To accelerate or not to accelerate? Men’s Style Lab answers the question
(Guest post by Derian Baugh) When I first started my company I had no way to fully grasp all that is involved in getting a startup off the ground. I had no understanding of all the logistics and financial complexities that would be involved. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to
Founder Friday is a weekly guest post written by a founder who is based in or hails from the Silicon Prairie. Each month, a topic relevant to startups is presented and founders share lessons learned or best practices utilized on that topic. June’s topic focuses on sharing experiences from and lessons learned in accelerators.
When I first started my company I had no way to fully grasp all that is involved in getting a startup off the ground. I had no understanding of all the logistics and financial complexities that would be involved. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to quit my full-time job. And although I believed there were customers out there, I didn’t know how I would actually find them.
The furthest thing on my radar was the idea of attending an accelerator. At the time I didn’t even know what an accelerator was. But as I took the initial steps of building my company and the money I raised from friends and family was starting to dwindle, I began to explore every possibility to keep my dream alive.
In that process I was introduced to the co-founders of gener8tor, a Wisconsin-based accelerator. After our initial meeting, I knew that attending an accelerator was my next best option and I decided to apply to their program.
A few weeks later, I was officially accepted as one of five companies out of 380 that applied. It was hands down the best thing that could’ve ever happened for me. Today I’m often asked about my experience, so I’d like to share some of the key things that I’ve taken from my time in an accelerator by answering some of the most common questions I get.
How do you get into an accelerator? What advice do you have for others about the application process?
The No. 1 factor is the CEO and co-founders of the startup. It is often said that investors first buy into the entrepreneur and then the idea. The same is true of accelerators. Often times people think of accelerators as a 90-day program for startups. While on the surface this is true, it is far more accurate to view an accelerator as an investor and business partner.
What are accelerators looking for?
It depends on the accelerator, but as a general rule there has to be evidence that you know how to execute and get things done. I would argue this is best demonstrated by having momentum. It’s about what you’ve done up to this point, where you are going, and how the accelerator will help you realize success along the way.
Remember, you’ve got to have more than just an idea. When you’re applying to an accelerator, the big question is more about how you’re executing on your idea and whether or not it is scalable.
What was the best thing about being in an accelerator?
It was a combination of all of the resources that the accelerator provides and the ability to focus every waking moment on building your company. This included an initial amount of funding and introductions to well over 100 mentors comprised of successful entrepreneurs, attorneys, founders, venture capitalists and angel investors.
Equally as significant is the amount of attention your business is given by the leaders of an accelerator. Hands down, it is well worth the price of admission.
What was the hardest thing about being in an accelerator?
The most challenging aspect was working both on your business and in your business at the same time. You will easily spend 40 hours a week meeting with mentors and strategizing about growing your company. Then you will spend another 40 hours putting those ideas and concepts into action. In addition, you need to be ready at any moment to pitch investors.
Speaking of pitching investors, any words of advice?
As a founder, you are living and breathing your startup every day. This makes it easy to get stuck in the weeds when telling other people what you do. The best pitches are the ones that can explain what their company does to a five-year-old. If you can’t do this, then you’re probably boring investors.
My advice is to keep it simple and compelling. Engage the investor by being clear about the pain your product solves as well as your customer, market and sales. Don’t convolute your message. Share it as a story. Then be prepared to answer any follow up questions.
What is the best thing a startup can do once they’re in an accelerator?
Be coachable. Be open to constructive feedback. Understand that everyone is there to help your business be successful. The accelerator has skin in the game too, so nobody is going to suggest something that would be hurtful to the business. Don’t take anything personally. Simply recognize that you’ve been given an opportunity to learn from some of the best business minds around. Take advantage of that.
Now that you’ve graduated, how has the accelerator experience helped you?
I can say without a doubt that I would not have been able to raise any legitimate amount of formal funding without the assistance and direction of the accelerator. At the end of the day, attending an accelerator isn’t just about accelerating and growing your business. It’s about accelerating your company and building momentum so you can secure funding for your startup.
Gener8tor has been there every step of the way. It’s been a few months since graduating and I still talk to their leaders several times a week—in fact, I just had a call with them at 10 p.m. last night. They are always available and will continue to play a key role as I grow my company.
Speaking from my experience, attending an accelerator is the best thing a startup can do. It’s not without it’s challenges, but the trade-offs come with an incredible amount of upside. You get to pitch your company to 100-plus people over the course of the 90 days and get their feedback. Because of the environment of an accelerator you get to build, measure and learn faster and with more precision that you could likely do on your own. And you get a platform that makes for easy introductions to strategic partners and investors along the way.
To accelerate, or not to accelerate, that is the question… I say accelerate.
Credits: Photos courtesy of Men’s Style Lab.
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