I have been the CEO of the Microsoft Accelerator for the past month. There are 11 companies as part of the batch and it has been an exciting ride. One of the things I focused on is trying to make the program a lot more structured than YCombinator and modeled it around a finishing school that I always wanted. Here are the top things I learned.
1. Dont try to change an entrepreneur’s idea. They have to come up with something they like themselves. This seems fairly trivial. There are many incubators and seed funds that believe if you dont have an idea, but are great entrepreneur material, they will “give you ideas”. That rarely works. Entrepreneurs have ownership and pride only for things they believe “they came up with on their own”. Anything borrowed (even if its a clone or knock-off idea from a US startup) is theirs. They will put more wood behind their idea than anything you ever propose.
2. Indian entrepreneurs have varied expectations from accelerators. One entrepreneur wanted “execution” help in actually doing the design (preferably a full time designer and user experience person for a few weeks to do it) and another wanted better quality food at the cafeteria. Some think the biggest value proposition of an accelerator is the “quality of the space” (i.e the physical location), while another thought the value was the other startups who would egg them to get better.
3. Regardless of what you offer, there’s always someone offering more or better, which I think is the “grass is greener on the other side syndrome”. If I had a penny for every time someone said “I have heard YCombinator founders get XYZ” or “500 startups gives more ABC”, I’d have enough money to fund all the startups for a year.
4. Indian companies need a lot more user experience and design help than any US company. I have invested in over 20+ companies in the US and about 11 here in India. Its extremely hard to find good user experience talent in India. This is a different person from someone that just does Photoshop and illustration. We interviewed 23 “highly recommended” designers and user experience professionals in India. Most were average and were still charging rates from $20 / hour to $100 / hour. No negotiation.
5. The Go-to-market challenge is largely under-appreciated in India among founders. Many need more help here than any other area, but tend to relegate the problem to “lets hire someone to do that”. Unless one founder is deeply involved in the customer development process, we largely build technology for the sake of it.