8 hacks to maximize results from an accelerator program

A couple of months back I wrote a blog on “What I learned from meeting 100+ mentors in 3 months at Techstars”. After that, a lot of entrepreneurs reached out to me asking about, how they can benefit from Techstars too.

So today I’m sharing with you 8 hacks, that enabled Xeno to maximize benefit from the METRO Accelerator powered by Techstars program. I hope, these 8 hacks enable you to get more value from your own accelerator experience.

Hack #1: Be clear about your goals

This might sound obvious, but it isn’t. At an accelerator program, a ton of information is thrown at you and it’s very easy to think, I’ll take in all of the learnings & gain from all of them. But our human brain can only take in so much (unfortunately we’re not AI yet).

To gain maximum value from the program you need to have a clear answer to:

What’s the 1 thing you’re looking to achieve from the accelerator?

Xeno’s #1 focus from Techstars was “Learn how to build a large business” which was derived from the fact that Xeno’s growth had slowed down over the 6 months before we joined Techstars. Setting this as a focus enabled us to double down on specific learnings & we solved problems in days, that earlier we weren’t able to solve in years.

For a broader perspective, in my startup cohort, the #1 focus for other startups ranged from closing METRO as a customer to raising funding to cracking their business model.

The same way thinking about what you want to achieve will make the program a lot better for you.

Hack #2: Solve problems by acting stupid

At Techstars you’ll be meeting 100’s of people who’ll be sharing 100’s of different ideas within just 3 weeks. At any accelerator, you’ll be meeting tons of different mentors with different ideas.

Now, the default human reaction is to reject new ideas and it’s very hard to avoid doing that. We had been running Xeno for 3 years before we joined Techstars so we had a set thought about our entire business, so it was very easy to reject a suggestion saying the mentor doesn’t know enough about our business.

Yet, we decided to be open & just ask questions, even if we think we already know the answer. I call that method “Be stupid & just ask”.

Because we were acting stupid, it let the mentor's full message sink in & suddenly we were more open to trying out their suggestion. Just simply being open to new ideas like this & then executing them led us to solving problems at Xeno that we hadn’t been able to solve for 3 years.

Hack #3: Focus every founder's efforts

We heard from a lot of entrepreneurs who had attended accelerator programs that growth slows during the accelerator experience because you’re giving time to the accelerator program instead of focussing on the day to day of the business. That helps over the long-term but might create short-term problems.

My co-founder & I were not willing to make that compromise. So being 2 co-founders, so we decided that one of us will be in Berlin for the 3 months of the program and the other will be in Delhi focused on implementing the learnings we’re getting from mentors & growing our business further.

This worked well for us because getting maximum value out of the accelerator experience is a full-time job, just like running the company is a full-time job. So both of us had a clear focus for the 3 months. Interestingly, as we didn’t expect initially, Xeno grew faster than ever.

But to implement a system like this you need to have a very high level of trust amongst the co-founders because one of the founders has to sacrifice on the personal experience of being at the accelerator and the other co-founder needs to completely trust the running of the business to their partner.

So to implement this solution, you need an amazing co-founder like Ayushmaan is to me, who cares more about the company’s success than their own, is willing to make a personal sacrifice for the same & someone you completely trust to do the right thing in your business.

In your case, the right system might be different based on the size of your team, their relative location to the city of the accelerator program & the trust between the founding team. In any case, I’d highly recommend having a system where each founder is focussed on a specific objective.

Hack #4: Build better relationships by taking notes

Build better relationships by taking notes? What does that even mean? I know it sounds crazy, but it really helps.

When mentors come to an accelerator program, they’re meeting 10 or maybe 20 startups in a single day. By the end of it, they’re not going to remember a startup specifically. So how do you stand out?

Let’s take a step back and understand why someone is keen to mentor. They’re looking to help entrepreneurs. That means they’ll be more open to helping you if they think you’re actually listening to them & they feel like they’ll actually make a difference by helping you.

A simple way to show them is “Reflective Listening”. That means you listen to them in your meetings, take notes, build your understanding out of the same & communicate it back to the mentor with clear takeaways in a simple email. Here’s a sample email that I wrote:

Sample email to a mentor

After receiving this email, mentors started sharing more information as a followup & they were delighted just by the fact that I listened to them & responded fast. Just some responses below:

Hack #5: ACT fast & make learnings compound

After our accelerator program, I got on a feedback call with one of our lead mentors who I met once a week for 12 weeks & asked him why he mentored us? His answer was simple, I feel like I make a difference because you act on my feedback. As an example, on 1 call with the mentor, we had a breakthrough on how to communicate Xeno’s product to customers. Within 1 week of that, we changed our website to reflect the new communication. On the other hand, he told me that for another startup he mentored, it took them 6 months to act on a similar feedback.

Whether you act on the learnings you get in 1 week or 6 months will make a massive difference to the relationships you build with mentors & the learnings you get from the program.

The compounding effect

Like anything in life, learning compounds.

Hack #6: Send timely weekly & monthly updates to mentors & investors you meet

This is another simple hack that continues beyond the accelerator program. Just send an email every month to mentors & investors over time and it changes their perspective on you & your company.

You hear stories of founders closing a funding round in a week, that’s because they already had a connect with investors who knew about the story about the company.

Nothing happens over time so it’s the way you stay in touch with investors over time that affects your ability to fundraise & it’s the way you stay in touch with mentors over time that affects your ability to get their assistance. For us at Xeno, writing update emails builds up a ton of engagement for us.

Here’s a guide to building an email list for mentors & investors, plus a mentor email update template.

Hack #7: Use weekly meetings to achieve your goals faster

Every week during the accelerator program we had meetings lined up with our programs managing director and our key mentors where we’d update them about our progress. Just the psychological act of reporting progress every week pushes you to do more faster and we’ve replicated this process after the accelerator program by reporting our progress every single week to a specific group of people & by organizing a quarterly board meeting to maintain momentum.

Hack #8: Build buzz for your startup by posting on social media

Let’s end on a fun note. At an accelerator program, you’ll be meeting lots of well-known people, getting tons of interesting learnings, doing lots of fun stuff and making tons of progress on your startup. Just posting about those 4 things on Instagram, Facebook & LinkedIn will improve the way people perceive your startup.

“Perception is reality.”

Here are some examples of the type of posts & stories I put up:

Utilize social media to create that buzz around your company so that you can create additional business opportunities by riding on that momentum.

These 8 hacks helped us accelerate Xeno’s growth by more than a year in under 3 months. You can read about our journey with Techstars here. I hope you’ll use these hacks to grow your startup faster too 😎.

💬 If you’ve gone through the Techstars accelerator program (or another), comment with an idea that worked for you to maximize impact.

If this blog helped you in any way, share it to help other entrepreneurs ❤