What could you do with your startup in 12 weeks? A lot, right? Especially when you have support, mentorship, and funding. What about 12 months? The typical incubator/accelerator lasts between 6 weeks and 14 weeks. The typical startup studio gets the startup up and going, whether it takes 6 weeks or 24 months. In the studio model, the startup transitions from totally supported by the studio to totally independent over some amount of time. The longer time-frame allows the studio to increase the odds of success.
Accelerator programs tend to culminate in a pitch event on some specified date. While some of the startups are ready by that date, others have to “fake it until they make it.” From my experience at demo-days, the majority of accelerated startups are not yet ready to launch off the accelerator’s stage. This is through no fault of the accelerators nor the startup founders themselves. 12 weeks is a long time until you consider the impossible task of accelerating your startup. Most startups just can’t get off the ground in that time, no matter how awesome the mentors, founders and support network are.
Studios don’t typically run classes with a promotional demo day event. Instead, they spin up companies as teams are formed and tested. Studios still have arbitrary deadlines. If the team doesn’t gel by this date, we’ll pull the plug. If they don’t find customers by this date, we’ll pull the plug. If they can’t get funding by this time, we’ll pull the plug. There is still an urgency and push, but the timelines are set for each startup’s success. Burn rate is considered. R&D is taken into account. Setbacks are assumed.
Just consider the word. If you strap yourself onto a rocket and ignite the boosters, you’ll shoot off at ever-increasing speeds. If the rocket fuel burns too quickly, even the toughest cosmonauts will pass out – they just can’t get enough blood to the brain. Startups are similar. They can only accelerate so quickly. Going any quicker is actually detrimental to the team, project, customers and investors. This is why accelerators spend great effort in choosing the best teams – the teams that are prepared to launch.
For a top-notch accelerator, out of a thousand applicants, only one percent are chosen. Typically, the chosen teams take less acceleration because they are often farther along. The startup may already be selling their product. Or the team may have prior experience – giving them a head start.
Slow Down to Speed Up
Sometimes you have to slow down to speed up. Corrections and time spent at the beginning can save time in the end. In a 12-week accelerated time crunch, you rarely have time to slow down. As a result, you rarely hear this phrase in an incubator. Yet, this phrase is used throughout business worldwide. Eric Ries uses this phrase in public speeches and in his best-selling book on The Lean Startup Model.
Pivots are necessary in every lean startup. Some pivots slow a team down. Others speed the team up. This is one element of the slow-down-to-speed-up concept. Unfortunately, pivots don’t just accelerate and decelerate the team, they jerk the team around. Self-imposed and mentor whiplash is a challenge for every entrepreneur I’ve met, regardless of being accelerated, incubated, or spun out in a studio. When a team is operating under accelerated time, whiplash just increases in frequency and intensity. When operating under a studio, the whiplash is extended over longer time, but can be just as challenging.
The Long View
Studios focus on the extremely early stage setup of the startup with the long-term view in mind. Studios take the time to validate the hell out of a project before building a team around it. This means the teams start in better positions – less acceleration is necessary. We fill out our teams with experienced entrepreneurs – again, less acceleration is necessary. We provide a seed fund – giving the initial rocket fuel to jump-start the rockets. When studios build a startup rocket, we consider the long-view and what will get the team to the scalable goal with the fewest pivots.
A Long Story Short
All this discussion of accelerated time isn’t to say that accelerators have it wrong. To the contrary – they understand that if you take the right team and accelerate them, great things will happen. The point of this post is to state that accelerators, which have gained so much publicity, are but one approach among many. Entrepreneurs should remember there are many extremely valid approaches. 12-week accelerated time works for some startups, but shouldn’t be sought out by everyone. As much as we’d love for a single model to work for every project or team, the world just isn’t that simple.
- The top accelerator programs of 2016 (ranked by a team of researchers at MIT and the University of Richmond) were 500 startups, Alchemist, Amplify LA, and Chicago New Venture Challenge; just to name a few. –Brian Solomon via Forbes
- Accelerators can benefit startups in many ways, here’re some reasons to consider an accelerator program: great networking, expand your perspective, continual practice, and greater information especially on competition. –Debra Carpenter via Startup Grind
- “Think of a business incubator as a hatchery for small businesses; this is where innovative ideas are fashioned and framed into functional businesses. Accelerators, on the other hand, operate on a bigger scale, with a focus on established companies that show significant traction and growth potential.” –FOXYpreneur Infographic
Author: Jesse Lawrence
Founder and CEO of Boulder Bits. Sci-fi lover, game theory strategist, and idea generator.