Startups: Ready, Steady…Accelerate!

What you should do when applying to an Accelerator

Recently, I had the pleasure of supporting the StartupBootcamp Fintech Selection Days — three packed days where the SBC team whittled down from the shortlisted, innovative 22 startups to the final 10 who would comprise the 2014 cohort. These last few teams had been selected from 435 submissions.

This was SBC’s inaugural intake specifically for fintech. The startups came from around the world to an uncharacteristically hot London with the ambition to join the programme for three months. Their admirable objective: to drive 18mths progress in a fraction of the time.

As I’ve always been on the other side of the fence, it was intriguing to see the process from another perspective. I was privileged to speak to an array of startups, as well as mentors, and gain insight into the disruptive fintech space.

What impressed me in particular, was the willingness to learn and to demonstrate continuous improvement during the selection process. It was a delight to see how much progress startups can make over such a short period, as well as how engaged the mentors were.

It’s hard being an entrepreneur so here’s some personal thoughts following the event that will hopefully be helpful for those on their own startup journey:

Product

Yes, it’s a tough world out there. Having an idea isn’t enough. If you build it they probably won’t come. This is a known fact. Crucial to product credibility is having a level of quantifiable validation. This decreases the risk prior to turning an idea into reality, digital or not.

As an aside, I’ve spoken to a lot of founders over the last few years and this often comes up. Belief is a constructive component, however it is not evidence for the potential of an idea. Don’t get me wrong, attaining product/market fit might be further down the road, but you will likely have to take those important first steps on your own, so be methodical.

Once you have a level of empirical validation, you need to demonstrate that you can bring an idea to life. Being able to demo an MVP will certainly help to underline the utility of your product and the capability of your team. If you can develop and iterate quickly, based upon the data, you’ll place yourself in good stead not only for now, but also for the future.

Customer/Market

Marketing is everything — the product, design, experience, messages, interaction, and, of course, the brand. Whilst this can often evolve naturally during the discovery phase of a startup, it is essential to understand the foundations and be able to articulate them from the beginning.

If you can describe the value proposition and benefits to your future customers — as well as prove that this resonates with your segment(s) — from a very early stage, it should reduce the likelihood of a pivot down the road as well as highlight that your head is focused on attaining traction with your market.

It’s a noisy world, so illustrating that you understand the market, how you differentiate or disrupt, acquire/onboard/retain customers will help prove credibility and underline that you are the ideal person to reach the target audience.

Business/Financials

After all, numbers make the world go round: knowing and proving yours goes a long way. The mantra of “know your numbers,” whilst being realistic, is important. If you can show early traction (or validation based upon data) for your idea, it will be indelibly in your interest.

If you weave stories from your data to demonstrate how well you grasp the problem you are trying to solve, and how big it is, all the better. Demonstrating that you can do more with less is important.

Team

Last, but not least. When the ecosystem that supports startups looks to evaluate how investable, from time/effort as well as money perspective, a venture could be, it is regularly espoused how important the team is. Having one that shows breadth and depth of skills, commitment, capability to deliver combined with an openness to learn and immerse themselves is critical. That, generously mixed a whole heap of hustle.

A committed, knowledgable and adaptable team can trump current progress-to-date as a measure of future potential and capability to deliver.

If you’re thinking about applying to an accelerator, I encourage you to do so; just ensure to have your ducks in a row and be ready. Be prepared, very prepared. You’ll be pleased and emboldened by the experience if you are.

Oh, and the Lean Startup principles are always helpful: Validate…Build-Measure-Learn…and repeat!

The more you can reduce the inherent uncertainty in a startup the easier it will be to convince others of your vision and bring them onside.

Check out the 10 finalists for SBC Fintech 2014 over at TechCrunch.

Congratulations to the 10, as well as the 12 that didn’t quite make it this time. An impressive effort was made by all involved and I can say with confidence that all will have benefited from the experience.

Now: ready, steady…accelerate!

Adam

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PS — For transparency: I’ll be one of the Entrepreneurs in Residence (with a marketing/growth angle) during the StartupBootcamp Fintech 2014 programme.

This article was originally published on SBC. You can check out all the 22 shortlisted startups introduction vids here.

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