Just eight months into the Akcela incubator journey and this is a bittersweet write up for me. For as long as the Akcela incubator has been in existence, it has been home to reading mate. As a shareholder of both, it’s been incredible to watch both companies’ journeys develop. In this post, I’d like to ramble through why, whilst it might be hard to say goodbye, this is what good looks like.
Setting the scene
I think it’s a good time to set the scene for what our worlds looked like eight months ago. It’s a story that James Rix and I muse over every now and again. Akcela Ventures had just signed on our lease at Fuel Studios, armed with the directors paying for a desk each and our only company in the building other than Akcela being reading mate, it wasn’t uncommon for James Rix and I to be the only two working in the office.
We had been given the old furniture from Whitespace, courtesy of Neil Garner and Thyngs, packing the 10+-year-old furniture, designed for a space at least twice the size, into our offices. There was a lot of mess, lots to throw out, some that just wasn’t fit for purpose, but it was gifted and it was ours. All we had to pay for was the transport costs and the “sweat equity” of bringing most of it up the two flights of stairs to our office. In that way, James and I paid healthily for that furniture.
After a tiring day, the office was a mess of mismatched furniture, too much for the space, drawers with wheels falling off, a Christmas tree missing a few branches, a picnic bench, and a balding leatherette swivel chair (which I adopted and defended until finally being overthrown to “get rid”) – to the outside world, it looked a mess. We didn’t care. Perhaps I am romanticising the exchange, but as I remember it, we stood in an Aladdin’s cave of the things Thyngs didn’t want, and a vision for the community and said, “This is going to work.”
As we have seen with people like Patrick and Varma who came through the web3 Bootcamp into a job, Scoop and their trial with local companies, GameVault and their >£300,000 raise, Forest of Memories’ first site opening, etc. etc. the success of reading mate doesn’t rely on the incubator, but the teams who make it happen. However, every success of each company is intertwined with Akcela and the community, like any team will tell you, winning becomes a habit. That’s a critical world view for the incubator because it truly has become, as recently appointed Tom Wood can be heard saying “the place where the smart and cool “kids” go to set up great businesses.”.
The reading mate incubator journey began with James Rix and I being in an office of empty desks and mismatched, gifted furniture. By January, Readingmate had undergone a complete product-market fit review, gained significant traction with sales, raised a small amount of money whilst the project was gaining revenue and profitability, bought co-founder Hannah Rix into the business full-time and began hiring for the next phase of development. Symbiotically, the incubator had gained several of the “cool kids with interesting businesses” who were interacting, forming a community, and growing together.
Hiring, Growing, Excelling
In the weeks and months that followed, reading mate and their hiring plans’ continued growth, and refinement of product-market fit demonstrated that the team was truly developing and excelling. Starting any business is hard, but I really felt through this time, that there was a great effect on the community in supporting setting culture between all of the companies within the space, but also challenge between all the parties. As the boulder thesis notes that a start-up community will police bad actors, so too will a community in proximity share, adapt and nurture good ideas and practices.
Through this time, we saw Hannah and Laura simply excel at driving the company forward in their areas. Coming into a start-up is hard, every day can feel like 0 to 1 and only teams get things done. Reading mate became a true team in front of a community’s eyes. Demonstrating the hard work, passion and drive it takes to succeed. James has always been a visionary, and as his time in the business and interactions with the customers grew, so did the vision distil. Reading mate was done with the storming and norming, as a team, they were truly performing.
Through this time, reading mate also accelerated and excelled in product-market-fit, whilst investment wasn’t central to the plan, offers of support followed and reading mate seized the opportunity to scale the business, it became clear that the time was fast approaching where follow on space was vital.
One of the reasons we situated ourselves in FUEL studios was the option of follow-on space. As companies became so successful, they needed their own space. As a private company, we don’t have huge follow-on space we can take a risk on renting, we want to be here supporting companies for the long term. Yet we are delighted to say that reading mate will be staying within the building and of course, the community.
Graduation, Not Goodbye
With the drive to create profitable, scaling companies that support the economy of the region. Reading mate growing is a success. That’s why we call this a graduation, not a goodbye. Reading mate has grown to a size where they need more space but want to stay part of a community. An incubator of our size simply cannot house one team as they grow out to seven and beyond, as much as we may love to.
Whilst we may be sad to not see the reading mate team every day, we remind ourselves that this is a sign of success. With companies like Tech Educators, who at just five months old, have scaled from one to four – it seems that an Akcela “graduation” may be something we have to plan for more often than we thought.
From everyone in the community, good luck reading mate, I am sure Monday will still bring table tennis, founder meetings will sting bring great stories and laughs, and those conversations that make the community, that drive inspiration and true value will still happen, just in the common areas, not at desks.