14 Apr 2015

How not to get on BGV – or any startup accelerator

By Glen

We meet a lot of people starting up at BGV – it is, to be honest, one of our favourite parts of our jobs. Fun. Interesting. New people. New ideas. Great stuff. There’s no right way to create a startup, but there are lots of red flags for us.

These may not be the most original tips, but they keep coming up, and bear repeating.

1) Don’t have a team

Probably the most-lamented words I’ve heard from people running accelerators are something like “Great idea, no team” (or great idea, bad team).

It’s really difficult to find someone who you trust who you can work with, that has the right skills to balance yours, who see the problem you’re trying to solve from the same perspective that you can, but this is the person who’s going to be up late at night with you, working on your shared vision, who can help keep you motivated when you’re feeling down.

They don’t have to all be co-founders, but I wouldn’t get too precious with that word, or with equity – think where you’ll be in 5 years’ time. The equity pool will be much larger with the right founding team, and without it, the likelihood is that it’s going to be very small otherwise.

2) “Let me tell you about my seven different ideas, which should I apply with?”

This one doesn’t come up very often, but when it does it’s usually fairly frustrating. We’ve found that the best ideas aren’t worth a lot without the team – see point one – and that some of our most successful teams have taken paths and used ideas that we, as a team, wouldn’t pursue

Here’s the thing: This is going to be the hardest job you’ll ever do. Do the one you want, the one you’re burning to do, the one that everyone tells you not to do. Not the one that someone else thinks is “right”.

3) “I’ve got a billion pound market that I can corner in just a few weeks”

This – and its derivatives – simply demonstrate that the person can’t be bothered to read our most basic criteria. We’ve got a specific remit. We’re excited about people who want to change the world, working on stuff that matters.

It’s not just us: most programmes like us have a particular focus, and the support is far more valuable than the money on offer, but for few the motivation is really the money. There’s money to be made, but there’s no shortcut to making money – except, maybe, to focus on something else. There are easier ways to make money.

4) Not taking feedback onboard

An accelerator programme is a very intense experience; I liken it to the last year of University all in three months, except that you hopefully won’t get a job at the end of it. It’s a great, supportive environment in which to try new things – and, yes, to fail (though, hopefully, in a survivable fashion).

You don’t have to take the advice that’s on offer – many of our best teams didn’t, and did well – but the ability to listen to and process that feedback is an important life skill, one that will serve you well.

5) Trying to work out what we want to hear

There isn’t a right or wrong answer – most of our questions are there to see how you take feedback (see #4 above) or to try to work out how you think. Starting a startup is a complicated business, and we’re interested in what you want to do, why you want to do it, and whether or not our support is going to make a difference to you.

Answer the questions honestly – and don’t be afraid to say when you don’t know something. That gives us something to talk about.

Applications for BGV Summer accelerator programme close 20th April 2015. If you’re thinking of applying there’s still time to chat with us about your idea before you submit your application – contact us today.