How To Get the Most Out of an Accelerator Program
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Starting a business is like jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down, but you don’t have to do it alone. Accelerator programs can help you clarify your vision for your company and help you move faster toward success.
Pilot’s Founder in Residence Gillian O’Brien sat down with Segment Startup Program Senior Manager Graham Hunter, Corq Co-Founder Alexander Hanthorn, and Complete Co-Founder Rani Mavram in a webinar on their experiences at Techstars, ODX by On Deck, and Y Combinator, respectively. During their discussion, these four founders shared advice on preparing for a program, how to fight off founder isolation, and why the ability to pivot is vital for an entrepreneur.
Focus on Demo Day
Accelerator programs are just a brief part of your long-term journey as a startup founder, which means focus is vital. A lot of people get drawn into big-picture ideas, but unless you pinpoint exactly what you intend to get out of the accelerator program, you won’t achieve as much as you want.
“Be focused on what the outcome you want demo day to be, because that is the biggest creator of momentum,” Graham said.
Momentum is your greatest asset in a new business; momentum gets funding, and that funding, in turn, increases your momentum. Don’t spend all your time focusing on long-term plays that don’t impact your company’s direction, product, or funding. In an accelerator program, the focus needs to stay on demo day.
Connect With Other Founders
You’re in a unique position as a founder. You're dealing with a lot of problems and dynamics that are rarely experienced by people in other roles, which can make it hard to talk to someone who’s not a founder.
This is where one of the most valuable parts of an accelerator program comes into play: other founders. An accelerator program puts you in direct contact with other founders, people who are in the exact same role as you, which means you can talk to someone who understands your goals and problems.
“I no longer felt like I was alone on an island trying to face and battle this giant monster, Alex said. “Instead, I realized there are other people trying to do the same thing, too.”
Other founders can offer you a level of empathy and camaraderie that even your friends and family can’t provide. Even if you aren’t talking about work, having someone who understands where you’re coming from is a powerful thing. You need to prioritize community with other founders to stave off feelings of isolation.
Ignore Imposter Syndrome
Everyone struggles with imposter syndrome, even founders. In fact, sometimes being a founder amplifies these feelings, but the truth is other founders feel the same way.
So, instead of retreating and letting imposter syndrome take over, you need to face your fears head-on. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand because there’s a good chance that other people are thinking the same thing. Accelerator programs are an opportunity for you to learn and discover, but they’re also an opportunity for you to collaborate with others as well.
“Be open, be a sponge, but also don't be afraid to lean into your expertise,” Alex said. “There's a reason you got there. You're good at what you do.”
There are going to be many opportunities for you to teach as there are to learn, so don’t be afraid to share your expertise with people who ask; you could both learn something new.
Throughout your accelerator program, you’re going to be learning different things and having different experiences every week. You’ll get much more out of an accelerated program if there are people who hold you accountable for what you want to accomplish.
Build relationships with people who are willing to check in with you on a weekly basis. They’ll hold you accountable to your goals and may even be able to see things from a different perspective.
“They were picking up on things that I wouldn't even see because I was running at ground level and they were looking at what I was doing from a 30,000-foot view,” Rani said.
When you’re in the middle of a program, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees, so it’s helpful to have a guide or mentor who can provide an outside input and make sure you’re staying on track.
Be Specific About Your Goals
To accomplish anything during an accelerator program, knowing exactly what goals you want to accomplish. It’s easy to get distracted by other people’s goals or successes, but you have to prioritize your own plan of action.
“I think being more specific around what you're really trying to accomplish is going to be huge,” Alex said.
If you have a specific plan, let an advisor or mentor know what you want to accomplish; the more concrete your plan is, the more likely you are to stick with it to the end.
Be Willing to Pivot
Founders spend a lot of time executing their plans, but before you spend all your time and energy on a specific plan or trajectory, take a step back and re-evaluate it.
“Willingness to pivot is almost the singular most impactful thing that I see in successful founders, besides being a non-neurotypical, engineer person,” Graham said.
A lot of people don't spend enough time thinking about those foundational things and spend a little too much time executing something that they find out isn’t a good idea later on. You don’t want to waste your time and energy on a plan that will eventually be all for naught, so it’s better to re-evaluate and pivot before you start putting in the work on your latest plan.
Accelerator programs are a great way to boost your new enterprise, but it’s important to have a plan of action before you begin. Once you’re in the middle of the program, it’s easy to lose sight of your goals. Take a careful look at where you are now and where you want to go so you can stay on course.
Getting into a startup accelerator is a game-changing opportunity to take your big idea to the next level. With the right insights in hand, you and your co-founders can trade notes with other talented entrepreneurs, fine tune your business plans, and glean invaluable insights from high-profile VCs and founders of successful startups. Get more insider tips on what you should know as a founder before an accelerator program begins by watching our pre-accelerator prep webinar on demand now.