We’re looking for startups. A startup is 1) a team with 2) an idea, that is 3) willing and determined to make a business out of that idea, by dedicating the majority of their time to it.
We’re looking for more than ideas, we’re looking for startups. We’re looking for more than weekend warriors, full time employees somewhere else that play around with a pet project on Sunday afternoons. Sure, you may start that way, so let’s come and talk, but what we’re looking for is to accelerate startups.
Let’s take each of the three key components above and break them down. Everything we list below are, at the same time, things that we’ll be evaluating you on and things that we will teach you. We don’t expect you to be perfect at these, because this is what we’ll help you with, but we do expect you to have something, enough to make us think it’s worth it.
Probably the most important of the three. Teams are very important in any situation, but even more so in our case, as we’re looking for early stage startups. That mans that you probably don’t have much of a user base, likely no revenue, maybe not even much of a product at all. That makes you, the team, that much more critical, because what we’re really doing is that we’re betting on your ability to make it. We’re betting on you.
Your team has to be resilient. You will face countless challenges, problems, difficult moment, failures, disappointments, setbacks and you will have to stay sharp, keep moving, keep making decisions, don’t give up. Are you in for the long run, will you stick with this to the end or will you give up and go enjoy the summer as soon as it gets hard?
You have to have the hard skills of what you’re planning to build, or have a realistic way to acquire them. We may all have all kinds of brilliant ideas, but if we don’t have the skills to even get started, what’s the point? Sure, you’ll have a lot to learn, you’ll improvise, you’ll make mistakes, but you have to have something to build on.
You have to have good team dynamics. You’ll face hundreds of decisions and all kinds of difficulties and you have to be able to talk to each other, to listen to each other, to analyze and consider information well, to be able to take feedback, to adapt when needed, to reconsider, to admit mistakes, to move forward. The way in which you work with each other is very important.
You have to be able to present yourself well. You will meet all kinds of people that will judge your business through how you present yourselves, including us, because for a while at least, your business will be you and not much else. You need to be able to present your idea, your business model, explain it, answer difficult questions and project realistic confidence. We understand you’re not experts at this, but at the minimum you have to have an appreciation for the importance of making a good impression. For the avoidance of doubt, we just want to mention that we’re not looking for unnecessary flash. The reverse holds true as well: you may have all the public speaking awards and be an expert at pitching, but if there’s no substance behind, then that’s not very useful either. We’re looking for healthy balance.
Last but not least, it helps if you as a team have done something together before, be it a business or not, to show that you can work as a team.
In terms of location, we are based in Iași, so we expect a lot of the accelerated startups to be from Iași, but we welcome teams from everywhere, as long as they’re willing to make the occasional trip to Iași and are comfortable with remote work. So regardless if our first contact is a coffee or a skype call, we’re happy to meet you.
We’re looking for teach ideas that are scalable and have the potential for explosive growth. Let’s say you start with a beachhead market in Iași, it works, and at some point you want to expand to Cluj. Does that require you to double your development/support/otherwise efforts? If yes, then that’s not a scalable idea. We’re looking for products that can, potentially, move from serving Iași to serving the country, the continent or the world with the flick of a button and just more server capacity. This pretty much excludes all kinds of consultancy work and services and rules out most ideas that require physical presence in the cities you operate in, people to hire on the ground or physical distribution networks of some sort that you have to build yourself. Both B2C and B2C can fit the scalability bill, although in B2B you have to pay attention to the sales effort and make it as scalable as possible.
We’re looking for ideas from which a quick MVP can be extracted and tested. Yes, your masterplan may span years, but what’s a first step that you can build and test (and by test we mean test in the market, put it front of real clients and ask for money for it) in a few months? If you tell us you need to work for a couple of years before you can put something in front of clients, that’s not going to work.
We’re looking for feasible ideas, things that you can realistically build with your skills and resources at your disposal. Be ambitious, but be grounded. If you come to us and say “I don’t like Facebook, I think I can build a better social network”, we may intellectually agree with you and may even have have a fun conversation about it, but we’re unlikely to consider that a feasible business idea, business being the key word here.
No idea is totally original and we’re not looking for you to be the first in the world to say it, that’s actually highly unlikely. We are however looking for some kind of non-copiability of your idea, we don’t want it to be trivial for a competitor to copy you.
Last but not least, your emotional relationship to your idea is very important. On one hand you have to be as stubborn as a mule and persist in the face of doubt and hardship. At the same time, you have to be able to constantly take in new information, listen to feedback, adjust course and maybe even pivot and completely change your idea and products. How do you do these two contradictory things at the same time is much of the art of being a startup.
We’re looking for businesses. We repeat, we’re looking for businesses. A business is a team willing to put in time, effort, blood and sweat to develop a product that serves a real need for a real customer that is willing to pay for it. A business is a not a “nice idea”. A business is not a “worthy social goal”. A business is not “something good for the community”. It may very well be all those things and we quite like business that attempt to do some of that, but without the client part and the money exchanging hands part, it’s not a business and therefore it’s not for us.
We’re going to expect you to intimately understand your client and have your thinking around their needs and motivations for paying for your product. We will shy away from “build it and they will come” approaches, where you think that you have this wonderful idea and only if you build it, surely, clients will come and buy it, but you haven’t validated that in any way.
We’re going to expect you to obsess over your client and their needs, who are they, what are they looking for, how do they make decisions, how much are they spending, on what, how will you convince them to buy your product?
Let’s imagine two teams. Team A that has spent 6 months working on a product and they’re getting close to launching an initial version. They have had minimal client interaction up to this point. Team B that has spent 2 months talking to potential clients, interviewing them, understanding their business, how they work, how they make buying decisions. Team B has zero lines of code. In this situation, all other things being equal, we are more likely to go with Team B. Of course, a Team C with some some kind of a product that has also been put in front of clients and has some proven traction (usage, growth, maybe even revenue) is even better.
You need to have an understanding of your business model. Who are your clients? What is your pricing model? How much money do you expect to make in year 1, year 2, year 3? What markets do you want to expand to? What is the cost of sales & marketing to expand? Total cost of acquisition per client, total lifetime value per client? What is your cost structure? What is the competitive landscape? We won’t expect corporate like detailed sheets or endless powerpoint presentations for this, but we do expect you to have thought about it and have an answer. It’s ok to say “I don’t know yet”, but then the next question is going to be “how will you test this, what do you need to do in order to know?”, and then you have to have an answer for that.
In closing, if all of this sounds a bit intimidating, well, it should, because a startup is no easy thing to do. At the same time, we understand that this may be your first time and you don’t know everything. As long as you’re willing to do your best and you’ve understood the kinds of things that you will need to do, get in touch with us. We will talk to you and we will do our best to help you make it work. It is our job to spot talent and potential before it is obvious, maybe even to you.