Though we receive a lot of applications at StartupYard (240 in our most recent round), that doesn’t mean that every application we receive is worth much of our time. In fact, more than half of all applications don’t make it past the first screening.
Here, we’re going to talk about what makes applications to StartupYard successful, and what you can do to give yourself a better chance of reaching the final rounds of selection.
This seems easy enough, but it’s too much to ask of some applicants. Our first screening disqualifies any applications that are disorganized, incoherent, or incomplete. Do we ask for a team video? Did you provide one? No? Well, better luck elsewhere. The process is not that cumbersome. A disciplined person can get through our application in a short afternoon. There are no trick questions.
Aside from the completeness of an application, our first screening also disqualifies projects that ignore our open call guidelines in other ways. Most often, these projects are local in nature, or they are not really “startups.”
Sometimes, we get applications from digital agencies, or people looking to found a small business, like a shop or a local service. Those may be profitable ideas run by smart people, but that’s not what StartupYard is looking for.
It’s not that we don’t believe in small and traditional businesses. But StartupYard, our roster of mentors, and our program is designed to benefit startups that have a global potential, and are scalable on the world market. What advice and support can we give to someone who wants to open a shared workspace, or a local flower delivery company? Can our mentors help you get the best local delivery partners in a small town in Slovakia? Probably not.
And besides being accelerated at StartupYard would be a bad deal for a small business. If you want to open a shop, make up a business plan and get a bank loan like everyone else. You don’t have to run it like a startup.
Platforms Enabling New Businesses
The type of businesses we are looking for, our “bread and butter,” as we’ve put it in our open call announcement, are platforms that enable new businesses to thrive.
What does that mean, really?
Platforms like Gjirafa, BrandEmbassy, Shoptsie, TeskaLabs, and TrendLucid, among many others, are platforms that allow individuals and businesses to accomplish things they would never be able to do otherwise. They provide more than just a service. They enable entirely new ways of doing business.
Platforms have the potential to grow into new, as yet undeveloped markets- providing technologies that people don’t know they need yet. And platforms also have more potential to adapt and grow in parallel with new markets. A game or a cool tech toy are nice, but they get old, and they are hard to revitalize once the novelty is gone.
One-off tech products are more likely to be victims of change, rather than its agents, but platforms can adapt to an evolving world.
Deep Tech, Visionaries
Maybe 15 years ago, startups were about being first. That’s not really true today. Most of the pitches we hear now are for ideas that have either been tried before, or have already become big industries.
A lot of entrepreneurs think that success is “discovering” something no-one has ever thought of before. But that’s just not reflected in the history of technology. Great entrepreneurs don’t discover entirely new things. They build things no-one has ever tried to build.
On the other hand, a surprisingly small number of inventors ever capitalize on their discoveries directly. Guttenberg, Goodyear, Turing, Whitney, Tesla, and Meucci are names most of us know. But they all died poor, seeing their inventions benefit others.
We aren’t looking for inventors. We are looking for visionaries. Visionaries see the potential in new ideas, and instinctively see how to take advantage of them.
Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he invented a new process for making them. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the phone, it invented a new way of using them. Gates didn’t invent software- he invented the market for software. Facebook didn’t invent social networks, and Google didn’t invent search.
The ideas behind those companies and their successes can’t be written down in two sentences. They are ideas about doing things differently, and doing them better. This is about ambition as much as inventiveness. This is what “disruption,” is really all about, and it’s the ethos that will make a good idea into a great startup.
When we say we focus on “deep tech,” we mean that we look not just for a catchy idea, or something that sells, but for the drive and discipline and depth required to execute it in a way not tried before. We look for companies that are interested not just in being in a hot market, but in doing more with their technology than anyone has done before.
This is the reason that we bet on Gjirafa, a search engine for the Albanian web, in a world where Google dominates almost every market on the planet. And why we picked TeskaLabs, even though the Czech Republic alone has two giant security companies who are working on similar technology.
Big companies can’t move fast enough to out-think and out-innovate scrappy startups, and so great technological advances can come from unexpected and unlikely places. Those insights are the ones we are looking for.
We are interested in businesses that use technology as their unfair advantage, and can outwit bigger competitors with their mobility and flexibility, and their willingness to risk it all with a new approach.
B2C, or B2B
Much of the experience of the StartupYard team is in B2C SaaS products, but about half of the startups in our last cohort were in fact B2B businesses.
What startups will find in our program, is a focus on positioning and growing a company that is customer focused, and has a strong focus on design, user experience, and marketing, as well as agile development and plans for global growth.
While it’s easier in some ways to grow a B2C startup on the global market, where the needs of customers are broader, more flexible, and less specific than in the corporate world, that doesn’t mean a great B2B idea doesn’t have a chance at explosive growth. While the skills necessary to run a B2C company are different in detail from B2B, the general principles are the same, and many if not most of the skills overlap.
Our roster of mentors includes many veterans of B2B startups, and corporate environments, and our B2B startups have benefited just as much from our focus on communication and marketing as have our B2C companies.
Transactional and Subscription Models
We don’t often say what we aren’t interested in. But one thing we can do without is advertising based businesses.
Can they work? Yes. Many successful startups get a leg up from advertising, or survive on it. But advertising is a fickle beast, and unless you are able to generate millions of pages impressions per day, you’re unlikely to be interest us.
We are looking for businesses that are making something people are willing to pay for directly, through subscription or transactional fees. If your idea isn’t worth 9 Euros a month (or even .99 cents), to someone out there, then it may not be worth our time.
On the other hand, if you are building a platform that can leverage a network of advertisers, then we’re in business.