Life in a Startup Accelerator

This article discusses a founder’s experience participating in a startup accelerator, Launch Delta Home Services Accelerator, located in Memphis, Tennessee. 

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A good friend of mine named Joe Shiraz is taking his company, ServiceBot, through a startup accelerator based in Memphis that is backed by Start Co and ServiceMaster, one of the largest home services companies in the nation, the Launch Delta Home Services Accelerator. The accelerator is focused on home services startup and Joe’s company ServiceBot is part of their first cohort. Joe joined the 100-day accelerator in return for a $50,000 investment structured as part of a $1,000,000 SAFE.

I asked Joe if I could chronicle his life in a startup accelerator in the hope that it would give an inside look at what it’s like and whether it’s worth it. Below is a discussion of Joe’s experience during the program.

What does ServiceBot do and why did you decide to join this startup accelerator now?

According to Joe, “ServiceBot is a SaaS platform that uses bots and machine learning to automate many tasks required to run a home services business. ServiceBot includes CRM, field service management, dispatch, back-office management, and automated customer communication. We can reduce the overhead of our customers by 20% to 40%.”

Even though ServiceBot has a beta and customers (typically too far along for most startup accelerators), Joe joined because of the opportunity to work with ServiceMaster was too good to pass up. According to Joe, “I don’t know of any other home services accelerators in the country, especially not one that provides the validation and stamp of approval that comes from working with a Fortune1000 company like ServiceMaster.”

What have you achieved or experienced in the first 2 weeks that you wouldn’t have gotten done or experienced otherwise?

Joe is in the accelerator with 6 other home service companies.  With such an intimate program, he has enjoyed unparalleled collaboration. Joe explained, “an entire city might have a couple home services startups I can problem solve with whereas now I share an office with 6 peers, 15 founders and co-founders, and ServiceMaster.” Working alongside founders like him in the same industry is not something he could do in Austin (his company’s HQ).

Another benefit of being in Memphis away from home is that Joe has no distractions. He’s away from his friends, his house, and his normal life which means he’s laser focuses on building his company. For instance, “this past Sunday I stayed at the office working with other founders until midnight, because what else am I going to do? If I was back in Austin, I would have been asleep, working on the house, watching tv, or doing something that wasn’t related to building the business.”

His new friends are people working in the startup accelerator so when he does go do something social with friends, he’s not talking about his personal life or common interests, he’s talking about the challenges of building a business. “Building a home service company is the focus of your entire social circle. Your bullshit conversations are about your startup and their startup, not social circle gossip.”

100 Days in a Startup Accelerator Joe Shiraz CEO and Founder of ServiceBotHow has being in an ecosystem like Memphis been better and worse than being in an ecosystem like Austin?

While Memphis isn’t a big startup ecosystem relative to Austin, Memphis has a very opening and welcome startup community that treats their startups like they’re special. Joe has, “met with a number of executives in Memphis that are very excited to help out. In Austin, there are plenty of startups so executives aren’t as open to meeting.”

“If I reach out to someone for help in Austin I’ll typically get blown off. That individual may assume, ‘This is Austin, someone else can help Joe.’ In Memphis, it feels like people go way out of their way to meet and make connections. They want you to succeed for the sake of advancing Memphis. Everyone is engaged. The city is hungry for big startup wins.”

After just 2 weeks, Joe has met state officials of Tennessee. “I also got to pitch Steve Case when Rise of The Rest was here, thanks to the startup accelerator. In Austin, there are so many startups it’s unlikely I would have ended up on his bus like that.” Joe loves Austin and the ecosystem there, but there are opportunities Joe is able to take advantage of that he wouldn’t have if he was one of the thousands of startups in a more developed ecosystem like Austin or San Francisco.

What are the disadvantages of being located in Memphis?

Joe did highlight that Memphis has all the disadvantages of any small market, the most obvious being lack of capital. Joe states, “I know I’m going to have to go to the West Coast to raise.”

That said, there is a chance Joe relocates to Memphis after the accelerator is done. “The partnership with ServiceMaster is that valuable to me, especially if it continues to be beneficial. There is also a grittiness and scrappiness here that I want to be a part of,” Joe explains.

How has your day to day changed being in an accelerator versus being on your own?

Joe is far less lonely. In Austin, he’s a single founder looking for a technical co-founder. “In Memphis, I’m still a single founder looking for a technical founder, but I’ve got the support system of the accelerator.”

Accelerators are intense and all-encompassing. How disruptive has this been to your life?

According to Joe, “it’s disruptive, no doubt about it, but it’s disruptive in a good way. I was yanked out of my life. I moved to a new city to build my startup for 100 days, so all my focus is on my company. The work I get done in the next 100 days of this startup accelerator would take at least a year or more in Austin just thanks to the focus being in a new city force on me.”

What has been the biggest benefit so far?

The credibility. The credibility helped Joe recruit a CTO/co-founder named Bill Doughty. ServiceMaster gave Joe the credibility he needed to attract Bill, as well as a junior developer. According to Joe “being here has allowed me to build a strong development team that is excited to work on the product. Now I just need to get customers.” The association with ServiceMaster has also assisted Joe with customer traction. ServiceMaster introduced him to larger prospects that have agreed to buy the product once it’s ready.

What are you expecting to achieve in the last month with the accelerator?

Now it’s time to talk to investors. Joe is taking his first few meetings with angels in Memphis and the surrounding area. Joe’s goal in the last month is to raise some angel funds or generate strong momentum to close a seed round later in the year.

Does being in Memphis continue to be an asset?

Memphis has three of the largest home services companies in the nation: Tru Green, ServiceMaster, and Front Door also known as HelloHome. Joe is now close with potentially large customers because of the Memphis location. Since these big players are local, Joe has access to a large experienced workforce within the service industry to ask for advice.

Do you plan to return to Austin once the accelerator is over?

Joe actually plans to split time between Austin and Memphis. Both cities have unique strengths Joe can leverage.

Austin has a well-developed startup ecosystem, there is a lot of developer talent, and the pool of capital is deep. However, Memphis has three of the largest home services companies. Additionally, Joe has free office space with ServiceMaster. In Memphis, Joe continues to grow the business. The sales and support talent is well-qualified and less expensive than in Austin. Memphis talent is also more specialized in the home service sector.

You came from Austin to be a part of this accelerator. Is the accelerator worth the move to Memphis and the disruption in your personal life?

Joe hates this question: “I’m here. I can’t think about it.”

He expounded though. He’s made a lot of friends, met a lot of entrepreneurs, and enjoys Memphis. He does feel like his time away from Austin has allowed some of his relationships to get stale, both personally and professionally.

Socially it’s bittersweet. Joe made great friends in Memphis but is disconnected from great friends he had in Austin.

Professionally, fundraising stresses Joe. He worries being away from Austin hasn’t allowed him to develop relationships there with capital providers. He isn’t sure how that will impact his ability to raise capital. However, he’s built a team and a relationship with ServiceMaster that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

Takeaways from Joe’s Startup Accelerator Experience

Overall, I got the sense that an industry focused accelerator far away from home is making a world of difference for Joe.

We’ll have one more update once Joe completes the accelerator. We’ll keep you posted.

  • Originally published August 7, 2018, updated April 26, 2023