Boost VC is the leading VR and Cryptocurrency accelerator. Boost has made more than 220 investments in early stage “frontier” technology startups to date, including 8i, Coinbase, Wyre, Mindshow, Casino VR, Ledger, Octane AI and many others. Boost VC recently announced closing its third fund, raising a further $38.6 million to invest in startups.
Our startup Tribe XR, the immersive training platform for practical real-world skills, was accepted into Boost VC’s “Tribe 11” cohort (the naming is coincidental!) and in February 2018, we moved to sunny San Mateo, CA, for 12 intense weeks focused on improving Tribe’s product and customer development and growing our platform.
A mixed-reality video showcasing a live lesson (the student is in Montreal, Canada, and the tutor is in San Mateo)
Why did Tribe XR apply to Boost VC?
Boost VC is the number one accelerator for Virtual Reality startups globally, so it was an easy decision. Boost VC has invested in many of the leading VR companies around the world. The team has a deep knowledge of VR, a strong alumni network, and the startups that go through Boost VC comprise high quality founders, ideas and products.
Boost VC’s team are bullish on the long-term opportunities for the XR, at a time when other investors are perhaps more cautious towards these opportunities. Boost VC’s connections with, and proximity to the Draper Venture Network means that Boost VC’s startups operate in a physical space where VCs, investors and partners are always passing through.
This creates a fertile ground for demoing, testing your elevator pitch and gaining qualified, valuable feedback on your product, strategy and direction.
Most importantly, Boost VC’s accelerator has a battle-tested, proven framework and approach. The 12 week accelerator, at its core, is an immersive experience. Boost asks that most, if not all, of the current cohort’s founders live onsite, in accommodation across the road from the co-working space, during the program. This residential accelerator model fosters a hard-working, creative environment where you also get to bond, and share ideas, with the other companies and founders on the program.
What makes a winning accelerator application?
We don’t want to be presumptuous about why Tribe XR was accepted into Boost VC, as we don’t know the accelerator’s inner workings and processes.
Certainly, Boost VC’s team believes in the huge potential of XR, and has made multiple bets on social and learning & education platforms, so perhaps we fit (in some part) with their thesis on the future of education and training.
What we did learn is that Boost VC seems to select startups based on the strength of their vision and mission, startup teams’ experience and track record, the quality of early products and the speed at which companies ship and iterate.
Other XR startups in Boost VC Tribe 11 included:
- Apex Officer: training police officers
- Artie: AI characters for virtual worlds
- Panomoments: interactive living photos
- Softspace: collaborative 3D workspaces
- Vantage Point: HR training
- Virtualities: VR e-sports league
- Virtuleap: engagement analytics for XR
- Where Thoughts Go: share your innermost thoughts with others, anonymously, and learn from others.
- 3Data: immersive data visualisation
What are the top three factors of a successful pitch?
We certainly improved our pitching during the Boost VC program. In fact, we were advised to pitch anyone and everyone we could find, to garner as much feedback as possible and refine our message!
- Keep the pitch short and sharp, focusing on your key messages. Explain the problem, your solution, why it’s groundbreaking, and why you will win.
- Demonstrate traction (as far as possible, given your stage)
- Keep things simple and clear. Less is more. It’s easy to fall into the trap of writing lots of words on slides, where an image and a short headline can be more effective.
Demo day at Boost VC is certainly a useful milestone and a forcing factor on pitch and product quality. Teams are given 3–4 minutes, using only PDF slides, to get your message across to a room full of relevant investors. Preparation involved harnessing your inner Hemingway, trimming the fat off your deck and simplify your messaging down to short, punchy statements. This focus on simplicity is a good life lesson, as well as a useful approach to startup communications in general.
How was the Boost experience?
We found the experience to be overwhelmingly positive, for three reasons:
First, our product progressed rapidly during our time there, due to a combination of customer development and constant testing and iteration. We improved UX, added features and optimized the experience. This pushed our NPS score up dramatically, which is promising as we prepare to push out a fully featured product towards the end of July.
Second, we have refined our vision, mission and strategy. Rapid iteration of our pitch and product with other VR founders and investors, as well as getting daily rapid-fire feedback on everything we do from other Boost founders, has been invaluable.
Third, we have made lifelong friends. It’s that kind of place. We got to know many other Boost VC founders from previous Tribes during our time there, and the alumni network feels somewhat like a family. Or at least, like a hyper-competitive family playing board games during holiday season.
What does Boost VC teach startups?
We learnt a huge amount during Boost VC. Some good practices that Boost VC encourages include:
- Identifying the one metric which you should focus on: this can be as simple as sales, active users, retention, or something else. Once identified, focus like crazy on this metric and do everything you can to make it grow.
- Do more with less: focus on what really matters (important + urgent). Remove distractions. Don’t get caught up in the whirlwind of startup life.
- Startup life is hard for everyone: seeing other startups go through their respective journeys, through the regular ups and downs, really drives home how hard a startup journey is, and also increased our respect for the pure drive and grit of the founders we rubbed shoulders with. Boost VC’s mantras such as “be the cockroach” (to become a unicorn, you first need to make sure you survive) enforce this mentality. It’s not a hugely romantic catchphrase, but it’s true!
- Remember, here is no hero on a white horse who will save you, you are your startup’s hero. The superhero images all around Boost are no coincidence…
What support does Boost provide during the program?
