Similar to collage application season, it is accelerator application season with many major accelerator’s deadline looming. (AcceleratorHK’s own deadline is April 15th.) Since Paul and I run two accelerators, we get bombarded with questions from people applying to accelerators with the same question: “what do you look for in an application?” Here are five things to think about.
Criteria 1: The Optimal Team Size and Dynamic
Yes, you have to be be a “rock star” or a “hacker” to succeed. That is a given, however, when I see an application with only one applicant, I usually stop reading it. Too many times I see a tech guy who stumbled across a cool piece of IP and thinks that they can “build it and they will come.” Or a smart “business guy” who underestimates the technical aspects of the problem and thinks that they can just outsource the IT (big mistake, see my opinion here on why you need a tech cofounder.) You can’t do this alone.
The optimal team size is two, one tech guy and one business guy as equal partners. The working relationship between them should be ideal, and they should like each other and be able to joke around with each other. Lastly, and equally as important, they should be passionate about the problem space that they are in. If you don’t have two awesome cofounders that compliment each other and work well with each other, don’t even bother applying.
Criteria 2: “Fund for the Pivot”
The reason why we like good people and solid teams is that you most likely won’t be working on the same project when you leave the accelerator then what you have applied with. So don’t try to convince me that you are the next Facebook, show me your 5 year financial projections, and god forbid, your patents (immediate rejection.) The whole purpose of an accelerator is to put you through the process of customer development and have you via MVPs/prototypes and rapid iteration from feedback build something that people actually want, not what you think they want.
First you need to have smart and talented people that are open to coaching and changing their offering. Second you need them to be in a hot space with huge opportunity. If the original idea fails, but you are in a hot space, most likely you will “pivot” into something really awesome. As Paul Grahm of Ycombinator famously says “fund for the pivot”, so sell yourself and your space, not necessarily your idea.
Criteria 3: Demonstrate That You Will Take the Program Seriously
Accelerator programs are full time, not nights and weekends. If you can’t commit 100% of your time for 14 weeks, don’t bother applying. When I see the note on an application that says only one member can come to the program full time and the other guys will “drop in from time to time”, I usually stop reading. The value of the program is the time you spend in it. I get it that you have friends, family, and other obligations, but if you wife is due to have a baby three weeks into the program, you may want to consider sitting this round out and applying next year.
Criteria 4: Rock Your Elevator Pitch
I have watched hundreds of application elevator pitch videos. You have to rock it. Again, don’t sell the startup; sell your ability to sell the startup. Show me that you can sell snow to Eskimos. Be creative. One team filmed their elevator pitch in an actual elevator! I still remember one video where one team sat at a table and introduced themselves, the coder never looked at the camera and only looked up when called on to say “I code” and the biz dev guy said that he also did pyrotechnics (and a funny explosion animation triggered.)
Skipping the video, producing a piece of crap, or focusing just on the product is an almost automatic rejection.
Criteria 5: Demonstrate the Ability to Execute
At the end of the day, can you do the job? You have to demonstrate your ability to execute. Also make sure you are not in love with being in a startup (a vanity entrepreneur) and actually want to run this business forever. We all want to be the next Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, so remember they also stayed at their companies for 20+ years. (Steve even came back after he was kicked out.) Mark Zuckerberg has been working at Facebook for almost 10 years. Don’t do this because it’s cool, do it because you want to change the world!