If you're working on highly technical problems no one is going to understand what you're doing anyway until you're basically at the stage where you're so polished you can spoon feed people everything... By which point you probably don't need any outside assistance. If you look at what goes on at Pioneer it's basically the startup equivalent of Instagram: lots of glamour shots with no actual substance. And at the end what do you get if you do manage to "win" something -- nothing that would help you out beyond what you can already do mostly for free yourself.
I found the app more useful as a diary than anything related to its intended purpose. And I don't really have the time to dress up boring engineering challenges to "advance" in the tournament. For what it's worth, I've checked out a fair few of the projects part of that tournament and there are some gems there. But I'd say the quality overall is low and the platform is more geared towards marketing bros than complex research or engineering projects.
And anything social will promote what is popular or trendy to the tribe, and some of the actual better businesses are neglected because they aren’t “interesting”.
This brings the quality of the whole experience down since the best contributors are absent because they are building a company.
i personally would rather just get funding and take advantage of investor connections via introductions, and maybe occasional strategy advice. I don’t want the extra work. I currently have a side business making over 70k/mo in revenue and don’t have time to do anything extra. (Yes, side project, not solo)
I don't think that's the case. We're working on a highly technical startup (we make computer vision developer tools) and have been #1 on the leaderboard for quite some time now.
You're right that to be successful in Pioneer you certainly have to be able to clearly explain what you're working on to a general audience.. But this is an important skill to develop for the success of your company as well.
Regarding the lack of substance in updates, it really helps to link to verifiable supporting documents for your progress. For example, here's one of our recent updates: https://imgur.com/a/x63BAPn
We link to an imgur album every week with screenshots of the things we said we'd do. Eg, this is the album linked from that update: https://imgur.com/a/rJiKBD6
So, you'd have to optimize your products pitch to be appealing to your peers, that means spicing up your landing page, adding cool graphics etc. I even went as far as having an option of easily creating a test account to play with the product without needing to sign up and sadly no one used it. For the first 2 weeks, I was getting more downvotes than upvotes. After which, I focused more on sharing metrics (sign ups etc) rather than solely focusing on reporting the work I have done. This did have a material impact in the peer rating process. Once I made it to Top 50, my project was selected by one of their experts, quite fast.
However, it's flawed to think that you can't win building something highly technical and abstract. We won with a highly technical project. A PCI compliance-as-a-service cloud container. A self-contained Docker distributed through a Kubernetes pod.
Not everybody understood the technical jargon, and it's ok. People liked us because we were trying to solve something important.
I kind of of like it.
But I am biaised : I have always liked innovation...
Pioneer, the most consuming part is on Monday evening where I comment, judge 10 startup match. It take a few hours if you do it well. You are in a position like people at YC receiving pitchs. Most of people in my surroundings would find this 'job' painfull. I just love it. If you do it seriously, it's great to help creators, to give them a few advice sometimes, to celebrate their achievements.
So yes, pioneer is-and-was a very good fit for me.
And as a result, with my startup, I get often great advice. I would say a mix of many'consumer' advices (often), and entrepreneur cleaver ones (sometimes). The most interesting is perhaps to understand that, when a consumer critic comes back often and repeatedly, you, as a startup founder understands that THIS critic point has to be fix right away. It's clever ! In a way Pioneer's comments enlightens and ranks the differents small failures of your startup.
Be it, the 'ugly web site' or other things...
In a way I find pioneer to be the more energetic and an interesting bijective experience, much more than Ycombinator.
Because it successfully solves the big downside of YC as a startup founder :
At YC you pitch, you describe everything of your startup. And then ... True(interview,great) or
False (nope... ).
I mean, there is no in-between : you do not know if you were far-away ranked or close to being accepted for an interview.
Here at pioneer.app the process of selection is crowd-sourced to us founders, and I believe it works :
1) I know my rank in a weekly base. It can be harsh but it's instructive.
2) I believe it scales better than YC in the Long run because us founders do the (tiring) selection process.
Now with pioneer.app we can
perhaps see this crowdsource trend finally entering the elite business angels business.
