If anyone could unravel the mystery of why some startups succeed and others fail, it would be the business accelerators. They have a front-row seat with real-world experience. Their reputation is on the line, and rapid turnover is not their friend. They have a vested interest in seeing their clients succeed.
Over the past three months, we have conducted a survey of 14 international business accelerators. With their experience, what was their take on startup success and failure? Over the next few months we will be publishing the results of that study.
Our first question was, “What are the most important qualities successful startup founders possess?” Interestingly, with such a wide range of international respondents, the answers were quite similar.
As Alyse Daunis, Program Manager, of Launch Alaska says, “Startups need doers. Doers live for building things and executing. Founders who execute intelligently and quickly are more likely to succeed.”
“In the early days, the founder(s) need to be hands-on with all parts of the business -- the technology, sales, finances, etc. It is inevitable that they will need to do things outside their comfort zone and do them at least well enough to get others to buy in,” says Elza Seregelyi, director of L-SPARK Canadian Business Accelerator.
Eric Mathews, founder and CEO, of Start Co adds, “… action removes doubt. A startup’s main advantage is speed of learning. You learn what works and doesn’t work when you take action, run tests, get feedback, and iterate. You can’t be an entrepreneur in an armchair -- you must do.”
And Greg Wright, founder, of HATCH pitch says, “(Maintaining) a relentless focus on doing whatever it takes (acting, not talking).”
2. Customer Focus
Ashish Bhatia, founder/MD, of India Accelerator offers, “Don’t focus too much on funding! Focus on solving the right problem, the right way. Focus on basics; customers, their experience and retention.”
“(Having) a deep understanding of the market (you) plan to serve, its size and realistic revenue potential, and the needs of the customers there. Apply technology to solve real customer problems better than anyone else is currently doing it,” says Jason Cole, CEO, of Da Primus Consulting.
“(Keep) a laser focus on the customer,” says Joe Bush, executive director, of Worcester CleanTech Incubator. Susan Langdon, executive director, of Toronto Fashion Incubator adds, “(Use) Innovation: Develop a product or service that's more innovative and desirable than what your competitors are offering.”
“It sounds incredibly counterintuitive, but those who practice grace, generosity and peace are more likely to succeed due to their inherent capabilities and perceptions of life and business,” says Lauren Tiffan, director of Ocean Accelerator.
“Understanding the customer’s situation. I love founding teams where at least one person has firsthand experience in the customers’ world so they inherently understand the pains and opportunities. But even so, founders still need to validate their assumptions,” adds Elza Seregelyi, director, of L-SPARK Canadian Business Accelerator.
Nobu Kumagai, founder and managing partner of Wildcard Incubator, offers “Compassion. This along with ‘gratitude’ are both taught from notable entrepreneurs in Japan who (achieved) success during the post-war period. Successful founders and businesspersons, historically and across the Pacific, possess this compassionate mindset, to empower those surrounding (them), including co-founders, co-workers, customers, intermediaries,and so on.”
Related: 10 Startup Tips Learned the Hard Way
“Willingness to listen and learn, persistence, and the ability to excite others about their idea,” says Christian Busch, CEO of German Accelerator Tech NY.
“Determination and resilience in the face of disappointment,” adds Keith Hopper, CEO of Danger Fort Labs.
Eric Mathews, founder and CEO of Start Co says, “Perseverance is the X-factor. There will be troughs of sorrow, pits of despair, crashes of ineptitude, but understand that the obstacle is the way forward. Know that there are only two steps on the path: start and never stop.”
Other desirable qualities the respondents mentioned more than once included sales, cashflow management, team building, coachability, resourcefulness and basic business and social skills. Jim Bowie, site manager/associate director of the University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program thinks another desirable quality is, “The ability to be a persuasive communicator and focus on sales.”
Ben Hsieh, program manager of Nest added, “Time management, interpersonal/communication skills and quick learner.”
We are grateful to the accelerators who have shared their experiences to help us better understand and reinforce what it really takes to be a successful startup. After all, it’s their business to know!
Stay tuned for more great advice about entrepreneurship from accelerators who have seen it, lived it, and learned from it!
Guest Writer: Entrepreneur