Two weeks ago, we wrapped up our third iteration of Unusual Academy — an immersive, hands-on learning program to equip founders with the tactics to overcome the most common challenges we’ve observed at the seed and Series A stage. For the first time, we opened the Academy to both Consumer and Enterprise founders, with 19 startups selected from over 400 applicants. After our third time running the program, feedback from participating founders has made it clear that we’re headed in the right direction.
When I joined the firm as a Partner in late 2018, I was amazed at the high quality of the master practitioners Unusual had assembled to teach founders the foundational skills of early stage company building. We had the opportunity to expand the program beyond just Enterprise founders to Consumer founders, who face their own unique challenges. This Fall, we’ve added three brand new sessions specifically tailored to the most valuable skills Consumer founders can master at the seed and Series A stage:
Josh Grau, who previously led marketing efforts at Twitter, Youtube, and Wealthfront and is now the Chief Brand Officer at Yext, taught the first session on brand identity and positioning to win. This is where I’ve seen many Consumer startups struggle, trying to be everything to everyone instead of finding their focus. During the session, Josh led the group through several exercises that culminated in fine-tuned product messaging and positioning that helps each company better explain why they exist, what they do, and who their target customer is.
Shan-lyn Ma, CEO and founder of Zola, led the session on product innovation and how Consumer startups can take calculated bets to expand their total addressable market. Shan demonstrated the same framework she uses at Zola and worked alongside the founders to assess market opportunity, user pain, and the ability to extend their technologies to find new potential product innovations.
Brian Balfour, founder at Reforge co-led a session with me on Growth Loops, where we demonstrated the different levers for building organic growth into products. Several founders workshopped their own growth loops live with us and uncovered surprising areas for improvement. This was one of the most powerful sessions, with some founders saying they went home that same day and revamped their growth models based on what they learned.
These new classes offered a more bespoke learning experience for our Consumer founders, who also experienced the foundational courses on fundraising (by Andy Rachleff), leadership (by Maggie Hensle, Jake Harriman, Karina Sobieski), prioritization (by Billy Bosworth and Greg Schott), hiring (by Adam Grant), sales (by Jyoti Bansal and John Vrionis), and messaging (by Ken Rutsky), with improved content and programming based on feedback from previous cohorts.
The Gamma Cohort
After expanding the Academy as an offering to our existing portfolio with resounding success, we’ve doubled down on this approach with our last cohort featuring thirteen portfolio companies. With the group of highly experienced entrepreneurs, the depth of discussion and demonstrated initiative among the Gamma Cohort founders was impressive. They showed up and were incredibly humble in their hunger to learn — characteristics we admire in the founders we back. We enjoyed getting to know them even better throughout Academy and thank each and every one of them for being a part of our journey.
The whole point of Unusual Academy is to provide company building and leadership education to founders at the time in which they need the most guidance — within their first few years. Every time we host an Academy cohort, we get better at serving our entrepreneurs’ needs by iterating and making the sessions even more compelling. We look forward to attracting even more Consumer experts and expanding our content to include the most relevant challenges early stage founders face today.
We couldn’t be more excited to continue Academy with our next application cycle opening in Fall 2020. Stay tuned!