Creating Something From Nothing Is Hard

99.6% Failure Rate


According to, 99.6% of startups who apply to Y-Combinator fail. Even among those who are accepted, 93% fail. Considering Y-Combinator is the leading startup accelerator, these are not good odds for any entrepreneur.


In spite of the odds, some see the world not only for what it is, but for what it can be.

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A Mentor is someone you meet for coffee to get an opinion.

A Sensei is an startup practitioner who guides you through the process of iteratively running customer experiments and interpreting data until you get traction and draw data-driven conclusions about your startup idea.

Sensei means "person born before another."


FounderSensei: An Entrepreneur Apprenticeship

FounderSensei is for bootstrap startups who want more traction with customers. Our training, mentoring and investment program is a new kind of apprenticeship that helps entrepreneurs find and validate scalable, repeatable business models for their startups. Unlike startup accelerators who focus on mentor dating, pitch training and demo days, FounderSensei focuses exclusively on hypothesis testing by running customer experiments. Our rigorous program helps entrepreneurs quickly learn the truth about their businesses and gain more customer traction so they may deploy capital more efficiently once they are ready for it. 

There are 3 Phases to the program. Training gives entrepreneurs the basic training they need to create something from nothing. Apprenticeship puts these principles in action. Investment comes after business model validation, helping the startup scale from concept to profitability or institutional funding.

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Phase I: Lean Startup Class & Lean Mastermind Group

Learn fundamental skills required to be a successful entrepreneur.

Lean Startup Methodology provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers' hands faster. This method tests the fundamental hypothesis behind the startup's business model using well-crafted experiments. By interpreting qualitative and quantitative customer data, lean entrepreneurs eliminate capital waste, save time, and minimize market risk.

Agile Software Development provides entrepreneurs with critical software development skills need to build websites, web applications and mobile apps. We offer programming classes in Ruby on Rails, Django/Python and iOS SDK.

Resilience Psychology provides entrepreneurs with a solid emotional foundation to survive the startup roller coaster ride. Based on break-through science from the world's leading clinical psychologists, entrepreneurs learn how to deal with failure, bounce back from set backs and keep a positive mindset while doing something that is nearly impossible.

Phase II: Apprenticeship

Entrepreneurs who demonstrate high potential for startup success will be offered a voluntary, invitation-only opportunity to become a FounderSensei Apprentice.

Apprentices are matched with an experienced Sensei who will be their trusted guide through the duration of the Apprenticeship. Apprentice and Sensei will meet every week for up to 12 months, with quarterly decision points to mutually continue or stop.

It is the responsibility of both Apprentice and Sensei to apply the principles and move the startup through the key phases of its development. The Apprentice will apply the principles to his or her startup to hit important milestones. Along the way, the Apprentice will make decisions to pivot, proceed or restart based on the data generated during customer experiments. The Sensei will offer perspective, ask questions and provide guidance while the ultimate decision always lies with the Apprentice.

A Sensei is promoted within the ranks of the FounderSensei Order only on his or her ability to help their Apprentice build a profitable business.

Phase III: Investment

Once an Apprentice has completed his or her training, and has validated they have a scalable, repeatable business model, they may be offered an angel-level investment from FounderSensei and its investor network. Typical investments range from $100K to $250K under standard convertible note terms. The funding is provided for additional, well-designed experiments. Where appropriate, FounderSensei may act as a lead angel on a larger early-stage round.

All investments are entirely voluntary by both parties. At no time is an entrepreneur obligated to take financing terms as a condition of their participation in the program.

How It Works

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The power of the FounderSensei program lies in our unique Group Learning Model. Groups of Founders who are actively practicing lean startup principles are paired with a dedicated, seasoned lean startup practitioner. As a true Sensei, the group leader facilitates the lessons, discussions and individual team exercises. The result is a dynamic, personalized, supportive and real-world support system that leads to startup success.

Lean Startup Class & Mastermind Group

  • Sensei, plus 5 to 10 Founders
  • Discuss principles
  • Review real-world examples
  • Design experiments
  • Assign homework

Customer Experiments Are Your Homework

  • Run Experiments
  • Collect Data
  • Analyze Data
  • Make Decisions
  • Report back learnings to group
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Insight-Driven Iteration

Once you've extracted insights from customers, it's time to put these insights into action by iterating your business model. This is where it gets really fun! Make changes to your value proposition, product, pricing, path to customers or any other element of your business model. As you do, you will measure the impact. Because your iterations are based on real customer insight, each iteration brings you closer to achieving your traction goals.

Start moving the needle and then step on the gas once your model has been validated. When it works, you are off to creating a great, profitable business!

What Makes Us Different


  1. Today's funding model is broken for most startups. Funding requires traction. If you get enough traction, you no longer need funding. It's circular logic and leaves most startups out of luck.
  2. Startup accelerators focus on fundraising, not on getting customers. Accelerators are great for mentor dating, pitch training and demo days. None of these things directly help you get customers.
  3. Lean startup methods and business model design are easy to understand, but extremely difficult to put into practice. It takes years of experience to build instincts and judgment necessary to know when to pivot, proceed or restart.

