Curriculum in Accelerators
Recently I was able to listen to Steve Blank speak at the TechStars founders conference in Las Vegas. Steve covered his current views on being a startup and where to begin. The first tool to use is the Business Model Canvas. He then moved on to talk about Customer Development and how they work together to help a startup focus on the right decisions.After his talk several of us gathered around for a more detailed conversation about these concepts as curriculum in an accelerator. The response from the managing directors, mentors, and entrepreneurs came in three flavors:
1) We’ve been doing this for years but calling it something else.
2) Hadn’t seen it before but it looks useful.
3) We already use this as a framework.
I was amazed at the number of people who were in the first two groups. It seems that many of the accelerators operate under the model that the entrepreneurs should know enough to make good decisions based on the vastly different opinions of the mentor. Every accelerator warns their entrepreneurs about this issue. “You’ll meet with many different mentors with many different experiences and oppinions. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do with your company.” In general I agree with this statement. A startup founder must take ownership over their decisions. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t provide a structure to understand why the decision is being made.
I have trouble believing the ‘We’ve been doing this for years.” crowd. That’s an excused based on hind sight. Humans are terrible at remembering what it really took to get where we’re at. To now be able to look back and say “Yeah, that’s how we did it.” is a little crazy. It’s very easy to fool ourselves into thinking this way. The problem is that it’s been getting done differently for many years and there are still examples of very successful companies. Now, how’d they do it? Unfortunately most of them can’t tell you. Of course there are stories but they just don’t add up to a measurable way to succeed. So unless you believe in being at the right place at the right time then there must be a better way.
We can significantly increase the value of startup accelerators by measuring success through learning and not by funding. Learning comes from your customer and is valuable whether you’re right or wrong. Funding comes from investors and is most valuable only after you’ve learned from your customer. Too many times startups are incorrectly making decisions based on investor feedback because they don’t know how to engage the customer. This is a huge waste of resources and a primary contributor to startup failures.
The capital can be put to much better use if learning to placed at the beginning of the process instead of the end.