Startup Acceleration: The Barcelona Football Club Metaphor

Startup Acceleration: The Barcelona Football Club Metaphor

14-Jan-2014 by Patrick de Zeeuw

Barcelona’s new player Cesc fabregas – Source:

Over the last 3 years I have received countless questions from startups from all over the world. Questions about Startupbootcamp or startup accelerators in general, questions about strategies, business models, investment, innovation, and entrepreneurship. The 3 questions that I’ve heard most over the last few years are:

  1. What do I get out of an accelerator program?
  2. What is it like to be accelerated?
  3. How do I know if it will work for my company?

Let me try to answer these questions by using the following example and metaphor, so that you can understand the process you’ll go through in a startup accelerator.


You are a very talented soccer player. Actually, you are the best player in your local team and you have been for quite some time now. You are the top scorer for your club and the competitors want you to join their team. Then you receive a letter. You are being headhunted by FC Barcelona, still considered one of the best soccer teams in the world. A scout of Barcelona hunts you down and asks you if you are interested in training with their first team for the upcoming 3 months. You might even get a shot at being selected for a permanent position. Your trainer will be Gerardo Martino and you’ll play with stars like Lionel Messi and Carles Puyol. Wow! This opportunity really is a dream come true. So now you have a decision to make: should you do this? Of course you should! But what will happen during your stay at Barcelona? What will happen before you go? Which effect will this have in your life?

An intense week of training – Source:

I’ll tell you what will happen:

• You will have a major spotlight on you, just because you were asked to go on a training stage with Barca. People who weren’t interested in you before suddenly are and the same goes for the media. Even competitors of Barcelona suddenly approach you; everybody is keeping a very close watch on you.

• Your family, girl-, or boyfriends, who support you and know how important this is to you, start asking some questions. You might even get some doubt: should you do this? You have to move to Spain, give up your studies or job, and leave your loved ones behind. And all of this without knowing what the exact result of the training in Barcelona will be. For sure your life will never be the same again. You have to make a decision and make some sacrifices…you decide: let’s go!

• Now your 1st training sessions starts: You are kicked in the nuts, challenged on everything you do every minute of every day. You will have the feeling that you have never trained and worked so hard in your entire life. This is the next level, this is where you fall down and get back up. This is where everybody is better and faster than you are. You’ll get nervous, feel you are not good or fast enough. What’s happening to you? Suddenly, you’re not the best player anymore.

• You get insights that you did not know existed, important insights that put everything in a different perspective. You suddenly understand the game better, you get the tactics and strategy and you like this game, still you have to work incredibly hard to keep up.

• You’ll notice that doors that were always closed suddenly open smoothly and you are meeting your hero’s on a daily basis. The guys that have done this for a long time, the guys that got injured and got back on their feet, the players that you watched on TV every Saturday & Sunday night. You are now playing with them, and you can keep up.

• You participate in training sessions that make you stronger and faster, every day you are growing and discovering new things you can do to become even better.

• You suddenly are getting much better at the game. Why? Because you have grown as a person, due to the insights you did not have before from all the guidance and feedback you got along the way. Training with the best of the best is actually accelerating your game play. You are rising above yourself. Wow this feels good! You always were self-assured, but now since everything you do is working, you actually believe the impossible is becoming possible. You can do everything if you put your mind to it. And it’s not only you to who this is happening; the complete team is suddenly “playing” on another level.

• Your trainer comes to you and asks you to play the 1st match of the season against Real Madrid. This is what you’ve worked so hard for; suddenly you are in a stadium with 70.000 people. This is your moment of fame, you can hardly believe it, but it’s really happening.

• You play well, but you get kicked in the butt and do not score…and then when the clock is at 90 minutes and the game is 50 second in overtime it’s your moment of fame … you SCORE! Barcelona – Real Madrid 1-0. You’re the star of the match, you scream and run with your shirt over your head… Your life will never be the same again.

This might all sound a bit romantic, like a child’s dream or a boy’s book, but actually there are many similarities with a training stage at FC Barcelona and going through a professional Accelerator program.

Neymar Unveiled as New FC Barcelona Player – Source:

Let me draw out the parallels:

• Your selection in an accelerator will make you feel great, it will give you the feeling you are on top of the world. Truth is you actually might be far from it yet, but the fact that you got selected will give you a tremendous boost.