FounderSensei Solution

  1. We focus exclusively on customer experiments designed to maximize learning which can lead to explosive growth and cash from customers. Funding growth with customer money is cheaper and better.
  2. Using proven startup methods, we focus on building traction with customers. Specifically, we help startup teams validate customer problems, product-market fit and a path to customers.
  3. We pair each startup team with a group of other startup teams and a proven Sensei. Each Sensei is an entrepreneur who has created multiple profitable businesses from scratch. 

Benefits Of Lean Startup Class & Lean Mastermind Group

  • Discover the truth about your business idea and what it will take to make it successful
  • Learn a powerful process used by the most successful startups in Silicon Valley
  • Learn how to validate your core customer problem, with rigor and certainty
  • Learn how to validate your solution and pricing model, with rigor and certainty
  • Find and validated your path-to-customers to show how your business will scale and be profitable
  • Create valuable market and business model data to better attract interest from investors
  • Learn new skills in how to apply the process to create disruptive innovations in your startup or in your corporate job 
  • Develop a valuable instinct for your target customers over time
  • Strengthen your inner self to thrive on the startup roller coaster ride
  • Connect with other committed entrepreneurs some of whom will become lifelong colleagues and friends

Your Sensei For Spring 2014

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Dave Linhardt


  • Serial entrepreneur and innovative business leader with 22 years of marketing, technology, general management and startup experience.
  • Lean startup practitioner as full-time entrepreneur for past 14 years 
  • Created six new businesses. Five out of six have achieved profitability without outside investor capital.
  • LegitLead, big data SaaS (software-as-a-service) business in lead generation market
  • Life Phase Media &, life event data company and leading provider of multi-channel consumer data
  •, consumer e-commerce company and manufacturer in fashion accessories and home furnishing category
  • Maverick Direct Marketing, email marketing and the first predictive-analytics platform for delivering personalized email marketing offers
  • e360data, a behavioral consumer data company for offline catalog and online e-commerce companies
  • Brandango, data integration platform for multi-channel direct marketing companies
  • P&G, AT&T Wireless, Experian in product development, marketing and general management
  • MBA Harvard Business School & BS Engineering Purdue University

Three Locations

Founders can participate at any of our three locations.

1. Palo Alto, CA

Group Learning Sessions are held at Enerspace, the best co-working space in the world. They are located at 2225 East Bayshore Road, Suite 100, Palo Alto, CA 94303.

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2. Chicago

Chicago - Enerspace Chicago, for those who like a cold winter. Sessions will be held at 1046 West Kinzie, Street Suite 301, Chicago,  IL 60642.

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3. Virtual

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Participating founders can join the group via web conference. We use FuzeBox to host online sessions with up to 12 simultaneous, high-definition video streams for each team. 


What Founders Are Saying About FounderSensei

I owe 100% of my success to the FounderSensei program. I came to FounderSensei with nothing more than an app. Now, I have over 50 paying small business customers!

Whatever else you are thinking about doing, like raising money or building a product, stop what you’re doing and take FounderSensei. It will save you six years of your life.
— Jamie Johnson, Founder & CEO, Verde
FounderSensei helps you block out the noise. It helps you focus on what really matters to make your startup successful.

I think at the end of the day, what you are teaching people through the FounderSensei program is a discipline. It’s not something you are born with. It’s not something you can learn in school. It’s something you have to practice. It’s a step forward in learning the discipline of being an entrepreneur.
— Valentin Saportas, Founder & CEO, Hippoteq
I learned more from 12 weeks in the FounderSensei program than from two years at business school.
— Founder & Graduate Of A Big 10 Business School
Before I took the class, I used to think about what I wanted our product to be. Now, I listen to customers more. FounderSensei taught me how to get insight out of my customers.
— Sheila Guo, Founder & CEO, Peckish
FounderSensei gave me a different way to approach this whole startup thing. It taught me what to do so I can be ready to accelerate without wasting time and money.
— Rill Hodari, Founder & CEO, A Little Bit Of Happiness
After 30 years of entrepreneurial experience, I still got a tremendous amount of value from the program.
— Ron Niemaszyk, Serial Entrepreneur
FounderSensei changed my mindset. I started with a little idea and FounderSensei helped me turn it into a huge idea.
— Ronny Sage, Founder & CEO, Niche Interactive Media
FounderSensei helped me be more aggressive in selling and talking to customers.
— Joseph Sheahan, Founder & CEO, SAVVO
FounderSensei helped me see the parts of my business model that didn’t really fit. I learned my business wasn’t as flawless as I thought it was.
— Muhammed Fazeel, Founder & CEO, Benecure

Program Costs

Phase I: Lean Startup Class & Mastermind Group

  • 12-week program, meeting once per week
  • Weekly group sessions with experienced Sensei and other dedicated entrepreneurs actively working on their startups
  • Format includes lean principles, examples applied by Sensei and homework assignments
  • Resilience psychology principles, techniques and tools for surviving the emotional roller coaster
  • Founders are required to talk to at least 10 customers per week
  • Access to online tools to help manage lean startup process & customer development activities
  • Founders can attend sessions in Palo Alto, Chicago or virtually via live group video conference
  • $5,000 training fee per startup.
  • No equity required.

Class Starts On


Only 20 Spots Available.

Apply Now Before Your Spot Is Gone.

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