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Great - you’ve lined up a key interview with an accelerator program. You get a chance to show off your startup and finally introduce your project to the world. However, many founders tend to falter during the interview, and end up failing to get accepted by the accelerator program - but they have no idea why.

To prevent this from happening to you, we’ve outlined seven things NOT to do during your accelerator interview, and what to do instead:


Start practicing your elevator pitch. In less than 20 seconds, you should be able to accurately explain what you do, who your target market is, and why your product/service is awesome. Remember to say your company name. And in all following questions, try to answer them as briefly as you can, in order to avoid tangents. Even more important: don’t interrupt!


While your speech could be saying one thing, your body could be saying something else. Practice in front of mirror beforehand and identify any nervous ticks you may have. Are you talking too fast? Jiggling your leg? Using “um” or “like” too often? Recognise them and work on diminishing those ticks as soon as possible.


There are some tough interviewers and investors out there, so along with your simple and short elevator pitch, also come prepared with the three things you definitely want covered before the interview is over. Whether that’s how your business is different from other competitors in the space, your product’s current traction, or your team’s backgrounds - discuss beforehand and agree what three things you feel are unique selling points for the interview.

Knowing your agenda ahead of time will help ensure that you don’t get trapped in someone else’s line of questioning or that time will run out before you can really let your startup shine. If you get derailed, you can maneuver back to your Top 3.


First of all, unless totally necessary, don’t correct or interrupt your co-founder (unless they aren’t following tip #1). Be a team and address any tension between the two of you before heading into the interview.

Every co-founder should speak during the interview. It’s fine if one of your takes charge, but all founders should be ready to contribute. Assign question categories to each co-founder before the interview so that they’re prepared, and ready to speak up. And if any of you have previous exits, great backgrounds at amazing companies, or any other amazing feats, make sure you highlight them.


Differentiation is key. If you are entering a crowded space, or have robust competition, this is Concern #1 on every interviewer’s mind. But there’s a reason you started your company - even if you don’t realise it or not. As an early stage company, it’s hard to know what your “moat” or “secret sauce” is, but you should avoid describing your company’s advantage in terms of features, slight advantages, or user experience. Instead, describe in simple language, the value that your customers and users get from your service. describe the vision of what you are building towards.


On a macro-level, this applies to your company: what is genuinely interesting about your story as a product, as a team, in your space? Have you learned anything? Why are you doing this? On a micro-level, this applies to how you will talk about your traction and value proposition: do you have a great customer or user story? How did you and your co-founders meet?

Come prepared with date, results, or a story that will surprise those interviewing you. And don’t forget rule #1 - all stories should be told in under a minute.


Understand that your interviewers will be talking to many companies in one day, one after another, for hours. They can easily blur together and you don’t want to become part of the blur. If you have low, uninspiring energy, your traction better be unbelievable to make up for it.

There’s nothing more inspiring than a founder who is passionate about what they are building, their mission, their team, their customers. Pump yourself up with music, read journal entries from the day you quit your job to become an entrepreneur - do whatever it takes to bring out your most authentic, alive self to the interview.

With many high flying entrepreneurs receiving plenty of publicity today and starting your own business becoming a real option for both graduates and experienced professionals, many would be business owners run the risk of losing everything if they don’t get their message across or manage to attract sufficient clients before money dries up. One of the key questions remain, how do I ensure my business plan is executed successfully?

We are constantly bombarded with messages and news stories talking about the millions of Rand and Dollars some start-ups are making and in many ways this can easily be compared with the gold rush phenomenon we saw a few hundred years ago both in this country and others around the world. So what can we do as entrepreneurs to ensure that our dreams of creating a business of our own and becoming independent and well revered entrepreneurs don’t end up remaining only that?

There may be a number of possible solutions from extensive marketing research before we start, creating well thought through business plans to be used as a road map and of course getting the right business partners on board. Few would disagree that looking at the success of current entrepreneurs may provide us with some important answers in our search for success. Here are five valuable lessons to be learned from those who are creating success right now.

1) Follow-through is essential

Nearly 1,000 startups raised R75 billion from venture capitalists in the second quarter of 2011, up 19 percent from the first quarter this year and 61 percent from the same period in 2009, according to the National Venture Capital Association. But the success rate of first-time ventures is only 20.9%, according to research published by the Journal of Financial Economics in 2010. Knowing what it takes to turn a vision into a successful business reality is crucial, and often times, is acquired through experience. Prove your ability to execute in both the short and long term, conduct comprehensive market-research and don’t give up when economic outlook appears grim.

2) Build an enthusiastic and passionate team

Experience teaches you the importance of building the right team and inspiring that team to never give up. Often times, ventures are formed with a top-heavy team of executives overly skilled and inappropriately scaled to the size of a business. When times get tough, instead of having the hunger to stick with it, many will jump ship. Build and inspire a core team that fiercely believes in your vision and has the commitment to persevere through market crises and the ups and downs of a startup.

3) Balance is critical

New ventures often follow an extremely lean operating model – too lean in fact. To a certain extent, you need to pay for play to capture greater market share. Raise sufficient capital and allocate the appropriate resources to expand your business. Seek to achieve the right balance; don’t be afraid to adjust your business plan depending on market conditions.

4) It pays to think like an investor

Venture capitalists alone evaluate hundreds of presentations a year. While you undoubtedly need a brilliant idea that addresses a market need to spark interest, investors also gauge their faith in the executive team. Experience helps you to build relationships with your target investor group, and identify the right type of capital to raise for your venture. This does not happen overnight, but over time, strong relationships help you expand your resources and understand how to raise capital and who to raise capital from.

5) Listen and learn

Listening is a virtue for a reason. Entrepreneurs often focus on communicating, convincing and selling. But investors can be more than financial-backers; they can also act as advisors who speak from their personal experience, failures and successes. Find mentors and industry leaders who can walk with you through your entrepreneurial journey.

In 2013, 565,000 new businesses were started per month by new and repeat entrepreneurs, according to the Kauffman Foundation. In this time of economic uncertainty, the need for innovative ideas and new business ventures is greater than ever. Entrepreneurs are a vital part of the economy, so hold fast to your vision, be flexible, and persevere through failure and fluctuating market conditions. It will pay off in the end.

Finding reliable support and advice is both challenging and crucial. Our team is here to help, don't be afraid to ask.


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