If you’re following the Nordic startup ecosystem, then you’ll have heard of Startup Sauna, one of the regions top accelerators for promising early startups. But if you want to be one of the lucky chosen startups, here are 6 things you definitely need to avoid.
Accelerators and incubators are often key players in helping startups prepare for their next steps and propelling them forward to success, and Startup Sauna is no different. Recent successful alumni include MyMusicTaste, who just secured a $10M series A round and Enbrite.ly who closed a €750k funding round in 2015.
Another alumnus that is widely praised is online lead generation startup Leadfeeder who starred in the 2015 version of Startup Sauna. Leadfeeder was one of only 6 startups out of 545 to win a dream trip to Silicon Valley.
I caught up with their pitcher and communications expert Peter Seenan immediately after the program to hear his experiences and get expert advice about what not to do to be a successful applicant.
If you’re ever planning on applying for an accelerator or incubator then it’s worth remembering Peter’s advice.
He points out, “Although some might be obvious, you’d be amazed by just how many startups get caught out.”
1) Think you have all the answers
At Startup Sauna you’ll get asked a lot of questions, and by a lot I mean it’s going to be frenetic. Sometimes it can seem a tad boring answering the same questions, so the temptation might be to repeat standard answers parrot-style because you think that’s what the expert opposite wants to hear.
You might even look bored while doing it because you already know the answers, but you just haven’t had time to put them into practice, right? Wrong. That’s definitely not the way to go about things. While you may already have a lot of answers nailed, it pays not to be dismissive or look bored out of your mind. It’s important to open up, to allow yourself to be challenged constantly and occasionally admit that you have no clue about something. You’ll probably learn something in return and have a much more enjoyable experience.
2) Decide that pitching practice is a waste of time
There was a heavy emphasis on pitching during this accelerator and for a lot of startups the experience really sucked up time. But while you’re very unlikely to be doing a pitch on stage every week of your startup life, it does pay to figure out what exactly you want to say when someone asks, what do you do. And that’s what pitching was really about.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s 10 seconds or 3 minutes you have in front of an audience, the same principles apply: captivate your audience and keep it simple.
3) Ask the same questions to different experts over and over again
You’re going to have the opportunity to speak to some really world-class people with a vast depth of expertise and variety of backgrounds, so it’s critical you do your homework. That way you won’t get stuck asking the same irrelevant questions to experts silently thinking what the hell are you asking me this for.
Know whom you’re talking to and do your research. Think what’s relevant for that person and ask questions that will indicate to them that you’ve actually taken time to understand their background.
Remember, the experts you have on-tap are giving up their own time and there’s nothing they hate more than you asking them about the color scheme of your website when their expertise is how to launch in the United States.
4) Forget to ask for advice from your fellow startup entrepreneurs
Some of the best advice we got at Startup Sauna came from our fellow startup entrepreneurs.
Often it’s easy to overlook that there is this incredible pool of shared wisdom from all over Europe. Speaking to fellow early-stage entrepreneurs can be a good place to test initial ideas and receive honest, detailed feedback that coaches don’t have time to give.
The advice you ask for needn’t even be complex. It can be as straightforward as asking a native English speaker to check your website text or practicing pitching together.
5) Have NO vision of what you want to achieve at the accelerator
It’s all very well getting accepted into Startup Sauna but then the seriously hard work begins: you’ve got to juggle building your startup with pretty much a full-time schedule at the accelerator. Plus, your family is probably far away and there are a whole host of other challenges that make your startup life hard.
It pays to know what you want to achieve before coming and to constantly remind yourself what your goals are when you’re so you don’t lose direction in the mayhem. Write them down somewhere so you can easily remind yourself and keep them with you.
For example, do you want to get introductions to Finnish companies via the Startup Sauna network, do you want people to test your product or do you want to learn how to launch on Product Hunt? It’s important to have a concrete vision instead of something vague like “I want Startup Sauna to take us global.” If you don’t get your shit together early on you might be left kicking yourself.
6) Fail to demonstrate progress over the 5 weeks
By setting some goals you’ll know what you want to measure at Startup Sauna and therefore you’ll be able to chart your progress and demonstrate your improvement.
Coaches want to see that you’re putting what you’ve learned into practice and taking their advice. If you’re not showing improvement, you won’t be selected for the Silicon Valley trip and coaches won’t be recommending you to fellow entrepreneurs and investors. Come across as willing to take on board new advice and recognize your failures and wins as you go.”
Peter works for Leadfeeder, a Finnish startup that reveals the companies that visit your website without leaving their contact details. Leadfeeder offers a 30-day free trial so you can give it a shot without any commitment.