Why you should apply to a startup accelerator in 2012
Recently I heard some rants about startup accelerator programs.
As a big believer in the acceleration process, I had to explain why I recommend joining such a program.
First, the rant:
Here are some of the arguments against joining accelerators*:
If you are good enough to be chosen for the accelerator investment, it was likely Angels and VCs would have invested in you anyway. Just send them an Exec summary. You get the result you wanted, without giving 6-10% to an introducer.
It is time-consuming to apply - spend that time building product
If you are desperate for cash and think you have what it takes, go direct to Angels and VCs.
If you want PR, write a press release, email it to all the blogs and newspapers, and then tweet.
If your product isn’t ready, you know that already. You didn’t need an accelerator application process to tell you that. Customers will tell you that (you are talking to potential customers, right?)
For all those people with an ‘idea’, think about this: Can you execute the idea right now? No? Ok, can you execute the idea FULLY with $15k? Not likely. So your problem is you need to get to the stage where you are ready to execute. Either you need to learn to code, design or convince people who can that you and your idea is right. All things you cannot do in an accelerator (plus the accelerator would not consider you before you do these things anyway…)
Here are my arguments in favour of accelerators:
In 3 months at an accelerator program, you will be able to achieve more work than you ever thought you can (around 3 times more than what you achieve regularly).
Accelerator is a due diligence for investors. Investors will more probably invest in your company and give higher valuation for accelerator graduates. After all, it's harder to get into a top accelerator than into Harvard or Yale.
You have a brand behind your startup - it makes it easy to open doors in the future.
The heavy mentorship allow you to shape your product in the right way, instead of failing over and over again till you reach the right product or give up.
It’s not about the money, it’s about creating a better product and becoming a better entrepreneur.
The equity given is not an issue. The valuation is what really matters. So if for example the accelerator doubled the valuation of your company, you can now give away half the equity for the same amount of capital.
Networking - you create a huge network of supporters and of connections that want you to succeed (mentors and other startups that participated). Your success is their success. So therefore they will work to make you successful.
My suggestion for 2012: Apply to one of the top accelerators, and give your startup a boost into space.
A mentor to early stage startups myself, I have recently helped out SeedCamp last week in both San Francisco and Mountain View with mentoring eleven startups over two days. I have assisted, behind the scenes, Matthieu Dejardins’ ambitious NextUser project come all the way through the hurdles of Adeo Ressi’s Founder Institute program to graduation. I have mentored many other founders in the past year, trying to give back to the tech entrepreneur community after having benefited from incredible mentors as a mentoree as I was starting, growing, and later exiting Realeyes3D and Qipit.
Googleplex, 1900 Building. Where SeedCamp Mountain View took place last week.
Henrick gives a series of advices to startup founders engaged in a mentorship relationship for them to 'extract the most amount of value" from their mentors (italics are my comments):
Get introductions: this is one immediate value your mentor can give you.
Ask for specifics: in order to avoid 'mentor bias’.
Stay at the top of their minds: yes, mentors are usually busy too!
Get emotional support: one of the key values a mentor can bring.
Pick the right mentor for the right things: know your weak points and get help there.
I couldn’t agree more with Hendrick’s list. Some of his points are especially relevant for 'spot’ mentoring opportunities, such as a SeedCamp or Founder Institute session, where mentors are usually assigned to you.
Luckily, in many situations, the mentor relationship has more time to develop. Whether as part of an organized program such as the French American Chamber of Commerce’s Business Booster program, or as an initiative you, the founder, have taken on your own. Weeks, or years.
In that case, I would add what I see are four additional essential pieces of advice if you want to maximize the value of mentoring:
Avoid cookie cutter mentoring: make sure your mentor understands your ambition and the specifics of the company you are building. What you want isn’t a mentor who will 'dump’ his past experiences on you, but rather someone who will participate in your thought process, bringing new light to the problems or situations you face.
Pay attention to the personal fit. Good mentors won’t agree to help you if they don’t feel the fit is good. But this is best if it is reciprocal. Sounds obvious, however I have seen situations where it wasn’t. Not a happy ending.
Commit to the relationship beyond the short term. The greatest value will be obtained after a genuine, personal connection with the mentor has been established, and the mentor feels that her contribution makes a difference. This doesn’t happen overnight.
Incentivate your mentor. The longer the relationship, the more efficient this will prove. Whether you chose to grant your mentor discretionary stock options, or you introduce you to your Board or associate him to your success through company celebrations, you will benefit from making the mentor feels she is part of the team-at-large, not just a hidden secret you keep up your sleeve!
Vox.io will remind you of a little company with European origins called Skype. It enables you to place free calls over the web right from your browser, no need to install any plugins or clients, it runs right in your browser.