• You are being picked out of 700 to 1000+ applicants, which will put a spotlight on you. A spotlight from the media, investors, potential customers, or partners. You are the one to watch.

• You and your family might experience some doubt. You have to move to another country, give up some shares in your company without knowing what you’ll exactly get back in return. Its what you’ve always dreamed of, but it is also making a strong sacrifice and not just for you, for your loved ones as well.

• Your time at an accelerator program will be one of ups and downs, as you’ll be challenged on every assumption you have ever made. You’ll get kicked in the nuts because several of your assumptions and brilliant ideas suddenly do not look so brilliant anymore. You’ll be bombard with many things you did not think of or worked on but that do matter to grow your business into an international scalable and successful company. You feel that you are not going fast enough and that you should do better.

• You get to pitch your company to dream mentors and dream clients. They give you market insights which you didn’t even know existed. This changes everything; you are pivoting and changing your business model, pricing strategy, some functionality of the product, marketing strategy, and lots more. Even the boring (but not unimportant..) legal and financial stuff is being looked at, challenged, and optimized. Additionally, all the knowledge that your accelerator possesses from previous teams, mentors, and partners will help you become better and smarter. Have you ever heard this saying by David Weinberger from Too Big To KnowAs knowledge becomes networked, the smartest person in the room isn’t the person standing at the front lecturing us, and isn’t the collective wisdom of those in the room. The smartest person in the room is the room itself: the network that joins the people and ideas in the room, and connects to those outside of it… Knowledge is becoming inextricable from – literally unthinkable without – the network that enables it.” In this case the smartest person is your accelerator program, in its total being. It has seen countless startups, a multitude of world-class mentors and innumerous talented clients and partners. This network of knowledge enables you as an entrepreneur to improve yourself on a daily basis- stimulated by the rich knowledge that encircles you in your program.

• You feel that things are working better, going faster; doors that used to stay closed are open now. Clients want to work with you, suddenly multiple Investors and VC’s want to talk to you and invest in your company. Not 1 or 2, no 10 to 40. You do not even have to go to them, they come to you.

• You look around you and see that it’s not just you experiencing this; it’s the same for the other 9 companies that you started the program with 8 weeks ago. Everybody is in this together, you are a real team. That makes it beautiful: you don’t go through it alone. You accelerate alongside people who are on the same crazy ride as you are, and you can help each other on the way. After all- it’s a team effort. And you are surrounded by the best of the best in your field, only A-players are allowed. Being surrounded by the best possible team members will also challenge you to be the best version of yourself.

• You get trained on every very Nitti gritty detail for the perfect pitch. The pitch that will keep everybody on the tip of their chairs. This pitch can only last 7 minutes. 3 months ago you hated pitching, you got a dry mouth, shaky legs, and sweaty hands. Now you love it. You feel confident and strong on stage and are ready for the grand finale. And then it’s Demo Day, 400 investors in the room: you love this gig. Music is on loud, lights are blinding, you climb the stage…and then you score.

David Arnoux from Twoodo pitching at Startupbootcamp Demo Day

So now your months of training are over, and what will the future hold? That’s up to you actually. Just like a star player in FC Barcelona who has proven himself to be worthy of a world class club- and has received various offers from top clubs all over the world; you can choose. So wherever you want to go, which investor you want to work with, and which employees you want to hire; it’s up to you now.
Your time at the accelerator has opened countless doors and allowed you to climb in the drivers seat: what you do next is up to you- the world is yours.

So if you are interested to apply for our next program in Amsterdam, Startupbootcamp Amsterdam 2014, do so now to have a chance of being accelerated with us.

Credits – The Smartest Person In The Room – Training Session/PHOTO: ARXIVE FCB – Members of Spanish football team, FC Barcelona, during a visit to NASA’s Johnson Space Center – via Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images – Amsterdam

Anthony NG Monica from Swogo pitching at Startupbootcamp Demo Day

Check out what our team players have to say about acceleration:

Patrick de Zeeuw

Patrick is a Co-founder of Startupbootcamp Amsterdam and board member of Startupbootcamp Global. He is an active angel investor, building media, online and mobile companies. Patrick was the former CEO of Endemol Belgium & Poland, the Founder of 3Circles Media, CCO of SBSnet, and MD of United Broadcast Facilities International and Unitedesign. He coaches Start-ups in the online & mobile industry and sits at the advisory Board at Netgamix & Mobitto.