It’s an interesting time for us leaving our accelerator behind and returning to Amsterdam to launch our online platform in the Dutch capital next month.
For those of you who aren’t familiar, an accelerator program provides a start-up with funding, office space, mentorship and access to investors, usually in return for a stake in the company (around 6-8%). But no two programs are alike, and it seems like new programs are popping up every day. The most renowned ones, i.e. YC Combinator and Techstars, accept less than 1 % of applicants into their programs.
While an accelerator can be a great stepping stone, it is certainly no guaranteed road to success!
First, there are the social ‘obligations’ that come with sharing an office space with, in our case, 50+ teams of young people, competing on the number of after-work cocktails rather than the number of new customers acquired. I’ve also noticed myself starting to benchmark our team to other teams which, however, were not at all related to our business whatsoever and operating in completely different markets. This can lead to skewed aspirations and mismatched expectations, and in many cases, an inflated ego.
‘We are special, we were accepted into an accelerator and are now destined for greatness’. Wake up, it’s a damn competitive world out there, and a few cocktails aren’t going to change that.
The majority of programs require a physical relocation, meaning you can be far away from your test market. This can lead to the danger of hiding behind one’s laptop for a few months, trying to create the perfect product, without testing it with real-life customers in your relevant market. This can skew your results and make you waste time on ‘potential’ customers that never were potential customers, to begin with.
Yet, despite all reasons mentioned, I know we took the right decision in attending our first accelerator. Why? Because FRANK about tea was nothing more than an idea when we got there, and the accelerator provided us with the necessary seed capital to turn an idea into a revenue generating start-up.
Accelerators can certainly add value and a strong network, but they are clearly suffering under the start-up hype, and one should carefully assess the true value of the network and mentorship the program provides.
For me, these programs take away the hustle in some way, covering your edges with a soft blanket; making you forget for a short while, that it’s a damn competitive world out there, and people aren’t just going to buy your product and make you rich overnight.
It’s kind of like going back to school, you are taught a few new theoretical skills, all within a structured, comfortable environment, while you dream of becoming the next president. Replace the aspiration for president with the dream of becoming the next Uber or Airbnb, and it’s the same thing really. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been told by other accelerators or Venture Capitalists: ‘Well what we are really looking for is the next Airbnb or Uber.’ No shit, aren’t we all.
While the majority of our peers are jumping into the next accelerator, a phenomenon I like to refer to as ‘accelerator hopping’, we have decided to strip our expenses to the minimum, and fully focus on getting our product market-ready instead, without the distractions and obligations that come with each new accelerator program. While trying to decide whether to join the next program or not, I asked myself: ‘Would Steve Jobs have attended an accelerator program? Hell, no!‘
While I do not aim to ever compare myself to Steve Jobs, my point is that accelerators can turn disruptors into sheep, leaders into followers. While in fact, we should be out there, disrupting shit, and turning the very system upside down that many accelerators help to keep in place.
Keep it FRANK.