Slow PhD

Founding a company is a hyper concentrated investment in an extremely volatile asset and we want to help founders become better investors of their time. Founders should act with care and diligence, borrow from the best, and do everything they can to 1) understand their odds and 2) tilt the odds in their favor.

This is doubly true for founders with high opportunity cost: mid-career folks and executives who can pull down lots of cash and equity by staying put (and who probably have families to think of). The challenge for those people isn’t getting a business funded but rather finding the business worthy of funding with their time.

We believe that the best way to improve the odds and understand risk/reward is to borrow from academic PhD programs. We work with people who have demonstrable subject matter or domain expertise (people who have earned their “masters degree”) in a subject and give them time on campus, acting as an academic advisor. We want to help entrepreneurs determine if their ideas are 1) novel 2) correct and 3) important before getting to “work in the lab” because at that point they’re locked in and the race has begun.

Important companies and successful businesses can’t be hacked, forced, or faked.

What does this mean practically?

  1. Only admit candidates in fields in which they have demonstrated serious depth and breadth (a “masters degree”).
  2. Give them the time / space / resources / mentorship to explore the subject, find out where things are headed, what’s been done and what is truly novel.
  3. Only commit to the work once 1) it’s clear what the steps are to proving / disproving the hypotheses and 2) proving / disproving them requires capital.


Is this an accelerator or incubator?
No. Accelerators help founders AFTER they have the core hypothesis and are usually focused on getting you funded as the end goal. Incubators act more like a co-founder in the business and push founders into the areas where the incubator itself has earned insight or comparative advantage.

Are you taking upfront equity?
No. Taking upfront equity means forming a company which is the exact commitment we want high opportunity cost, high talent people to avoid making until they’ve gone through the process. And when a VC takes equity it biases the founder towards needing / being on a venture path.

Is it a full time commitment from the entrepreneur?
No. Prospective founders are best served by staying in their jobs and working part time as long as possible. We want people to retain optionality, be mindful of opportunity cost, and give their work time to season. If founders have left jobs and are exploring opportunities full time we want them to have enough patience to say no.

Are you putting in money?
This isn’t an EIR program and if someone is already in a job that they’re not quitting, paying them becomes complicated and likely requires them to quit. Regardless of whether or not a prospective founder is employed while working with us, we can work together to figure out a research budget that we can cover to support the work.

How do you help founders?
We work with founders to iterate on and diligence their ideas as capital allocators and investors of their time. We provide external resources to answer the questions we can’t. And we lend our network for customer and discovery calls as they get more specific/further along in their processes.

What if I (a founder) already have an idea?
As long as you’re open to exploring it with us versus pitching it to us, we’re game to work with you. We want our PhD candidates to have the time and willingness to say “no” as they discover whether or not the idea is worthy of their efforts.

Are you literally looking for PhDs or advanced degrees?
No. It’s a useful metaphor to conceptualize the process of company building and exploration, not a literal requirement.

What’s in it for me?
This is a referral-based endeavor. We want to keep working with great folks through our network and want to get our friends involved in identifying PhD candidates, mentoring them, and eventually backing them with us.

What’s in it for Slow?
We believe that great companies take time to build and will be started most often by founders with deep experience/mastery in their domains. Supporting prospective founders who fit that bill puts us in pole position to not just invest in them if they start companies but also to help guide them to the best possible use of their time (the biggest opportunities with the best chance of success).