LearnMeterics gets Acceleritus

An Accelerator tale of woe. When you get past the top two or three accelerators, there are very few success stories. Mediocre Venture Firms outperform top tier Accelerators. In effect Accelerators are startups. A company entering a newly minted accelerator’s cohort with high expectations is only going to be as disappointed as a new technology user of a Beta version product.

So when Tech Stars, David Cohen, received a correspondence from a startup founder alleging incompetence, bait and switch tactics, and abusive, unethical behavior by Heather Gilchrist, Managing Director of New York City, EdTech Accelerator, Socratic Labs, it was natural for him to redact the specifics of identity and publish the cautionary tale. At that point, whether true or false, the correspondence was a non-damaging missive that would encourage founders to think twice before diviing into a newly formed pool.

Unfortunately the redacted message went off the rails when enough details remained in Cohen’s post for crowd-sourced sleuths to piece together the identities of the players. At this point, the story went from he said (played by Julian Miller, founder of Learnmetrics) to she said (Heather Gilchrist). Here’s a salacious story, a train wreck, catnip to ValleyWag  and so the cat ran with it. It inspired me to run off and write a satirical post lampooning accelerators.

The only problem? The story is a one-sided, fact-lacking, piece of mind-fiction that just doesn’t ring true.

So let’s break down a bit of the rambling correspondence to David Cohen from Juiian Miller:

David, (so far it’s totally believable)

I guess I should preface this by saying we haven’t publicly addressed this and we’re not sure if we want to (ME: but I’m doing it anyway even though I’m not sure and I don’t want to just like when I joined Socratic Labs which I didn’t want to) but this story starts like most in the startup world. My startup applies to an accelerator and gets in. It’s not our first rodeo, as we’d graduated from [name of an unrelated accelerator] but we wanted and needed some support around our vertical. (ME: Is this guy a startup founder, a rodeo clown or a professional accelerator hopper. Rumor has it he’s looking for his third accelerator experience.) (emphasis added)

We paused because it was an inaugural cohort but being that it was vertical-specific and the managing director worked for a highly lauded startup in our vertical, we decided to go for it. ([a hint about which accelerator it was]). (ME: If you have high expectations for any accelerator’s first cohort, you deserve your disappointment. New Accelerators are startups and cohort 1.0 is beta product. Imagine how unhappy your customers would be if you actually completed a beta product and you actually had users.)

The offer was standard, [specific financial deal in line with the market]. It was a bit of a hit for our progress, (ME: Progress? What kind of progress? Here’s a company that doesn’t have a beta product or a customers. Hey buddy an idea is not progress it’s a hope.)  but we decide it’s the price of access so we pack up and headed to [name of city].

After settling in, we went over to the space which was billed as campus, community, accelerator, and more. We arrived at the address only to find that it is a co-working space. There is no dedicated space to work or store any equipment/materials which seems strange for a “campus” but we went with it because we preferred to work from home anyway.  (ME: Julian is either being disingenuous or  stupid. I’m betting on disingenuous since sources and evidence I’ve seen shows that Julian visited the space weeks before he joined Socratic Labs. If he didn’t he is then Stupid – what kind of idiot would join an accelerator program without first visiting the space or doing any due diligence.)

We ask about the funding, we find out that the investment suddenly isn’t coming from the accelerator.  It is coming from a seed stage VC and suddenly the amount of that investment has a range. Everyone was promised $[redacted]K but some companies are low-balled with $[$10,000 less than the previous number], (I’ve seen the standard Socratic Labs Offer Acceptance Letter and it clearly states, “We have partnered with [name of venture firm redacted], a venture firm we hold in the highest regard. [venture firm] will make the financial investment in your company on behalf of Socratic Labs. The standard deal will be a $15,000 investment for 7% common stock in your company“. I do not know if Julian received this standard letter.  I have seen plausible evidence, though I can’t vouch for its authenticity, that Julian understood the offer was $15K and that he was pushing for an additional $10K for a total of 25K.. That evidence shows that Julian asked Heather if he could get $25K and Heather did say it was possible. It seemed clear that she was not the funder and did not have the authority to commit for the funder. From what I’ve seen Julian had a bad case of happy ears when he heard $25K)

We’re also told that those funds are dependent on meeting with the VC and, at the end, we’re told that we need to be C corps before they’ll wire the funds. (The standard Socratic Labs Acceptance Letter Clearly States, “Incorporation: If you are not yet incorporated, your first order of business with your attorney will be to incorporate your business as a “C Corp.)

I don’t know about the rest of you but I’ve had enough of this whiny, pointing the blame finger at everyone but yourself from Julian. Even if the story was 100% true, doesn’t a CEO founder have a responsibility to do research? You want to be a startup-founder? Be ready to be surprised. Get ready for the shit to hit the fan. Put on your big boy pants and deal!  You’re a startup. You’re supposed to be the poster child for capitalism…. capitalism whose slogan is  Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).

Here’s the thing, there were 8 companies in the first Socratic Labs cohort. One of them, LearnMetrics had a bad experience and blamed it on being flimflammed and bamboozled. It appears to me that the Julian may be bamboozling himself with this story he’s telling in his head.  Not every company that started in the cohort completed the program. More companies in the Socratic portfolio are pleased with their experience than displeased and the satisfaction rating for this newly formed entity, in a highly pressurized demanding environment is well in line with what I’d expect.

Several people whom I respect and trust have vouched for Heather. There is some carping in web comments that she didn’t have the background or experience to run an accelerator and that may be true. Yet her background and experience are transparently on display on LinkedIn and her web-site. Ms Gilchrist did not accumulate any less experience or expertise today than when LearnMetric signed up for the program. People entering the accelerator knew exactly with whom they were dealing. Her background is not as bad as some of the loons, miscreants, and wannabes starting accelerators these days.

Julian on the other hand claims to be a former High School teacher on his company web page bio but where, when and with what school is absent from his LinkedIn listing. Nor is there any web evidence to support that claim. Furthermore he claims in his letter to be rodeo rider (this is not our first rodeo) and the Professional Rodeo Riders Association does not list him as a member.

Here’s what else I can’t find. After being a member of 2, count them, 2 Accelerators, LearnMetrics doesn’t appear to have a product, a customer, or a prayer of making a bigger splash than the 15 minutes of fame they received from his letter to David Cohen.

So after that due diligence going to see if I can get LearnMetrics to join my Brake Decelerator. They seem a perfect fit.

Learnmetrics Accelerator Update 2/27/17

According to Crunchbase, as of September 2016, the rodeo riding team at Learnmetrics entered their 3rd rodeo by being funded by the Dreamit accelerator.  Additional there are reports that a group of employees recently left the company and are suing for back-pay.   As our great President of these here United States would say if he was tweeting about this… #SAD!