After reviewing 300 startup applications, this is what I learned

In a previous post, I wrote about why and how you should join the 500startups accelerator (or any premier accelerator program, for that matter). I briefly mentioned that I’ve been given access to provide opinion on applications for the next batch (Fall 2013), as a 500startups program alumni.

To date, I’ve reviewed close to 300 startup applications, likely more than anyone else with review access on this batch, so far (to be clear – each application would be reviewed by multiple people before a decision, sometimes as many as 30). A running joke in the office is one of the 500startups staff walking near my desk and asking me “don’t you have a company to run?” or “don’t you get tired of reviewing those applications?”. I’ll have the last laugh though, because they will have to go through all of those applications eventually, where as I can just skip the ones that are not a clear yes or no.

Reviewing startups turns out to be somewhat addicting. I keep hoping the next application would blow me away, and it will be an easy upvote, but unfortunately most are not. From reviewing all those applications, I think that most people are not clear on what the top accelerators look for in companies. So in favor of openness and in the hopes of helping someone out there increase their chances of getting accepted, here are a few rules of thumb for being attractive to startup accelerator (or even VCs):

Continue reading After reviewing 300 startup applications, this is what I learned

Post mortem: Why and how you should apply to 500startups

A couple of months ago, I wrote about our first week in the 500startups accelerator program. With the program now officially (?) over, I wanted to share my experience with it and help interested founders understand whether it would be a good fit for them.

Why should you apply to 500startups?

When we first started the program, we weren’t sure exactly what to expect out of it. How hands on will the program be? what value will they give us and how can we make the most out of it? I think Parker Thompson, one of the partners at 500s, summed it up very nicely here on Quora.
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The ABC of raising your seed round

After failing miserably to raise 18 months ago, digging deep and bootstrapping our way to profitability, we made another attempt earlier this year and got a huge break by getting into 500startups.

We are now in the middle of raising our seed round and are doing a much better job at it than previously. I wanted to share some of what we’ve learned that helped made the current attempt a successful one.
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The awkward relationship of tech bloggers and startups

Today Robert Scoble came to visit our batch at the 500startups offices. He did some 1-on-1 sessions and later gave a free-form talk, mostly about Google Glass (not surprisingly), but also about reaching out to tech media. Here are a few bullet points from the talk –

  • Know what every tech blogger likes to write about and approach them with stuff they care about and that’s why people who want to share go and get information online on how to start a blog and become bloggers. Robert for example is infatuated with Google Glass right now, so even if you have the shittiest Google Glass app (his own words) he would be interested, but if you have the most amazing WinXP app he will probably not.
  • Get tons of traction and people will write about you (a given). Get everyone in your batch to say you’re the “hot” company of the lot.
  • Get intros from insiders and trusted people in the blogger’s network. If Dave McClure gives a personal guarantee about your startup, Robert will likely write about it.
  • Build something in a hot market. Everybody loves mobile and mobile is the future. Nobody cares about desktop. So build mobile – you’ll get more love from bloggers.

This looks an awful lot like advice for fund raising. Robert has put himself and other prominent bloggers / tech blogs on the same level as investors as far as getting their attention is concerned, using SEO techniques and strategies which you can find online, and you can get Get More Info about this here. Is this a reasonable positioning for tech media?

IMHO, no.

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Twitter is the new RSS

I’ve been watching from afar the outcry over the shutting down of Google Reader. Previously a heavy gReader user, I’ve gradually moved away from the service, the move coinciding very much with the emergence of Twitter as an effective content curation platform. Nowadays, when I find an interesting post / blog, I usually try to find the author’s Twitter account and follow it. This way I not only get updates on new blog posts in realtime, I also get additional content via regular tweets that might be of interest.

The asymmetric Twitter following model really supports this behavior – for a long time I used Twitter almost exclusively as a content curation service. While my Google Reader account was getting out of hand with the guilt inducing +1000 unread items, with Twitter I never felt pressured to chase “Inbox zero” on my read count. I might miss some good content, but in most cases if it’s interesting enough it will float up again and I’ll catch it anyway.

With the deprecation announcement of Google Reader, many new RSS subscription services popped up / gained popularity, and I wonder whether they’re catering to an inferior content publication approach. If you look at the Google Trends chart Andrew Chen put in a recent post, the downwards trajectory correlates well to the launch of Twitter (Mar. 2006).

My 2 main sources now for new + interesting content are Twitter and HackerNews. HackerNews pushes to the top the really popular items (so it’s basically my actual “news” source), while with Twitter I can personalize my stream to suite my interests and preferences by managing the people I follow. I get introduced to new content via RTs and mentions, so my content stream is always expanding.

While I think RSS failed mostly on marketing and usage penetration for the average user, I also think it had problems scaling as your subscription inventory grew. I (and probably most people) don’t have time to read everything interesting that crosses our way, and in that sense Twitter has become the content subscription service I actually needed.