Ultimate Insider Tips for Joining A Top Accelerator
What is an accelerator? Do they benefit startups? If so, how do I get in? If you’ve pondered any of these questions, read on.
At G3 Partners, we’ve been running Launchpad, a pre-accelerator program with our friends at SparkLabs, for the past year. Along with providing marketing support and pitch coaching, we helped the 22 teams connect to relevant accelerators around the world.
Acceleration can be a fantastic boost to startups, but finding the right accelerator is crucial, as is your approach.
As Acceleration Director at G3, the team and I got together to come up with these killer tips.
What is an Accelerator?
Pioneered by the likes of Paul Graham (Y Combinator), David Cohen (Techstars), Thomas Korte (AngelPad) and Dave McClure (500 Startups), accelerators aim to compress at least a year’s worth of startup growth into three months. They provide support with everything from product development to marketing and HR, finance and legal troubleshooting. Some (like Techstars) operate highly structured programs, whereas others (like Y Combinator) provide a network and expect startup founders to ‘Get Shit Done’ largely on their own. Most run three month batches and provide seed funding (typically USD $25K — USD $100K) in exchange for a 3% — 6% equity stake.
Beyond the cash, a good accelerator will deliver two critical values to startups.
First, they will provide access to a powerful network. This network will include mentors that will engage with you during the program, but perhaps more importantly will provide access to high level, relevant industry connections.
Second, a good accelerator will be able to attract a large number of top VCs to attend their demo day, presenting startups with exceptional access to follow-on funding.
Do your due diligence to make sure you apply to a great program.
Do You Really Need an Accelerator? Is it Worth It?
A good accelerator can help you reach your potential much faster than on your own. An awesome accelerator could set you on course to becoming the next unicorn (here’s Y Combinator’s list of Unicorns).
But not every startup needs an accelerator, and even if an accelerator is a good idea for your startup, timing is important. Accelerators can help you refine a product or boost your marketing, but it’s not their job to turn your idea into a business.
Don’t Just Set Your Sights on the Big Boys.
Y Combinator may have graduated the likes of AirBnb and Dropbox, but is it a good fit for your company? For one, consider geography. If you’re not targeting the USA, does it really make sense to invest your precious time developing a US-centric network? You should also consider the relevance of the accelerator’s mentors to your specific business goals. Many accelerators now have industry specialisms, like Barclays Accelerator by TechStars or Startup Bootcamp’s Fintech accelerator in Singapore. Do your homework before you fill the application!
A Serious Commitment.
Three months is a long time in startup-land and three months wasted is time you’ll never get back. You’ll also be permanently parting with 6–8% of your company’s equity. Do the benefits of what you can achieve really outweigh the cost?
Ready to Scale Fast?
To make the most of an accelerator, you must already have an MVP (minimum viable product), a core team (that includes a CTO) and some traction. If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ll be parting with your precious equity and time for naught! Most accelerators push hard and demand top performance, so be ready to get fully stuck in from day one. Be mentally prepared for a tough, exciting, adrenaline-filled journey.
If you believe you’re ready and you’ve found the perfect program, go for it and apply! This could be your big break.
How to Get Into an Accelerator.
First, some brutal honesty. Are you being realistic? Aiming high is great, but wasting time on something that’s never going to happen can burn you out.
Y Combinator’s acceptance rates vary from 1–1.5%. Even Harvard and Stanford have higher acceptance rates, at around 6%. Let that sink in — it’s about six times harder getting into YC. I’m saying this as a reality check, NOT a deterrent.
Here’s My Startup Checklist for Applying to an Accelerator:
Step 1: Do you have a solid startup?
> Your startup solves a real (big) problem
> Your solution to that problem is compelling and marketable
> Your technology is solid and defensible
> Your target market is large (huge is better)
> You have current, demonstrable traction or milestones
> You’ve got a stellar team, with relevant experience
Your team will be your most critical ingredient to success, both in the long term and when applying to an accelerator or raising investment. What makes your co-founders the most likely to turn your startup into a billion dollar business?
Step 2: Put together a stunning application
> It’s well-written, concise and represents you
- Read the questions very carefully and write answers that are on point.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread! Show no signs of sloppiness.
- Make sure your application reflects what your chosen accelerator is looking for. You did your research, right?
- Show your passion, but don’t ramble. Keep your answers short and to the point. Be honest about your challenges and data — accelerators don’t expect polished perfection.
> You have a solid online presence
Make sure you provide links to relevant web pages, including social media and app download locations.
> Pitch materials
You’ll need a stunning pitch deck and a professional demo video will help.
> You’re an expert of your domain
You of all people should know your industry. Use facts. Demonstrate that you have a full and comprehensive understanding of your target market, from the bottom up. Explain your market entry strategy. How do you plan to get your 100th, 1000th, and 1 millionth user?
> Personal recommendation
This is not critical, but is a huge bonus. If you know someone from the accelerator’s network, get them to make a recommendation for you — it can really make all the difference.
Once you’ve applied, continue practicing your 5-minute pitch and get feedback on your deck from your network (e.g. Angel investors, industry peers, etc). If you pass to the interview stage, you’ll have to impress the selection team over the phone, or in person. Don’t be caught unprepared and make sure you’ve got all the data to back up answers to ALL possible questions.
All systems ready? Go nail that application!