The latest startup fad is about "accelerators".
The last generation was dubbed "incubators". The lessons about them, from serial entrepreneurs, is worth thinking about before you choose to go that route for your first enterprise.
The current rush to try using a startup accelerator is well documented.Try reading about it in this Wall Street Journal report: "Start-Ups Crowd Accelerators".
So is an accelerator right for you?
Here are some things to ponder that serial entrepreneurs have learned about startup accelerators:
- They sound great to first-time entrepreneurs. What could be better? Great people instantly welcome you, offer free advice and quick access to real cash. Compared with going it alone, living on your savings for months before getting real money from angels or venture capitalists, that is very attractive. Yet there are some sobering realities to ponder before leaping into an accelerator.
- Their money is expensive. For $12,000 you would be charged 5% to 10% of your startup. That could be worth $2 million of you sell out later for, say $20 million. If you had kept that yourself, it would have gone to you, or you could have used it to attract needed employees.
- The great helpers are busy doing other things. Helpers in accelerators are mostly people wishing they could join the next Facebook. Or they are in the business of selling services such as legal and accounting help. Few have the deep experience the first-timers is eagerly seeking. If you are willing to settle for that level of basic business assistance, then you'll find it at the accelerator. It can be helpful, but it is not from the amazingly talented people pool that you might be expecting to pick from.
- The cash is a drop in the bucket. Your startup can not do much with $10 to $20 thousand of cash. Good technical people are able to find good jobs paying good salaries. Ditto with marketing and business development people. They are looking for full salaries that will use up your accelerator cash in one month.
- You still have the heavy lifting to do. After your initial idea gets scrubbed, worked over, and modified, you still have the hard work to do yourself. It is up to you to execute your first idea and begin the process of transforming it into something very valuable to end users and customers. Your accelerator advisors will be busy with a dozen or so other startups. It is up to you to find the missing people, recruit them (with no money for salaries), and get them working for you. Same goes for developing the product/service, preparing the marketing and so on.
- Other solutions can be free. Advisors and mentors are available who do not work in an accelerator. They include experienced people from the venture community: serial entrepreneurs, lawyers, angel investors, accountants, human resource recruiters, and venture capitalists. I've seen such people welcomed by first-timer entrepreneurs and seen them receive outstanding advice (and they get an offer to return for more) at no cost (stock or cash). Why? Because each knows what it is like to be a first-timer, is willing to contribute advice (as they sought in the beginning) and want to not miss a great idea for a great startup.
- Other solutions can be more useful. Try considering some of these and compare them with an accelerator:
- Early contact with angel investors often opens a link between first-timer and a very experienced business person. That can lead to a small seed round of financing, with more to follow.
- Starting with an "advisory meeting" with a great venture capitalist can cement a relationship that leads to a business plan that wealthy private business people finance (often in large public corporations that the venture capitalist financed years earlier).
- Classes in entreprenership can be found in nearly every school. Taught by experienced people, they cover the basics in depth of what you need to be successful. The cost of the courses are very low and rich in content. Some are online and self-paced.
- And you can simply spend three months doing "informational interviews" with CEOs and core team members of startups. You'll be amazed at how much you learn listening to them over a cup of coffee or lunch. A few have written books.
- The nice thing about all of these is that you have not spent any cash or given away any shares.
BOTTOM LINE: "What is my alternative?" is the first question a serial entrepreneur asks him or herself when thinking about doing the next startup. Accelerators have their place in the startup world, but are not the be-all for everyone. To move from idea to clever plan that has a chance to contruct an unfair competitive advantage you'll need a lot more help than can come from an accelerator. Serial entreprenurs know that. So try contacting a few and give your alternatives consideration as you plan your next step.
I wish you The Best on your Adventure!