Getting into an accelerator program can change the growth trajectory of your startup. Although they’re often presented as educational environments, you’ll find most programs are largely self-directed. Here’s how to make the most of your accelerator:
Engage Peers as Customers
Why: The companies in your class are a great source of feedback for your early product and very often will become your first customers. Even if you’re focused on selling to large enterprises, your peers can connect you to target companies. For example, Gusto may have a $1B+ valuation now, but many of their first customers came from their Y-Combinator class back in 2012.
How: Make friends with other founders at orientation, be outgoing and welcoming in the group sessions. Ask about their product and offer feedback. Be willing to test demos or even trial your classmates’ software, if you have a potential use case. It won’t be long before they ask if they can help you.
Find your Mentors
Why: Most programs will have 10+ partners, mentors, or advisors whom you can regularly access for help. Building good relationships with a few of them can result in more help, and more opportunities. For example, Paul Graham once told Techcrunch our growth looked similar to Airbnb’s.
How: Try to meet as many of the mentors as you can in the early part of the program — targeting those with relevant expertise. Schedule office hours to go over your startup’s current problems. You’re looking for the people who are both helpful and a good personality match with you (which won’t usually be everyone).
Why: The program’s curriculum and guest speakers can help you avoid the most common early stage pitfalls, but you will not learn what to avoid, if you don’t attend the events. You also miss the chance to meet and potentially build valuable relationships with the speakers, many of whom could be your future investors.
How: Start strong with full attendance at orientation and early social events. Always attend the core sessions, which are usually every week or two. Don’t be afraid to ask if optional sessions are right for you — the partners are there to answer your questions.
Fundraise on Demo Day
Why: Demo days drive a large amount of investor interest and healthy competition from investors. The average startup can expect ~30 meetings from a demo day. This huge fundraising head start is almost impossible to replicate on your own.
How: Don’t spend all your time fundraising during the beginning weeks of the program, it’s a distraction and often fails when you have minimal traction. Instead, plan with your team and mentors in advance, so you’re demonstrating increasing strength in the run up to Demo Day. This is when most investors will want to meet.
Accelerator programs are very short in comparison to the lifespan of your startup. Plan ahead and engage the resources offered to ensure your company gets the maximum benefit from the program. Demo day will come quickly; make sure you’re ready.
If you’re a B2B company at the seed stage looking for help, you can reach me at email@example.com.
Thanks to Kaego Rust and David Smooke for their help on this article.