Peter Relan, the serial entrepreneur who created a number of social gaming firms, is creating a new startup incubator called 9+. The name is a reference to the fact that the company will train startups for nine months with help from an all-star company-building team.
Relan, who will be chief mentor at 9+, told VentureBeat that he plans to train 24 teams a year in two separate classes. But he won’t be focused on games as he was in his past incubator, YouWeb, which funded companies such as OpenFeint, CrowdStar, and Agawi. Now he will focus on startups in mobile services, tablets, big data, infrastructure platforms, and wearable computing.
“I want to work closely with CEOs doing a meaningful program,” he said. “I’m scaling up my approach. It worked for six years with a dozen entrepreneurs and did well for investors. Now I can offer the same approach to many more entrepreneurs in all fields.”
Applications for the class that begins in October 2013 will be accepted until Aug. 31.
The new incubator will be a lot different from the six-year-old YouWeb, which focused on finding founder CEOs. And 9+ will offer a longer term and accept fewer companies than rival incubator Y Combinator, which has three-month sessions and many more companies in a class.
9+ will try to build companies in three phases. In the first three months, it will get entrepreneurs to create a minimum viable product. In the second phase, it will tune the product for the market based on beta-testing feedback. In the third phase, it will try to get traction with users, hire key team members, and score seed funding with top-tier investors.
“Too many investors say that the latest startups are developing features in somebody else’s larger product,” Relan said. “We want to give them more time to flesh out meaningful companies. It’s hard to create something meaningful in three months.” (Y Combinator has a 3-month program cycle.)
The 9+ team plans to offer confidential feedback to the first applicants, whether or not they are accepted. The companies chosen will get $30,000 in cash in exchange for giving equity to 9+. The incubator will give another $80,000 in the form of a convertible note, or a loan that can be converted into equity, based on a valuation cap of $5 million. The company will receive nine months of guidance, starting with a kick-off boot camp.
Relan said he will hold on-demand, open office hours. His executive team will do the same. He will hold monthly seminars on topics relevant to the various phases in the program. His executives will offer guidance on business development, sales, marketing, venture financing, recruiting, finance, and human resources. If the first product isn’t working out, 9+ will give the entrepreneurs a chance to pivot to something else halfway through the program.
The two classes per year will overlap for a three-month period, giving graduating entrepreneurs the chance to share experiences with the incoming class. The first 2014 class will begin in April. The entrepreneurs can use offices in either Menlo Park or Burlingame in California’s Silicon Valley.
“I’m happy with how the last six years have worked out,” Relan said.
Relan’s previous incubator, YouWeb, raised $60 million in financings for its companies and had more than $100 million in exits. YouWeb had only 12 entrepreneurs in residence; of those, seven had favorable outcomes, ranging from an “acqui-hire” for the Spaceport.io team, which was bought by Facebook, and a $104 million exit for Jason Citron’s OpenFeint, which was purchased by Gree in 2011. This time around, Relan wants to train more startups.
“Over the last seven years, Y Combinator has done a fantastic job of encouraging and evangelizing startup creation, as well as demo days and financing — but, for many entrepreneurs, a three-month program and being one of 50 to 100 companies, is simply not enough time to fully develop into founder-CEOs with a meaningful company,” Relan said. “With 9+, exceptional entrepreneurs will get the support they need to become founder-CEOs, running meaningful companies. I will focus all my time on mentorship, and our company builders will be putting all of their energy into working with great entrepreneurs and helping them succeed.”
“Peter’s approach to building companies is unique in that he plays a crucial role in developing every facet of company growth — from concept to marketing. He even reviews APIs. Raw experience and a deep level of engagement is the reason we were able to grow OpenFeint into the fastest growing social gaming network,“ said founder-CEO of OpenFeint, Citron.
Other mentors and company builders include Jerry Held (former chairman of Vertica), Michelle Sangster (former Yahoo and Kosmix executive), Eros Resmini (former OpenFeint and Gree executive), Jim Mills (former partner at Vantage Point investment firm), and Les Wright (former finance officer at Business Signatures, InfoSeek). The new firm shares investors with YouWeb, Relan said. So far, 9+ has raised $2 million; it is raising a second round of funding now.