Updated: Sep 13, 2019
When I was attending the networking events in the three accelerators I went through, and as I was increasing my posts in social media, I found my email inbox quickly filling up with meeting requests. The problem, when this first started happening, was that I wasn't sure what was genuine and what was SPAM.
Over time I've built a bit of a natural filter to work out what is SPAM and what is a genuine business opportunity. During the first accelerator I did, I often asked the program managers to help me with this issue. For example whenever I got an email from someone I didn't know asking to catch up for coffee, I went and asked the program managers if they personally knew this person. I found the program managers and mentors usually had large networks, especially locally, where everyone seemed to know everyone, so straight away they said, 'yes meet this guy', or 'no I wouldn't trust him/her'. Included below is a list of some 'common approaches' I often received while I was in the accelerator (and still get sometimes!):
The 'LinkedIn Consultant'. This one takes the form a short direct message from someone with an invite to connect on LinkedIn. The message often appears a little like this; 'lets connect, as I'm in the same industry as you', or 'I have a large network, and I'm looking to increase that network, lets connect', or 'I read about your product in a journal article, and I'm interested in investing, lets meet for coffee'. I found most of these requests were people trying to sell me their consulting services/coaching services, or some other business service. The rule of thumb I use, based on what some mentors told me during the accelerator program, is 'if you don't know the person, or if they don't have a lot of connections that you both know (and with people you trust) then usually its a good idea to ignore these types of requests'.
The 'SEO expert'. This is an email I get all the time whereby a so called 'SEO expert company/marketing company' offers to get me on the top listings on Google Search if I pay them. Often the email is disguised with some sort of flattering remark about my company's product/service, attempting to lure me in to face-to-face meeting or a phone call. I don't know if its true, but my guess is that these SEO companies troll the accelerator blogs and look up all the startups participating, and deliberately target them with emails and flattery.
The 'In-genuine investor'. This is often a hard one to spot. During the accelerators I attended, I often got emails from people saying that they are an investor from a "well known and established" investment company and we should meet for coffee to discuss a possible investment in my company. When I clicked on the link to the supposed investor's company website, it was usually well designed, it looked professional, and it often listed well known clients. The background of the person approaching me, when I looked them up on LinkedIn, was usually impressive too. And the program managers even told me that these investors seemed genuine most of the time. So during the first two accelerators I attended, I would take these meetings, and meet the investor for a coffee or even in their own offices downtown. Usually the first meeting would go swimmingly. The investors came across as very charming, and most often they were quite convincing about their company investments and how my company aligns with their portfolios. They would also offer lots of wonderful and valuable advice. I often went back for a second and third meeting with the investor, usually at their request. But then what kept happening was sometime during the second, third or fourth meeting, the investor suddenly began demanding from me a large chunk of equity in my company, or a monthly retainer. If I was to continue getting their advice, they told me, then they would have to join my team immediately. The meetings suddenly went 360 degrees, and instead of me pitching to them, they would suddenly start pitching themselves to me. This was a common line I got,"I've already talked to <insert big name local investor> and he is really interested in investing in your company, and so you will need me in your team to facilitate and close this investment, and my retainer is $5000 a month for minimum 6 months".
I found the best thing to do in an accelerator when I wasn't sure about someone approaching me was to simply ask the program managers for their advice.