy of relationships, and this challenges our notions of scale and scarcity. It means that the way we incubate, build and invest in businesses must take into account the dynamics of a flat world, one that puts the needs of people, and the markets in which they play, first. It also means that the way we invest must be reinvented through critical elements such as time, attention, goodwill and social relevance. In short, we need to make smarter, measured investments in human capital.

So here’s our charge:

1. To build a networked system that places collective import on participatory reward, with all the compensatory arrangements to boot (salaries, equity, etc.), but those that align investors, mentors and entrepreneurs to cultural values first and foremost;
2. To socialize that system in the form of both commercial and non-profit uses, such that innovation becomes as pervasive of a mindset as the decision to invest in the “latest and greatest startup”;
3. To grow this system as a platform as our name K5 suggests -- 1,000 companies (or projects) in 5 years -- in a manner that allows the system to grow its own independent systems nurturing ideas relevant to local markets, and to which those respective businesses flourish by the terms and conditions of those markets.

What we look for in a company...

First and foremost, great people. Every investor will tell you about the importance of great management and great company culture, but beyond that, we invest in the good intentions of entrepreneurs by helping them to understand how they can impact the world, and by helping them translate their intentions into businesses and markets of cultural scale. If a company exhibits that level of desire and that kind of ethos, we support it. If it starts with a good idea, even better.

It's simply not enough to accelerate an idea or a business for the purposes of positioning a company for an exit. We have to look at how that company fits into an ecosystem that can actually create change -- predicated on real market needs and values that are important to the average person.

The stages of the program...

Acceleration -- clinically defined as a process of moving an idea to the next level of business investment and formation -- is just one cog in our approach. It's a mechanism, not a solution. Without giving away our proprietary IP, it involves cultivating values that are tied to human development as they relate to the participation in an idea, and what comes out of that participation.

The values are many, and exist in varying degrees as the core to fundamental human business relationships, but are mainly these: trust, transparency, empowerment, connection, purpose, membership, exclusivity, accomplishment.

Connection and accomplishment, to our mind, represent the pillars of participation. And the primary mechanism for participating in a way that discovers talent unbound -- the outliers of our business and cultural circles -- that happens through experimentation. 

So, in short, our approach looks at how experimentation fosters individual and group growth, such that the investment in time and attention produces a return on hard (transactional) and soft (transformational) values.

Selecting candidates...

What we look for in an applicant are primarily the qualities openness and resilience. Openness allows someone to be receptive to direction, but also allows that person to want to participate, even if it is determined that his or her role might be different in the program or within the company going forward. Resilience is something that tends to show up in all entrepreneurs, but speaks to how someone can actually deal with adversity, how he or she can pivot to a new model, or how he or she can effectively manage people within the company.

The tendency of most accelerators and incubators is to think that if a candidate is given the right set of tools and the right amount of money, that he or she will succeed, but that's clearly not the case. A lot of candidates have experienced backgrounds, but we focus more on their aptitude for failure rather than their past achievements or accolades; it is critical that they understand how to fail forward because this process is about breaking down ideas and building them back up. This experience -- what we try to recreate in our process -- resembles the lifecycle of any successful business.

A bit more detail on our process...

Here's a graphic that encapsulates the nature of our process:

At the idea stage, essentially the entrepreneur is asked to "bare all"; he or she presents an idea in all of its merit as well as in all of its weakness. The way the candidate presents the idea actually speaks to his or her level of commitment, and how much he or she is willing to sacrifice for its betterment and that of the group. The way the group interacts around that idea starts to reveal its benefit, and the true characteristics of the team.

Then we enter a prototype stage; this can entail everything from coding a piece of software to developing an experimental model. When this happens, the group starts to coalesce and we see a learning dynamic take place amongst the members of the group. It's also a point at which group members start to make a stronger connection with each other, and with the mentors.

Once that happens, we can test the market. This could mean that the startup acquires a small group of beta testers and conducts a multivariate run on an application or a feature set. It also means that as users react and provide feedback, the roles within the group become more defined and refined in response to that feedback. The group starts to develop a sustainable, shared vision.

From there, the revenue and growth opportunities become clear -- and what we establish is a crucial relationship between what is being offered to the marketplace, and how that offering is being supported by a team that truly believes in the business idea. It also paves the way for membership in that business, and the values that each person exudes as an exclusive member of the business, and the K5 network. Essentially, meaningful participation affords you that privilege.

So, in sum, we go from the rejection of an idea, to an opportunity built around what's really possible.

All in all, we believe that company and individual growth must be symbiotic. Without it, startups are simply doomed for failure. And most of them do fail by design. We endeavor to buck that trend.