Photo by Holly Stratton on Unsplash

The Venture Stack.

The 4thly Startup Accelerator program is structured around the basic building blocks of a successful venture.

Since launching the 4thly Startup Accelerator in 2020, we’ve had nearly 50 new ventures go through the program. Many have gone on to raise 7–8 figures in capital and are now thriving. Based on the success patterns we’ve seen so far, we’re expanding the curriculum for 2022.

Launching a startup is hard. I’ve done it several times. One of the most difficult parts is the period between having an early stage startup and having an actual living, breathing company that is capitalized, serving customers, and scaling-up.

The entire point of any good startup accelerator program is condense that period, give you momentum, and improve your chances of success.

There is a basic set of building blocks that any startup must have to operate, raise capital, and serve customers profitably. These blocks include a validated business model, an economic model, technology infrastructure, and a customer acquisition process. I call this set of blocks The Venture Stack. The 4thly Startup Accelerator is built around the idea that we can equip every startup with the entire set of blocks within an intense six-week program.

Here are the components of The Venture Stack:

  • A Documented Customer Development Process.
    Many people have ten calls with people they know, eight of them love their startup idea, and so they proclaim “I’ve done customer development and my startup will be an awesome success!”. A few months later they are likely disillusioned and broke. Not doing Customer Development right is the leading cause of startup death (here’s my post on the topic). Participants in our accelerator work with our team to not only do it right the first time, but more importantly establish an ongoing process that will contribute to the long-term success of the venture.
  • Landscape Analysis.
    There is competition for everything, and usually competition is a good thing because it indicates existing market demand. Very few startups die from competition but many die from poor understanding of the landscape they are working within. The 4thly research team works with our participating startups to develop a comprehensive document on the landscape of competitors and alternatives, how the money flows, and what the dependencies are.
  • Create a M̶i̶n̶i̶m̶u̶m̶ ̶V̶i̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ ̶P̶r̶o̶d̶u̶c̶t̶. Product Thinking Roadmap.
    Everyone knows the buzzword “MVP” but few understand this is less about “a thing” and more about a process and a mentality. What problem does a customer want to solve with our product? How we we validate our solution? How can we test features on real customers before we build them? Entrepreneurs in our program exit with an understanding of Product Thinking and a clear plan by which they are using customer-centric processes and rapid iterations for continuous product improvement, from MVP to beyond.
  • Technology Infrastructure.
    One of the best things about being an entrepreneur in 2022 is that the technology tools today are remarkably powerful and cheap. Having these in place early will help you with the pre-launch processes mentioned above as well as the post-launch scaling process (even for non-tech ventures). The 4thly technology team works with all of our founders to make sure they have basic digital infrastructure in place including website, landing pages, Google analytics, HubSpot integration, and much more (I should also mention that 4thly participants each receive $10,000 in infrastructure credits through our partnership with AWS).
  • Economic Model.
    Everyone knows they’ll need “financial projections”, but what a venture actually needs is a complete economic model — a set of spreadsheets that represent the fundamental economics by which you will create, deliver, and capture value for customers. From this you can extract the Unit Economics for your venture, and the most important equation of all: CAC < LTV (having this equation upside down is a guarantee of startup failure). The 4thly team of financial analysts works with our participants to make sure they have a comprehensive economic model in place — and a process by which those spreadsheets get updated and refined as the venture progresses.
  • Capital Strategy.
    Most startups will require some outside capital in order to launch and scale effectively. The good news is that in 2022 there are more sources and structures of startup capital than ever before. Once the economic model is complete (as described above), the capital strategy will emerge. For startups that don’t yet have a cap table, we create one in Carta and then model different dilution scenarios under different capital strategies. I personally work with each of our accelerator participants to help them figure out the best capital strategy for their venture — and then make the right introductions. We hold mock investor panels to prepare our participants for the questions an investor will ask.
  • Customer Funnel.
    Most startups die from lack of customers. Period. Full stop. Setting up an efficient customer acquisition process early is a key success driver. Not only that, but having a critical mass of followers long before launch can help immensely with customer development, product development, messaging refinement, persona development and much more. We work with each of our startups to get a comprehensive digital funnel in place, with the goal of each venture having at least 1,000 follows (including email list and social media) by the completion of the program.
  • Legal Framework.
    A startup needs a legal entity (most often a Delaware C-Corp, LLC, etc) in order to raise capital from investors. A startup will then need IP protection in the form of trademarks, copyrights, and patents to protect its business. Startups outside the US may need special help to form a US entity and open a US bank account in order to raise money from US investors. While legal fees and bank accounts are not included in the 4thly program fee, we make sure that every participant understands the legal framework they will need and we make the introductions required to find the right lawyer for you and to secure bank accounts and other vendors that are appropriately suited.
  • Storytelling.
    David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, said “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative, original thinker unless you can also sell what you create”. Or, as I put it: Every great entrepreneur has the ability to tell a crisp, clear, and compelling story about what she’s working on, and why it matters. Every one of our participants leaves our program armed with a great pitch deck and the ability to deliver it powerfully.

With these building blocks in place, any venture is ready to raise capital, scale-up, and thrive. Just add passion and an execution mindset.

At the 4thly Startup Accelerator, some of our participants enter the program with many of these components already complete and ready for refinement. Others enter the program without any of these in place. But all of our participants exit the program with a complete, functioning Venture Stack along with the velocity and momentum to drive them through to success.

Startups all over the world today are solving problems and creating opportunity. 2022 is the greatest time ever to be an entrepreneur. By accelerating the pace at which a startup can get the Venture Stack in place, we can give them momentum and improved chances of success.

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Bret Waters

Bret Waters

Silicon Valley guy. I teach entrepreneurship at Stanford, run the 4thly Startup Accelerator, and coach startup CEO’s at Miller Center. Also, I love fish tacos.