5 Mistakes to Avoid when Applying to a Startup Accelerator

Recently I had the opportunity to judge in a qualification process for a startup acceleration program called Mass Challenge. It was great to see how much innovation we have in our small country but it was also obvious that some of the applicants were making big mistakes in their applications.

Mass challenge applicants were making mistakes that decreased their chances of being accepted into the program

First mistake – Single person teams

Teams with only one person have a small chance of being accepted into an accelerator. Even worse, they have a small chance of succeeding, surviving or raising money. Think about pitching to an investor – his first thought will be: “you couldn’t even convince your friends that you are going to succeed”. My advice is to find really great co-founders before anything else. Possibly even before you have an idea. The criteria for finding a good co-founder is that you believe he should own an equal part of your company. If the person you found is not worthy of that then you haven’t found the right person.

Second mistake – English level and non-english videos

Israel is a pretty small country. Many local startups realized that and are addressing larger markets like the North American one or the Far East markets. However, a surprising number of applications presented one of the following related mistakes:
  • Having spelling errors and grammar errors
  • Including a youtube video with hebrew narration
  • Giving only Israeli customers as references
Penetrating a foreign market is hard enough as it is. The most basic requirement is to speak the language.

Links to social pages with lack of traction

When you get 100 applications, the easiest way to compare them is by how many users they have. Chris Dixon claimed that 10 million users is the seed round threshold and other expert have emphasized the importance of having traction. Accelerators are a step before a seed round so traction is not a must. However, if you do include links to social media pages, make sure they have some followers. I have seen consumer apps with as little as 250 likes but the biggest surprise was a link to a twitter account with 0 followers. Why would you even put that in there?

Not writing the team members names

Early stage investments are about teams. This is even more true for accelerators. Everything else is likely to change in the future, the product, the business model, the marketing strategy and the technology. There one thing that is supposed to stick is the team and that’s what accelerators are looking for. GREAT PEOPLE. Applying to an accelerator without giving your names is a big no no. We want to google you and  see what your linkedin profile looks like. What code you published on Github and what do you blog about.

Not addressing the critical mass question for a network idea

A pretty big number of ideas this year had a network component. Platforms for connecting people to make decisions, share tasks, sell items, make food for others, map traffic accidents and many other things all have one big thing in common. You might call it “the chicken and the egg problem” or “the critical mass problem”. The core of the problem is that the first user that wants to use the service has 0 value. If you want to buy and there are no sellers you will go elsewhere and if you want to sell home made food and there is no one buying you will not use the website. It’s a big problem and any startup that relays on building a network should know two things:
  • What is the critical mass? When can use come in and receive value immediately?
  • How do you get to the critical mass? What value can you give in the meanwhile to make people stay?
Most teams didn’t even show that they understand that this was an issue. If your idea falls in that category, make sure you have a plan to solve the critical mass problem.
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