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Advice For Entrepreneurs In Accelerator Programs
The NY Techstars program is a few months away. The latest SeedCamp class just swung by Boston earlier this week. And Boston’s Techstars class started this past Monday. I know some of the teams, and have met some of the founders briefly. It’s an exciting class!
Techstars and many other accelerators are “mentorship driven”. This means that in the first few weeks, teams are bombarded with many many mentors. Some are just smart folks with no direct experience in your business, some are investors, some are entrepreneurs or operators with deep relevant experience.
With about half of the teams I talk to, I learn that they have gotten conflicting advice from equally smart and impressive people. It’s confusing, and hard to make sense of. Also, with almost all teams, there is a desire early on to impress people you are talking to. You get excited when a mentor gives you positive feedback and is interested in your story, and you get discouraged if a mentor thinks there are major problems or just doesn’t get what you are doing.
I find that the best teams soak in the feedback they receive, but quite quickly take that feedback and translate it into maniacal focus. Teams that struggle have a hard time making sense of different streams of advice and end up being handicapped by trying to be all things to all people.
My basic advice is this. When you take meetings with mentors, you will get a sense pretty quickly of whether you are talking to a skeptic, or a believer.
Early on, you should really listen to the feedback of the skeptics. Seek that feedback out. What you will find is that quickly, that skepticism will take familiar patterns. You will identify either 1-2 fundamental assumptions about your business they think is wrong, and/or 1/2 risks to the business that they think is just too great or too hard to overcome.
In the first half of the program, look yourself in the mirror. Are the skeptics right? Is there a fundamental problem? If so, do you need to do a great pivot? If not, are there risks that are truly great and are they surmountable?
The answer to these questions might actually be no. You might believe in your heart of hearts that the skeptics are wrong. The fundamental assumptions of your business are counter-intuitive, but you have the data, conviction, or experience to know your assumptions are right. The risks that seem too great are surmountable, and you think you know how to do it.
If that is the answer, then don’t be bashful about your conviction. The second half of an accelerator program should be focused on the true believers. The skeptics can only advance you so far, but after a while, they will either never be convinced, or their feedback will prove shallow since they will be stuck on the same issues over and over again. The true believers are willing to go further with you on the journey, but will help you identify pitfalls you are likely to face further down the path. They will help you address these issues, give you more tactical feedback, and probably point you in the direction of other true believers are will likely be your advocates and investors come demo day.
When demo day comes around, tell a controversial story. Talk about secrets, as Peter Thiel suggests. “Most people think X… but the truth is Y.”
That’s the best pitch. Lots of people may hate it, but it will be more likely that the people who don’t will love it, and be thrilled to help you see success. I think it’s also more likely that they will think that what you are doing is really BIG.
Good luck! I’m excited to hear your story, whether I end up being a skeptic or believer.