Before I go any further, let me be clear that I am not against accelerators. I applaud anyone and any program that helps entrepreneurs thrive in the natural products industry. That is why I do my best to support them in any way I can. That said, in my opinion, they have their flaws, and as a founder, you need to be aware of them.
I’m asked frequently by the brands in our portfolio and by the others we support informally, should we be applying to accelerators? My answer is always a very firm and definite, maybe.
Everything that you do has a tradeoff. When you are leading a young brand, your bandwidth is at a premium. To do one thing means that you don’t do another. Above all else, that’s my biggest concern as it relates to accelerators. Every hour spent with your cohort immersed in the curriculum which fails to yield new learning, connection, or opportunity is wasted. Frankly, you can’t afford to lose any time.
Here is the rub. Most, not all accelerators are cohort and curriculum-based. However, every founder is distinctive, every product different, and every consumer unique. Therefore, only a portion of the information shared between peers or taught will be applicable. All of that leads back to the tradeoff of time.
I am a lifelong student of this industry and what I’ve witnessed is that the brands that outperform those similar to them do three distinct things better. As a linear thinker, I like to label things, so I call it “following the threefold path.”
1. Growth hypothesis
The out-performers are passionately dispassionate about their business. They challenge everything, addressable market, unit economics, channel strategy, etc. Using that friction, they develop a robust and testable growth hypothesis.
2. Growth hack
They growth hack, taking that hypothesis to the market validating its underlying assumptions. They leverage controlled experiments which fit within their guardrails as it pertains to bandwidth, risk tolerance, and access to capital. Then they use the insights and knowledge gained to accelerate and scale.
They plug into the ecosystem, surrounding their project with the team that can help them accelerate and absorb that growth. This ecosystem includes investors, channel partners, buyers, brokers, agencies, professional service providers, and more. They recognize that success necessitates the help of others.
I offer this because it is the key to answering whether or not you should apply to an accelerator program. If it helps you move down the threefold path faster, improving your growth hypothesis, speeding your growth hack experiments, and ensuring that the optimal team surrounds you, then absolutely you should apply. If it doesn’t, you must think twice.
Validation occurs when you apply to an accelerator program and find yourself invited to be a part of a cohort. But affirmation alone won’t grow your brand. When you join, you are giving up time, maybe some equity and both are precious. Just make sure that doing so gets you further down the path.