Fail Right & Find Customers

I’ve been having interesting conversations about the role of incubator & accelerator programs over the past month.  I’m vocal that both models are broken.   There is value to the community created by these programs, but very few are doing it right.  Part of the problem is that I haven’t been able to define “doing it right”.  In an attempt to reform the system, I think there needs to be recognition of what these programs should be doing first.  Two themes that have emerged this month are that these types of programs should help customers fail right and find customers.

What is failing right? Failing right means that you avoid very common and simple mistakes that kill too many startups.  You fail on the merits of your startup, because you were able to make it past petty issues.  These mistakes include partnership issues, structural issues, issues involving founders, employees and contractors.  There are thousands of issues that entrepreneurs face on a daily basis.  As an individual, each of these issues seem overwhelming, crippling and dangerous.  To a broader community, someone (or multiple people) have already encountered the majority of problems you will face.  Joining an incubator or accelerator should help you avoid, address and overcome most of these issues.  I encounter entrepreneurs weekly that make the same mistakes around the issue of bringing on team members.  As a resource, Four Athens has (hopefully) been able to guide some of these people away from making a fatal mistake.

Finding customers is pretty self-explanatory.  Many people argue that the role of incubators or accelerators are to get a company funded.  I disagree with that.  Funding, in itself, is NOT a goal of a startup.  Getting customers is a goal.  A founder should expect to be able to rely on the network of the incubator to either (a) identify their first customers or (b) identify resources that help them get to those customers faster than they would otherwise.

What other roles should an incubator or an accelerator play?  Where do they fail currently?

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