Every startup should apply to an incubator
I’ve been working on Signal Genius since early September 2011. It’s already been quite the ride. The team has been bootstrapping since then, with contracting consuming a good chunk of our time. Despite that, we were still able to get our first paying customers — yes, contrary to popular belief, startups can actually generate revenue ;) — in January. I’m a firm believer that every startup should apply to an incubator program no matter how mature the team or idea. We applied to TechStars for Signal Genius back in January, and even though we don’t know if we’re in yet, the experience has already been worth it.
I’ve been in Boulder now for over a year and a half, and while I don’t think I can apply the “local” label to myself yet, I’ve gotten to know a lot of people. Since Boulder is the original and HQ of TechStars, a day rarely goes by where I don’t cross paths with a mentor, alum, and other applicant to the program. So, applying for the summer program back in January was a no-brainer.
But, I realize it might not be a no-brainer if it’s not in your face every day.
“Getting into an incubator” should never be the goal of a team, the goal should be building your business. That being said, “applying to an incubator” can be a strategic part of building that business. The initial application forces you to put down on paper what the hell you actually do. The feedback you get is real, and doesn’t just apply to the cool tech you’re building or the relationships you have. The best feedback can often be feedback that exposes an incorrect assumption about just how difficult “getting users” or “recommending the best X” — things that can be easily glossed over in the face of your ‘actual idea’ — can be.
The people that run these programs have literally seen thousands of ideas come across their desks. They’ve seen complete newbies and experienced serial entrepreneurs. They’ve probably seen 20 variations on the idea you’re working on. Their bullshit meters are highly tuned, and they have no problem dishing out the hard advice. So do yourself a favor, and go apply to an incubator. As of writing this post, applications for TechStars Boulder Summer 2012 are still open, but they close on Friday. However, you can apply for TS programs after that, or YC, or any other of the dozens of incubators that have popped up in the past couple years.
Go. Apply. Now.