7 Ways to Make the Most of a Startup Accelerator

You got into an accelerator? Congratulations! Now comes the hard part: surviving.

Accelerators are good but they also push your team to their limits. Sometimes, teams blow up during an accelerator. Sometimes teams blow up before (after getting accepted).

Here are a few tips to survive — and hopefully thrive — during your accelerator experience.

1. Play Nice

Some entrepreneurs, especially those coming from a finance or consulting background, have the false belief that it's a competition amongst teams. it's not — it's far from it. As a startup, you already have the odds stacked against you; some people will call you crazy, some are waiting for you to fail so they can say "they told you so", and most won't "get it." Work with the other teams and help each other out. Love them or hate them, they're family now.

This also goes for co-founders. Fight if you must, but fight fair. Aaron O'Hearn, Co-Founder/CEO of Startup Institute, imparted this bit of wisdom on us early on. If you fight, make sure it's about the startup, not about other issues like who didn't buy the toilet paper. Be vocal, be honest, and don't just criticize.

Be nice to the staff, not just the managing directors and mentors; they have a lot more power than you realize.

2. Watch Your Runway

A lot of teams that get into accelerators stop worrying about their runways. They just got $20,000 and they have a demo day coming up in 3 months. Why worry?

I hate to break it to you, but you might not raise right away. Maybe your traction isn't there, or the economic climate sucks. Either way, try to use the money in a smart way. You don't need to go hardcore lean but you need to be pragmatic.

3. Listen, Process, Act

Different people will tell you different things. You need to be able to parse through the noise and act based on what makes sense for your team, at your current stage, with your circumstances.

The biggest problem some teams have is they flip-flop after talking to every mentor. Maybe it's the right move, maybe it isn't. This isn't to say that you should ignore anyone's comment. You might think that their opinion is stupid, but they're obviously speaking from their experience or industry.

Listen to what people are saying, process it and evaluate it internally (and with your team), and then act if it's appropriate.

4. Ask for Help

Too many teams don't ask for help early enough. If you have a problem with team dynamics, the product, or anything else air it out. An accelerator is meant to compress 1 year into 3 months; every day matters.

Managing directors, mentors, and the other teams are there for a reason. Ask for help. Offer help.

5. Traction

Show traction! Unless you invented a time machine, the technology doesn't matter as much as you think it does. Investors care about traction since it shows that people are willing to use your product. Facebook is the best example of this; if they didn't have their hyper-growth early on, how valuable was the technology, really?

Research growth tactics, talk to growth hackers, and use tools to generate some measure of traction.

6. Fail Fast

An idea isn't working? Good.

Fail fast, learn from your mistakes, iterate, and try again.

Some teams get trapped into thinking that they have to stick within their idea — that they have to play within the box. You don't You're at an accelerator. They're invested in you, the team, not your idea.

The sooner you fail, the faster you can move on to the right idea. With DapperJobs, we eventually realized that we lacked founder/market fit. We spent 10 months working on it, when we really should have stopped after 4 months.

7. Don't Get Burnt Out

Work your butt off but still take the time to do things for yourself. Startups are a marathon, not a sprint. Take care of yourself.

Spend time with your co-founders, the other teams, and the managing directors. Life is short. Enjoy it.


What do you think? Let me know on Twitter (@sebfung).

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