This am, I got an email from Nicole who runs Techstars Boulder reminding the mentors that Friday is the last day to apply. “Cool,” I thought, “I’ll just tweet that out.” But right before hitting send, I got an email from an entrepreneur with the title “Why an accelerator?”
So, I figured a-bloggin’ I would go.
I get asked this question a lot. In the explosion of startup accelerators, it makes sense. Raising money is hard. Really hard. Doesn’t matter what the tech news blogs say, its hard.
Especially if you aren’t in New York or San Francisco.
As a young entrepreneur, applying to YC or Techstars or 500startups or <insert 1000 other accelerators here> looks like free money. If you can get it. Thats really hard too. Well for some of the accelerators. For others, its super easy.
Oh, and mentors, lots and lots of mentors. Some great; some not so good. Some are dicks; some are super cool.
Space to work, a group of other companies to work with, and the ability to join a network of founders that understand the difficulties that you face.
So why wouldn’t you join an accelerator?
The most common comment I hear is age. Yes, there is a belief that accelerators are for the young. And, more so, for the inexperienced.
Often, you hear Techstars and the rest counter with the founders “of age” that have been successful in the program. Good selling strategy, right?
Here are the facts about an accelerator:
- Being forced to work around companies that are doing an insane amount of work and having to validate that work with the accelerator staff and mentors is probably the single most amazing reality about membership in the accelerator club. Its impossible to replicate this in any coffee shop, co-working space or basement.
- Being held accountable not only by your peers, but by potential investors, is a great litmus test for your ability as a founder to deal with the roller coaster of startupland.
- Having access to mentors drives critical and creative thought in a way that is impossible outside of the accelerator dynamic. Even though that creativity and constructive criticism is overwhelming and not always creative or constructive.
- It is easier to raise money if you have been through a well-regarded accelerator like Techstars, 500 or YC. Its impossible to raise money later if you don’t raise at, around, or just after demo day. Take too long, and your shine wears off.
- Getting into YC, Techstars, 500, etc. is not like getting into a fraternity/college. Its not fucking party time. Its work time. The Bloomberg “reality” show was bullshit. Don’t believe the hype. Its work or die. And as friendly as the other companies are, they will gladly see you die in order to win. (Yes, I am being bombastic. But, in every single class, there are a couple of “favorites” that do extremely well, and then everyone else. Everyone wants to be the favorite, after all, everyone is a Type A. Don’t lose sight of that reality.)
- Some companies are just not made for accelerators. You might not be thinking big enough. Your concept may be outside of the comfort zone of the accelerator’s staff and mentors. There are many reasons why your company just doesn’t fit within the accelerator framework. Its not the accelerators fault.
- If you are worried about the equity you have to give up to the accelerator as part of the program, then don’t go. Seriously, don’t go.
Bottom line. Should you do an accelerator?
Maybe. It’s really your decision. Techstars Boulder’s deadline is 3/16/12. Get on it.
But, if you get in, and decide to do it, then do it 120%. Work harder than everyone else. Push yourself and your team. Become great. Don’t be one of the forgotten companies.
And if you decide that you don’t need an accelerator, well then, thats cool too. Prove to the world that you don’t.
The greatest gift you can give an entrepreneur is creative criticism. The greatest skill an entrepreneur can have is critical listening.
I was going to write a long post (and now that I have started writing, I will probably end up being long-winded) about how, as an entrepreneur, you have to cut through the positive feedback to truly get the important data points.
But I kinda covered it. Dontcha love it?
This past week I have had several conversations with various entrepreneurs about how things were going with their startups.
“We got so much great feedback! Everyone loved it!” exclaimed the founder.
“Really? When have you ever had someone tell you to your face that your product sucks?”
“You do it all the time.”
“Yeah, but Im a dick.”
I hate when entrepreneurs go to events where they demo their product. Or even SXSW where they are meeting people in a party situation and showing what they are working on.
Because everyone lies.
Think about it. They are going to either know you for :60 seconds and have no desire for that interaction to include you thinking they are mean, or you will run into them a hundred more times, and who wants to make those interactions uncomfortable?
The world is full of false positivity, especially the supportive kind, that in truth, is just the opposite.
It all started with our moms.
“Don’t say anything if you can’t say something nice.”
Damn it, mom.
I pride myself on being honest. The other day a friend said to me, “Micah, thats a kind thing to say.”
“Its not kind. Its honest. Sometimes, honesty is also kind.”
As an entrepreneur, critically listen to everything that is told to you. Look for commonalities and contradictions as data points. The commonalities show how most people see your product, and the contradictions show potential UI issues.
And, more importantly, don’t listen to people give you design feedback. Its pretty and its ugly are subjective. And if design, at its core, is all about usability, spend effort on understanding people’s ability to do, understand and act and less about how much the like your fonts and color schemes.
Which brings us to investors. Investors, as a rule, hate to say no. And even when they do, its with minimal data points. Treat it as just that. A no. Move on. Seriously. Shush. Don’t say it. No, if X was different, they would have said yes. Whats the X? Don’t know? Move on.
Entrepreneurship is changing how we do business and engage with people, but the fundamental need to be liked hasn’t changed.
Help me be a better entrepreneur, and solve big problems with interesting solutions.
You can keep your I love yous and false positivity.