Hi. I see I have grabbed your attention! Now read on….
I’m Ivo Minjauw, co-founder and CEO of SocialExpress. Last year I graduated from an acceleration program run by the leading European accelerator, Startupbootcamp Amsterdam. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on how to prepare to be selected for an accelerator. I was one of just ten teams selected from 450 in the 2012 program. Applications for this year are just about to close.
But before you fill in any forms for any program, grab a coffee and start by going through my decision list. It could save everyone a lot of time later. And time is money these days.
Maybe is not an answer
Before you even think about applying, you have to be totally honest with yourself. You must be committed 24/7 to building a real business. And I mean really committed. If your business is only a vague idea or direction – and you’re the only person with those thoughts written on the back of a beermat – you’re not ready.
Why? Because your idea is going to be tested like never before. Regardless of whether you get into that particular program, you need to be able to explain to anyone how and why your company will succeed. If you have even a shadow of doubt, the mentors and investors will find it. If you find yourself saying “maybe’, remember the selectors will hear “maybe” as “not suitable”.
So, stop now. Reconsider. Test your determination. That means you have to be honest to yourself. Running a startup is not for wussies.
1. You have an idea not a team
Let me guess. You just graduated from University or perhaps you dropped out to realize “your dreams”. You think you have an awesome idea. But the truth is that you haven’t validated your idea at all. You have discussed the idea with less than 10 potential clients and you have no working prototype.
Congratulations. You have an idea. Maybe it’s a brilliant idea. But in order to get in to the accelerator, you have to do more. You’ll have to show how you can turn that idea into a real business. Believe me; you can’t do that on your own!
At the time my co-founder and I were applying for Startupbootcamp, we spotted the criteria the organisers were looking for. It’s simple. The selectors are looking for strong teams. And these teams must have the complimentary skillsets: A CEO who shows he or she can lead rather than manage, a CTO with the right qualifications and someone to lead customer development and sales…
I see a trend where accelerators are looking for teams with three people as a minimum.
At last year’s demo day in Amsterdam, we got an inspiring keynote from American author and serial entrepreneur, Steve Blank. One quote, in particular, struck me.
“The best ideas in the hands of a B team are much worse off than a B-grade idea in the hands of a world class team.”
And he’s right.
2. “I just need money to execute our fantastic plan “
Then you won’t get in. The judges are not only looking for strong, passionate teams who have a direction. They are looking for team members willing to listen, absorb ideas, contribute solutions, take risks and decide the next step. All the teams, including my own, went through this. We learned that as your idea gets tested by the real world, it always needs adjustment, refining, focusing. You’ll hear different messages from different mentors. Some people support your ideas, others rip them to shreds. That’s normal. You need to be able to filter information, handle criticism like an adult and take calculated decisions based on your gut feelings.
Often teams pivot so much that they end up building a different company. That’s fine. But those with fixed ideas will fail. So you need much more than money to make the most of it.
3. “I can combine a startup programme with my day job”
No you can’t. You will be working day and night on your startup. And that includes the weekends. If you think you’re already working too hard and sacrificing too much, find a job because, during the program, you won’t get much time for sleep. The successful teams use every hour, every minute, every second they have. Your reputation is at stake. You must have a world-class story ready for Demo Day, in front of hundreds of critical international investors and journalists. And don’t underestimate the time it takes for follow-up talks, negotiations, budgeting, designing websites, making videos, etc. If you try and combine an accelerator program with anything else, you will fail at both.
4. Suspend your “social networking time”
Log off Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and stop reading hobby blogs. Stop doing things that are not connected with building your startup in the short-term. Focus by making priority lists and short-term plans. Execution is everything at this stage. Filter your emails and incoming phone calls into important and “not right now “.
5. Say Goodbye to your social life
Accelerator programs are immersive. For four months, you’re not going to have much time for your family or close friends. If you get accepted, go on a “farewell tour” explaining you’re off on an important safari and that you’ll see them all again after the summer. You will be “married” to your startup and co-founders. If you can’t make that sacrifice, forget an accelerator.
Still reading this reality check? You still want to found a start-up? Good. It means that you’re ready to apply.
So go for it! Applications close on this Sunday 23:59 (GMT +1). Good Luck!
Ivo Minjauw is the Founder and CEO of SocialExpress.