It’s not easy to get into an accelerator. Most give out only a few spots for the hundreds of thousands of applications that they receive each year. If you are lucky enough to be one of the few founders selected, partnering with an accelerator can mean an increase in your startup’s chances of success.
However, having your first, second, and even third application or idea rejected doesn’t have to mean that you will never succeed!
An example of this is Yury Liftshifts. After applying to the popular accelerator Y Combinator three times, he was rejected multiple times before finally being selected. His experience took him from startup founder to becoming part of Y Combinator’s team — helping to review over 500 applications for new startups and founders. Has helped 20–30 startups find success through Y Combinator, and has years of experience in the startup industry.
Now an alumnus of Y Combinator, Yury is happy to offer advice and guidance for those founders looking to increase their chances of success by partnering with an accelerator. In a recent conversation with founders through startup matching team Potlatch, Yury offered three tips to help startups increase their chances of standing out with accelerator programs.
Insight #1: Unique Ideas Win Out
According to Yury, accelerators such as Y Combinator are looking for companies or startups that have unique ideas. While every founder may believe that their idea is unique and market-changing, Yury’s experience reading thousands of
“So many startups or founders apply with a concept that has been submitted hundreds of thousands of times — a travel app, a learning app, etc. If you really want to catch an accelerator’s eye, make sure that your idea is unique and novel. The more unique your idea or product, the less work you will have to do to engage an accelerator like YC.”
If your startup has an original concept, it will stand out from the crowd of other similar ideas and increase your chances of engaging the accelerator of your choice.
This is especially true if you can prove that this company does not exist yet in the market or offers something different from what’s currently available.
Insight #2: Keep Your Messaging Clear
Yury explains that most applications fail to gain any traction with accelerators because they are unable to clearly explain what their idea or product is properly.
“So many applications that come in explain their idea or product too vaguely. ‘Our app helps people get smarter!’ or ‘Our software helps people be happier!’ are too unclear to gain any attention. You don’t have a bad product or idea — you just haven’t explained it properly.”
To ensure that an accelerator picks up your application and keeps reading, you need to explain what you offer and why in the clearest possible terms. Don’t get lost in vague explanations of why your idea is so special or great. Instead, show what your product or application will accomplish, what problems it will meet, and how it stands out from the crowd.
“Make sure you start with a narrow explanation of who and what you are. Choose a user story or single-use case and use that to describe your idea or product. It’s easier to go broad from narrow than to hone in from a broad answer.”
Insight #3: Short Answers Win
As someone who has read thousands upon thousands of applications, Yury has one piece of advice for potential founders: keep your application answers short.
“I can tell you without even reading your application that your application is too long! An application answer that is longer than three sentences is bad. You need to answer the question in the first sentence.”
From experience, Yury shares that accelerator partners such as those at Y Combinator give no promise to read beyond the first answer in your question.
“They need to read 10,000 applications in a single season. They have a budget of 10–15 seconds to read and decide whether or not they like what they read. If you don’t impress them in the first sentence, then you have already lost them.”
On The Journey To Success, Don’t Forget About Your Customers
When it comes to bringing an idea from your mind to the market, accelerators such as Y Combinator are essential to success. However, Yury warns, don’t let your focus on being picked up by an accelerator distract you from your true purpose — delivering a product that solves problems for customers.
“You need to make sure you spend 90% of your time on how to solve potential problems with customers rather than trying to impress YC. That is where the long-term success lies.”
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