If you have ever created a business, you know that there are two things you can ill afford to waste. One is money and the other is time. Yet you consistently find yourself in situations in which you are wasting both on things you wish you knew beforehand was just going to end up to be a drain leaving you wishing you could get that time or money back. Compounding these issues can be the time you spend in an accelerator. And while many accelerator programs offer great financial incentives to go through their program, it can mean losing a lot of time working on your business.
We went through the same issue when we recently went through Techstars. The program is a very intense 3 month program that is meant to help provide you with the foundational skills that can help grow your business from idea to growth. Both Phil and I had done a lot of research before going through Techstars pulling from our network to learn more about what different people got out of their time. The most common feedback we got from people was that we needed to give ourselves to the process and not worry about anything else including the time we knew we were going to lose being able to focus on our business. As a result, Phil and I had to learn to work more efficient, communicate better, and learn how to use tools to manage our time effectively. Here are some of the things we learned going through the program and how we were able to continue to work on our business while being focused on our time in Chicago.
Don’t worry about your calendar
Your first instinct will be to try to schedule meetings while you are going through whatever program you are in. Don’t do that. The program managers and their associates have set up a program to ensure you are going to get the best out of your time there. If you try to book meetings, schedule time off, or you are otherwise not present, you will miss something.
Unfortunately I actually did this during the 4th of July week which meant I lost a lot of key information when I got back. It had a ripple effect throughout the program and it made it difficult to figure out what important information I missed.
Lean on each other
Most companies that go through an accelerator have two founders. In fact, if you are a solo founder trying to go through a program, it is going to be really tough. You will struggle. Having a second person to lean on will help keep you on track and will make it easier to divide the work. Learn how to best work with your co-founder and be sure to communicate often about your concerns.
Use the tools that can make you more efficient
One of the biggest challenges for me was that Phil and I had not worked closely together before we left for Chicago. Both of us were holding down day jobs and quit when we got into Techstars. This also meant that he and I really had not worked closely together until we went through the program. While it caused some tension early on, we eventually learned how to work with each other and found tools to make our time there easier. The best tools we found were those that didn’t add to our work load, but made it easier to have visibility to each other’s work load. Tools like Trello, Waffle.io, Slack, and Intercom all made us more efficient as we worked to build out our product offering.
Find time for yourself
It can be really tempting to completely immerse yourself in the program and not allow yourself much time for anything or anyone else. However, you need to find some time to decompress and enable your brain to take a break. I can tell you honestly that more time in front of your laptop does not mean more success for your business. Unplug, breath, and find some time to do something that makes you smile and laugh. Without this, you are going to burn yourself out. It may seem counter intuitive if you are running at full speed and you may think, “it’s just 3 months.” But you will find that you are going to wear yourself out fast if you don’t find time to do something else.
Document everything. Your calendar is your friend.
It may seem odd, but if there is an event that is not on my calendar I will not remember. So I spent a lot of time ensuring everything I did on a day-to-day basis made it in my calendar. If it was not there I did not know about it and likely missed an important event or meeting if I did not document everything in my calendar. I also used Evernote for lists, tasks, and small notes. This was helpful because I could access my notes from anywhere including my phone and could add information as it came up.
Most accelerator programs are three months. Some are longer and some are shorter. And even though all have a similar format and curriculum it is important to get the most you can get out of the program. This means being as present as you possibly can, putting everything in your calendar, and using tools that can make you more efficient. Use your network as well as the other companies within your cohort to learn how everyone else stays focused. You will usually find that everyone else is struggling with the same thing and sharing information will help you progress in a way that will enable you to get all you can out of the program.