Surviving Incubation: Feedback, Mentorship & Overload

May 4, 2011

I have been thinking about how lucky Tap.Me was to have gone through the Excelerate Labs incubator last year (by lucky I mean Tap.Me almost didn't accept our selection into Excelerate) and how the new class of 2011 can take the success of the program to brand new heights. Who are these clowns who want 5% of our company? was our initial thought, but lucky for us, we have always been pretty good about listening and have surrounded ourselves with some pretty smart folks. In the end it was the best thing that we could have done at that stage of our company and we emerged wiser and on point.


So I thought I would share some tips to the new Excelerate teams and any company that is going through a start-up accelerator:


1. It is ok to feel dumb - No matter how stupid you think a question might be, or how much you think everyone expects you to know about a certain subject, take every opportunity you can to learn more. You will get out what you put in, so be ready to put your heart on your sleeve, your pride in your pocket and ask away. Being inquisitive will net you better relationships than impressing anyone who comes through the door.


2. Pitch but be pitched first - At some point during the barrage of mentors, you will hit automatic. Remember to always learn about whom you are talking to from the source. LinkedIn is great, but stories are better. If things play out in the right way, most entrepreneurial stories will set you up to truly connect.


3. Feedback overload - One day you will hear you are doing great. The next day you will be asked to pivot. Others simply won't get it although they could be the smartest person you have ever met. Feedback will come in all shapes and sizes. The hardest job will be to take all of the feedback and decide what makes sense for your vision and progress. Prepare to be challenged, and sometimes if you are doing things right, challenged by yourself.


4. Don't forget your team - This was one area where Tap.Me wishes we had done a better job. Our challenge was twofold. We had a bigger team than most, and the show had to go on while management was at summer camp. Fully take advantage of everything the program has to offer and think about whom on your team would get the most benefit out of meeting with different mentors.


5. Agile doesn't just apply to product development - Our message was refined during the Excelerate process. For example, our first meeting with Troy resulted in, and I am paraphrasing, I love you guys but I have no idea what you’re doing! It literally took us 10 minutes to get to a value proposition! Thankfully, our message was refined so succinctly over the course of the program that come demo day, we had a pretty strong showing that helped us raise our A round and land some awesome partnerships. Take every opportunity to refine your message, it is less about consistency than it is to request feedback on new angles for your company’s positioning.


6. Focus on focusing - Right after day three it will become clear that if you are trying to live your days as you did in your nice cozy vacuum, think again. Make sure you take time to digest the knowledge as well as the contacts, and focus ONLY on key milestones for your company. There will not be much time for anything else, which will be a great time to practice delegation. 


7. The best defense is listening - If you find yourself in a situation where you feel that you are trying to defend your concept, company or decision, just shut your trap, sit back and listen. You will thank yourself for it later.


8. Keep a list and check it twice - As I mentioned before, the piles of people that you will meet will overwhelm you with feedback. Your message will change and become more focused with time. Remember to follow up with those that you connected with at the start to update them on your positioning progress.


9. Prepare to be transformed - By week three or four, any carefully laid out plan that you walked in with will most likely be destroyed and that’s a good thing. Be ready to walk out (in some cases) with a completely different company. Tap.Me was a game company that wanted to build games and an advertising platform, we walked out as an in-game advertising technology company with games as our soul.


10. The choice is yours - Don't forget that in the end, despite the feedback, progress and connections, the choice is yours to do the right thing for your company and co-founders (and maybe even investors). Take it all in and with a little luck and a lot of hard work, you just might beat the odds.