Q&A with Martin Martinez of Founders Institute

Lara Tanner
Q&A with Martin Martinez of Founders...

Founders Institute helps accelerate pre-seed startups fill in the blanks on how best to succeed. We spoke with Founders Institute portfolio success and marketing manager Martin Martinez about his background in helping startups through Founders Institute.

Martin discussed essential qualifications founders need to get more consideration, as well as valuable founder advice, mistakes, and trends.


What are the top characteristics you look for in startup founders who hope to join Founder Institute’s accelerator program? 

We look for a variety of factors, from agreeableness to extraversion. All of our founders go through a personality assessment before we accept them into the program.

The two key traits we look for the most are openness and fluid intelligence. You have to be open to all kinds of feedback, even some that challenge what you might think is right at that time, and then be able to adapt to that accordingly. The second piece is fluid intelligence. They’re getting a lot of competing feedback and new knowledge. How quickly can they apply that to the problems they’re trying to solve, iterate and move forward faster? 


Is there an ideal time for a startup founder to apply to FI? 

We work with founders at the idea stage. I’d say about 70% of the founders we meet startups are just an idea. Then the other remaining 30% might have a working prototype but still don’t know how to build a business around it. 

They come to us, and we give them focus and structure that allows them to build the business around generating revenue and understanding if it’s something that’s attractive to a wide market of potential customers. 


What makes Texas a great place for startups?

There’s an influx of talent we’re seeing. The pandemic accelerated people moving from the coast. So, there’s a whole bunch of really smart people now contributing to the ecosystems that we didn’t have just a couple of years ago. 

Then we’re seeing a larger inflection of venture capital funds moving, as well as larger, established technology companies like HP, Oracle, and Tesla. 

So, you’re seeing opportunity grow as Texas has started to position itself not just domestically as a startup hub but also internationally. 

People are starting to think about how Texas can be on the global stage right on the global stage, which is really exciting to see.


What do you hope for Founder Institute Texas to accomplish within the next five years?

I’d love to see our first unicorn come to the program. That’s something we want to really nurture. We’re bringing in visionary entrepreneurs who don’t realize that’s what they are yet and being able to identify them.

Another thing I want to see more locations. Right now, we’re active in Austin, Houston, and Dallas. I’d love to see a San Antonio chapter really start to build out that community there as well as in the West. 


What are some trends in startup industry verticals that excite you the most?

What’s exciting me is actually supply chain technology. I’m seeing a lot of that right now. We’re going to be dealing with supply chain hiccups and constraints, probably for another two years. So, figuring out how to reverse engineer the globalized supply chain market that we have right now, getting a good circular economy where they’re developing these essentially closed-loop systems from fashion to food agriculture. That’s been intriguing for me. 


What is the best advice you can give to a startup founder who doesn’t make it into FI?

We have founders who don’t make it to the program because the idea might not be big enough, unfortunately. So we challenged them to think bigger. It might be just building out a feature to solve a problem that they have, but they need to go and spend more time talking to people to see if this is a problem that many other people have. Other times, you’re too late, way too early to the market. It’s a great idea, but you got to read the market. 


What are founders’ biggest mistakes on the pitch decks they create for funding rounds?

So first, I always make everybody have contact information on the first slide up contact information on the last slide. It is a rookie error that they don’t realize, but it’s coming from like the eyes of an investor.

Don’t be as specific on percentages. In many cases, the number might be that percentage might be too low might be too high once you start talking. You’ve pigeonholed yourself into these numbers, and it sets a negative tone with any potential investors.

Lastly, the fewer words, the better. You are using that pitch deck to give a reason for investors to follow up and ask for more. And in doing so, you should be able to pitch this without the slides as well. Typical investors will look at a demo for like less than a minute.

Overall, keep it simple, with a low word count, and very light on specifics.


What led you to become a startup founder?

I had a pool cleaning business in high school, and in college, I started a Social Media Marketing Agency. I didn’t realize I was a marketer, but I found that fun. It was new. It was unique. I was showing that people want something that they didn’t realize they needed at that point, they’re willing to pay for it too, and I was having fun doing it. 


How has your background shaped the way you mentor people?

A big reason why I wanted to help build the programs here in Texas was when I started another company after some time in technology. I worked at Facebook and Google right out of college. We didn’t have an ecosystem like this. We did a lot of things wrong.

I didn’t want to see people make that same mistake that I did after college, and this program would allow founders to realize they’re on the verge of making them. 


How has the growing influence of diversity, equity, and inclusion influenced FI’s process with respect to which startups it decides to review and ultimately invest in?

I’ve gotten this question a few times, but I always say it hasn’t because we’ve always thought that way. I like to think my teams in every city are not only gender-balanced but also very diverse. We’ve always made a really big effort from our recruitment events to the programming we offer postgraduation to make people feel seen and heard and represented. 

We’ve seen DEI with some of the companies that have come through our program. One specifically is always top of mind. Her name’s Ashley Connell, and she has a company called Prowess Project that focuses on bringing gender parity back into the workforce. Because a woman leaves the workforce to have a family, she immediately loses 40% of her lifetime earnings impact. 

The mission of the company is to bridge that gap and upskill women that are coming back into the workforce so that they’re right back where they started and not have to take lower-paying jobs just because they had to step out of the workforce for a little bit to have a family. It’s not fair. 

When I see those ideas at founders, we do whatever we can to make them happen. 


What are some of your favorite ways to unplug from your busy role at FI?

I love listening to my musician friends perform. I have a lot of friends in the music industry. When I can, I’ll just go to their shows and sell their merch. 

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