Al Bsharah Business Minded, Technically Inclined

Bootcamp for Your Brain – What I got from The Founder Institute


Founder InstituteI’ve been an entrepreneur and involved in startups most of my 15-year career.  I started my own ecommerce company, helped grow a network management and SaaS organization which was eventually sold, and I’ve built communities to a million page views per month.

Because of this you’d think I might have a clue what I’ve been doing all these years.  I’m confident enough in myself to say, you’d be wrong.  16 weeks ago I started to REALLY realize I had no idea what I was doing.

The Founder Institute (FI) is a technology company “incubator”.  The goal is to help entrepreneurs grow successful companies.  In fact, their goal is to build 1000 companies per year, and the program is well on it’s way to do so.  If you were to dumb down what the program does into one sentence, I would say:  “The Founder Institute is a business-incubation curriculum that surrounds you with successful CEOs (Mentors) that share their mistakes and best practices so you don’t have to suffer the same pain they did while building your business.”

That, however, REALLY doesn’t do the program justice.

The Mentors are aahhh-MAZ-ing.  Seasoned CEOs and Investors that have been there, done that, and exited (in many cases, multiple times over).  They’re available, helpful, generous, and willing to work with you to guide you towards building your company the right way.  The amount of time these guys give us is tremendous and was COMPLETELY unexpected.  You simply can’t get this kind of access and networking without a program like The Founder Institute.  There is a curriculum that you follow each week, and THESE are the guys teaching it to you.  We started with about 25 Founders and about 20 Mentors…a ridiculous ratio!

Not everyone can get into the program though…  You have to go through initial interview, aptitude, and personality testing.  If you’re lucky enough to get past the initial screening and actually get accepted into the program, you still have to get THROUGH it…and 50%-70% do NOT graduate.  We finished with 6 of us.

It is grueling.  It is brutal.  There are piles of assignments to do…but they’re based in the real world and for your company…NOT theoretical crap.  It will push you to your limits, because that’s what the life of an entrepreneur is like.  You will have to present to guys that are so far ahead of you in the entrepreneurial world, it’s occasionally frightening (not to mention intimidating).  They will be blunt and tell you that your idea, your presentation, your research, or your knowledge of your market sucks…but they’ll coach you on how to improve whatever’s wrong in creative ways that push you outside of your comfort zone.  They won’t pull punches, they will grade you and your performance along the way.  You will ask yourself “Why? WHY?!” far too frequently and bang your head against hard objects regularly.

BUT – with all of this comes a level of education, a network, and a family you won’t get from an MBA program.  You won’t get it on-line anywhere.  You won’t get it by going to events and meeting people.  You won’t get it by having 500+ LinkedIn connections.  It’s dense and it’s powerful, and I’m proud to say I’m a graduate.

During the program, I was working 20-30 hours per week as a consultant.  They say you can expect to spend 15-20 hours per week on the program, but I’m pretty sure I was averaging 25 most of the time.  Like anything, you get out of it what you put into it.

If all of this stuff doesn’t sound that great to you, you should probably not apply.  It’s NOT for everyone.  For me, it was 16 weeks of painful awesomeness.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m seriously (SERIOUSLY) happy that it’s over!  I’m just ready to start making my own deadlines and goals, launching a product, and creating my own entrepreneurial chaos.  <smile>

However…if you’ve got the goods to get through a program like this you’ll come out a better entrepreneur, and will have met and worked with incredible people.  You’ll have an amazing network of entrepreneurs, executives and potential investors that could last the length of your career or life.

Frankly, I can’t say enough good things about FI.  It was truly a phenomenal experience…but I’m the type of guy that will get a lot from a program like this.  It fits me well.  It’s up to you to figure out if you are that type of person.  If you’re curious enough, I highly recommend you visit The Founder Institute Website and read EVERYTHING.  There’s a lot of content there, and it’ll help you understand what you’re getting yourself into.

I even met my cofounder while in the program, and we’re on our way to doing some great things with our new company, Embarke.  We’re launching a private beta this month, so watch the video and throw your email into our form so we can let you know when we launch!

Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you have further questions about the program.  I’ve already spoken to a few folks about the program in depth, and am happy to do the same for others.  Hit me up in the comments below, or via the contact me page.



About the author

Al Bsharah

Al is the Managing Partner at Interlock Capital, a community-driven startup fund that allows seasoned or aspiring angel investors to get into amazing companies within their own budget. Al’s been involved in multiple San Diego startups since 1999 after leaving the Detroit auto industry as an electrical engineer. He's started two of his own companies where he's raised capital from both VCs and angels, and sold one of them to both Seismic and Return Path. He's graduated both Techstars and Founder Institute accelerator programs where he now mentors. In his free time he manages to play a little beach volleyball, invest in startups, trade stocks, and camp with his wife, son, dog, and friends.


  • Congratulations on completing Corporate Navy Seal training, and for not ringing the bell and calling it quits. 6/25 is pretty impressive. I am not sure how I feel about you having a distinct advantage over me in terms of giving a "pitch" – that was supposed to be my strength 🙂

  • Ha, thanks Justin! If it makes ya feel any better, every time I pitch to someone I learn something new. EVERY time. <laughs> Just when you think you’ve got it right…

    Looking foward to our next meeting!

By Al Bsharah
Al Bsharah Business Minded, Technically Inclined