At some point in nearly every startup founder’s journey, he or she will wonder whether to apply to join an accelerator. It’s an idea worth pondering. The funding, mentorship, and networking opportunities some accelerators can provide have proven key to the success of countless startups in Silicon Valley and beyond. Moreover, for first-time entrepreneurs especially, gaining acceptance into an accelerator provides validation that all the time you’ve poured into building an idea from scratch might actually pay off.
That second part is huge, particularly if you don’t yet have a lot of paying customers or a crystal-clear path to revenue.
But while more and more accelerators seem to be popping up every day, not all are created equal. Established accelerators such as Y Combinator, Techstars, and 500 Startups are still churning out companies averaging valuations of tens of millions of dollars, but joining the wrong accelerator — or joining for the wrong reasons — could hinder your growth and even lead to failure.
Starting With the ‘Why’
If you do find yourself seriously considering joining an accelerator, you’ll want to ask yourself why. Ideally, your answer will align with your reasons for starting your company in the first place.
The funding, mentorship, networking opportunities, and validation can be a major boon for any company, but if that’s all you’re after, you’re going to have a hard time convincing the right people to invest their time, money, and energy into you and your team. That’s because, as author and marketing expert Simon Sinek concisely put it, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” On the other hand, if those are your only motivators, you could very easily just join any accelerator. After all, every one of them claims to offer all of the above.
But these days, even the traditionally “elite” accelerators seem to be underwhelming investors. It’s probably not smart to give up equity to just anyone who says he can help you. You…