Getting selected for an incubator is both great and scary, especially if you’re already employed in a cushy job! My startup, now called Revisu, was selected for the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE) in early September. Obviously, we were ecstatic — but we didn’t really know what to expect.
1. Don’t worry, no one else knows what they’re doing either.
At PIE there was a real mixed bag of startups in terms of progress. Going in to PIE some were really far along, some (most) were just very basic prototypes with unproven marketability, and some were just ideas and two cool guys.
All of them, though, didn’t know what to expect from an incubator. And you really can’t find out, either, until you go through it as each incubator is different.
2. Figure out what your startup is about — quickly.
By “what you are about” I mean write down — on paper — the answers to some very basic questions. What are your goals? What is your (hopefully market driven) problem hypothesis? Why are you in an incubator? What do you hope to have done by the end? What do you hope to learn from it? The sooner you do this, the more successful you will be as all of your decisions should hinge on those answers. Any decisions you make without this data are just shots in the dark.
As of now, we’re about half way through the program and we just now figured out the answers to these questions. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to make up for that lost time. Oh yeah, and these can change at any time, too.
3. You’re probably wrong and that’s OK.
This point gets harped on a lot but it’s one of those things that people still fail at realizing when they’re actually put in the position, when they’re actually wrong about something. And you could be wrong about anything and everything — technological viability, marketability, your ability to reach customers, anything!
The best entrepreneurs are the ones that realize they’re wrong the earliest because they can figure out how to fix the problem. Again, this is something we’re just now learning!
4. You’re about to learn a lot.
You’re going to meet people that have expertise in fields that you didn’t even know existed and are very important to building a company.
PR was a field that I didn’t consider to be important. “it’s just something big companies use for damage control,” I thought. It wasn’t until someone explained to me what PR was that I understood how important it is because I (obviously) didn’t understand it.
5. The most valuable advice you’re going to get will come from…
Previously successful founders. The real bitch of an incubator is that there is too much data being thrown at you.
You’re going to hear from experts in all fields — marketing, PR, sales, product management, technology, design, UX, and a bunch I’m sure I’m forgetting. Each person you talk to will tell you how important their respective field is and how if you concentrate on this one thing you’ll be successful.
The only people that really know what is important to starting a company are the people who have done it. Even then, realize that it’s different for everyone to a certain degree and highly subjective to how far along you are.