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April 12, 2022

#33 - Accelerator Programs and How to Optimize Your Application

#33 - Accelerator Programs and How to Optimize Your Application

Brendan just finished up running the AccelerateBaltimore program for 2022. And a good accelerator can be a great way for an early-stage startup to jump-start their momentum, develop important entrepreneurial skills, and begin to grow their network.

But what should you think about when you are getting ready apply. How do you optimize your chances of being selected? With AB2022 wrapping up last week, Brendan and Bob talk about the key things to focus on in your application, and what to stay away from.


Brendan just finished up running the AccelerateBaltimore program for 2022. And a good accelerator can be a great way for an early-stage startup to jump-start their momentum, develop important entrepreneurial skills, and begin to grow their network.

But what should you think about when you are getting ready apply. How do you optimize your chances of being selected? With AB2022 wrapping up last week, Brendan and Bob talk about the key things to focus on in your application, and what to stay away from.

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Transcript

 Hi. Uh, it's another episode of Let's Chat Sales, and I just wrapped up in April An accelerator program here in Baltimore. And so as a consequence of that, I thought it might be interesting to talk a little bit about what goes into an accelerator and how founders might think about it. So that's what this chat is about. If you like it...

Like and Subscribe... Down there and, uh, let's get started.    

Hey Bob. It's another episode of Let's Chat Sales and  we just wrapped up the Accelerate Baltimore accelerator program,  last night in fact! And I thought that... it's been 10 years, right? This is the 10th year. Yeah. And I get to do it again next year, it looks like.

 They've helped. What was it? 

57 companies.  All over 

the place. 

All over ...well, they're Baltimore based companies, mostly.

I'm sorry...In terms of what they accomplish. Oh yeah. They're all medical stuff. Boating companies. And the application 

to the dating app. They've been news apps in the past.

They've been a lot of different,  both B2B and B2C companies. So what I thought we'd do is just chat a little bit about how to think about the accelerator from the founder standpoint.  Does that make 

sense like that? 

Yeah. So I have to start by saying that I recognized your last night during the session  but not enough.

I mean, you were really helpful throughout the whole process. Brainstorming ideas.  Being supportive and coming up with ideas.... So just as a side note, I really appreciate... you're a huge contribution. It was really no, very good 

people are going to be very confused because you're always making fun of me as a sidekick, as a sidekick.

Cause you do the goofy yeah. Thing. And, uh, uh, and this is supposed to be very professional. Uh, uh, they 

love it. When I say 

here it is, you got an after all dammit.  

So you've now  you've worked with these companies. You were on the committee that chose the companies that were going to be in this incubator.

And my recollection is there were 105 applicants, Yeah, more

than that. 

And you chose five.  So what are the things, if I'm a founder, I need to be thinking about to make myself one of those five, because that's pretty small?

It's an excellent question. I've been wrestling with that a lot. First of all, I think the less is more is the theme I would have when you are kind of conveying who you are and what you do.

We got over a hundred applications and many of them  didn't do a very good job of explaining who they were. What problem they solved. And who their customer was. And that that's a message that you really need to have crisp and simple and immediately digestible.

 And it's got to be in the customer's words too, right? 

Yeah. Not, not 

in the founders' words. Um, I, I worked with a student one time who had a PhD and he was talking about a solution using the academic literature words and the people that he was talking to had no idea what he was talking about cause they hadn't read the journal articles. And so when he turned it into English, suddenly people like, oh, that sounds really amazing. 

Yeah. And I suppose that one of the reasons is if you're a founder with a company and you've been  doing it for any length of time, you feel like, you know it and, 

you use shorthand when you describe things. Or you make assumptions about what your company does , and so you don't communicate a message that someone from the outside can immediately understand. If there's one key takeaway, it's  make your message super simple and then test it

with others. Like, Hey, here's my message is what we do. And ask complete strangers even, Hey, this is what we do. It's amazing how often people explain their business in a way that is unintelligible to somebody else from the outside. 

So Brendan, can you, I'm going to put you on the spot here.

