If you wanted to start a rock band in the late 80s you bought a cheap guitar, put on some ripped jeans, wrapped a flannel around your waist and started banging away in your garage. Then you grabbed a couple of friends, learn a few chords, screamed about teen angst (the easiest part) and recorded a demo. If you kept at it, your band became a part of the Grunge movement. If you did it right, you became Nirvana. In a lot of ways, startups have become the Garage Bands of the business world and it’s never been easier (and cheaper) to create one. While a select few will get discovered and become “rocket ships” most others don’t get out of the garage. But there are those who find a way to build something real, rise above the chaos and steadily climb through the stratosphere. They do it with the help of a startup accelerator.
There are many pros and cons to consider before taking that route and you should definitely do your research but here are three steps you can take to create your own accelerator experience while you’re waiting for your acceptance email from Y Combinator.
Create pressure to execute (get sh*t done)
Accelerators don’t develop ideas, they develop companies. One of the ways that they do this is by first having a limited time period (around 12 weeks) to develop a startup. The main reason they do this is to force the venture into the real world. As demo day approaches, tough choices will present themselves and decisions will have to be made. There is a way you can cultivate the “get sh*t done” attitude that is vital for early startup velocity. Create a realistic three month roadmap with major milestones along the way and set a date for your own demo day. Oh, and seek out peers that will hold you accountable. Which leads us to step number two.
Find peer mentors
Accelerators build cohorts of noncompeting companies to develop a network of peers facing similar challenges. You can build your own by going to networking events and being active. Put your little name tag on and give yourself a quota for making connections. And understand, the best way to receive mentoring is to be a mentor. Schedule meetings and offer to help others. You don’t have to be an expert you just need to have the bandwidth to do something for someone else which they cannot do for themselves. Make sure to seek help and don’t be too selective on who you ask either. Just because the founder you’re talking to has a product nothing like yours doesn’t mean they don’t have a valuable lesson to teach. You can also join an online community like Founders Network or The Food Center Forum.
Become attractive to future funding
Venture Capitalist are always sniffing around accelerators because they make it easy to do research. VCs are people too. A lot of them are serial entrepreneurs (trust me, they’ll tell you) and they research companies just like you do. Make sure your company has no incomplete profiles or half assed websites, anywhere! Repeatedly check out your company’s online footprint (Crunchbase, AngelList, LinkedIn). If you can’t keep your social media pages active, take them down. Make sure your logos and identifying copy (slogans, tag lines) are all the same. And don’t try so hard to make everything perfect. Just be consistent. Important people are watching. When you get seed money you can hire a designer to tighten things up.
Nirvana recorded their first album, “Bleach,” in just 30 hours for $606.17.
They made what they got out of cheap amps and guitars “their sound”. They crashed on friends couches, played local clubs and developed a loyal, local fan base. They signed records deals with small labels like Sub Pop with hopes of someday making it to MTV. And they started with a specific sound, style and the get sh*t done attitude that defined the Grunge scene.
If you keep at it, find people who keep you in check and create a cohesive brand, then you got something real to start with rather than just some idea.
“The most important part of an accelerator program is the emotional support of the community – being a member of the community that is helping you go through this stressful, emotional journey.”
–Fadi Bishara. CEO, Blackbox
“The sweet spot for innovation today is “moving down”, closer to the people because all the people together are smarter than anyone alone and all the people have tools to invest and collaborate.”
–Curtis Carlson. CEO, SRI International
“Our little group has always been and always will until the end.”
–Kurt Cobain. Guitarist, Nirvana