Joining a startup accelerator? Here’s the most important criterion to look at

I wrote this blog post and originally published it on Tech In Asia. Editing done by Terence Lee and Steven Millward. Apply to JFDI’s accelerator program before February 21st.

In 2013, I had the opportunity to work with 19 teams from all over Asia through JFDI, a startup accelerator based in Singapore. I got to know each of the founders personally, and worked closely with them on a daily basis.

Recently, when I saw Collabspot’s founder Jeremi Joslin and his partner and CEO, Laurent Gasser, I recalled to myself just how much progress Jeremi and Collabspot have made since I first met them in 2012. That was back in Manila.

At that time, he was living in France, and was working with Gino Tria, Adler Santos, and John – the Collabspot developers – in the Philippines. I was introduced to them through Rafael Oca, an alumni from JFDI. Today, Jeremi lives in Singapore, with a newborn added to his family, and having tripled his team’s size.

JFDI measures its achievement as an accelerator by how Jeremi and other founders succeed. We often say if the teams succeed, we succeed. This inspired me to push the thought a bit further: what is it that makes an accelerator truly successful?

 Venture capital is largely human capital: we invest in teams

Accelerators operate in the early stage of a startup’s life cycle. As such, we seek teams with a vision, technical capability, domain knowledge, and executional skills.

We make a lot of headlines whenever our startups announce a funding round. While these are great news, they create a false perception of what an accelerator really is about.

There is so much soft infrastructure that goes into the making of an accelerator program. Our CEO, Hugh Mason, spends a lot of time helping founders make difficult decisions. They could be about hiring, firing, or dealing with personal emotional issues. At one point of our program, we even had a psychotherapist come to talk to a founder because of how he is dealing with stress.

I also saw founders that were on the verge of tears — thankfully, the last time this happened right before Demo Day, a mentor from JFDI was able to reassure the founder that everything was going to be just fine.

We care deeply about each individual, and it is this collective effervescence that makes an accelerator a special place.

 Good accelerators know who and how to ask for help

We are fortunate to be supported by many different groups of people. Accelerators like ours are heavily indebted to mentors who have been there and done what the founders are going through. They willingly share their experiences with the younger founders.

The investor community is also an important aspect to helping founders succeed. They bring great insights from working with so many different founders across multiple industries.

Accelerators are at the middle of curating and building this community. TechStars Boulder host events like Founder Dating, and offers community open hours for anyone who wants to book 30 minutes time slots with David Cohen. JFDI hosts weekly happy hours and offers coffee for the caffeine deprived.

In our experience, many great things come out of chance meetings. We see founders getting mentored over a cup of coffee with otherwise normally difficult-to-track-down investors. We have teams that meet their angel investors through Open House.

 It all comes back to good people

Founders constantly surround themselves with the most talented people — from teammates, classmates within the cohort, to people they seek advice from. Bringing all these people together makes knowledge sharing possible, and is another important part of an accelerator program.

The opportunity to sit and work in the same space with other people that are extremely passionate is infectious. Healthy competition drives creativity, and I see that over and over again in accelerator programs I got to know.

From mischievous doings to serious hacking, founders share tips, tricks, and ways to solve problems with one another. Yesterday, I overheard Khailee from 500 Startups, who was visiting, and Krish from Klinify happily sharing the latest “oDesk-Inception” hacks to scale themselves and save time. Y Combinator is famous for fostering an open community on Hacker News, where founders and alumni share cool hacks and ideas.

These are what scrappy entrepreneurs do — they find ways to improve their chances of success, and are eager to help one another. Accelerators and all the people that are involved benefit greatly from good people that assume good faith.

 3 things you can do without joining accelerator program

People make a huge difference in your journey, and I strongly believe that who we surround ourselves with will help make or break our businesses. Even if you’re not part of an accelerator program, there are a few things you can do to get into the right crowd:

Meng Wong, co-founder of JFDI, often says that entrepreneurship should not be lonely.

I strongly agree with him. We’re in the people business.

JFDI’s next accelerator program begins in March 2014. The application deadline is on February 21. Apply Now.


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