In case you are just tuning in, PactSafe is fortunate to be participating in Acceleprise right now — an awesome accelerator based out of San Francisco focused on enterprise software, founded in 2014, and backed by a roster of great SaaS founders and executives. This accelerator goes above and beyond company dreams providing funding, mentorship, office space, access to potential investors and customers, and community support to promising early stage SaaS companies over a four-month program.
With about a month spent in San Francisco at Acceleprise thus far, PactSafe Headquarters has spent this latter half of the summer being extremely mobile. Although not all of our team has made it out to San Fran yet, I chatted with Brian Powers, CEO and founder of PactSafe, Eric Prugh, COO, and Adam Gillaspie, Director of Development, to see what their thoughts on the Acceleprise experience were so far.
EP: The amount of knowledge in Silicon Valley on how to build a successful startup has been surprisingly valuable. Until I worked for a startup, I didn’t really realize how amazing the culture is in helping cultivate companies to be successful — no matter people’s involvement. People are so willing to go out of their way to help and provide completely candid (almost jarringly candid!) feedback on how to get better.
Example — One of the biggest challenges we face here is educating our customers on the reward of investing in tools to optimize how their legal workflows function today. It’s a new category and industry that we might be creating as a result of our solution, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to really understand how other companies have gone about doing that and how they’ve built advocates. We want to keep building a product that solves real problems for attorneys at big companies who don’t have the same data-driven tools to make decisions and manage their business that sales, marketing, etc. have.
BVP: We’ve made connections with companies like Box, Dropbox, Cisco, Symantec and Salesforce - most of which are direct results of the huge network at Acceleprise. Some of these companies are potential customers and others have offered advice on how to build and scale our product.
AG: A couple of these discussions also sparked some exciting ideas on how PactSafe could potentially collaborate or integrate with the other companies.
EP: I’ve had so many amazing conversations with folks while I’ve been here. I met two incredible executives from Gainsight who have paved the way for an entirely new industry (which we believe we’re going to do, too!) and they had some amazing advice on enabling a community of innovators in the legal space to be successful. We will find them and make them super heroes!
BVP: We’ve had some excellent speaker sessions with sales and marketing leaders including Scott Edmonds (Marketo, Follow Analytics), Richard Sexton (Symantec/CloudPhysics) and Tyler Chamberlain (Salesforce / Coupa Software) about how to sell our product into the enterprise, how to deal with procurement, and how to shorten the typically lengthy sales cycle.
EP: One talk that comes to mind is the Cascade Method for creating a strategic road map from Ethan Batraski (VP of Product & Design at Box) — it helped put the strategic value of a product vision and roadmap in a perspective I hadn’t executed too well in the past. We also had an awesome “Pitch Practice” with Boris Silver at FundersClub — those have been a great help in refining our messaging and making sure that we’re articulating the value we add for our customers in just the right way.
BVP: What’s not good to eat! The mexican food near the PactSafe San Fran HQ is fantastic, especially at Lo Lo on Valencia! Tacolicious in the Marina is great too.
AG: I worked near the beach in Outer Sunset one morning, and had an amazing breakfast sandwich and latte at a place called Beachside Coffee Bar & Kitchen.
EP: There’s an amazing food court by our office that serves a lot of unique types of street food — Vietnamese, Naan wraps, Gyros, and Mexican. Delicious and fast if you need to grab and go. And so many awesome pizza places — Valencia Pizza and Pasta is about 3 blocks from our apartment and is awesome. Patxi’s is another staple that I’ve had a few too many times for the wedding diet, I’m afraid!
BVP: The Salthouse makes some mean bourbon drinks, and Lolinda has the best margarita I’ve ever tasted!
AG: 793 Dolores is where da party at...
EP: So many places to choose from. Tradition makes incredible cocktails and has a really cool, dark, speakeasy-kind-of feel. Rickhouse is a good place for after work drinks. There’s also a pretty cool bar on the 39th floor of the Marriott hotel worth checking out that’s got incredible views. I also like the breweries like ThirstyBear and 21st Amendment.
BVP: One of the perks of working with Acceleprise is access to a UX design school called General Assembly. We’ve been working with a team of student designers to completely rethink and revamp our product tour. It's been a pretty cool and valuable experience.
EP: Being in the Bay Area has been incredible for connecting with like-minded people in the tech sector. And what’s great is that many of them are really prospects, customers that we can help out, or investors. We also use quite a few of the products out here! But we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the folks out here on our product, our strategy, and many of our execution tactics that will help us grow our business much more successfully and in a scalable fashion.
AG: One touristy thing I did was go for a hike around Lands End and the Sutro Baths, which was suuuper cool.
EP: You have to love to walk! Our apartment is near some pretty epic hills. There are also some pretty ridiculous thrift shops in the Mission (Adam bought about 17 shirts there). Not to mention Dolores Park being right next to us, some wonderful fresh, organic food markets.
BVP: Besides the insanely steep hills, walking from place to place out here is pretty easy because everything is so compact. And if it’s too far to walk, there are electric buses and trains everywhere. And if you need to leave the city, there is always Zipcar.
EP: Yeah, one thing I do really love, though, is our ability to hop on the train and ride the light rail into work without the hassle of parking or anything like that.
AG: The best place to find talented people who are hungry to learn and innovate is at local meetups. Whether they’re just out of college (and could be spending their Thursday night at a bar with friends) or they have a family (and had to sacrifice time with their kids), these people are passionate enough to spend their own free time outside of work to try to learn new things and develop their skills.
BVP: When selling, don’t act think like a software salesperson...think like a solutions consultant. Zero in on a customer's pain, then show them how your product can ease that pain.
AG: You should view and design your org chart upside-down. Traditional org charts put the manager on-top and everyone else below -- which gives the sense that he/she controls or directs everyone underneath. More people = more power. In reality, it’s the manager’s job to support everyone. So, putting the manager on the bottom gives you a better sense of how many people they’re responsible for supporting / holding up. More people = working harder to support them.
EP: Some of my favorite mentorship takeaways thus far:
BVP: The WeWork office space is awesome in too many ways to get into. But anyplace where Silicon Valley Bank brings in In-N-Out Burgers and handmade margaritas on Friday is obviously pretty awesome.
EP: Working remotely as a team is always a challenge and exposes gaps you didn’t know you had or need to work through. But how we benefit is by over communicating, focusing on alignment as we work through challenges, and really cherishing the time we all have together when we are able to get together in the office. Those are super highly collaborative days! Amber and I have done Google Hangouts many times and it’s worked great to share screens, chat live like we’re sitting next to each other, and maintain that open line of communication. Luckily, the Acceleprise experience and mentor programming has gotten us all way more excited without too many distractions. In fact, we’re usually directed in many cases on how to prioritize which is hugely helpful.
BVP: The acceleprise cohort is filled with super impressive people. After a month, we all know each other pretty well, and do plenty of socializing in and out of the office. People like Luke Gotzling (Peruse.io), Sean Thomas (TalentIQ), Eileen Carey (Glassbreakers) and Brian Ley (Alpharank.io) are crazy smart and all doing awesome things. Great people to hang around with and bounce ideas off of. MIchael Cardamone, the managing director of Acceleprise, is around everyday, doing whatever he can to help all of us succeed (and a good guy to grab a beer with as well).
EP: I’ve loved meeting and getting to know the folks in the cohort. As Brian said, they’re all super smart and bring their own “superhero powers” to their businesses. We all balance each other out well and there’s been many instances where we’ve tried to connect one another via our networks and help each other through various problems.