Crowd of selected people are 1) Less biaised perhaps, 2) Divinding the job to hundreds of volunteers can be a good way to GARANTying that the selection job is equality done for each startup
3) And most of it's free.
My two cents:
Other accelerators are under pressure to only fund companies that will be "top of their batch" come demo day.
This often means rejecting small projects, solo founders, and pre-traction companies.
However, Pioneer welcomes these companies with open arms. Make no mistake, it's still hard to get in. It took me ~8 months of sustained effort before I was accepted.
But once you're in, you're in the company of helpful people who are just as hard working and talented, and have access to valuable mentorship.
I joined. After the first week, we could feel the energy every day. We had to meet our weekly goal—which we ourselves set, not anyone else. We were naturally building faster, marketing and talking to users every week. Got our first paid client $$$ in the third week IIRC. I found voting to be fair, but you need to be able to clearly explain what you're doing and optionally add links or screenshots, etc.
It's a very helpful format for planning that we're still doing with my co-founder. Also, every week you need to pitch your project in a one-liner again. It's so good to hammer your pitch based on feedback. After all, as Micheal Seibel, CEO of YC says, your parents need to understand it in a 1-2 sentence.
We won! Every Monday at 10 am my cofounder and I was staring at the leaderboard, hitting CMD+R every second. We were close to the top. But... Boom! Leaderboard changes show that we're... #120? Another refresh. Couldn't believe. We're #1!!! Probably their system was still applying the scores. Damn, we were running around the room. With more progress stayed #1 for multiple weeks until we decided to take a break. We won in August 2019.
From the email we got:
> Congratulations to our newest Pioneers:
Mohamad & Behnam Rajabifard, who are building There, a virtual office for remote teams.
After winning, we have frequent AMA live sessions with founders, product managers, CEOs of top tech companies. Every month we have 1-2 office hours with Daniel were we can get help on what we're doing. There's our Slack community exclusively for winners and has channels for everything.
In 6 hours we're having another live event where we're sharing our meal remotely and catching up with friends in Pioneer.
(Just in case you're looking to join and have any questions feel free to DM me on twitter.com/morajabi, I'd be happy to answer any of your concerns)
(a) The reality of starting up is that nobody cares about what you do. This can make things hard to explain to people around you. Pioneer provides feedback and recognition even people outside of the startup bubble understand. “See, there must be something to it - some people get what we do.”
(b) Pioneer helps to track things over time. Starting up is a lot about hacking things together and iterating: Finding a good idea. Building an MVP. Getting in front of first customers (..). Having the log of my tournament submissions is a great way to collect what worked and what didn't.
..I think you shouldn’t play pioneer with an entitlement to win. It is foremost a free feedback tool. As well remember, you only see a small subset of the other players. I really enjoy reading about other projects during the weekly voting. There must be soo many cool teams out there!
Thanks so much to Daniel and everyone else for making Pioneer a great experience!
P.S. — My cofounder and I are building Deft (shopdeft.com), which is product search for humans, not robots. You can type how you speak, search by image, and search over every product site!
If Daniel or partners come here, I have a bit of (unsolicited) feedback:
When you join late it's easy to feel like no matter what you do you will not be able to reach the top 50% just because of first-mover advantage. Perhaps you could try a dynamic where even latecomers have a good chance as well.
Also, it would be good to be able to see all your historical activity within the site, as well as some kind of chart on how has your score been growing through time. I keep this in a notebook, but you could do it for all of us with a few lines of code ...
Last but not least, it would be very cool if you could show the complete leaderboard, not just the ones above/below you. This is the main criticism I've seen here and there directed towards the scores on the site being manipulated. If you make this transparent, the problem will go away.
Question to those of you who are in the program: what Pioneer perk is most valuable to you? Is it access to the Pioneer social network? Or the status signal for being part of a startup accelerator? Surely it's not the help with incorporation or the round-trip ticket to SFO.
Also, it was refreshing to be able to compete on weekly progress as opposed to writing some lengthy business application.
The peer group is awesome too.
I’ll add the caveat that we “won” relatively recently so haven’t participated in many of the formalized programs yet (eg summit in SF, livestream).
