The Microsoft Accelerator in London is a 4 month programme of intense support for 12 pre-Series A startups, helping prepare them to scale into sustainable businesses through sales pipeline creation, and scale up technology to meet market needs leveraging Microsoft expertise.
We also draw on support from numerous partner organisations and external mentors to create a packed schedule for the cohorts, with the aim of upskilling them on how to operate and grow their businesses.
As the Operations Manager, one of my biggest challenges is ensuring the programme runs smoothly with so many people involved. In particular, keeping everyone up to date on the evolving curriculum, managing the communications and sharing presentations.
For previous cohorts, we used a communication management platform to oversee the curriculum, however this proved difficult as wasn't fit for purpose due to the intense demands of the programme . This meant we also maintained documents hosted on a sharepoint microsite, a sharepoint calendar and email distribution lists, which was extremely messy and difficult to maintain.
By moving our cohort collaboration to Pinipa we’ve rolled several systems into a single platform that is easily accessible for our cohort members, external partners and mentors. This means I now only need to maintain one system for the curriculum and Pinipa intelligently personalises the updates for the teams and drops them into their calendars. I can also use the platform to send email communications or updates to different groups.
Previously, we were managing our curriculum on an excel spreadsheet. We have created a workstream in Pinipa specifically for the core curriculum that all stakeholders have access to. We also created a private workstream for each startup in the cohort for the sessions that are only relevant to them, such as 1-2-1 coaching sessions.
As the administrator of the tool I can see everyone’s workstreams, however by having each of the startup’s workstream private, they only have visibility of their specific schedule.
As there are so many workshops and events, we needed a way to synchronise this with everyone's calendars. In particular, with frequent changes to the curriculum it was important for changes to the schedule to be reflected in everyone’s calendars to avoid confusion (which we had experienced in previous cohorts). By using Pinipa the cohort members can synchronise their schedule with their O365, Outlook Exchange or Google calendar, and the updates are pushed instantly. We now have full confidence that they always have the most up to date schedule.
As well as synchronising to calendars, Pinipa sends a daily email to all members each morning with a quick reminder of the relevant sessions completed yesterday and upcoming sessions for today. Warwick, our Managing Director, has commented that this is the first thing he checks each morning to know exactly what is happening each day.
Over the 4 month period, a lot of updates and communications are made to the cohort and the wider partner and mentor groups. We have nearly 100 people we communicate with, which we previously managed using email distribution lists. With Pinipa we have centralised and simplified all of those communications.
We have created groups for each startup in the cohort and for partner organisations. We also created groups for different types of people involved, for example CEO’s, CTO’s and female founders etc.
It is now really easy to post a tailored message. If it is being sent to all people involved, we post it as an announcement which sends a nicely formated, MSA branded email.
Or for tailored communications to specific audiences, we post these as discussions and @mention the appropriate groups. We then also have a history of all the communications within Pinipa, including replies and likes.
When we make changes to sessions, or need to provide more information such as the agenda or slides, we @mention the relevant people to notify them.
A lot of our curriculum involves presentations from our partners, which are usually shared with the cohort members. The speakers can post their slides themselves within the session on Pinipa, and @mention the people who attended to let them know they are available. This keeps all relevant materials and discussions in a central repository, making it easier for the startups to find and refer to them at a later date. It also saves me from doing a lot of this admin :)
Other ways we are now using Pinipa
Using Pinipa has been so successful, we are now using it for other projects outside of the core curriculum. We do a lot of work to plan for demo day as well as our next cohort intake, so are managing the project plans for these on Pinipa. We have set up the different workstreams with assigned owners for each deliverable, and keep our internal stakeholders at Microsoft up to date using the communications. Pinipa has really come into its own when used for delivering projects.
We are looking forward to using Pinipa again for our Autumn 2016 cohort intake.
Because we have so much activity to manage we will change the curriculum structure slightly on Pinipa to split out events, workshops and office hours into separate workstreams. We will also be running our meeting room availability on Pinipa too so everything is in one place. This will be particularly helpful when we move to a bigger premises.
Working with the Pinipa team has been a joy, the service is excellent. They have been incredibly responsive when there have been issues, and they have taken on a lot of our feedback to improve the platform.