I had the pleasure to meet Tomasz and the team at Seedcamp London a few months ago and was really impressed by their hunger, drive and expertise in the field. Listening to Tomasz talk about the vision of the product was inspiring back then and I was happy to meet him again for the Seedcamp Silicon Valley mentoring session at Google today.
Just got the invite to the beta and really liked the welcome message pictured above. Can’t wait to place my first call - just tested it calling my own mobile number and it was as easy 123.
So why is the GBP such a poor currency? Mervyn King wants to know why which is why QE nth edition starts again. He knows, like the IMF and everyone else, most banks are bust. Their assets are overvalued and their liabilities hidden off balance sheet. They employ too many expensive people and their business model is bust. They are however the lifeblood of the UK. No banks = lower GDP = higher unemployment = less taxes = lower real estate prices. I mean what else does the UK do these days?
On Tuesday last week, I attended my third Seedcamp as a mentor.
If you’re not familiar with Seedcamp, it’s a European (and more recently, international) version of TechStars or YCombinator. The gist: early stage (often pre-product) startups pitch their projects to a group of mentors (entrepreneurs, investors, product & marketing folks) and spend the afternoon in rotating mentoring sessions to ask mentors for advice on their idea, product, go-to-market strategy, business model, fundraising etc.
For startups, it’s an amazing and valuable experience to tap into a fantastic pan-European network of tech industry professionals from a variety of sectors: seasoned entrepreneurs, angels & VCs, product, marketing and engineering folks. Everyone is attending to give something back to the community and maybe advise a potential next big hit startup early on. Startups get early and honest feedback about their idea, prototype or product and have mentors help them find answers to the questions that keep them up all night.
For myself, it’s a welcome break from the day-to-day work at SoundCloud, a nice way to broaden my perspective, make new connections and maybe even find inspiration for my daily work. I was lucky to spend the afternoon with Obi Felten (Google’s Head of Consumer Marketing EMEA) and Chirag Patel (from Wellington Partners) and we had a great time and promised to stay in touch.
Something I’ve pretty much heard every team say after all three Seedcamps I attended included the words “brain” and “fried” in the same sentence. It’s true. During Seedcamp, founders get hammered with insights, suggestions, introductions, tough questions and opinions that can leave you exhausted and perhaps even disillusioned. Be prepared for it, make notes, take a break and review your notes after a few days of distance. You’ll find the experience to be extremely valuable and your job is to find the golden nuggets that will help you move ahead.
A few tips for Seedcamp teams:
Make sure you can explain your product in simple non-technical terms
If you can, tell the story about what made you want to solve this particular problem
Ask mentors if they remember your pitch. If they don’t, do a short recap
Ask mentors to briefly introduce themselves so you can ask them specific questions
Time and attention are scarce, make the best use of both
Don’t be afraid to disagree with a mentor. If you can back up your logic, do it
Be prepared for food for thought rather than specific answers to your questions. Your job will be to translate these thoughts into something actionable for your own product
If you liked a mentor or found them to be valuable, keep in touch. Seedcamp London 2010 finalist Profitero asked mentors if they want to be added to a quarterly email update about the progress. I love this.
If you’re an entrepreneur you have to apply for one of the Seedcamps in the future. Saul, Reshma, Carlos and Phil are a truly dedicated group of people passionate about the European tech community and beyond. Watch them expand to Tel Aviv, NYC and Asia in the coming months.
Four reasons why the 2011 Seedcamp USA Tour rocked our world (aka: why you should finish your Seedcamp application ASAP)
(EDIT 25/03/2011 - with the annoucement of the Seedcamp Facebook partnership this should now really be 5 reasons.)
Offset Options kind of stumbled across Seedcamp originally, we didn’t know who they were or what they really did. To be honest it was late in the day one afternoon just before submissions were due for Seedcamp Barcelona 2010 and I was leaning more towards meeting up with friends than finishing this random application form. Fortunately, I finished the application and to cut a longish story short ended up on the 2011 Seedcamp USA tour.
There were obviously a few stops in between, i.e. we were selected as one of the winners from Mini-Seedcamp Barcelona (along with rockstars Robot Media), invited to Seedcamp Week last fall and were a selected as a 2010 winner.
And getting to the point, here are the top reasons the Seedcamp USA tour rocked our world:
(on the NYSE trading floor for the ringing of the bell)
A quick list of some the companies whose offices we visited and some of the many more we met in mentoring / networking events / personal meetings etc.:
Foursquare, 500 Startups, LinkedIn, Twitter, IO Ventures, Amazon, Microsoft, Sequoia, Google, MassChallenge, Sermo, Atlas Ventures, Union Square Ventures, NYSE, MongoDB / 10gen, AOL, Sandbox, ERPLY, General assembly, plus many, many more.
