After spending two years as an associate at Techstars Mobility in Detroit and now running Backstage Detroit (an accelerator from Backstage Capital) as the Director, I have helped and watched more than 50 startups graduate from an accelerator. From my experience, I’ve created a list of 6 strategies to help you get the most out of your accelerator experience.
Getting into an accelerator is a great accomplishment. Most of the time, getting into a top-tier accelerator such as Y Combinator, Techstars, and 500 Startups is more challenging than getting accepted into an Ivy League school. At Backstage Accelerator we had about 2000 applications competing for 25 spots. That’s roughly a 0.025% acceptance rate vs. Stanford’s MBA rate of 6.1%.
So, here is how you can make the most out of your accelerator program. Let’s get to it!
1. Move fast toward a monthly goal
You have 3 months and your goal should be to maximize by minimizing. Always ask yourself, can something be done faster? With fewer resources? For example: Do you really need to build the product before you get your first customers? Why not sign them up in advance and sell them on the concept?
Alex Iskold, Co-founder and Managing Partner of 2048 ventures, does a great job explaining the tactic for going quickly during the program without jeopardizing your long-term vision for the company or affecting the quality of your product.
Create monthly goals and make that one of your KPIs (key performance indicators) during the program. While it is super easy to get distracted during the program by the amount of information thrown at you, this KPI will help you and your team stay on track working towards your goal.
2. Storytelling helps smash funding goals
People often don’t buy the best products, they buy the products they understand the best. Similarly, in the early stages of startups, investors don’t invest in the best products, rather they invest in the founders they understand the best. Your goal as a founder should be to tell stories that motivate investors to take the action of financially backing you. Talk about your vision for the company. What’s the big picture? How is it going to change society? What’s the big opportunity here? Why are you the right team? Investors want to hear that.
Here is a short video by Kevin Hale, Partner at Y Combinator, on how investors look at startups and their decision-making process to invest.
3. Filter out bullshit advice
During the accelerator, you will be bombarded with hundreds of opinions on your business from mentors, founders, investors, etc. So, how do you differentiate between what is bullshit and what’s not?
Think about it like this: if your mentor is an engineer, they often want to add more features to your product, making it flashy and complex. However, that may not be the best thing for your startup. Your goal should be to deliver a simple, yet effective MVP (minimum viable product) for your users. Remember, your dog doesn’t need an email. At least not yet. :)
Of course, there will be times when you will be absolutely frustrated by some advice you get from mentors. Try not to take it personally and learn from their experience. It could be the most beneficial part of your accelerator experience.
4. Find and update super-connector mentors
During the accelerator when corporate/strategic partners come in, all the founders will have one goal: how do I get a pilot with you? Here all the founders will fight to get the attention of decision-makers. How do you, as a founder, stand out? The best way is through a referral. Your goal during the program should be to find a mentor that can act as a “connector”, convince them of the value of your product/service, and get them to connect you to a decision-maker.
Make sure you send monthly updates about your business to these connected mentors and show them that you’re making progress and gaining traction. Your goal with these updates should be to keep these mentors excited about what you have to offer because they could potentially be your next hire, the key to unlocking a pilot deal, or an investor in your company.
Give special shout-outs to your mentors in your updates. This seemingly small act of kindness will go a long way. Your mentors have given up their valuable time to give you free advice-giving them recognition and gratitude are meaningful and cost you nothing.
5. Build relationships with other founders in your cohort
One thing every accelerator does well is finding the best entrepreneurs and putting them all in the same room for 3 months. You will be surprised to see how many of your roadblocks can be solved with the help of your peers. They have been, or are, in the same position as you. Nurturing your peer relationships throughout the program can build long-lasting support. As my friend, John Henry says, “learning from your peers is more valuable than your mentors.”
Never undervalue the power of relationships.
6. Invest in building relationships outside the program
Find mentors, associates, investors, or leaders that you respect during the program and become friends with them. Take them out for coffee, drinks, or dinner — any activity outside 9 to 5 — and learn more about them on a personal level. Building relationships with people you respect will pay dividends long-term. Never undervalue the power of relationships, because something as simple as an intro email can solve a problem that you have been working on for months or even years.
I hope you try out these strategies for yourself. While following these tips won’t guarantee that you’ll secure funding or land any pilots, it will help you get the most out of an accelerator. It’s up to you how hard you grind during the program.
Feel free to leave a response below about how these concepts have helped you, or if you have any hacks of your own to share with the community.
✨ For a chance to win free 1-hour coaching with me to help your startup grow, subscribe to my newsletter at iamtops.com.