When David Cohen and I co-founded Techstars, we created the accelerator. Twelve years later, accelerators are a known concept, and there are accelerators around the world and with options for almost every startup. What hasn't changed in the past dozen years is the struggle that startup founders have about whether or not an accelerator-- any good accelerator-- is right for them.
Myths abound about the accelerator experience, and what's truly valuable about it. I'm going to dig in on a few of the most common reasons that startup founders believe they don't need an accelerator-- and show you why these may actually be the very reason why you do.
1. We already have product-market fit.
Myth: We already know what our product-market fit is, so why should we join an accelerator? It will just slow us down.
Such a good point! A lot of the time spent in an accelerator is not just defining your product-market fit, but really kicking the tires on that product-market fit.
What we've found is that taking the time to double down and test the assumptions, ask the market, meet with lots of mentors and give yourself the option to iterate and perhaps even re-evaluate your product-market fit is incredibly valuable--even critical to future success.
You should want to make sure of your product-market fit, and an accelerator is an excellent way to do this in a compressed time period. This isn't actually slowing down--it's slowing down in order to #domorefaster.
2. There's no time.
Myth: We don't have the time to focus, we just need to get sh** done and deliver.
So many early stage startups think that if they are busy, busy-- working all the time, eating ramen noodles, and not sleeping-- that they are living the entrepreneurial dream.
Let me tell you: that's not sustainable. It's akin to trying to sprint a marathon. You might be ahead for the first mile, but you're never going to make it to the finish line.
One of the best values of an accelerator is that it gives the team-- and a great team is the most important qualifier for a startup to be in an accelerator-- very focused and intense time to really know what sh** needs to get done and in what order, plus a plan to get there.
An accelerator is an excellent way to pull your team together with a focused plan that has a strong product-market fit--and find you mentors and peers to support you on your journey.
3. We've got enough money.
Myth: We already have the seed funding that we need. Why should we share our equity with anyone?
Giving up equity is an emotional subject. Anytime emotion comes into an equation, decisions become complicated.
The reality is that equity is simply currency. In the case of an accelerator, you are exchanging equity for access to unprecedented networks of investors, advisors, mentors, employees, business partners, and advocates. This kind of access provides value that money literally can't buy. Luckily, equity can.
Many founders raise early seed rounds that can support the business for the initial product for a runway of around three months to a year. If your company is going to be successful, it'll need fuel for longer than a year and many iterations of your mission.
It's awesome that you've filled the tank to get the startup car halfway across the country. You've shown that you can get things done, and get others to believe in your dream. These are great. But they don't change the fact that you'll still need to find the currency and agency to keep fuel in the tank to get you all the way across the country and back home again.
Accelerators give you time to deeply learn, set your plan, and grow your team so that you can put jet fuel into a rocket instead of gas into a two-cylinder car.