Founder of Local Accelerator Drops Everything to Learn How to Code

John Backes, the founder of Motive, recently announced on his blog that “Motive is taking a hiatus for 2016.” Read the full blog post here.

The Motive program made waves in the Dallas real-estate technology community from the get-go. Prior to raising money from investors and launching the startup accelerator, Backes and his team became well known in the industry for bringing real-estate technology startups directly to large corporate real-estate players through events, including Real Tech Dallas and DisruptCRE.

We got a chance to interview Backes right after he made the announcement on his blog. Here’s what he had to say about the future of Motive and his own personal choice to spend the year focusing on learning how to code.

CG: What did you learn by running an accelerator program? How did investors respond?

JB: [It’s] much easier to find investment dollars than it is to cover overhead for an accelerator. The [business] model was built around a fund with management fees. We found there wasn’t much appetite for the management fees. So we used our own money to run the program and tried to raise sponsorship dollars to fuel the program.

CG: How would you improve the accelerator program?

JB: Wanted to be able to better support the teams on the technical side. [The] markets were a mess. [It was a] good time to hit pause because otherwise we would be launching in the middle of a storm — [and that] just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Instead, I can now go sharpen my toolset and come back with a different set of skills and relationships.

CG: Why drop everything to learn how to code?

JB: Every year I’ve been telling myself maybe I’ll get a computer science master’s degree. But it was always a big three-year commitment. Code schools weren’t a thing yet. This is a good time to do it, it’s a three-month program, and my wife was on board. I also applied to Dev Mountain. I figure if I’m gonna go do something like this, [I want to] take the opportunity to get out of Dallas for a while and spend some time outside of the city.

CG: What is your perspective on the local startup/investor scene?

JB: I was really surprised. I was really appreciative of how good the companies were that we were able to attract. I think there’s a real desire to be in Dallas. We got companies from Utah, Canada, and two from here in Dallas.

Founders had a strong desire for basic curriculum. I thought there would be more demand for the mentor relationships versus the educational pieces. I was wrong. In the future, we would put a more formal curriculum in place to engage and educate founders who are in the program.

Meetings can be a huge waste of time. We learned to be very circumspect and to build intentional relationships.

Biggest learning on the investor side … until money is in the bank, it’s not in the bank. I think Dallas is a good place to raise pre-seed financing if you’re working with good people. It’s more challenging the higher up the capital stack you get.

Valuations are lower than what investors are seeing in other cities. The challenge is attracting good companies while maintaining competitive valuations.

CG: Any other thoughts or advice you’d like to share with the DFW startup community?

JB: We need to develop a love for the fundamentals here. And a respect for the building blocks. Otherwise we’ll end up in a “wheely-deely” mentality that doesn’t serve anybody and doesn’t help us weed out people who don’t know what they’re doing. That’s why I want to pursue my own training. I want to be a more confident help on the technical side for the companies in our program. That’s part of my motivation. It might seem like a weird step. I don’t know. I think everyone should [learn how to code] so they at least know the fundamentals of how stuff gets built.

If you look at successful founders and founding teams … people talk about the hacker-hustler combination. But a lot of cofounder teams are hacker-hacker. Without engineering skills, it’s tough. You’ll only get to a certain level. Not all, but the vast percentage of the startups that do very well have technical founders and technical CEOs. I just think it’s really important.

CG: Thanks so much for taking time to share your thoughts with us and best of luck to you in NYC. We can’t wait to see how the next chapter of Motive unfolds! Any last thoughts?

JB: I’m going to learn how to code. Now, it’s your move, Dallas.

John Backes

Catch him at Dallas Startup Week 2016 and wish him well on his adventure to New York! You can find him on Twitter at @TheJohnBackes.


1. LaunchDFW Phone Interview with John Backes on Feb 8, 2016

2. Dallas Business Journal Article on Feb 18, 2016:

3. Motive Blog Post on Feb 8, 2016:

4. LaunchDFW Article on Feb 19, 2015:

Chirag Gupta

Chirag is a reporter for LaunchDFW, primarily covering hackathons and developer conferences. Twitter is the best way to reach him: @ChicagoGupta