Why We Chose the Microsoft Accelerator (And Why We'd Do It Again)
For many tech founders, applying to be part of an accelerator is often only considered at the infancy stage as a means to “accelerate” their idea to a viable business opportunity. Most don’t consider an accelerator once they’ve secured a round of financing or are post-revenue. Why? Primarily because most accelerators are designed to help guide very early stage startups, most often ones with no funding or no revenue. However, not all accelerators are the same.
I want to share our amazing experience with the Microsoft Accelerator program (Seattle). These are the top five factors why Affinio, which in early 2016 was a post-Series A and seven-figure run rate startup, chose to participate...and why, given what we’ve experienced over the last two years, we would do it all again.
A major concern for our team when considering the Microsoft Accelerator was the expectations around our full-time presence in Seattle. Unlike typical early-stage accelerators where founders often have an idea only and no customers, we had a company to take care of and continue growing. That meant we’d be unable to dedicate 100% of our time to the program. The Microsoft Accelerator, which at that time was run by Hanan Lavy, Tim Enger, and Prashant Sharma, “got” this. Not only did they work to accommodate my often unpredictable travel schedule, they wanted me to be 100% focused on my business. That kind of culture and support was amazing for Affinio during the growth stage we were in. What we’ve come to recognize is that this support continues after “graduation” as an accelerator alumni even two years later.
In addition, Satya Nadella’s focus on collaboration and partnering with emerging tech startups is a culture you can feel throughout Microsoft. From the accelerator to the teams we collaborated with in Redmond and in Canada, their support and focus is real and exciting!
2. No Strings
An obvious question in every founder’s head when it comes to accelerators is, “what do I need to give up to participate?” Most accelerators come with fixed equity terms or rights to invest. Not with Microsoft. Their motivation is to help tech startups grow and ideally build their products on Azure, but this is never a requirement (nor is this forced upon you) for the program. There really were no strings attached which made our decision that much easier.
3. Azure Technology
My co-founder and CTO, Stephen Hankinson, was a huge AWS fan. Prior to the Microsoft accelerator program, we had built our product entirely on AWS. However, after commencing with the program, learning more about Azure, and receiving $500K in free Azure credits, we made the decision to port our entire platform over. After doing so, we realized we had made a great decision. The capabilities of Azure ML, along with the inherent enterprise-grade privacy and security capabilities within Azure, were beyond our expectations. Given our focus on large enterprise clients, we knew that developing our tech stack on Azure would provide comfort and credibility to our customers. In addition, Stephen was provided high-level, direct access to the Azure team to discuss issues, get advice and provide feedback on Azure’s roadmap.
We continue to expand our utilization of Microsoft technology inside our platform on over 250 virtual machines while using over nine Azure services including DocumentDB, Cognitive Services, Streaming Analytics, Container, KeyVault, SQL Server, API Managed Services, Azure Functions, and more. Safe to say, he is now a huge Azure fan!
4. Enterprise Opportunities
Any founder who has built a startup targeting large enterprises knows how difficult and time-consuming it is to land large deals. A major reason for our decision to become part of the Microsoft Accelerator program was for the opportunity to co-sell with MSFT into its major, global enterprise customers. We saw the potential for this opportunity even within the first few weeks of the program when we were being invited to pitch Microsoft customers who were visiting Redmond at their Enterprise Business Center. This extended into our final solution pitch on stage to potential clients & investors while being streamed on TechCrunch. Since graduating, this opportunity has continued to expand exponentially, most recently with Affinio being considered as a recommended global solution tech provider for Microsoft customer
5. Post-Acceleration Success
One of the most unique and valuable components of Microsoft’s Accelerator is the growth and success program that alumni get involved with once they’ve graduated. Unlike other accelerators that graduate startups and simply move on to their next cohort, Microsoft is committed to the success of its alumni for the long-run. As alumni, we not only get special invites to global “roadshows”, meetups, Microsoft events, tech conferences and co-marketing opportunities, but we’ve been working with their partner development team to achieve our goals. Randy Urquhart has been instrumental in helping us navigate the Microsoft ecosystem, and Raj Thiagarajan has been dedicated to getting us co-sell ready and successfully added to the Microsoft AppSource. In addition, Raj has made instrumental introductions inside Microsoft and to enterprise customers directly and has helped us stay focused (and patient) as we prepare for a significant flow of co-sell business.
We’ve not only made amazing business connections through this program, we’ve made some great friends. There are a lot of people to thank (too many for just this post!), but we did want to acknowledge the following people for their support of Affinio and our vision throughout this journey including Raj Thiagarajan, Ravi Narayan, Hanan Lavy, Prashant Sharma, Tim Enger, Zack Weisfeld, Charlotte Yarkoni, Toni Hasson, Yonit Soloducho, Charlotte Burke, Aravind Ramachandran, and Rimma Nehme.
If you are a founder considering the Microsoft Accelerator program, I’d encourage you to take all these factors into consideration. Not all accelerators are the same, and Microsoft has something really special to offer later-stage companies. It’s been a hell of a ride with Microsoft and the best part is that we feel like we’re just getting started!