The 1% for advice, status, etc. sounds like a good deal. $20k for 5% though sounds really steep unless you're planning on a very low exit (under $1M).
Not really. YC used to invest that amount 10 years ago for 6-7%. Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, etc. were definitely not planned for "very low exits."
These days people get into YC with pretty elaborate stuff. I think that an underrated founder with just an idea or an mvp with little or no traction, wouldn't get into YC today (think Airbnb, Reddit, etc.).
Pioneer is building a model to invest in deals earlier in the pipeline. It will probably give them outsized returns in the future.
Haven't contributed to the Pioneer community too much (also backed), but it's clear that things are picking up internally with frequent talks, office hours and "remote dinners" - the first of which is tomorrow.
Really excited to see what other companies spin out of Pioneer
Being part of Pioneer until now has been a great experience! We are in early stages of building https://www.kaapi.team/ (easy performance management for remote teams) and running in the Pioneer leaderboard was a huge factor of us being able to "ship" things like https://timewise.how/
1. Leaderboards can be gamified, yes, and I am sure some participants try to do so. But that froth gets cleared in final evaluation by experts. And you can fool a small percentage by showcasing vanity metrics, but I always climbed higher in the tournament when we got actual customers and product growth.
2. If you are not from the valley, getting access to a strong network of peers who help keep you accountable is great
3. Also, you get back what you put in. I feel as if I am yet to get the maximum "juice" from Pioneer, but that is on me. I haven't yet asked for enough intros and personal mentorship help from the Pioneer team. But since winning the tournament, and joining the camp, we have talked to 20 potential customers, and have beta customers lined up.
4. Personally for me, this is a refreshing way of going from idea to business. It's 2020 - geographical constraints of being in the valley shouldn't be a barrier!
5. I think it definitely has some kinks it needs to iron out in the tournament (e.g. advisors never replied, and the feature is now scraped). And also in the camp itself - but I love the fact that the Pioneer team is actively working on iterating itself like a startup!
Yes, I know you don't always need accelerators or funding or mentorship to build a business. There is no one way of getting it right, and this is just one of them.
Your mileage may vary.
On a deeper level, I really appreciate the strategic approach they have chosen when it comes to supporting and nurturing the entrepreneurs that they have backed, where the default approach is not writing a check to make the problems go away. But, actually listening to the myriad problems that crop up over the course of your startups journey and actually making a concerted effort to solve said problems.
As an early stage founder there’s no benchmark for how you’re doing relative to your peers. Matching up head-to-head weekly is a great way to assess your progress.
Knowing I’m going to be judged against the milestones I set for myself on Monday has definitely pushed me to work late on a Sunday night or two to make sure I complete everything I said I was going to do that week.
If Pioneer doesnt invest $50K in you, why should anyone else? And if they do, you are starting out with a ridiculous valuation.
However, the social/community aspects can be a net-positive for founders.
Right now, it's mostly peer recognition which is prone to favor projects the dominant demographic finds cool. But I could see the competition based on revenue be more democratizing.
"Giving opportunity" would be more appropriate, and is the vocabulary Daniel Gross uses. He specifically mentions that he wants to find more female founders. I hope he succeeds; I am just a bit shocked by the state so far. It would be great to know what is causing this imbalance, whether it is its avenues of marketing, the messages it sends through marketing, or something else. Because there is a lot of diversity out there.
Sounds like you are concerned that it would be a move towards a direction that is less fair rather than one that is more. Asians/Harvard is unfair. I think the point is making sure opportunity is given fairly so that individuals can be evaluated based on merit.
EF is in-person and more focused on matching co-founders and forming teams. You need to have a project for Pioneer, while EF accepts people based on their profile/interviews.
You can say that all accelerators are pretty similar: you get investment, listen to some speakers, attend office hours, etc. So what matters in the end is the network of people running the program and participating in it.
We mostly don't even know how to get men and women to really talk with each other if the goal is not romantic/sexual in nature. I sometimes feel like I'm the only person on the planet trying to work on that and I get no credit and it doesn't pay spit.
I don't know how on Earth you think you can get people to work together if they can't even talk. And I don't know why that seems "non obvious" to most of the planet.