This am, I got an email from Nicole who runs Techstars Boulder reminding the mentors that Friday is the last day to apply. “Cool,” I thought, “I’ll just tweet that out.” But right before hitting send, I got an email from an entrepreneur with the title “Why an accelerator?”
So, I figured a-bloggin’ I would go.
I get asked this question a lot. In the explosion of startup accelerators, it makes sense. Raising money is hard. Really hard. Doesn’t matter what the tech news blogs say, its hard.
Especially if you aren’t in New York or San Francisco.
As a young entrepreneur, applying to YC or Techstars or 500startups or <insert 1000 other accelerators here> looks like free money. If you can get it. Thats really hard too. Well for some of the accelerators. For others, its super easy.
Oh, and mentors, lots and lots of mentors. Some great; some not so good. Some are dicks; some are super cool.
Space to work, a group of other companies to work with, and the ability to join a network of founders that understand the difficulties that you face.
So why wouldn’t you join an accelerator?
The most common comment I hear is age. Yes, there is a belief that accelerators are for the young. And, more so, for the inexperienced.
Often, you hear Techstars and the rest counter with the founders “of age” that have been successful in the program. Good selling strategy, right?
Here are the facts about an accelerator:
- Being forced to work around companies that are doing an insane amount of work and having to validate that work with the accelerator staff and mentors is probably the single most amazing reality about membership in the accelerator club. Its impossible to replicate this in any coffee shop, co-working space or basement.
- Being held accountable not only by your peers, but by potential investors, is a great litmus test for your ability as a founder to deal with the roller coaster of startupland.
- Having access to mentors drives critical and creative thought in a way that is impossible outside of the accelerator dynamic. Even though that creativity and constructive criticism is overwhelming and not always creative or constructive.
- It is easier to raise money if you have been through a well-regarded accelerator like Techstars, 500 or YC. Its impossible to raise money later if you don’t raise at, around, or just after demo day. Take too long, and your shine wears off.
- Getting into YC, Techstars, 500, etc. is not like getting into a fraternity/college. Its not fucking party time. Its work time. The Bloomberg “reality” show was bullshit. Don’t believe the hype. Its work or die. And as friendly as the other companies are, they will gladly see you die in order to win. (Yes, I am being bombastic. But, in every single class, there are a couple of “favorites” that do extremely well, and then everyone else. Everyone wants to be the favorite, after all, everyone is a Type A. Don’t lose sight of that reality.)
- Some companies are just not made for accelerators. You might not be thinking big enough. Your concept may be outside of the comfort zone of the accelerator’s staff and mentors. There are many reasons why your company just doesn’t fit within the accelerator framework. Its not the accelerators fault.
- If you are worried about the equity you have to give up to the accelerator as part of the program, then don’t go. Seriously, don’t go.
Bottom line. Should you do an accelerator?
Maybe. It’s really your decision. Techstars Boulder’s deadline is 3/16/12. Get on it.
But, if you get in, and decide to do it, then do it 120%. Work harder than everyone else. Push yourself and your team. Become great. Don’t be one of the forgotten companies.
And if you decide that you don’t need an accelerator, well then, thats cool too. Prove to the world that you don’t.
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Every year when people start applying to Techstars (now in 3 cities!), I get emails and phone calls asking for my advice.
I always ask the same question, “Do you have a Hacker and a Hustler?”
Sometimes, I get the response, “Im both.”
To which I suggest that they rethink their application. Its nearly impossible for a single founder to have much success building his startup, let alone getting through a program like Techstars (or Y-Combinator or any of the dozens of others). One person can not do it all. Its really that simple.
What do I mean by a Hacker and a Hustler?
A Hacker is more than a code monkey, who can quickly build software and find interesting ways to hack together code. Thats a developer. Thats someone who is definitely an important part of a startup, but not critical to its success. A Hacker is someone who looks the problem, and solves it in a unique and special way. A Hacker finds the process of problem solving exciting and interesting, and spends the majority of their time looking at the problem in multiple ways, finding many potential solutions.
Often the Hacker is a coder, but not always the best coder you have on your team. Nate and Natty, of Everlater, are decent coders at best. In the last couple of years, they have taught themselves, by trial and error, how to code. I would imagine if you asked either one of them if they considered themselves amazing developers, they would probably indicate otherwise. But as Hackers? They are amazing.
A Hustler on the other other hand is a relationship builder. Someone who can build direct relationships with their customers. They arent really promoters, although they do a lot of promotion. They arent salespeople, although they do a lot of selling. They are passion people. They have the ability to articulate their passion clearly and in a way that gets other people equally passionate.
A true Hustler can get people using their product, or raise money, with little to no capital expenditure. Any one can run a Google Adwords campaign, or buy a billboard. Only a Hustler can get you to love their product in a way where you will speak passionately about it to your friends. A true Hustler is patient zero in a viral campaign.
My favorite young Hustler is Garry Tan of Posterous. Their recent campaign about switching from “dying” services to Posterous is genius, and a great example of the Hacker/Hustler dynamic. To figure out how to import data from one system to another is never easy, yet Posterous has hacked together some great importers. Rather than just releasing an “All-in-One” importer, Garry decided to release one a week, and build some noise around it. Not only has their been noise, but Posterous’ growth has been reported on (since they are self-proclaimed not dying) several times.
Was it just Garry’s idea? I would guess that with investors/advisors like Tim Ferriss, Chris Sacca, Paul Graham and others that it may have originated from the larger group, but his execution of it has been perfect.
A Hacker and a Hustler. Every great startup has a pair. Woz and Jobs are probably the most successful Hacker and Hustler tandem out there, there are thousands.
Ask yourself, as you begin down the path of building a great startup, are you a Hacker or a Hustler? Does your team have both pieces?
If you lack one or the other, your ability to be successful greatly diminishes.
(BTW: A topic for another post, but a company doesnt need a Hacker and a Hustler forever. Its why most startups see at least one founder leave.)
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