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Set a direction for your startup by applying to tech incubators

KickoffLabs recently applied to the TechStars incubator program.  We made it past the first round, got to fill out part two of the application, but didn’t get in.  It’s OK, being part of a program like this really wasn’t part of our plan in the first place. In fact, we launched to paying customers before the program in Seattle even started.  I’ll be honest and admit that KickoffLabs is not the next trendy billion dollar Groupon clone with Color integration. (I kid because I love. )

But seriously, the Techstars Seattle people were great throughout the process and willing to meet up along the way. Here are some suggestions for people just getting started and thinking about how an incubator program may help them.

Meet with the organizers in person.  I’d encourage anyone thinking about applying to a program like this to meet up with the people involved ahead of submitting your application. You’ll learn a bit more about what they are looking for and they aren’t shy about sharing what they think about your idea.  In the end it’s not about the money you’d be getting (which bootstrappers actually may not want) it’s more about the personal connections to the mentors anyway.

Fill out incubator applications even if you don’t apply.  We ended up filling out both the initial TechStars and yCombinator applications for a few of our ideas.  They ask great questions that get straight to the point of a mini-business plan such as the market, problem you are solving, and how you are going to outshine your competition. In the end we only submitted KickoffLabs to the Seattle Techstars program, but filling this out for any new idea you have is a great way to personally validate it and do some of the initial research that will prove or disprove your theory.

Fill out part two of the application.  This focuses mostly on a 90 day plan.  You can see the KickoffLabs slides below as a template.  I liked the 90 day focus because I don’t believe in multi-year plans for new businesses.  New businesses are experiments that change rapidly or die trying. But 90 days makes you think about a short horizon that you can more easily control and predict.  It will force you to set goals based on these milestones and examine whether or not your on the way to success.

There are no bad ideas… just ideas that are poorly executed, communicated, shared, and aren’t thought through enough. The application process won’t help you execute, but it will help you think through goals and how you communicate your business with people that aren’t thinking about it all day long and only have minutes to accept or reject your idea.

Here is our initial TechStars Application

You can already see where and how we’ve diverged from this angle.

Here is the slide deck we filled out for Round 2 of the Application Process

This deck outlines one potential direction for KickoffLabs.  We may not end up doing any of it, but the thought process was worthwhile. Except that it re-enforced that I didn’t miss Powerpoint.  :)

After reading this feel free to leave a comment and let us know why you would or would not buy 6% of our company.  :)


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