Inorganic “Acceleration” is the Pits

Posted on August 6, 2012. Filed under: startups, venture capital |

There are many different styles to doing business…one of the pluses and minuses of joining an accelerator as a first time founder is that you are coached to adopt the style/playbook of that accelerator.  For a segment of any class or batch, the “YC” playbook or the “Techstars” playbook is a good fit.  Founders, if left to their own devices, would probably gravitate and ultimately arrive at a similar style of interaction independent of the accelerator, and the program, as it should, literally “accelerates” their journey to where they were naturally and organically headed…in this case, the value of participation is clear and the costs are minimal.  For another segment of the class, however, the “playbook” and “culture” of the accelerator (while successful for many) is at odds with the natural disposition of a founding team.  In such cases, people who would never fit the “YC/Techstars/Dreamit” archetype, attempt and are encouraged to emulate it, which causes a dissonance that I believe is detrimental to that startup’s trajectory (NOTE: each program has it’s own very distinct archetype).  If an accelerator does a good job in the selection process, and I am guessing they use “likelihood of fitting the mold” as an important heuristic, there are not to many square peg round hole situations…but the burden should not lay solely on the accelerators to find this chemistry.

Selection processes are short and imperfect…the decision to apply can be longer and more perfect.  Having the self-awareness to say “this accelerator is famous and big companies have come out of it, but I am not a ‘Techstars founder’ or a ‘YC founder’” is an amazing realization.  Some people treat starting up as sport, some delight in smoke and mirrors, some approach the challenge with reclusion and isolation, some take the tact of honesty and genuineness…I can list a litany of companies that have begun and succeeded with each approach, but can list very few that have won by adopting a cadence that is at odds with a founder’s natural disposition and DNA…You can fake the funk for 10 weeks, but not 10 years…and unfortunately it takes many longer than a seed round’s runway to realize that they aren’t building from their natural and organic disposition, but rather from the disposition of another.  When starting out, everybody is clawing for momentum…for a platform…any platform that will propel them out of the noise and into the game…in youth and inexperience, flexibility is an asset and malleability is a dagger.  I can see it in a young founder’s eyes when they are executing on a plan and character that is not their own.  There is a discomfort that they have been told to ignore…somehow convinced that that pit in their stomach is fear that they must overcome…when it is not fear at all that makes them uneasy…it is an awareness that they are acting at odds with their disposition.  Not everyone is meant to be calculating, not everyone is meant to be “product-obsessed,” and not everyone is comfortable walking the line between deception and sales…there are too many successes that have been built from a voice that lies deep within the self…amplified without compromise or adoption of “known archetypes and tactics…” If you see the program and it is you…apply…if you see yourself and it is not the program…do it your way and model after those who have done the same.

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5 Responses to “Inorganic “Acceleration” is the Pits”

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Well said.

“(NOTE: each program has it’s own very distinct archetype)”

Would be interested in what you think they are.

Excellent point and, coincidently, one I just experienced. I’m in the bay area to execute my startup so naturally I investigated the accelerator path. But, in my case, I did not sense a comfortable fit because I’m proposing an innovative way to conduct ecommerce. It’s distinctly not based on the conventional “product-obsessed” approach. Instead, it starts with a premium global demographic and then monetizes their much in-demand attributes. It’s a method not tried before so, as you pointed out, did not fit into one of the molds/archetypes they preferred.
But the best part of this piece is this:
…“there are too many successes that have been built from a voice that lies deep within the self…amplified without compromise or adoption of ‘known archetypes and tactics’ “
That’s is exactly what I need to hear this morning.
Nathan Schor

Thanks for the post, it articulated part of a gut feeling that I had about my own experiences, but had difficulty describing.

Well-put. That is what I wanted to say but it took me multiple paragraphs.

This is the reality and it’s great to see you touch on it.

A few related issues that occur even when the incubator is a good fit:

– There’s a tendency to think an accelerator will be a silver bullet for the company. My company fell victim to this (even though people warned us against it), and it definitely hurt our morale when reality struck and we saw our peer companies raising gobs of money.
– For newer companies that don’t have an established culture, the accelerator’s culture/schedule/vibe becomes their culture. When the program ends and no one is holding your hand anymore, there’s a cultural vacuum to fill.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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