Startup Spotlight: RevUp by Betaspring

January 10, 2016

This week we speak with Melissa Withers, Managing Director at RevUp by Betaspring, the 1st revenue-first accelerator in the world. She explains why ‘do what you love’ is bad advice and why there is no room for ‘imposter syndrome’.

GH: What is RevUp?
MW: RevUp is an accelerator for companies that want to double down on revenue-driven growth. RevUp companies receive $75,000 in growth capital and immersion in a 3 month program focused on increasing customer acquisition and revenue. It was launched in 2015 by startup accelerator Betaspring. Betaspring has accelerated 91 companies since 2009, with a portfolio that has raised $50M in follow-on funding and produced 4 acquisitions.
GH: How did RevUp get started?
MW: Most accelerator models are built on the equity model, which requires exits to generate returns. After many years working with hundreds of startups, we saw the missed opportunities that the obsession with exits can produce.  Today’s definition of ‘venture-scale’ ignores many companies that have the potential to be profitable and impact the world in major ways. We built RevUp for these companies, and there happens to be a lot of them. By focusing on revenue-first startups, RevUp expands the number of great companies we can work with. And that makes us, and our investors, happy.
We’ve retained the best of what we developed through Betaspring and added new features, like a shared growth team, to enable companies to act fast on revenue-enhancing opportunities. RevUp supports a huge swath of companies that have the potential to be highly profitable, impact the world, and return value to investors. For us, it was a natural evolution of startup acceleration…which is something we care very much about.
GH: How did you get involved?
MW: I joined Betaspring in 2011 after being a founder and working with startups in different capacities. I started in the life sciences, where I was very  interested in systems and models. Some years later, I launched an organization called the Business Innovation Factory with my mentor and partner Saul Kaplan. At BIF, we focused on business model innovation and on creating environments for designing and testing new models.  Turns out, that was great training for building high growth startups.  The rest is  history.
GH: What have you learnt from the startups you have worked with?
MW: Startups are like stem cells. It can be hard to objectively evaluate their full potential, especially when you take into account how mentorship, experience, circumstance and market forces shape outcomes.
I have learnt to trust my instincts while staying mindful that being surprised (and wrong) is why working with startups is sometimes disappointing, but never dull.
 
GH: What was an obstacle you had to overcome?
MW: Imposter syndrome. It has taken me a long time to not apologize for my strengths or to attribute them to some divine accident. I’m good at what I do. Period.  Like many women, this was hard for me to embrace. I felt compelled to dilute myself so that I wouldn’t seem haughty or unlikeable. It may be the single most persistent and damaging overhang of gender bias.
GH: What has the Boston/New England ecosystem provided you?
MW: I love the West Coast and make it a point to stay in touch with that scene, but I am bullish on the quality and endurance of East Coast entrepreneurs. For me, it’s not either/or. Both coasts matter.  I love New England and I am proud of how Boston, in particular, has rallied in the last few years to make startups a bonafide priority. In New England, we build the kind of companies that create jobs and create value across sectors and socio-economic boundaries. This is the kind of place where I want to work and do business.
GH: What’s the best/worst piece of advice you were given along the way?
MW: Worst advice? Do what you love. Why? Because I learned the most and grew the most by doing things that were hard, not just the things that I liked . Thank god for the assholes who mentored me and reinforced that sometimes you have to grind it out to get the prize. Sure, you have to have passion to survive. But if I only did the things I liked, I’d be in my bed eating french fries, drinking French wine and watching Amy Schumer re-runs. I have learned to love working hard. I have grown to crave the feeling you get when you stretch just shy of breaking. I would never have gotten here if I only did “what I love.”
GH: What’s the most exciting thing that happened for RevUp in 2015?
MW: Launching RevUp and being the first revenue-first accelerator in the world. It was a true culmination of everything I believed, professionally and personally.
GH: What does the future hold forRevUp?
MW: Revenue first startups are not an outlier. They are the beating heart of our economy. 2016 is about spreading the word and using our portfolio to underscore the reality that there is more than one way to define startup success. Plus, more investing and accelerating – we are still accepting companies and encourage interested companies to check us out.

 

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