We didn't preview this, but can you do this? If you were doing an incubator application or you were trying to meet with an incubator committee or an accelerator committee, and you were talking about this podcast... you were trying to get funding for this podcast. What would those three sentences be?

 Oh, that's a good question. So I would say, I run a podcast with my sidekick and we talk about basic fundamental sales problems and solutions from the perspective of the early stage founder. That's what we work on and we have an audience of X and we specifically try to keep the episodes to 15 minutes or less because people are busy and we want them to be simple and digestible and actionable.

...and fun.

Okay, that was great. I put you on the spot. You did a great job. As I dissect that you told us who you were trying to appeal to. You told us exactly what you do. Yep. You gave us some details about what differentiates you. These episodes are under 15 minutes, so they're not, you know, grant Cardone or Brendon Burchard or some of those longer forms.

And you also talked about who was doing. Yeah. 

And 

I think that was maybe 45 seconds. And that's all it takes. I think sometimes people think like, I have to tell you, well, you know, I got this idea back when I was in ninth grade and my grandmother said to me, I'll never forget. She was making cinnamon cookies.

 And they get so sidetracked would be details that are so profoundly important to them. But they don't matter to the solution because  it's like a novel, you've got to start where the action is. 

We want to know what the conflict is. Here's the issue. This is the problem. Here's my solution. 

Exactly. So that's one critical one. the next one is, what is it that you expect to get out of the program?

Can you argue that as a founder when you're completing your application, that's inevitably one of the questions they're going to ask. What do you expect to get out of it? And so you need to have a good answer. And funding not the right answer.  Funding is not the right answer.

And we'll get to that in a minute. 

 It's... What is it that you want to take away? Do you want to develop network? Do you want to have mentors? Do you want to, you want to learn more about marketing execution or sales or whatever those things are?

That's an important thing to figure out and get right in articulate. Again... crisply and simply so that someone that's pouring through a hundred or more of these applications can, can quickly see, oh, oh, I, it makes it easy to read whether it's bullets or whatever, like what are the key things you want to get out of the program?

The next one for me is what is it that you can contribute to the program? Cause these things are collaborative events, right? They're collaborative. You're in a team you're in a group setting with other companies 

and the cohort. So 

what do you bring to the equation? What are your specific skills?

So you're selling yourself a little bit in that regard. 

And that could be technical expertise. I've started for mobile apps or I I've sold, uh, you know, X number of dollars worth of whatever, or I have a degree in graphic design, so I'm really good. It doesn't have to be a one-to-one if you're trying to do an elegant solution, that's gaming, you don't have to, it doesn't have to be a gaming thing that you're going to say.

That's obvious. Right? It's. 

Exactly.  You want to say... here's where I'm really strong and so I, I fully expect that I can contribute to the team here and here and here. I've done this before.  I'm a Python developer or I know graphic design. Or whatever your skill set is that you can bring to the equation  in a way that you can convey that... hey, listen, I'm going to contribute.

I'm going to show up. I'm going to be a hundred percent. Committed to this. I'm going to spend the time I'm going to make the investment. Those things I think are really important. 

The next one was like, you need to have a good explanation for what you plan to do with the money. If there's money involved, a lot of accelerators have some sort of funding component to them. Accelerate Baltimore did as well.

And so it, it really helps if you've got a thoughtful explanation for what you intend to do with the money. And paying salaries 

is not a good one, right? It's 

not typically a good one.  Other people's salaries, maybe, but your own as a founder, probably not. 

So if you're early stage and you just did a MVP and you're saying, oh, I'm going to use it to spend for advertising dollars... that may not be the right way to go. If you haven't got a few customers by brute force by going out and doing selling, and you just think you're just going to advertise.

That's probably not a good idea. So having a good explanation for what you're going to do with the money. How are you going to use the money is, I ,think is a critically important question. 

I think it's one of the more important questions. I've, I've seen so many times founders like, well, we have, uh, X number of dollars in debt.

Yeah, we're going to use it to pay off debt. Or I've been working for three years at this and never taken a dollar. Yeah. So I'll use it to pay my expenses. 

Any of these can be disqualifying. And the other thing we should probably point out... you don't often hear why you're not chosen.

