This post has been written by Thomas Merritt – Find the article on Medium
Last year, Hirely was selected to join the first batch in Hong Kong of Startup Next, a Techstars program. Startup Next is the #1 startup pre-acceleration program in the world and was designed in a way that founders are able to continue building their product. The first edition was co-directed with Nest and Startup Weekend HK.
The timing was perfect for our startup as we were in the final stages of product development, gained steady traction with beta users and demonstrated proof of concept in a controlled group.
Joining the accelerator program helped us focus on our business goals, set objective KPIs and measure our progress from week to week. During the 6 weeks, we perfected our pitch, sharpened our business model and gained an invaluable business network.
Here are the top five takeaways from Startup Next:
Test, test, test again.
We were reminded early that no simulation compares with getting live feedback early from the target market. We met and interviewed over 135 party vendors and entertainers in Hong Kong to test our product along every stage — from an idea on a napkin to a prototype to final launch product. Without testing with our potential customers, Hirely would not be as useful to them as it is today. Meet your market, understand their pain points, internalize feedback and tweak your solution. And repeat.
2. KPIs & accountability are king.
You can’t underestimate the importance of measuring quantitative progress. We were required to develop a set of KPIs to be accountable for every week. This enabled us to measure your progress step by step as well as keeping close count of what works and what doesn’t. Setting yourself growth targets is key but identifying the right parameters is just as important and they vary from one startup to the other. To this day (3 months on), we still use similar weekly KPI metrics that we developed from the Startup Next program.
3. Jump back into the arena.
It’s better to draw a blank during a test pitch then on demo day. To prepare for my first solo pitch, I practiced a one-minute pitch for days to perfection. However, under pressure, I lost focus and, in a blink, the pitch was over before I could recover. As embarrassing as it was, it was a useful reminder that things don’t always go to plan. In spite of the bruised ego, I put this behind me and delivered a 3-minute final pitch effortlessly a few weeks later.
4. You get what you put in.
Joining an accelerator (or pre-accelerator) program is a big commitment in both time and work. Do your research, identify in advance what you want to get out of the program and from the mentors. Once you’re in the program, respect your own and others’ time by putting in the effort that’s required to get your startup to the next level. Everyone is there to help you along the way, but if you don’t pull your own weight, all efforts are lost.
5. Invest in your network.
The raw energy from being in a room with like-minded individuals with a common hunger was addictive. It was inspiring to see so many people volunteering their time to offer mentorship and support the start-up community. Through the network of Startup Next, we sponsored our first event and met business partners. Two mentors from Startup Next remain to be our advisors today.
Startup Next is back in Hong Kong for round two this spring with a kick-ass list of mentors. This time, it will be co-directed by W Hub. I encourage early-stage startups looking to join world-class accelerator programs or kickstart fundraising efforts to apply. Applications are due on March 22nd and you can submit yours here. Feel free to reach out to me at thomas[at]hirely.asia or hk[at]startupnext.co with other questions.
Tom is the cofounder of Hirely, an online marketplace that simplifies the way people find, compare and hire curated event professionals that make their events truly unique. Hirely recently launched in HK.