No-nonsense marketing for accelerators

From unicorn spotting to community hacking in the seed acceleration business

In the beginning, there was YCombinator. Now there are 235 acceleration programs worldwide, out of which 20 are dead.

Together, they’ve managed to attract 5693 companies, out of which 694 exited for $3,587,448,600.

Not bad, BUT… as Program Manager don’t you wish you had spotted Transferwise, AirBnB or Dropbox for YOUR accelerator instead?

Turns out there are three types of people required to turn an accelerator into a hugely successful global program: the managing director — preferably someone with loads of experience mentoring, growing or founding startups; an operations manger — able to herd kittens into hurricanes across 10+ countries in less than a week; and a marketing manager — who will achieve various wonders such as getting 700+ applications, growing communities around various stakeholders, and getting the buzz out about the purpose and unique benefits of your program.

But you already knew that, right?

And, realistically speaking there’s only one Paul Graham and only one Sean Ellis to make you look and work like a truly badass tech springboard and startup factory.

Worry no more, there’s still a Cate available (me) and I’m happy to share with you what I think marketing for accelerators should be.

Get the mission statement right

Top-tier startups apply for accelerators that have a similar vision on entrepreneurship and value creation through tech innovation. As a result, you need to make it clear to your future entrepreneurs — what is it that you can do for them to facilitate growth, introductions to potential test environments or clients, access to data and resources, and getting funding.

What do your visionary entrepreneurs need to turn their ideas into businesses: investment, network or mentorship? Your mission statement must clearly articulate an answer.

All about the network

When looking for investment, mentorship or introductions, startups rely on power networks to reach out to the right people. Power networks are angels’ connections, partners’ trust circle and mentors. To get that network of people together, a good marketing strategy will include on-site events as well.

Events bring people together. Most successful ones go beyond demo days, and focus on building community around meaningful connections via hackathons, mentors speed-dating and press events.

Both Seedcamp and Startupbootcamp’s success is partially attributed to its network, which now includes 1200+ mentors from US, Europe, Africa and Asia.

People distribution

A healthy distribution of people in your network should look like this: 30% mentors, 10% in-house entrepreneurs, 30% angels, 15% VCs, 10% services experts, 5% core team members. That’s what Seedcamp does. Also, YCombinator built a huge community of amazing mentors from their own alumni, thus increasing the probability of success for upcoming startups.

“One can get anything if he is willing to help others get what they want.” — Zig Ziglar

Get the word out with inbound marketing and PPC (yes you heard me, PPC)

78% of CMOs think custom content is the future of marketing. (Hanley Wood) Create content tailored to each persona you want to attract to your accelerator network; then measure conversion, loyalty and engagement.

Also, 80% of traffic to a conversion page, in this case, an application form page, begins with a search query. If you don’t have enough content to get organic traffic, experiment with acquisition based on search queries that are specific to your industry, and to the type of entrepreneur persona you would like to attract. This will help you understand more about the types of messages that resonate with them, as well as gain insight into how they search for possible accelerator programs.

Influencer marketing

When startup success is correlated with network diversity and size, focus your influencer marketing efforts on emphasizing the reasons why various co-founders would choose or have chosen your program. If this is your first batch, use storytelling to get attention to your mentors network, angels and partners.

Make it hard

Please read that as “make it look like they’re signing up for massively difficult but incredibly worthwhile challenges”, not as “make the signup form difficult to complete and submit online. ;)

Build a solid growth engine within a niche market. Select strong candidates who demonstrate intellectual prowess, passion and determination to succeed. If this is articulated correctly through marketing comms, weak startups will filter themselves out.

“I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance” — Steve Jobs.

Find a full stack, startup aficionado marketer

Full-stack marketing pros attract like-minded entrepreneurs. It’s not magic, it’s a lot of research and work on: (1) undertsanding markets and audience, (2) behavior nudging, engagament, (3) people analytics, (4) promotions, (5) content, (6) events, (7) digital marketing, and more.

Get a do-it-all marketer who does awesome things during the day and dreams about the bigger picture during the night. I am one one them. Want to talk? I’m here @katchja

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