And in the companies we visited, we had more than just a tour of HQ - we had ACCESS to the right people. There is access and there is ACCESS. For the majority of the meetings, we had senior staff available for us to explore any questions / partnerships / technical questions you can fire at them. I have to specifically admit Google, Facebook and Amazon blew me away with this. Such openness, engagement and support from companies that have big things on their plate right now. This is not normally possible when traveling on Biz Dev and Partnership trips, especially when you are an early stage company (even later stage companies would kill for this!).
(vox.io & @davemcclure & Anil)
Being part of a supportive network is a fundamental element of Seedcamp. The mentoring, as always, was great. We had access to a few hundred exceptional mentors over the four sessions in NYC, Boston, San Francisco and Mountain View. This is particularly useful for early stage companies trying to work out how relevant the concept is to the US market.
(Seedcamp crew checking in @foursquare)
Meeting companies trying to change the world with amazing staff who can achieve the vision is always a privilege. Sermo, Facebook and Google were all kind of mind-blowing in their own ways. All provided us a perspective that I didn’t expect. Sermo was so genuine, FB and Google so eager to engage.
(pitch training @blackboxmansion)
A key take away is also the shared entrepreneurship experience. Starting a company can be an isolating exercise. Being able to travel around the USA and be able to get to know the other SC teams and the SC team itself - who are also on an entrepreneurial journey - was a once in a lifetime opportunity and an invaluable boost of moral support.
To see the strengths of our colleagues, gain their feedback and have very impassioned chats about different parts of our growth (often over a beer or 4) as people trying to build companies is one of the most valuable outcomes. It is very hard to manufacture this experience and make it genuine - but we did it.
I believe the SC teams of 2010 & 2011 are now connected with a sense of common purpose and will be providing greater support and engagement with each other, as we all work to build significant companies.
Some other standouts and quick mentions
This is the most memorable company visit for me on the trip.
The self-awareness of the staff but particularly the CEO, Daniel Palestrant, was amazing. This in one of the events that really resonated with me, in trying to build a business on a much more personal level.
So much discussion naturally focuses on the sexy elements of entrepreneurship - financing, biz dev and tech. The area of creating and leading a company is an area we have covered less and Daniel’s articulation was particularly eloquent.
> 500 Startups
The 500 Startups event was a standout as there was a delightful cross over of early stage companies pitching and giving feedback to each other. This was an open session where we received many frank but useful comments. I believe a few of the presenters made a real transition with their pitches.
warning - A warning to anyone going to this in future – Seeing Reshma Sohoni and Dave McClure taking turns pushing around each other’s startups is a spectacle.
On a side note, while at 500 Startups, Dave mentioned GoGengo.com for translation services. I sent their details back to Offset Options HQ for review, my team came back two days later saying they are fast, cheap and high quality. So we will be working with them from now on and are loving their service. These guys are Japan-based so our thoughts are with them on a personal basis as well.
> The END @SXSW
Perfect way to wind down at the end of the trip. There is no better way to finish a tour of the USA than the chaos of nerds and free beer as far as the eye can see and a last bit of bonding between the teams before heading back Europe. There were infinite sessions - Seth Priebatsch’s Gamification keynote was the standout.
From Offset Options, we loved the rising focus on Environmental aspects of technology and how this is becoming core business for global companies.
We have to give a shout out to Chinwag for great food and generally providing great support to Seedcamp @SXSW
If you want more insight into how to deal with SXSW for those who have not been, or those who wish to get more out of the event check out our friends at CultureSlurp
Joukuu is a seedcamp Singapore winner, it provides a free and convenient software for users to manage cloud based backup files across multiple accounts, currently support Google Docs, Dropbox and Box.net.
Stamplay è l’unica startup italiana presente a Berlino per la Seedcamp Week, il percorso di selezione organizzato da Seedcamp, acceleratore fra i più importanti a livello europeo.
Co-fondata da Nicola Mattina e Giuliano Iacobelli, la startup ha recentemente completato un interessante pivot ed è ora una piattaforma che permette a designer e agenzie di comunicazione di creare delle web app senza scrivere codice, inserendosi nel nuovo mercato del Web Development as a Service.
I’ve used the app in the last few weeks, and it’s a lot of fun. Fred and his friends did an amazing job - you can clearly tell he’s a designer and cares about details in the app.
I’m sure it will be pitched against tumblr a lot, but I really like the use case of “telling stories” better than the tumblr mobile experience. The user interface is incredibly simple and powerful at the same time, and you can give each story a unique look.