It could be said that when Dropbox made its IPO on the Nasdaq with a valuation of US$ 8.2 Billion, this incredible journey would not have happened if Dropbox hadn’t participated in Y Combinator (YC), the famed Silicon Valley accelerator. While Dropbox is an outlier in more ways than one, participating in an acceleration program or competitions can have a huge impact on a startup. However, securing a place into a top-tier accelerator program such as YC, Techstars or Startupbootcamp is really hard; some are even harder to join in than to get an admission offer from Harvard. Ok, so how do you make your application stand out from the rest?
My experience of working in leading startup programs, such as Wayra and Startupbootcamp, over the last 5 years, has given me the opportunity to select and accelerate more than 60 startups, as well as evaluate thousands and thousands of applicants for those programs and for others that I was invited to participate as an evaluator. Based on this experience, I have identified ways in which startups can improve their chances of being selected for a top accelerator or startup competition.
Put Effort into your Application
This sounds basic, however, in many applications I reviewed, it was pretty clear that the entrepreneur didn’t put enough effort into his application. For the evaluator, a poor application means that the entrepreneur doesn’t value participating in the program that much. So, don’t apply to any accelerator or competition if you’re not committed to writing a strong application. Your startup might be great, but if the evaluators don’t have the necessary information to make that conclusion, they will move on to the other great candidates that put in the necessary effort.
Here are a few tips that will improve your application:
- Answer all the questions in the best way possible. Every question in the application is there for a reason, a question that you don’t answer might well be key information for the evaluator.
- Don’t save words, use the space you’re given to explain your business better.
- Ask for someone else to review the application to see if he/she understand what you mean.
- Review for orthographic errors (this may sound silly, but if you multiple mistakes, it might not only complicate the understanding of your application but also send a message that you didn’t take the time to review it).
Metrics, Metrics and Metrics
Metrics help the evaluator better understand the company. You can’t distinguish between an early stage startup and a more advanced startup if there aren’t numbers to support what you’re saying. If you have relevant facts and figures, share them or it will look like you don’t have any. The numbers might change from business to business but here are some relevant numbers that might be beneficial to share: CAC, LTV, Number of Clients, Conversion rate, and Daily Active Users (DAU) / Monthly Active Users (MAU).
If you don’t have good traction yet, consider sharing the data from experiments you have collected so far. For example: We launched our beta 1 month ago and we had some great results. We invited 500 people through email to join and we’ve had 150 sign up so far with 50 of them using daily.
Also, sharing numbers sends a positive signal for the evaluator that the entrepreneur knows his or her business.
If the application allows you to provide a slide deck, do it! Sometimes it is hard to understand a startup business by only analyzing text, so a presentation with diagrams, and images can help a lot. Also, it’s more information that the evaluator will have in order to assess your startup. However, don’t share a slidedeck with much more than 10 slides.
After analyzing the business, the evaluator will check if the team has the experience and knowledge to grow the business. The team is the core asset, especially for an early stage startup. Therefore, introduce all the co-founders and any relevant team members highlighting their experience, relevant to the business.
Understand What you’re Applying to
Many startups, as a clear lack of focus, apply to different programs and competitions that they don’t know much information about, or even how they work.Ensure that you clearly understand what kind of program you’re applying to and the conditions for participating so you can be sure it fits your startup well. Remember, time is one of the most precious resources in a startup, so don’t waste it applying to every single programs that appears interesting.
I recommend that you invest some time doing research about the program you’re planning to apply to and try to find out the following information:
- Can the program support your startup to achieve your goal or would it would just be a distraction?
- Make sure you’re okay with the deal you will receive and that you can commit to participate in the full program
- Find out what the program is looking for, so you can adjust your application to focus on that. For instance, if the program is looking for startups to collaborate with corporates, you should include detail in your application on how your startup has worked with corporates, and how you believe your startup could do business with those corporates
I hope with this advice will help you get better prepared before you start putting together your great application. Good luck!