How to nail an accelerator bootcamp

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Hello Alan,

We’ve just wrapped up at [University Incubator] and have fortunately been short-listed into [An Australian accelerator] program. The next and final step is bootcamp this weekend.

I notice you’re a mentor in the program so thought I’d just ask if you have any advice going into the bootcamp?

Any advice would be appreciated.


Hey founder, sure. Here’s my advice:

Last exit before tollway

Remember this is a decision-making time for you just as much as it is for the accelerator program. The end of the bootcamp is your last chance to back out of this crazy rocket ride without anybody getting hurt or disappointed. So while you’re trying hard to be impressive to the accelerator team and mentors, remember that you need to set aside time to consider whether this is definitely the best path for you and for your startup journey.

Get some sleep, some exercise, and eat well the day before

The accelerator is attempting to reduce their risk by observing how well founders and teams work together to respond to a very challenging experience. Expect to feel overwhelmed, overworked and overexposed to information and to risk. As in a military bootcamp, the point is not to see if you can meet the goals, the point is to observe how you behave when it’s clear you won’t meet the goals set for you.

Why set unreachable goals? To observe how much progress you can make during the bootcamp, not whether your team meets the goals set for you. Focus on making progress, don’t anchor on the goals set for you, and keep an eye on how much progress the other teams are making.

This is a team sport

Good teams make more progress than bad teams. Good teams make more progress than solo founders or individuals who were a team at the beginning of the bootcamp. If you have lingering team issues before the bootcamp, do your best to resolve them and not bring them to bootcamp. Bootcamp will blow them up way bigger and may blow up your team.

Spend focused time with each of the mentors and accelerator staff you have access to during the bootcamp. Don’t glom onto one mentor who seems your biggest fan, or the mentor who seems the least intimidating.

Post-bootcamp selection decisions are made by a group of people — likely including all of the mentors and staff involved — and you can’t take the risk that any mentors or staff haven’t gotten to know you. Better to be disliked than unknown.

Better to ask lots of dumb questions than to ask no questions

Accelerator programs and staff are there because they are motivated by their need to help and advise startup founders. If you don’t ask, you don’t get, but more importantly, you don’t give them an opportunity to be rewarded for helping you.

It’s OK to not make it

For every startup,

(Turn, turn, turn)

There is a season.

(Turn, turn, turn)

And an accelerator program for every startup, under heaven.

(If you don’t get that reference, here it is.)

Often the most successful applicants to an accelerator program are the startup founders who were unsuccessful in the previous round of applications. If you choose to do so, you can learn a little more each time you apply, even when you are unsuccessful. Sometimes you’re the 11th best startup applying for one of ten places, and you’ll be successful if you go apply to another accelerator right away, or in the next intake of the same accelerator. Accelerator staff, mentors, investors and even customers value your ‘stick-to-it-ness’ — your determination, resolve and ability to learn from failing.

Learning from failing is, after all, what most of the startup founder journey is about.