Startup accelerators are important to the entire ecosystem of entrepreneurship. Those who get through the strict admission process are considered fortunate. Such companies get access to mentorship, networking and eventually, funding.
Tristan Pollock is a 500 Startups Venture Partner and Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR). He is a part of the team that reviews thousands of applications for every 21-week batch. They usually only admit about 40-50 companies at a time.
Tristan talks about what they do for the companies once they are in the program. There are quite a few things you can learn as a budding founder.
Successful founders, are the ones who realise that most things in life are what you make of them. They usually come in with very specific requests. “I want to talk to this person about this specifically”, they come prepared with the best questions, give time only where it is needed. They don’t get into details if it is not helpful. They possess good EQ overall.
Most common misconception founders and their teams have that the startup accelerators support staff are going to do the work for them. For Eg.: They are going to help with hiring more people for them, which is not the case. Most of the founders are usually very bad at presenting.
The quality of their pitch changes drastically towards the end of the program as compared to the beginning. There is a stark contrast.
Usually, Americans come in with way more confidence than required. It is one thing to be good in your head. To convince investors or other people who are already from the industry, it is different.
Also, people who may have seen success with either buying a company or having sold one may not have been challenged to be a better speaker. Even less so, in a competitive environment.
Some people come in who are horrible at pitching, some are fine. Getting the confidence and boiling the pitch down to a short, simple message is the whole point. This could also be the difference between getting funded and not getting funded.
On Smart and Experienced Founders –
Generally, founders with past experience have something specific that they’re looking for. Such as finding newer growth marketing avenues or accessing the startup accelerator’s network because they may not be from “The Valley”. So they meet as many people as possible and make complete use of the founders’ network.
People come in thinking about getting different things out of startup accelerators. Surprisingly, it is usually not for the money.
The smartest founders are more focused. They look for actionable things that will help their companies grow.
Selection Process Failures –
Startup Accelerators are looked at as a “Spray & Pray” concept. Where accelerators buy into a huge number of companies and then just hope for a fraction of them to make it big. The upside covers for the money and efforts lost in other ventures. This is not true for most of the accelerators.
Startup Accelerators are places where you see the real progress, it is incredible to see how things turn out. You get too many of those “I told you so” moments. At times you think “this is a great founder to have around, but the business is going to have a hard time succeeding.”
There are real debates and sharing of strong feedback across the table. Especially when one guy on the selection panel says “I hate this company” and the other says “I love it”. That’s when it gets interesting too.
Emotional Support –
This is one of the most surprising elements of being in a program like this. You may think the funding, the networking, the mentoring will all be there. You might not think that most of the staff in the 500 startups program are also good friends and even family. Founders,(especially belonging to the technical side) are not used to the mingling and networking. There is a little isolation that they need to keep pace with everything happening around them.
Most are eager and enjoy, it can be difficult to get work done in the office. This may also be a benefit, when as a founder you introduce to someone who drops in, a lot of good things can come from that. 500 staff people are excellent at taking care of people. There have been meetings where they have seen founders break down. They usually offer solutions by going for a beer or for a walk or a run. There is this unsaid hardship and pressure about running a startup that startup accelerators understand. So you can go to them for almost everything.
If your company does get through the screening process and into an acceleration program, make the most of it. The relationships you build here will stay with you for a very very long time.