Over the last 10 years, thousands of organizations have popped up around the world to assist entrepreneurs get companies off the ground by providing startup capital and advice. These programs are known as startup accelerators.
If you’ve read TechCrunch, you’re familiar with these organizations. As the founder of a growing startup that has participated in two of these programs, other founders frequently ask me about my experience and, ultimately, whether an accelerator would be right for their companies.
After answering this question dozens of times, I’ve decided to write and share my opinions on the topic. Before deciding whether you should participate in a startup accelerator, I recommend thinking through the following five things...
1. You can dedicate time, energy, and effort to the program.
From my experience, you will get out of the program what you put into it. In both of the accelerator programs we’ve participated in, the companies that got the most out of it were the ones that were always around. They showed up to meetings early and stayed late. These companies ultimately became the ones the program loved introducing to investors.
When it comes to deciding whether an accelerator is right for your company, you should spend a lot of time thinking about your company and whether you’ll be able to give the program enough time and effort. If not, it’s probably not worth doing.
2. There are clear ways that the program will meaningfully help your business.
Before deciding whether to participate in an accelerator program, you should be able to clearly define how the program will meaningfully impact your business. I suggest founders work with the program director and develop a strategy for maximizing the impact the program will have on your company.
Accelerators impact each company differently, depending on the individual needs of the company. Some of the ways that we’ve benefited in the past include access to:
– Customers – Partners – Mentors – Advisors – Future hires – Investors
We’ve also gotten a lot out of credibility that comes with having a prestigious organization give us a stamp of approval.
Regardless of how you think your company will benefit from the accelerator program, be sure to communicate your goals and expectations with the program’s director. Then, periodically during the program, revisit these goals with the director to make sure you’re achieving what you set out to.
3. You are ready to hustle.
There were two things that I underestimated before participating in an accelerator program. First, was the amount of access you’ll be able to get during the program. Because a prestigious organization has invested in your company and put you on a pedestal, you’ll be able to get meetings with people you otherwise wouldn’t. This includes customers, partners, investors, and advisors. After the program is over, getting access to these people becomes harder, because they shift their focus to the next batch of up-and-coming companies.
The second thing I underestimated is how quickly the program goes by. You won’t think it beforehand, but three months flies by.
Therefore, to truly get the most out of your time in the spotlight, you need to hustle. You need to have a plan for taking advantage of your short period of fame. The only way that I know how to take advantage of of this short window of unprecedented access is to never stop hustling.
4. You have a plan for managing your business AND participating in the program.
If your business is already up and running, and you have customers, you can’t simply drop everything for the accelerator program. You owe it to your team and your customers to continue delivering an exceptional product and great customer service.
To do all of this, in addition to a full-time commitment to an accelerator, requires a lot of work and preparation. One way that I’ve succeeded with this is by having an outstanding co-founder. Throughout both accelerator programs that we participated in, one of us manned the fort while the other was out hustling and participating in the accelerator.
It’s important to plan ahead of time for how consuming the program will be, so that you can get the most out of an accelerator.
5. You’re not just doing the program for the money or the "cool" factor.
Participating in an accelerator program is often regarded as a hip, cool thing to do if you’re starting a tech startup. This may be because YC, TechStars, 500, and others have all done a great job marketing their “products,” which are the accelerator programs themselves.
Many founders, unfortunately, have drank this Kool-Aid and want to participate in an accelerator for no other reason than that it is the “cool” thing to do.
If you end up participating in an accelerator yourself, you’ll undoubtedly encounter these folks. I also guarantee that you’ll meet some amazing people and have a lot of fun. But these should be added benefits, and not the only reason to participate in an accelerator program.
I hope my suggestions above are helpful for you as you decide whether to participate in a startup accelerator program. If you have questions, or want to discuss this further, please let me know. I’m on Twitter at @ryanmcoon.
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