How Web3 Founders Can Get the Most Out of an Accelerator Program
Top tips for founders to breakthrough and thrive in Web3.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
"Build in the bear market" is a common phrase in Web3. However, beyond a whimsical sentiment to tide us through uncertain market conditions, what does this phrase actually mean? It is a widely known fact that in general, startup life is not easy. Being a startup in the Web3 space is no exception to that rule and comes with additional considerations. Data has shown that nine out of ten new startups fail and, when we add to this the additional, regulatory, reputational, business-model and technical risks that the Web3 industry brings, it becomes ever clear that building a Web3 startup is not for the faint of heart.
Through the helping hand of an accelerator program, this is not a journey that must be made alone. Accelerators exist generally to support early-stage startups by providing access to education, mentorship, expert networks and financing — be that directly or indirectly. Their overarching aim is to accelerate the life cycle of young companies by compressing years worth of learning by doing into a few intense months. Research indicates that accelerator participants increase their chances of survival by a lofty 23%. At Outlier Ventures, we are proud to say that 9/10 of the 187 startups we have accelerated over eight years are still alive. As an accelerator native to the Web3 paradigm, our programs are tailored to each start-up, covering topics including token design and economics, legal and regulatory considerations, product roadmap, NFT and community strategy amongst other areas of guidance and coaching.
Spoiler alert — accelerator programs are no walk-in-the-park. They require a degree of readiness from the startup. Accordingly, I'm sharing Outlier Ventures' top tips for founders to make the most of an accelerator program, in particular, one focused on the Web3 market.
You need a founder mentality
First things first, it is imperative that founders entering accelerators truly embody the founder mentality. While this is a characterization that encompasses a broad variety of tenets, the core three that are crucial in ensuring success in an accelerator are: mental fortitude, coachability and an execution-focused mindset.
Be adaptable and resilient
Be open to advice. Be open to learning and adjusting. From time to time, these learnings may lead to big changes in your business plan that will not be easy to make but will ultimately lead to a stronger and more resilient business model. The founders that do best in accelerators bring humility but also self-awareness to the table.
Accelerators strive to educate and inform startups on how to improve and run their business from a variety of different perspectives. Sometimes, this will mean that certain aspects of a business will need to be changed and adjusted, or even abandoned altogether. Suggestions for change to a business are ultimately made with the long-term survival of the business at its core. In the industry since 2014, Outlier Ventures has seen all market conditions, including two global recessions. From this, one can safely assert that it is the founders willing to take constructive criticism and adjust in the short term that will reap the greatest rewards in the long term, the benefits and reach of which extend far beyond the end date of the accelerator program.
Focus on execution
When it comes to an execution-focused mindset, we must also remember that accelerator programs take place over a relatively short period of time and move at an incredibly high pace. No more is this true than in the 'crypto time' whirlwind of the Web3 space, which, as a 24/7 permissionless innovation, sees capital markets move 10x faster than traditional markets. As such, Web3 accelerators are focused on speed of execution and accelerated time.
However, it is important not only to be focused on executing objectives swiftly, but also efficiently. When introductions to potential clients are made or discussions with advisors are ongoing, founders need to be ready to act with haste, ensuring that opportunities do not fall by the wayside. To solve real issues and take full advantage of potential networking opportunities, founders must be single-minded when it comes to execution and employ the necessary discipline, focus and conviction to achieve their desired outcomes, understanding that, as founders, their time is the most valuable asset a company has.
Have clarity in business goals
Accelerators provide a wide variety of resources to founders. It is crucial that careful planning and consideration are put into place from the outset to establish precise goals for participation, ensuring adequate time and resources are allocated and distributed to allow for the execution of such aspirations. For startups, this can be as simple as setting up basic operational tools and processes like OKRs to effectively track and coordinate a team's attention and resources.
Have a strong concept
It is important to remember that accelerators are not equivalent to incubators and, accordingly, should not be used for ideating or brainstorming. Teams entering accelerators need to have a solidified proof of concept and if possible, some form of early validation of this concept. If founders can enter an accelerator with a pre-existing community, a relevant advisor or team member who is already situated in the industry, or a letter of interest from a potential customer, then they will instantly be in a position to capitalize on using these connections to further the growth of their startup. Accelerators are about creating 'fly-wheels' which increasingly build up momentum. Teams that lack this are often asked to reapply with traction in areas critical to their success and founders can be accepted after as many as two or three applications.
Grow your network
Leverage the network that is provided to you by the accelerator cohort. Assume there are already several better-capitalized teams somewhere in the world working on a similar idea right now because it's most likely true. With social media, we now operate in a hive mind where no idea is new or unique for long, and the only way to navigate competition is to out-execute it. Making connections and seeking feedback early on to iterate ahead of the competition is essential. This is especially true in Web3 where most startups are building on, or integrating with, the open source technology of others where there is less of a technological moat and community is at the heart of most products.
As a founder, I am convinced the strongest indicator of success is relentless perseverance to see things through. In the wider macroeconomic environment, let alone in the frantic world of crypto and Web3, there are so many factors that cannot be controlled. However, if you possess a real unmet need or innovation, then a premature start and lack of execution are the only enemies. The startups that succeed are the ones that stick to their goals and work on getting better. There have been plenty of times I've seen founders momentarily lose faith in Web3 due to market events out of their control. However, building a business in an old paradigm like Web2 because it feels easier, is to deny an eventuality and give any fleeting success a short shelf-life.
Amidst an economic downturn, accelerators are still seeing more applications than ever, with a notable upturn from founders and executives pouring out of Web2 and Big Tech and drawn to Web3's alluring potential. Some of the largest companies such as Nike with the RTFKT acquisition, Starbucks and their NFT loyalty program and, within Outlier Ventures' partner network, the likes of FARFETCH, are all deeply committed to Web3 and its ability to redefine their value chains and businesses.
As we transition out of this bear market, there is huge potential for Web3 to be the growth vehicle that drives us out of the current macro trends that we are witnessing. The time for building is now, so get out there, and don't miss out on this invaluable opportunity!