What Startups Need is Not Accelerators
Updated: Aug 7, 2020
The problem with startup accelerators
Here is the problem with all the startup accelerators: they help with strategy but not with the execution. To put it more practically, they lack coaching. What? That's absolutely not true, you say? You are sick and tired of all these coaches in the accelerators?
I don't mean 'startup coaches'. I'm talking about classical coaching, where a coach is the one who guides the coachee to set goals, define action steps, commit to them, reflect and course-correct if something doesn't happen. A coach is not a mentor and not an advisor. A coach doesn't give advice, he asks insightful questions.
All accelerators have 'startup coaches', but in fact, those are rather 'startup advisors'. They give you feedback and advice on your startup strategy. Yet they are not always useful when it comes to setting effective goals, personal growth, dealing with emotions, getting mental clarity, and reflecting on challenges. A notable exception here is Y Combinator's advisors, check it out!
Why is coaching better than advising when it comes to execution? Because people are different. A framework that worked for the advisor 20 years ago might not work for the 2020 startup founder. In times of adversity what we need is questions, not answers. That's why accelerator advisors can often act as a major distractor for startups. A startup founder often knows the solution, but she needs to find it, own it, and commit to it.
One thing accelerators get right
One thing accelerators get right is networking opportunities and peer-to-peer learning. What's often most useful to the founders of the Y Combinator (the most famous accelerator in the world) is not the wisdom of Paul Graham (the Yoda of Y Combinator) but the network of founders from companies like Dropbox, Airbnb, and Stripe.
Sometimes what you need is not advice from an accelerator, but from fellow founders who lived through the same struggles. Considering how fast technology is changing the landscape of the world, it's not surprising that only people at the frontier can keep up with all the novelties, the founders themselves.
DIY startup accelerator of the future
So-o-o, what would happen if we took the good (networking with founders), turned the bad (distracting advice) into brainstorming with fellow founders, and add the missing (coaching)? How would an accelerator function without advisors? What if… we build a peer-to-peer platform? Meaning, that the startup founders are both the coachees and the coaches?
Of course, to make it effective in the post-pandemic world, it has to be online. We could create a Skype-like interface. Perhaps we could smash in there some coaching framework to have a quick-and-dirty crash course on how to coach each other right there. For example, each session one founder would ask the other about his goals, challenges, help to brainstorm solutions to the issues, commit to the action steps, and then they would switch roles. We would match founders with each other on a weekly basis, after meeting each other they can decide if they want to meet that founder again in the future or not. Of course, we would need to start small, with a cohort of users that need the service the most, perhaps early-stage founders.
Thanks for sticking till the end! I am an advisor (not a coach!?) at GrowthClub. GrowthClub is a peer to peer coaching platform for high-quality founders. In GrowthClub you gain focus, improve execution, and manage stress through curated 1:1 video-calls with fellow founders.
I started with GrowthClub as a user. I liked it so much that I ended up helping the founder. Currently, after experiencing a great inflow of founders from our launch on Product Hunt, we are signing up 20 hand-picked founders to form the core of our platform to actively iterate the product with them.