As long-time members of the ecosystem we were a bit surprised to be brought in with a cohort of younger product-focused startups. At 70+ people, CodeScience is growth stage, and we provide consulting services, not products. While most of our clients are SaaS companies, many are more mature than startup stage. We quickly realized Salesforce had a bigger vision than being a hostel for startups. The Incubator is part of their larger Salesforce for Startups strategy to make this technology behemoth more supportive to the startup community.
A Rare Chance to Gain Insight
After taking a hundred AppExchange products to market, part of our role was to provide a sounding board for the product companies in the cohort. Not only did we do that, but we also gained a lot. We got the rare chance to work next to our potential customers instead of working for them or selling to them. The day-to-day connection laid bare company challenges well beyond those we address in our work, giving us that always needed dash of empathy for our clients. The close working quarters and frequent events naturally allowed a community to form. I’m looking forward to the future calls and meetings amongst this valuable network.
The Birth of the AppExchange Accelerator
The experience inside the Incubator validated an idea we have toyed with for a couple of years. Our culture has some pretty ingrained traits of doing every new project/product custom. That said, the products we had designed and built certainly had patterns. So our Incubator challenge was to consolidate the lessons learned over the years into a series of accelerators for AppExchange partners. The benefit to our clients would be getting to market faster. It turned out that the Incubator was the perfect proving ground for our accelerators. We received fantastic feedback from the cohort, and they helped set direction as we added functionality.
Mentors and Sage Advice
Our biggest takeaway was free advice, and it went well beyond our accelerators. First, there was the executive direction from Mike Kreaden. I walked out of our meetings motivated to take on what had seemed like daunting challenges an hour earlier. Next up, access to funding advice from many speakers, other founders in the cohort and certainly, Salesforce Ventures. Then there was the informal advice gathered during walks and lunch. I’ll give a special shout out to Carter Wigell from Ideator, who helped me through a particularly thorny issue.
The 4 Things To Know
Looking back at the past five months, there are things I would like to have known going in:
- Have you and your team spend more time on site. An Incubator is like Burning Man in that you get more out of it when you put more into it. The best advice we received and gave came from spontaneous conversations. Our team tends to work from home and didn’t spend much time here early in the program. As time passed, we found ourselves working from the Incubator more often. I wish we had done that sooner.
- Host a lunch and learn or happy hour early. The Incubator has a five-month residency. That’s not a long time to build community and relationships...or get the cohort to have epiphanies about each other’s challenges.
- Practice your pitch with each other. Sell to each other and become each other’s customers.
- Share and pool your resources. Companies in the Incubator are typically less than 20 employees (at 70+ people we were the largest.) That means resource constrained and missing skills. So if the company next to you has a great recruiter and you have a killer content person, arrange a trade. And if a trade involves a material amount of time or effort, charge each other. We are all here to run businesses and that can mean sharing costs.
Thank you, Salesforce
In closing, I want to thank Salesforce for an ever-deepening partnership. I’ve been involved in the Salesforce partner ecosystem for a dozen years. For CodeScience, our time at the Incubator represents the next leg of a journey that continues to expose new horizons. It took us eight years to become a Product Development Outsourcer and bring a hundred AppExchange products to life. With this investment, we hope to bring the next hundred live this year...okay, maybe two.