What to look for in potential accelerator team members

Updated: Aug 30, 2019

Assembling a team may be one of the easiest things you’ve done so far on your entrepreneurial journey or it could be the most difficult thing ever. You must convince someone to believe in you and your idea and to give up three or more months of their time and their normal life to devote themselves full-time to the accelerator. Over time, your team you may need to grow your team to include an advisory board, a board of directors, management team, and maybe another co-founder or two or three. As you start to get customers and revenue, and/or raise funding, then your team may need to include employees–hopefully lots of them! Your choice of team members is going to be one of the most critical factors to help you progress from here on. If you choose poorly, then your company may not get into an accelerator and it may fail. If you choose wisely, your success will be accelerated beyond anything you could imagine in a very short space of time. I have made a list below of the characteristics I looked for in team members for my startup, and I have ranked them from what I consider the most important to least important:

A Serial Entrepreneur

The best co-founder is one who has taken their own idea to a company sale/strategic exit (and by sale or strategic exit, we mean someone that has sold their company for millions, or had their company listed on the stock market with a valuation of tens of millions, or was acquired for tens of millions of dollars). That is, you want someone to join your team who has completed this entrepreneurial journey before.Unfortunately, there aren’t that many people on the planet who can boast they are successful serial entrepreneurs and perhaps the majority of the people who have done this are now living on big boats and in big mansions somewhere in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or in Monaco, and the last thing they are interested in is starting up another company. On the other hand, entrepreneurship can be somewhat addictive. Often, after someone sells their company, they like to get back into it again. The serial entrepreneur is out there–you just need to find them and convince them to join your team.

A Tech Person

A tech person can be called developers, engineers, coders, programmers, hackers, tech heads, geeks, IT guys and others. If you can’t find a serial entrepreneur, then your second-best option is to find a tech person to join your team. If you are already a tech person, then you want to find a business/marketing/sales expert. Even if your product has nothing to do with technology, every company these days is a software company. You need accounting software programs to do your bookkeeping. You need the Internet to market your product. You need customer relationship software to record and document your sales. You need word processing software to write reports and PCs/smartphones to write emails.If your tech person is a serial entrepreneur, congratulations! You have hit the jackpot! So, what is a tech person exactly? Ideally, a tech person will be somebody who has university qualification in computer science, or IT, or electronic engineering, or computer languages, or some sort of university qualification related to computing/technology/coding. Naturally, the better the university the tech person has been to, the better chance you have of becoming a success. Some people in the world of entrepreneurship might tell you that you don’t need a university-educated person on your team, especially when it comes to tech people. And there are thousands of stories out there of successful startups that have team members that drop out of university, or never even finished school, or who have never done any short course in tech or anything. What we are saying here is just a general rule of thumb–and that is that someone who got into a university and graduated in a technology-related field is going to be of high quality.

A university graduate might not be a better coder than someone that has not been to university, but potential investors and venture capitalists, and the accelerator decision makers, will get more excited if your team member has graduated in IT from a university as it’s easier to quantify. If someone has graduated in computer science from a top university like MIT, Stanford or Yale, they are going to be even higher quality. If you can find someone that has university qualifications in technology-related fields from Stanford University, MIT, or Yale University, or another leading university, such as Oxford or Ohio State or Harvard, then you have hit the jackpot. It’s not crucial that your tech head has university qualifications. If they don’t have university qualifications, then they’ll need to have skills in a number of computing languages and have some past IT projects/startups online. Your tech person should have delivered tech-related projects/worked on startups before and published their work online. The accelerator program managers and anyone who wants to help you make your company a success generally like to look at some of your tech person’s projects before they decide to support your team or not. In other words, you need to prove that your tech person knows tech/coding by pointing to some of their past work.

Here’s another thing you look for in a tech person: you want their skill set to be related to your product/service. There’s not much point finding a hardware electronic engineer for your team if you are building a smartphone app for online shopping. Or there is not much point getting a tech person who has done hundreds of Android apps if you are going to build security hardware with devices such as internet connected alarms. So, before you search for your tech person, you need to determine what skills they need. If you are building a tech product, such as a smartphone app, and you have never worked in tech before, then you will have to quickly learn the tools/skills/computing languages you need to make your product. You don’t have to learn how to use the tech tools yourself, just know what they are. For example, does your product need to be built in the computing languages such as Java or .NET or PhP? Is it only iOS, or Android or both? Does your product require someone to design it in CAD or C++ or C?

One way to get a rough idea of the tech tools/skills you require from a tech co-founder is to visit an IT consultant for a 30 minutes free consultation and ask them for a quote to carry out the work to build your product or service. Search for local IT consultants online. Another way is to simply write a page or two about what you want to build, sometimes called ‘a project brief,’ and email this to IT companies to ask them for a quote. The IT company could be in your city, your country, or anywhere.

You aren’t ready yet to engage these IT people to carry out the work you propose-you may do this during an accelerator with all the support and cash around you to help build it. But by visiting an IT consultant now, or asking for a quote, it could be a valuable exercise for you to get an understanding from a tech viewpoint about the work involved in building your product/service. This understanding is important before you submit your application, as there will no doubt be a question regarding your technology/what is required to build your product/service in the accelerator application form.

Someone who has worked for a startup before:

If you can’t find a serial entrepreneur or a tech person to join your team, then the next best thing is finding someone who has experience working in a startup. They should have some idea what to expect in this entrepreneurial journey. Additionally, a person who has worked in a startup before, even briefly, will know what’s likely to be coming up in the months and years ahead so there won’t be too many surprises along the way. You don’t want to get a co-founder who is risk averse so, at the first sign of trouble, they run for the hills. Or you don’t want someone to join your team who has no idea about the persistence required to get a startup off the ground or the cash problems you may face.

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