Aside from investment, Boost VC gives you space in its incubator in San Mateo, and accommodation across the road at Draper University for the founders. It’s a bit like glamping, with two people to a room with bunks, but the accommodation also features a gym, swimming pool, ping pong, books and games galore. You can move in before the commencement of the program, and ends a couple of months afterwards. So, end-to-end, we have been at Boost VC for about 5 months. This is far longer than a “standard” accelerator.
The 12-week program is divided into 3. Month 1 we focused on product, month 2 on growth, month 3 on fundraising.
Boost VC has a formal mentor program, where you are assigned a mentor and check in with them periodically. This was hugely valuable for us. You can also book meetings with the Boost VC team (Adam, Brayton, Maddie and Ben) through an internal booking system.
It’s subject to availability, but we found them all to be readily available (more so than expected). Each has their own worldview, and their perspectives are hugely helpful.
Boost VC also runs periodic fireside chats with interesting people from their network (who are generally heavy-hitters). We also had a few group activities, the most memorable being a private screening of Ready Player One on the day it opened.
Demo day happens in week 10. It is an important day but it’s not the core focus of the program. It does raise your profile and you get to pitch a room full of hundreds of pre-qualified investors (angels, seed funds, VCs).
Last but not least, we were constantly being invited to speak with, and pitch, investors and partners who passed through Boost VC. This happens a lot, and was very valuable in terms of extending our network.
What is a typical day like?
Long. it’s not uncommon to be working 15 hour days, 6 days per week during the program, though this will be nothing new to most startup co-founders. It certainly helps to have accommodation over the road, both because it removes your commute, and it means you can go take a quick recovery nap if required! This is also very beneficial to non-US or non-Bay Area companies — accommodation in this area is pretty pricey, and Boost VC gives companies a base and a home-from-home in Silicon Valley.
Boost VC also organises a weekly update meeting each Wednesday, followed by dinner. At this meeting, each startup presents its metrics and progress, talks about what’s working, what isn’t, and requests help and feedback from other Boost VC companies. We found those meetings extremely helpful.
What is the most challenging element of the program?
As a husband and dad to three girls, it was hard to spend time away from home, but as a startup founder there are always tradeoffs that you need make to grow your business. I am lucky to already live in the Bay Area. Given the intensity of the program, I spent around half my nights in San Mateo, and half in the East Bay. This required logistical planning.
It’s never nice to be away from your family. What I did find great was that Boost VC was hugely supportive. Adam has two kids of his own. Boost VC were very welcoming on the couple of occasions I brought the kids in to see where Daddy was disappearing to!
For overseas startups, it’s harder because most overseas founders were away from their friends and families for prolonged periods of time. That said, they also gained rapid and quick-fire exposure to the Silicon Valley ecosystem, which in most cases was the reason they signed up to Boost VC in the first place.
What’s our most surprising takeaway from this experience?
Teams can do more than they think when they focus, spend time together and work hard on difficult problems over a prolonged period of time. The best way to improve your product and vision is by constantly demoing the product and pitching your vision and mission. Rapid feedback from qualified people, on a regular basis, is invaluable.
Also, put gifs in every presentation…
What was the most exciting part of the demo day?
Demo day was a bit of a blur. We prepared a lot, but it’s a day when most of us were operating on a decent dose of adrenaline. Probably the most exciting thing, retrospectively, was to reflect on how far we had come as a company during the 10 weeks up to demo day. By demo day, our pitch was clearer, our product was stronger, and we found the experience to be exciting and productive.
Are we seeking funding following this experience?
Yes, we are in the midst of raising pre-seed funding. We are almost fully committed on our first tranche of funding.
Boost VC’s demo day, and the program itself has really helped here. The Boost VC brand carries weight given their track record. Specialist VR and Crypto Investors seem to appreciate what that means, in terms of filtering, training, discipline and future opportunities. Boost VC are also very helpful in helping explain the vagaries of seed funding and helping its startups navigate the choppy waters.
What piece of advice can we give to startups who are thinking to apply for the Boost VC accelerator?
If you are building a VR or Crypto/Blockchain startup, or one focused on frontier technologies, then you should apply to Boost VC without delay. It’s a hugely valuable program for people building the future.
For startups who are selected, my one recommendation would be: fully commit and go all-in. The 12 weeks at Boost VC fly by, and they offer a unique opportunity to improve and scale. Spend as much time as possible on site, really go for it, and you will reap the benefits.
If we were to do it again, would we do anything differently?
I don’t think we’d do too much differently. It’s a great experience.
What are the next steps for Tribe XR?
Aside from raising the seed round, we are preparing for the launch of a full-featured version of the Tribe XR DJ school on multiple VR platforms. Over the coming weeks, we will be making a few announcements, so I don’t want to spoil the surprise!
About the author
Tom Impallomeni is a co-founder and CEO of Tribe XR. Prior to Tribe, he built up extensive experience with startups such as SuperAwesome, Virtually Live and WAYN.com. Tom is an adviser to a Aflete, FireTech Camp and Pyramind. In his spare time, he’s a dad to three girls, a long-suffering Tottenham Hotspur fan and spends most of his days listening to house music playlists on Spotify.
About Tribe XR:
Tribe is available to download at: https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/1462259830529109/
To learn more about Boost VC’s Tribe 11 cohort, check out this blog post.
Join the AR + VR Learning Group on Facebook here.