The obvious question any company will have when they are not accepted into an accelerator programme is “What could I have done differently” or “What was missing?” or “What can I do to prepare for the next programme?”. Before I address what you should focus on next, I will say that accelerators receive a lot of great applications from strong teams with interesting ideas. My first piece of advice is don’t give up. We could have missed something in your application and/or we may need to see more traction in order to understand the potential market for your product.
In this post I will address what all early stage companies should focus on as they prepare for an accelerator programme or early stage investment.
Solve a Real Problem
Is your product a nice to have or a must have? Would your customer pay for your product or are the alternatives good enough to prevent a switch? How often would your customer use the product and would they easily forget that it exists?
There are a multitude of interesting ideas but what all successful technology companies have in common is they have developed products that are far better than any alternative, products that are sticky, and products that their customers eventually cannot (or believe they cannot) live without.
Know Your Customer
The first step in building a product that solves your customer’s problem is understanding who your customer REALLY is. I know this sounds obvious but so often, companies list all the customer groups they could sell to without focusing on one specific group. With limited resources you will need to focus on your core customer group and identify the unifying problem that group has. Knowing your customer is the first step in articulating what problem you are solving to investors as well.
Spend Time with your Customers
Get a prototype in front of your customer as soon as possible, especially if you do not have deep market knowledge and/or if you do not have direct experience with the problem you are solving. From there, establish your customer feedback loop (customer feedback- iterate – customer feedback-iterate) and start tracking the right metrics. When I say the right metrics I mean the metrics that help you develop your product. Identify how often your customers are using the product, how long they use it, and what they use it for. Take a look atPirate metrics to start identifying what to track.
Ensure Your Market is Large Enough
If you plan on bringing external investors on board you will need to prove that your market size is large enough and your business can scale. When you calculate your market size take into consideration future product features and new markets. All expansions should fit in to your company’s original vision.
Also consider your direct and indirect competitors. Will they take market share from you? Is the market large enough for several players? Is your product unique enough that you can protect your market share?
Balance Your Team
The strongest teams have complementary skill sets. Review your team and identify what gaps exists. No one expects you to have a full team from the start but you should understand your team’s strengths, it’s gaps and have a plan to fill those gaps. Consider adding strategic advisors to provide market knowledge and potentially fill some of the skills gaps.
Build Your Investor Network
Start meeting investors before you actually need investment. It takes time to really understand a business and to feel confident that a team is able to hit its targets. Warm introductions are always best so use LinkedIn to see how you are connected and talk to other startups that may already have investment from those investors. Keep a list of all investors you have spoken to and update them when you have hit key milestones.
Finally, if you really want to join an accelerator programme, consider applying to other accelerators that also fit your company profile. If you really feel that one specific accelerator would benefit you, keep the team updated on your progress and apply for the next programme.
– Mary Criebardis Singh, Programme Director