10 Questions to Ask a Startup Accelerator
So you’ve been selected by an accelerator but you are still ensure if you should go? Believe it or not we see this all the time. Not every tech startup needs an accelerator, and not every accelerator is the right choice. How do you know?
Nothing can guarantee the fit, but here are 10 questions you *can* ask any accelerator to determine whether it is the program you really need.
1. Why Are You Interested in My Startup?
Few founders ask us this, but if the accelerator can’t clearly show you why your interests are aligned, you should think twice.
2. Are You Convinced by My Solution?
Everyone likes validation. But you don’t necessarily want an accelerator that isn’t willing to say “no.”
If an accelerator is not willing to voice doubts when you ask, then it might be a sign that they aren’t going to challenge you when needed.
3. What Do Your Investors Want, and/or Where is the Money Coming From?
Another key question almost no one asks. You really should, because the investors largely determine the direction of the accelerator. They ultimately control who runs the program, and thus the decisions being made.
If the money is from a corporate sponsor, what does the corporation want? If the money is private, then why are the investors backing this accelerator? If the money is public, what is the motivation? Pay attention to how aligned the accelerator team are with the investors. If the investors and the team have a solid relationship, then you aren’t dealing with office politics or competing ideas about what success looks like.
4. Does Your Management Team Have A Stake?
Ideally, the decision makers at the accelerator have a financial stake in the decisions they are making. This helps you to determine what their motivations in working with you really are.
Is it a deal breaker if they don’t have a stake? Maybe not, but you need to know who you’re talking to. The decisions a person makes when they have no financial stake in the outcome are bound to be different. Is the person making a decision because of the politics of their job, or because they really believe in it?
5. Have You Ever Fired a Startup During the Program?
Not every accelerator has ended a relationship with a startup in less than ideal circumstances. It does happen though, and the story is usually instructive.
We all make mistakes, but you need investors who learn from theirs, and are not afraid to tell you about them.
6. What Do You Expect from Me?
What we expect from our founders informs how we choose companies to work with, and what we see as success when they go through our program. We have our own tough standards, but they are not universally what all accelerators expect.
We want every one of our companies to be a unicorn. We expect them to try. We expect ambition and drive, and hard work. We expect companies to improve markedly in all areas during our program. We expect them to challenge themselves and to meet challenges that we help them set.
But if you ask us, we will tell you that we also expect things like personal availability, honesty, willingness to talk about your motivations and to discuss your feelings. We expect our founders to take a broad range of input that other accelerators might not insist on. We expect them to adjust their ambitions according to new realities; to make changes swiftly if something doesn’t work, and react to obstacles rather than avoiding them.
Some accelerators will give hard and fast expectations in terms of growth, even on a weekly basis. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but you need to understand the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.
You just need to know what you’re getting into, and what success looks like to accelerator you choose. Be honest with yourself, as to whether these are things you really want, and can handle.
7. What is Special About Your Ecosystem? Why Should I Go There?
Accelerators are deeply affected by their location in a particular ecosystem. What that ecosystem has and doesn’t have, and where it is, are important factors in your decision.
For example, StartupYard is located in a beautiful, accessible, and highly livable city: Prague. Our geography places us between East and West. We see that as a big advantage, and we want startups who also see it that way.
Our ecosystem has its strengths and weaknesses. Its size makes corporates more available, while it also limits which industries are most engaged here. The history of our region affects what we have to offer startups, and we work hard to express those peculiarities and special qualities to our companies.
Pick an ecosystem that works for you. Just because a place is big, doesn’t mean it’s best. Just because there’s money, doesn’t mean it’s the *right money*. The accelerator’s answers to this question will tell you a lot about how they see their value to you.
8. Do You Pay The Mentors?
Hopefully the answer is “No.”
A mentor community should be all-volunteer because the connections that founders make with their mentors must be genuine. These are people who you will be relying on to follow-up, to open their contacts to you, make introductions, and be available for further advice and support down the line. That has to come from a place of passion, not greed.
Our mentors do it for various reasons. It improves their personal or company brand, it makes them look good, it gives them insight into emerging trends, etc. Primarily our mentors tell us that they do it because of the personal fulfillment and stimulation they get out of being mentors. These are high achieving individuals, who relish the chance to talk to people at the beginning of their own journey, and share their wisdom and knowledge.
That should be enough.
9. What Entrepreneurial Experience Does Your Management Team Have?
An accelerator is for true entrepreneurs. No one is better suited to recognize your entrepreneurial strengths and weaknesses than a fellow traveler. That’s why most of StartupYard’s management team are founders themselves. Cedric Maloux, our Managing Director, was a tech founder since before it was cool, in the mid 90s. The rest of the team is also from entrepreneurial background.
A military leader with no combat experience is a danger to the people he leads. It’s the same in Startupland. An advisor who hasn’t seen plans and dreams fall apart, is a liability to the founders he or she advises.
10. Do You Have Partnerships with Potential Customers?
Accelerators are not just about learning. They’re about doing. A key part of growing your company is going to be working with larger partners inside and outside the tech industry. A B2B startup needs real customers to talk to, and a B2C startup needs to talk to companies who serve the customers they are after. So ask about the accelerator’s real relationships with companies that may be important to your success.
In Startupland, there are “Partnerships,” and there are Partnerships. Promotional partners are cheap, and the relationships totally impersonal. Sponsorships and co-operational partnerships are better. An ongoing partnership is better than a short-term one.
You want an accelerator with a real working relationship with key players inside multiple industries and corporations. You may not always know which contacts you need, so the depth of the partnerships are important. Just because a company’s logo is on the accelerator website, doesn’t mean you’ll get past the secretaries if you need to.
So when you ask about these partnerships, pay attention to which contacts the accelerator actually has: they should be C-level, or other empowered representatives like board members, founders, and investors.
No accelerator will have powerful contacts in every corporation or government institution you may need, but an accelerator should have strong relationships in a range of key industries. This is why StartupYard has a dedicated team member for Partnerships, and it is why we have investors and mentors with deep ties to tech-related industries, who can leverage their networks for founders.