How Google for Startups Accelerator helped us scale our pet food start up

Vino Jeyapalan
5 min readFeb 5, 2021

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My experience in the inaugural class of Canada’s Google for Startups Accelerator

From September to November of 2020, my start up, Kabo, took part in the inaugural Google for Startups Accelerator Canada (GFSA) cohort.

While there are plenty of accelerators out there, and I’ve been through a few of them, I was curious how Google would differ. Their name, experience, and achievements are beyond compare, but how would this program change things for our pet food startup?

Now that the program is officially finished, I can tell you why we got even more value from it than we hoped for. Here’s what you can expect if you’re selected and how to make the most of the opportunity.

1. OKRs

It’s easy for people to take for granted just how many management practices Google has pioneered or popularized in tech. They were one of the first companies to learn Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and commit to the framework. It’s now famous in tech around the world; I had first seen it when I worked at Facebook.

In Google’s accelerator, setting our OKRs was an energizing way to start, whether or not you had done the exercise before. We were getting to do this with Google so that they could structure the program to help us make progress on our ambitious goals. All of the startups were different, from education to healthcare to pet food, but presenting our big bets showed us our common efforts in leveraging AI to achieve our visions.

Being so aligned at the very beginning made it easy and exciting to put our energy into the rest of the program. There was still flexibility for our OKRs to change, which is necessary for startups, but we had direction and focus for the months ahead.

2. Flexibility

Most structured accelerators have set classes you’ll attend, such as “How to Write a Business Plan.” By working closely with our cohort of startups and adjusting to our goals, Google was able to understand what categories were going to be most helpful to our businesses.

At Kabo, we were interested in building a foundation for the AI and machine learning modelling that we want to apply and scale. Thanks to Google’s flexibility and technical insight, we’re preparing to use doggy data for product recommendations based attributes such as their breed, life stage, where they live, what health conditions they might be prone to, and more.

On top of that content flexibility, participation was incredibly customizable. Any key individuals from our startup could participate when they were available or when they found a session valuable. We were also able to review recorded sessions later. This is ideal for a startup, where the pace and growth of your business might mean you have to miss a live session to put out a fire (or two).

Since the inaugural program had to be done virtually, it created even more opportunity for flexibility, as more people in more locations could access the program.

3. Access to the Google community

Google’s coordination, team, and resources around the program were really important. Their program head and our assigned mentors were 100% dedicated to our cohort. To take that support a step further, our mentors went within the Google organization to find the best person for us to talk to about anything we needed.

In the latter half of the program, Kabo’s objectives changed. We were in recruitment mode and we wanted to learn how to attract top talent. How do we convince a data scientist or an engineer to come work in the world of dog food? This is when I realized that we could tap into Google’s diverse team to learn from the best.

I was introduced to Carlos Smits, a talent acquisition lead who joined Google when they acquired his last company, North. He was one of the first recruiters at the hardware tech startup and had to convince engineers to work with them when they could have worked for bigger companies with better benefits. Getting to hear his takeaways and low hanging fruit we could implement right away was incredibly helpful to us.

Being able to reach into the open culture Google had built was invaluable. It went beyond just introductions and war stories; people would give us direct feedback and be committed to having ongoing follow-ups.

We felt like we were an extension of Google and that they were fully in our corner.

4. Our engagement

Even with these appealing program features, the biggest factor that will determine your experience in Google’s accelerator is how active and engaged you are in the program. While they will accommodate the needs and schedule of your business, you still have to put in the energy and get involved. Passively listening is not enough.

We wouldn’t have had nearly as valuable an experience if we hadn’t gone to them with questions and kept them in the loop on what we were going through as a business. While they treated us as an extension of Google, we also engaged and utilized them as an extension of Kabo.

We later found out that we were going to be on Dragons’ Den and by treating their team as an extension of ours we immediately had the PR and Communications support to better learn how to promote or amplify the message.

What happened after the accelerator

With Google’s help, we’ve become more confident in terms of our direction moving from a scrappy startup to a fast growing business. A lot of our recent developments were structured with Google, from being able to close our financing to developing our team. Learning from a company that’s been through the cycles of business growth and innovation has saved us a lot of time (which is the most valuable currency for any startup).

Now that the accelerator is over, we’re seeing even more of its value, as we process what we learned, keep in touch with our contacts, and tackle the big bets for the new year. The team behind the Accelerator (led by Ashley Francisco) has kept the door open to us as a point of contact and a cheerleader. They’ve continually supported us, even as they get ready to select their newest cohort.

The result is more than what we accomplished in our three months. It’s also the ongoing relationships with our new contacts, the skills our team developed and the generous support from everyone involved. Whether or not it was intended to be an after-effect of the program, we feel like we’re part of a community that is pure Google and pure awesome 🎉

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Vino Jeyapalan

Helping dogs live a happier and healthier life 🐶 @kabofoods