On January 4, 2005, the BBC aired a strange program that would impact the dreams and aspirations of our generation.
The opening scene features four men and a woman sitting in an empty warehouse. They wear suits and serious looks. They are meant to intimidate. Not like gangsters. But like ruthless titans of industry ready to place judgment upon the business ideas of lesser men and women.
Dragons Den aired during the startup depression following the dot-com crash. But the timing proofed impeccably. Just six months earlier a little-known social network called Facebook had launched. Just two months later Y-combinator ran their first batch. The next year Spotify and Twitter were founded.
The second wave of internet startups did what dot-com could not. But more importantly, they created a new ideal. That of the tech-savvy startup founder.
The pervasive idealization of the startup founder has created a startup tsunami of un-imaginary proportions. As a startup accelerator, we are frontline to feel the effects.
We see more startups than ever. But do we also see more startup founders than ever?
In the early days of Accelerace, many of the founders that came to us needed help in describing what they did. They had gotten an idea and had started executing it. But they lacked the vocabulary and structure to communicate their business to other people. Namely investors. One such person was Peter Holten Mühlmann from Trustpilot. He had built a website where people wrote reviews of webshops. But he needed help to formulate the logic of his (what seemed to many at the time) questionable business.
Back then, industry terminology such as customer discovery, hypothesis testing, conversion rates, CAC to LTV ratio, virality, monetization, etc. was still in the making. Accelerators played a role in disseminating the latest theories and vocabulary to these people with activities they were unable to describe.
But something else was at play. Before the startup founder was idealized, the people who did startups were the people who could not help it. They had conceived of an idea that hunted them to the extent they absolutely had to pursue it. Regardless of warnings from friends and family.
So, they did. And at some point, they needed investors. But the investors asked them questions they struggled to answer. These were the people who came to Accelerace.
These people still come to us. But slowly, another type of people started showing up. And in increasing numbers. These people are the opposite. They have near perfect descriptions of what they want to do. But they are short in activities. And they come to us to get help realizing their plans.
The problem is that startup accelerators are not good at helping such people. Placing such a team in an accelerator is frustrating because these founders enjoy talking about their plans. And because the mentors are good at exactly that, the entire program is spent on enthusiastically making more plans, while nothing real happens.
I have come to the opinion that true startup founders can be spotted by having more activities than plans. And if you are one, you would benefit tremendously from being in a quality acceleration program.