It's not like you got a letter that says...Dear Brendan,  we really liked your proposal, but we didn't like the section where you talked about your salary being what you'd 

use the funding for that. Yeah. I, it's funny. I, I got a number of emails back from people asking me, Hey, why did you? And it's, it's a burden, but I, I answered a lot of them.

And many of the answers that I gave were these sorts of answers to these questions? You know, they're in it to, you want to support them. You want to want them to be successful.

And I also don't want them to waste time. So some of the applications were four or five pages long, single space, just torturous to read. The other one I was going to say, and we kind of touched on this in the beginning, but I'm going to reiterate it is or get more specific with it.

And that is.  You have to be able to explain to the people, reviewing your application.... who's my customer. Who exactly. The more you can specifically explain who you're selling. Who's buying your product and why they're buying it. Like, and 

not just men, right. Or women like men between the age of 34 and 37 who had early grey facial hair and are trying to solve that problem.

Yeah. And I know, I know people are laughing saying, oh my God, that's incredibly specific, but that's what it 

takes. 

 I'm coaching executive women in a certain group, because they were the most likely to be able to the, her messaging and her approach would resonate with those. And from that very specific niche, she could then expand other groups over time by building out the product. But this allowed her to be very specific with her product, so that the messaging and the and the kind of the content could be tailored to that particular demographic. Executive women aged 35 to 55, high-level, and so  now she can target them.

She knows exactly where they are. They're at fortune 5,000 companies. She could find them on LinkedIn easily enough. The 

accelerator people reviewing it might have connections. Exactly. Wow. We have a connection with here or our company that we worked with three years ago.

Yeah. But I think the more specific that can be, the better it can be. 

 You could easily niche down very quickly. So, so if you can, if you can show that kind of discipline... hey, we're starting with this very small group. If we can validate with this market, right? So that's that, it's that kind of specificity that's really encouraging to, uh, someone that reads a lot of these evaluations.

The other one is,  and not easy to do, but can you convey enthusiasm and excitement and dedication in your application. When we go and look at accelerator candidates, we want people that are gonna make an investment that are going to be committed.

They're going to show up every week. They're going to do the exercises. They're gonna execute on the things they learn.  That's a critically important to kind of convey that in your application. How 

would I do that? Brendan? 

 It's things like... can you include a one-minute video with your application? And I say one minute because I have to be able to look at it and get through it really quickly because there's so many of these. And don't get fancy.

Just put on YouTube. Record it from your phone and just say... hey, I'm really excited about being in this program. Here's why. Blah, blah, blah. I do this. I'm this. This is what I'm working on . This is what I get out of it. You can reiterate the same stuff you're going to talk about in the application.

But if you can do it in a minute and convey a level of intensity, a level of excitement, enthusiasm, and determination... those sorts of things. It's the little extra steps. It's just those little extra things that matter. 

  I think that's a great list, Brendan. And I I'd be afraid to go too much further cause you've given people a lot to digest.

Well I think there accelerators can be really great programs for early stage startups because it enforces a certain amount of discipline. You're accountable. You're learning across a lot of different areas. You know, cause in my mentors, you got mentors.

You're developing your network. I mean, they got to meet with VCs, investors, finance, product people, marketing people, they get their site, you get your occasional sidekick and you cannot put a price on that. Bob. Now you can't hold sidekick thing. That is.

Touché. Right. So listen, one thing about these podcasts is... I don't want people to think that we're having too much fun. This is supposed to be a professional enterprise here. So, 

but I think it's part of what makes it fun. Brendan is the personality is coming out. I know. Yeah. So I'm healthy debate. That''s right.

This has been really great though. You gave some clarity around some things that seem rather mysterious. 

Yeah. All right. Well, that's good. Well, I think it's helpful and I I'll probably write it up as well, so. Okay. All right. I'll look until next time. 

You know what? This is what 

Let's 

Chat Sales! 

See you, Bob.      

Okay. That was another episode of Let's Chat Sales, and hope you found it useful. Uh, there's another one right here. Try that one. It should be great. And then they're short. How can you go wrong?