Brad Stevens is an EO Atlanta member, Chair of that chapter’s Accelerator program, and founder and CEO of Entreholic, which helps companies identify and implement innovative growth and execution strategies. In part I of our interview, we asked Brad about his journey as an entrepreneur. Here, he shares his experience and insights for growing Atlanta’s Accelerator program. Accelerator is EO’s targeted program for first-stage entrepreneurs.
What has surprised you most about working with entrepreneurs and the Accelerator program?
Working with EO’s Accelerator program is an incredible and invaluable experience that I hope to stay involved with long-term. I’ve gleaned several interesting and somewhat surprising takeaways:
- EO members receive incredible value from being coaches in the program. It’s an outstanding avenue for members to give back, especially if serving on the chapter board is not an option.
- Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool for driving awareness and program growth. By making the effort to send reminders and keep it top of mind with everyone, you will be amazed at how quickly the word and popularity of the program travels.
- Personally, working with larger companies as my clients and with smaller companies in Accelerator has provided some great insights. I am always surprised to see that even big organizations struggle to adhere to the fundamentals that we use to guide smaller companies.
What strategies have you utilized to grow EO Atlanta’s Accelerator program?
The Atlanta EO chapter had a relatively small Accelerator program with 10 to 15 participants—or companies—and only one EO member overseeing the program on the chapter board. From 2014 to 2015, we are proud to have grown the program from 14 to more than 40 companies. We were the fastest-growing program in the organization that year, and are currently maintaining 35-plus participants in our program, with plans to push it to more than 50 by 2018.
The first major change we implemented was in 2013 when we added an EO co-chair position to support the chair, which established the groundwork for our rapid growth. I served as co-chair and in 2014, took over as chair with Ethan King as co-chair. The other major change that fueled the program was installing a full Accelerator board composed of Accelerator participants. This created a much stronger foundation for the program to support growth.
Ethan and I presided over monthly board meetings with eight participants serving in the roles of membership, accountability groups, marketing, sponsorship, learning, social and communication. We followed many of EO Global’s best practices in creating a board and developed many of our own protocols. This included implementing Infusionsoft, a CRM and marketing automation system to streamline processes including recruiting, membership management, program communication and accountability group health. We also clarified the constitution each Accelerator participant follows by implementing much stricter standards for meeting structure, attendance and purpose.
We transitioned to a quarterly membership cycle. As chair, I maintained a very strong commitment from the chapter board, EO members and Accelerator participants to send referrals. Throughout the year, and in a concentrated effort four weeks before each membership information luncheon, I sent out three to four emails pushing referrals and included easy “click-to-post” snippets for members to share on social media. I also pushed the message internally via our private Facebook groups for EO and Accelerator. Around that time, we also launched a dedicated website to create our own stand-alone branding and information resources for prospects.
The Accelerator board attended NERVE in Nashville, where EO Global hosted a summit for all East Coast Accelerator programs, which was very helpful in developing best practices. We hit a high of 43 participants in 2014-15, up from 15 Accelerators when we started and had eight graduates who exceeded the US$1 million mark.
In 2016-17, we maintained the same model and best practices with a theme of “Rocket Solid” to maintain our program growth with a strong focus on participant quality and committed, trained EO members serving as accountability group coaches. We developed standardized written protocols, made better use of Slack to improve communication, and implemented Google Docs for file management and organization.
For the 2017-18 year, we are taking it to the next level to create a foundation to support 50-plus Accelerator participants. In order to accomplish all the activities required for program success, we needed to involve more individuals. I am still program chair, and we now have three co-chairs on the chapter board in the roles of accountability groups, learning and membership.
We were the first program in EO to create Accelerator board co-presidents. This is the final stage of our plan to build a comprehensive, internal leadership structure within the Accelerator program that creates the additional support necessary for it to stand on its own and thrive. The EO member chair and co-chairs are still crucial in supporting the program, but this structure allows the program to be led by its own members, which encourages additional ownership and a sense of pride from the Accelerator board and members.
What else can you share with EO chapters looking to grow their Accelerator programs?
EO Global has some outstanding guides and systems. Below are some of the key elements from those best practices and our own protocols that I recommend incorporating when starting and growing an Accelerator program:
- Find truly committed individuals who are willing to go above and beyond, as it will take a lot of work—particularly in the first year.
- Maintain a minimum of two members on the chapter board to oversee the program in co-chair roles.
- Creating an Accelerator board made up of existing Accelerators is critical to ensuring that they are truly committed. If your program is small, you can have EO members participate—preferably those who are Accelerator graduates. Ideally, you will have roles for membership, accountability groups, marketing, sponsorship, learning, social and communication.
- Commit to creating a program playbook from the beginning to document each role and process so that it can easily be handed off to a new person in the role. Sharing Google Docs is highly recommended. We’ve had a great experience using Slack for communication in addition to an online project management tool. We are rolling out TeamWork this year.
- Establish a written constitution that governs the accountability groups and make sure all new participants read and sign it at the very beginning of their experience.
- Consistently engage the EO chapter board, EO members and Accelerator participants to keep the program top of mind and share it with others.
- Recruit very strong EO members to serve as mentors and keep a well-stocked pipeline of mentors.
- Attend the Accelerator Program Summit held at a Regional Event (i.e. NERVE).
The mission of Accelerator is to empower entrepreneurs with the tools, accountability and community to aggressively grow and master their business. Learn more about EO Accelerator.