In February 2020, we will be kicking off the next accelerator round. For those of you who haven’t heard, the themes are sustainability, promoting women in tech, and scaling Berlin startups beyond German borders. We are currently in the middle of interviewing candidates and reviewing applications — and in light of all the interviews we’re conducting, we wanted to do a sort of PSA about what we look for in our founders.
In short, we look for two things: idea and execution.
Now for the slightly longer version.
To nobody’s surprise (hopefully), the idea has to hold up. This means there should be a clear problem you’re solving, and the solution you’re presenting should make sense. The idea also needs to be unique in some way. That doesn’t mean it has to be something so original that no one has heard of it before (if so, great) — but maybe it’s a twist on an existing idea, maybe you’re applying it in a different market, perhaps there’s an innovation you’ve made that puts you ahead of the rest — whatever it is, something needs to be different about your idea.
Keep in mind, some of that has to do with the presentation — but if you don’t have a clear idea of what your product is, then neither will we.
But the idea isn’t everything. In fact, it’s only a small portion of the whole deal — what you’ve dreamt up may be brilliant, but it’s merely a daytime fantasy if you can’t turn it into something concrete.
A startup founder, or any entrepreneur for that matter, has to be a curious mix of idealist and ruthless pragmatist. They need the blue sky thinking to dream up the product and solutions to fill a gap in the market, but they also need the financial and operational sensibilities to plan out how to bring that idea into reality, and when to call it quits so they can focus on the next idea.
Individuals rarely are a good balance of both dreamer and doer, so that’s why we take a look at where the team as a whole fall on the spectrum. When one person is thinking about shooting for Mars, is there someone else thinking about how to build the first floor?
There are many parts to building a business, and every business is different. But there are some common things we look at to get a sense of whether you can carry out your vision. For instance, if you’re building a technical product, we look at whether you have a developer on the team, and how much previous experience they have in the field. We also always look for previous business experience, because things that seem trivial when considering the grand vision can quickly become critical bottlenecks: when should you incorporate? How do you conduct user research? How do you acquire users? Who are your users? What should the pitch deck look like? What’s your go-to-market strategy?
When we ask these questions, we’re not testing whether you have every single component of building a business ready in your team, and have every question answered. Nobody is expecting you to know your unit economics down to the cent at your first pitch. Besides, the whole point of our program is the provide you, the founders, with the mentors and experts to teach you the ropes. But what we do want to see is that you’ve put some thought into the execution, drawn some high-level plans about how you’re going to take this idea to the market, and demonstrate your awareness about where your skills and team might be falling short, and what you need to do to make up for the gaps. It’s okay if you’re three chemists straight out of university with no business experience, but you should know that you’re three chemists with no business experience.