Guest Post from James Alexander, in 2012 while completing his Honors in CompSci James founded INCUBATE, a startup accelerator and entrepreneur events program for University of Sydney, backed by the University of Sydney Union.
Incubate is now accepting applications for Summer 2015
Applications close 6th November Apply now
I’ve been running a startup accelerator program since 2012. The program has had six cohorts come through the three-month program at the University of Sydney and across our partner universities. To date, I’ve seen more than 200 startup applications of varying quality and sat through countless interviews.
While each accelerator program is different (for example, we don’t take equity in their businesses) the same issues arise for program managers in other seed accelerators in Australia, Europe and in the USA.
I also believe these common mistakes apply to other situations where startups are pitching to investors or grant competitions.
I’m assuming you’re an early-stage startup with a developed business idea, early prototype and maybe some early customers. Most of you will be first-time entrepreneurs, in so much that this is your first business. The interviews for our accelerator happen with two mentors that have experience in starting, exiting and investing in startups.
My top five reasons for rejecting a startup
- Getting all your friends to join your startup. One of the classic mistakes I’ve noticed for first-time entrepreneurs make is the ‘calling-all-friends’ syndrome. Basically, getting all your mates to help out with your startup versus recruiting a couple of team members that add real value in that beginning stage. Like an engineer or designer, industry expert or even seasoned entrepreneur advisor who wants to see you succeed (and maybe invest down the line). #team
- Pitching in an interview, the wrong way. You arrive for the finalists interview thinking you’re going to pull off some sort of Steve Jobs-esque pitch. Wrong. These interviews have limited time and you don’t have a pre-prepared AV setup, swinging your laptop screen around doesn’t cut it. Make it a conversation unless otherwise instructed and give out any the summary materials at the end of the interview. #conversation
- Faking an answer. Talking too much when you don’t the know the answer — just say “I don’t know” or “thats something I need help with”. This is an accelerator program, not an ‘accomplished business program’. Entrepreneurs that ramble with little apparent substance ring alarm bells to mentors and investors. #authenticity
- Waiting for the accelerator program to begin. We’re on the hunt for go-getting entrepreneurs, not people that need to be incentivised to do any work. This is even more of an issue in a university context. Show us that you’ve already taken the first step and initiative. Conduct customer discovery and build your first prototype or get potential customers. #motivation
- Not going for the moonshot. You might of heard the analogies, being a vitamin not a painkiller, being 10x better or moonshot projects. The point here is asking if you’re going for an incremental improvement versus truly aiming to creating something that will drastically improve people’s lives. Obviously we don’t expect early startups to launch with a complete product (the point of the MVP) but selling people on the end-goal is how you’ll recruit the best to join and invest in your team. #vision
- Avoid elaborate product demonstrations. We’ve actually had startups perform science experiments in front of us before!
- Don’t use another company’s promotional video to allude to your startup. Yes, this has happened. More than once.
- If you’re applying online and they ask you to submit a pitch deck — don’t submit your 40 page business plan. Condense your business plan to a 1-pager, make sure it’s easy to read, design it up, and upload that.
- Do not use a hotmail contact email. This ain’t the 90s.