With so much money being stuffed into Silicon Valley companies these days, it’s hard to stand out as an investor, but John Vrionis and Jyoti Bansal have what they think is a winning approach — one that’s a win for startup founders, too.
A little background first. Back in May, Bansal, who sold his company AppDynamics to Cisco for $3.7 billion last year, announced that he was teaming up with Vrionis, who’d spent the previous 12 years with Lightspeed Venture Partner. What they created together is a new venture firm called Unusual Ventures.
It launched publicly with a $160 million debut fund and a mission of also creating a startup education program. Fast forward a few months, and the firm will today begin accepting applications for a seven-week accelerator program that promises founders seven different three-hour-long sessions — one each week for seven weeks — with veterans of the startup industry. In return, they receive a convertible note that can range from $250,000 to $1 million, depending on the stage of the company.
Called Unusual Academy, the idea is to help these teams reach so-called product-market fit faster than they could otherwise. It also aims to prevent them from taking on too much seed funding, which can scare off Series A investors who sometimes see a glut of seed funding as a sign that a startup can’t figure out what it’s doing.
For its first batch, Unusual will be looking to work with between six and 10 companies, mostly of the business-to-business variety, and no team is too nascent, according to Vrionis. “It can be anything from a notebook idea, to a company that has already raised $7 million in funding,” he says. Unusual Ventures says it will later choose a second cohort of companies that are more consumer-facing, though plans for that next batch haven’t been firmed up just yet.
It is a bit gimmicky? Yes. But given the talent Vrionis and Bansal have assembled to help startups, it’s also compelling. For example, one of the startup veterans who will spend three hours with select startups is Andy Rachleff, one of the co-founders of the storied venture firm Benchmark. Rachleff — who has for years taught entrepreneurship at Stanford while also heading up the wealth advisory startup Wealthfront — will spend three hours offering his insights on fundraising, time that some startup founders might kill for.
Another instructor is Adam Grant, the Wharton psychology and management prof and best-selling author, who will spend several hours with Unusual’s companies talking about culture and leadership. A third is Bansal himself, who will be advising the startups on how to recruit early customers and devise a strong early sales process. “Jyoti is the best I ever saw at finding early customers,” says Vrionis, who was an early supporter of Bansal when he launched AppDynamics. (Lightspeed wrote one of its first checks.) “People want him involved in their startups.”
Unusual Academy’s lessons will be held, for now, in a space in Redwood Shores, Calif., so it’s probably ideal only for Bay Area-based founders who can travel to the different lessons over the seven-week period, which kicks off in October.
Eventually, says Vrionis, the hope beyond organizing a consumer track is to host the startups in other cities, or, at least, to let them log on remotely to hear from the advisors it assembles.
If you’re a B2B startup interested in applying for the program, just click over here.