Praying in the Church of Silicon Valley

I got invited to participate in a pre-demo-day review of an Accelerator class.

It seems that these days in the Church of Silicon Valley (the one true way to innovate) the hot stuff are hackathons and accelerators.

Hackathons are multi-day gatherings of entrepreneur wanna-bes and some folks that judge the results of a couple of days of hacking and ideas.

I’ve judged at a couple of hackathons. I’ve met a few cool people at the hackathons. But mostly, they struck me as the new millennium versions of Hollywood talent scouting. The hopeful hackers are looking to be discovered and the talent scouts are for the most part looking for fill-ins… not the true stars. The best outcomes for most participants of the hackathons is recruiting engineers.

Accelerators are the next step after a hackathon. They are multi-month programs where entrepreneurs are minimally fed and coached through product design and pitching for VC money.

So, I got invited to give feedback to an accelerator class. I figured it’d be like the hackathon where I’d be directly interacting with the class. Nope. I was one of N in the audience and we were asked to not interact because we weren’t on the “panel” but we were invited to give written feedback.

First bit of feedback… don’t invite me and waste my time unless you expect me to have a meaningful interaction with the folks I’m being asked to help.

That aside… the class was really amazingly disappointing.

The class had been participating in the accelerator for 15 weeks and it was 4 weeks to “demo day” where real investors with real money were sitting in the audience.

Not a single one of the teams could articulate a venture-fundable business model.

One of the teams had a real business. They had the business going for 5+ years. But it was not and never will be a $100M/yr+ business. It was a nice lifestyle business. How they got into an accelerator in the first place is beyond me.

The rest of the teams were unable to clearly articulate:

  1. Who their users were and why the company’s solution would be interesting to the users
  2. Who their customers were (remember, this is the Internet and mostly your users and your customers are different)
  3. What their revenue model was
  4. The user acquisition strategy
  5. The customer acquisition strategy
  6. The overall market size
  7. How much money they needed for the next phase

But what was worse… most of the ideas/products were very thin layers on top of Twitter’s APIs and WordPress. None of these were companies. None of these were products. They didn’t even rise to the level of features. They were mostly enhancements to plugins to other systems.

At least 25% of the folks pitching at the hackathons had a better understanding of the economics involved with their business than any of the folks who presented at the accelerator. And of those 25%, half of them had a more polished demo after a weekend of hacking.

Is this really where we’ve sunk to? Is this really the future of entrepreneurs?

Sorry for the curmudgeon rant… but sheesh… can’t we figure out a better way to make the world better than poorly doing a formulaic dance and hope the innovation and disruption gods rain money on our start-up?

Reference: Praying in the Church of Silicon Valley from our JCG partner David Pollak at the DPP’s Blog blog.

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