The Citrix Startup Accelerator Journey: Guest Post by Michelle Harper

October 27, 2014 11:30 AM

This post was written by Michelle Harper, HQ member and CEO of Akili Software, one of the seven teams participating in the Citrix Startup Accelerator this fall. Her article is part of a new series of guest posts tracking each of the teams' journeys through the program. Thanks for letting us get a glimpse of your world, Michelle! 

It’s 10 am on a Thursday morning and my fellow cohorts are gearing up for our weekly presentations outlining the key learnings and progress over the last week in not just building our companies but also applying the key concepts of Lean Startup. We are 5 weeks into the first class of the Citrix Accelerator Program – Raleigh edition and this week as each company presents, the growth since week 1 is evident in both delivery style and content.

I started Akili Software in March of last year. Having worked at 2 previous medical software companies, I am keenly aware of the challenges facing technology from the end user perspective. Function is often independent of the end user experience, especially in the area of software used by home care companies to manage client care.   I had seen with my own eyes the struggles of office staff, care coordinators, and caregivers who “have” to use a software program. For others, the software available is such a hassle that they still using pencil and paper. As a natural problem solver and a lover of great design, I took a gamble on being able to solve this, assembled a great team, subscribed to Rally™, and purchased Axure™ to start wireframing.

Last year I met with John Austin of Groundwork Labs in Durham and he introduced me to the Lean Startup methodology. I went home after that meeting and read most of the book. I have a list of books that were game changers for my career and this was one of them. I would never design software the same again. In short, Lean Startup is a method by which startups can shorten their product development cycles by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validate learning all geared around a minimum viable product, i.e., a product that a potential customer finds valuable enough to actually buy as validated by an actual purchase, not just a “we would love that” declaration.

As an HQ Raleigh member, I was alerted to the open application period for the new Citrix Startup Accelerator – Innovators Program. The 12-week program is focused on training and coaching startups in leading-edge collaboration, communication, design thinking and lean startup approaches. Akili Software was one of 7 teams accepted to the program comprised of 2 internal and 5 external teams.

After a 4 day boot camp, the teams work through the lean startup process with their own companies. With access to coaches, mentors, and the program architects tuned in from Silicon Valley, we are challenged, encouraged, and challenged some more. With a goal of 10 client interviews a week, delivery of an MVP by week 4, and the pressure of demonstrating actual beta / pilot users, the program is intense and requires serious time and commitment. But it isn’t busy work; I clearly see how the program is moving Akili Software forward and helping us fill in previous gaps in customer segmentation, key marketing messages, and identifying sales channels and partners.

Each month we present to the executive committee comprised of top level executives from Red Hat, Citrix, and IBM. They too provide feedback on our presentation and ask the tough questions, but always in the spirit of helping the teams reach their goals. Even better, at the end of each presentation we provide a list of “needs” and each time the committee members have offered resources to address those, from software security reviews, to access to interview potential customers, to software tools at little or no costs. From Citrix to Red Hat to IBM, they don’t just support us with words, they support us with action, and as a first time CEO, I can’t say enough how meaningful this is.

So where is Akili Software 5 weeks in? We have completed 30 interviews, finished our first MVP, and have started our first pilot in Belhaven, NC. We have also launched our new website (www.saviicare.com) which contains validated pricing models, marketing messages, and lists the features our customers don’t just need, but want to use. We have a way to go, namely 4 more pilots started in the next month, but I know after this program, Akili Software will be firmly positioned for success. And yes, I know what the success rates for startups are.

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