7 tips to making the most of a startup accelerator

I recently presented my startup, 3co, at Techstars London Demo Day. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in life. The team and I worked around the clock for three months straight so that I could stand on stage and present what we accomplished and where we are going.

Seeing as there is soon to be over 50 Techstars accelerator programs around the globe and dozens of other reputable organizations like it, I figured I would share my learnings in hopes that it may help other entrepreneurs make the most of their startup accelerator experience.

Here is my list of seven tips to making the most of a startup accelerator!

[1] Prepare yourself

Kiss your loved ones goodbye, rest, and exercise because if done right, your startup accelerator experience will be incredibly intensive. If there’s any additional product features absolutely essential to build before your go-to-market, build them. Your time for coding will be limited and better spent speaking with potential customers.

[2] Work the network

If you’re not engaging with the network, you’re doing it wrong. People genuinely want to help. Let them. And thank them.

Do not limit yourself to the first layer of connections. Aim for the highest levels. Startups in an accelerator have a sort of “halo” around them where good things happen to you. They won’t happen if you don’t go out and meet people.

[3] Keep an open mind

You’re going to hear crazy ideas. My favorite was “Don’t 3D scan plants. Scan dead people.” Sure it gave us a good laugh and seemed crazy at the time, but the lesson was clear and it’s delivery made it memorable — position your company to make recurring revenue by building a simple, replicable monetization model.

Be open to things you haven’t thought of. The diversity of perspectives will help you to challenge every angle of your business. Yes, it may make you question everything at the start, but let it F. Scott Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Accelerators will challenge you to hold five or six. Don’t panic. Give it enough thought (and test) and the right path will be clear.

[4] Visualize success and work backwards from the goal

Half way through the accelerator, I decided I’d write my demo day pitch as if there were no restrictions to what we could accomplish. I wish I had done that on day one. Not only did it help me prioritize my work, the entire team came together around the message and we began executing even faster.

Michael Jordan would spend hours before a game visualizing success. Create a clear vision for yourself and get working on it.

[5] Show up

You have to be in the room. There were a few early morning sessions where just three or four people from the cohort showed up — those sessions would turn out to produce some of the best learnings. Office hours? Mini-MBAs? Investors working out of the office for the day and taking questions? Say yes to it all. It’s unlikely you’ll have another chance like this so make sure to show up.

[6] Deliver the bad news early — even if it feels like you can fix it tomorrow

There was a two week span during my Techstars experience where I was holding off on news because it wasn’t the news I wanted to deliver. We were behind schedule on a mission critical element of our business that I had committed to delivering.

We are instructed to send weekly update emails to our mentor network sharing our progress, plans, problems, and an ask. With each passing day, I thought, tonight’s the night I deliver the good news. Those days became a week and that was the toughest update I had to write because after an entire week, we still hadn’t delivered and I couldn’t promise exactly when we would.

I shared the problem I experienced and the learnings behind it and by result received more response than any other week update.

Sure we are expected to be able to produce high quality product, but we are also human. Sometimes things don’t go as planned. Don’t leave people in the dark. Instead, communicate the bad news and what you’re doing to fix it.

[7] Have fun!

Yes accelerators are tough but if you aren’t having fun, you’re not doing it right. You are going to meet people you will be friends with for the rest of your life. They will become your support network when times are tough (they will inevitably become tough). Be heads up, make friends, enjoy yourself — life’s too short not to.