How to Succeed in the Incubator

Entrepreneurs sometimes ask how they can get the most out of our incubator; what makes a company really excel in the program? With our second cohort recently graduating, the picture of a successful participant is crystalizing. I doubt that the hallmarks of success are any different at Ynext than in any other incubator – they are pretty much common sense – but I’ll lay out the qualities that I’ve seen drive the clear winners.

First and foremost, the way to succeed in the Incubator is to work really, really hard. I mean duh: that’s true for all entrepreneurs, whether in an incubator or not. But we have definitely seen the difference between the companies that are 24×7 work monsters and those that aren’t. Startups are just a ton of work, and if you’re not ready go all out then maybe put off your startup dreams, at least for a while. This also means that you need to be full-time on your startup. Corporate worker by day, entrepreneur by night just won’t cut it. We had one team try it that way, and it was a mistake. Absolute focus on the startup is essential.

If working hard is an obvious success factor, perhaps less obvious is that the best incubator companies are super scrappy. They take advantage of every opportunity and figure out ways to leverage all resources the incubator can provide. For example, our incubator has a significant roster of experienced executives who are available to provide advice on specific topics. The companies that don’t dive into this pool of knowledge are really letting value slip away. Same with the perks and technology deals offered by Ynext Incubator. You’re probably using AWS anyway, so not taking our $15,000 credit is like burning $100 bills. Which makes you look like this chump.

One factor I’ve seen that can inhibit entrepreneurs from taking full advantage is pride. Some of the folks in our program have acted like they didn’t need help. Get over it; ego is to your detriment in a startup. Again, starting a company is really hard, and everybody needs all the help they can get. And that means not just from mentors, but from colleagues. One of the best things about an incubator is the opportunity to learn from and work with the other companies in your cohort. Your fellow entrepreneurs may not be seasoned executives, but they’re might have recently faced the exact problem you’re wrestling with now. Be open to their ideas. Be receptive to their support. Just being able to talk to someone who understands exactly what you’re going through is sometimes the greatest resource of all.

Fundamentally, the role of the incubator is to give entrepreneurs resources that will accelerate growth. If you’re not going to use those resources, why even apply to the incubator?

Another key way to leverage the incubator is to set clear goals, and then have milestones along the way to hitting those goals. You’ll only be in the program for six months, so you can’t do everything you might want to. Determine what you really need to accomplish in those 6 months. That list of goals should probably overindex items that the incubator can help you with; again, take advantage of our resources while you have them. Once your goal list is complete, lay out some milestones along the 6 month program. Use the milestones to make sure you are staying on track to achieve the goals, and if you start to get off track, work with the incubator. Figure out what went wrong and get back on schedule! Again, proactive companies are most likely to succeed in the incubator setting.

Finally, the best companies coming out of our incubator, and I think this is true of every incubator, are the companies that are relentlessly focused on product. In the long run, you need to think about all parts of the business, but in those months before launch, product and related items – customer experience, UI, scalability – need to take priority. In our experience the companies who spent their incubator time not prioritizing product generally ended up regretting that decision.

If I were to summarize all the above, it would boil down to this: use leverage. Everything our incubator provides – the mentors, the experts, the deals, the technical support from Yodlee – helps founders leverage their time and energies. Use that leverage to go further faster.

So there you have it. How to succeed in the Ynext Incubator, in only 650 words, and then just two words. I wish it were as easy as simply following the advice in this blog. Instead it takes a ton of work and thought and failing and trying again. But if you do follow this blog’s advice, it might take just a little less work, since you’ll be following the lead of the most successful companies in our program.