So you want to join an accelerator?

F = m.a;
a = F/m
... implies that F is the accelerator entity (partners, money, resources) and 
'm' is you, the founder and your startup. hmmm.

My friend Semil Shah asked me about accelerators and demo days. I thought about it for a few days and other than Elad’s incisive “Incubator of Incubators” parody, I think there has been little of substance, though lots of noise in the valley about accelerators.

The five myths of an accelerator are:

1. Partner and Accelerator brand will bring introductions and subsequent financings.

2. Demo days create froth for your startup (that results in financings, acquihires, customers!)

3. Accelerators have divined the right time-period for you to grace the accelerator.

4. Office hours with partners and mentor pools picked just for you.

5. Optimal number of startups in each batch that make it the best experience for you


The reality is:

1. Ultimately the relationships to upstream VCs transact on credible and high talent opportunities that ‘graduate’ from accelerators.  Accelerator/partner’s personal brand must  be a composite of your startup successes and in the event of failures – honest/authentic effort.

2. Demo days are irrelevant. No high quality venture interaction results. It is like doing a ‘graduation ceremony’ for Grade-1. Meaningful only in the short-term and vaguely so to the participants, irrelevant to the ecosystem you may care about – partners, customers, users, employees.

3. The timeline is surely different for each startup and for each team. Herding them through the same time/effort seems distinctly sub-optimal. I’d suggest accelerators offer a clear, honest timeline for each opportunity and a set of criteria with which they graduate. The notion of a ‘class’ or ‘cohort’ is a toxic concept borrowed from a nearly-dead patriarchal education system. Pitch and commit to the startups/founders that the accelerator will tailor their efforts to founder needs, not ask founders to contort their efforts within an arbitrary ‘window’ of a batch, class, or cohort.

4. Founder-to-founder peer interaction is invaluable. The best problem solvers are their peers, not the accelerator-partners or the accelerator-mentors that have never been founders.  An accelerator must encourage this interaction and make it structured. Think “Founder Platform” minus the VCs.

5. Very few components of a venture capital model scale up well. Unless the accelerator started out small (1, 2,.. 3?) and scaled up by learning the kind of hard lessons a startup learns, you – the founder, are merely a dot on an initial experiment of finding the right scale of operation for the accelerator.