Yes, yes. We’re always trying to convince people that accelerators are generally a good idea. And they are, for a lot of you out there. But not for all of you.
Here are 8 reasons not to join an accelerator. If any of these speak to you, consider very carefully whether going to one won’t be a frustrating waste of your time and energy.
1. You Need the Money
Time and again, we meet with startups who only have questions about the money and terms we offer to startups. If you’re joining an accelerator for the money it provides, think twice.
First of all, it isn’t a lot of money, really. 30,000 Euros might seem like a lot -older accelerators like Y-C give up to $120,000- and more in follow on financing. But if your idea is really workable as a business, you can find that money somewhere else. And when you do, it’s likely you wouldn’t have to give up a sizable stake in your company for it.
The money-for-equity equation doesn’t make sense by itself, but the accelerator model makes sense when you look at the results. StartupYard companies are at least 3 times more likely to survive their first year than companies who don’t join an accelerator, and our vested interest is in every one of our companies becoming a success, and fetching a high priced exit. The funding we provide couldn’t accomplish this. It would be a poor investment. But the connections, guidance, and support we provide can make the difference between a company falling off the map in a year or two, or getting seriously funded, and having a shot at real success.
2. An Accelerator Means Instant Growth and Recognition
Sorry, it won’t work that way. DropBox, Twitch, Stripe, AirBnB, Softlayer, and SendGrid (all companies that went through accelerators), did not become successes just because they were in accelerators. Quite the opposite: these companies made Y-Combinator and TechStars famous.
No, they became successes because they had dedicated founders who made the right decisions and just as importantly, worked hard. We can’t make you work hard, but we can help you make the right decisions, and forge important connections. That’s it. It’s hardly rocket science (though some of our alums are rocket scientists).
Every startup, to some degree, has to be in the right place at the right time. An accelerator can help you be in that right place, and help you determine whether it is the right time. We can be a firewall against your worst impulses, but we cannot do any of it for you. If you expect that an accelerator will make you famous and win you funding, don’t be so sure. You’ll be the one doing the work.
3. You’re a Solo Act
You’re a lone wolf, who plays by her own rules. You don’t need a co-founder, because that person would just get in your way. The glory will be yours alone.
That’s all fine, except we’re not interested. A single founder can become a bottleneck for new ideas and input. He or she can also become a blocker for needed action. A single person with too much control over a startup will find it easier and more tempting to resist doubts, and to avoid stopping to reconsider strategy. Beyond that, a single founder usually just can’t handle all the demands of attending an accelerator and running a company at the same time.
Anybody who has ever watched a police drama knows the dynamic. A partner is somebody who can play good cop to your bad cop, and can back you up when you’re in trouble. They’re someone who can tell you you’re crazy, or can confirm that you’re really onto something. Nobody wants to approach a lone wolf, so get a partner you can trust.
4. Your Ideas Are Perfect
You don’t tolerate criticism. Why should you? You’ve been successful all your life, and this situation is no different. You will just make your company work, no matter what, doing what you had it in mind to do.
My advice is, go for it. If it’s a perfect idea, then it really will all work out without you having to question it. But if you’re coming to an accelerator thinking that even the basic idea behind your company can’t change, then don’t come. Stay home.
Accelerators are for failure as much as they are for success. Better to fail early on, and in a controlled way, than to build an empire on sand. We will push you to falsify all your notions of what will work, and what won’t. Most startups discover basic, critical flaws in their concepts while attending our program, which is exactly when they should discover them.
5. You’re a Tourist
Like a weekend wine-taster in Napa (or maybe Moravia), you’re just dipping your toes in the water to see what this whole startup thing is about. You’re not about to buy a winery and start mashing your own grapes, unless somebody can convince you it’s a good idea.
We don’t have the energy or the heart to sell your own startup to you. If you’re not sure it’s something you want to dedicate your life to working on for at least several years, then don’t join an accelerator. You’ll save everyone, yourself included, a lot of grief.
On the same token, don’t join an accelerator expecting to pick and choose what you’ll get out of it. “I just need the mentors, I don’t need the workshops.” I can’t say how many times I’ve heard words to this effect. And yet, these are usually the founders who need our input the most. But if a founder isn’t open minded and open hearted, there isn’t much we can do to change that.
6. You’re Not a Startup
That sounds a bit silly, but it’s a real thing. Part of the problem is something we’ve discussed a lot, which is that tech companies today seem to think they have to be “startups.”
Startups are companies that need to scale quickly in order to survive. They are companies that are innovating a new technology or business idea or process that hasn’t been tried before in just that way.
But every year, we get applications from game companies, digital agencies, and e-commerce providers who want to tap into the “startup mojo,” and experience hyper growth without having a hyper-growth product.
The line between a traditional business and a startup can be unclear at times- sometimes their products do essentially the same things, but in radically different ways. Make sure your path forward involves rapid growth, and global reach, and that it isn’t, in the parlance of Y-Combinator, a “lifestyle business,” set up to make a small profit over many years of steady business.
7. You’re Looking to Cash Out
I wouldn’t compare running a startup to gambling, but there is one parallel that is inescapable. When you go to a casino, the best practice is to give yourself a limit, and expect to lose all the money you’ve committed to gambling. If that’s an amount of money you’d be comfortable simply setting on fire and walking away, then it’s ok to play a little blackjack. Otherwise, don’t play.
So it has to be with running a startup. If you’re not comfortable with existential risks to your business, then you should probably be in a different field. And if you’re drawn to running a startup because you know that some startups get large payouts in the form of acquisitions, then it’s unlikely that you also have enough affinity for the idea behind your startup, to stick with it even when things look bad. And they will, at some point, look bad.
8. You Want to Be Famous
Let us not dwell on this. Just, no.