Many times in life, when we are stuck with challenges, all we need is a bit of motivation, inspiration, support and advice to keep going in the right direction. And in the case of startups, definitely an accelerator program is the perfect mentoring hand for guidance and support.
Having said that, getting through an accelerator program is not the end of challenges, but actually a true new beginning of starting up for scaling up. In this week’s story we present to you Minty, the online commissioning tool and community platform for professional art buyers and artists and their experience in the Next Media Accelerator (NMA) program in Hamburg last year.
The NMA receives approximately 300 (150 every six months) applications each year from startups and around 10 (5 every 6 months) media tech startups are selected for their program each year. As one of the largest media accelerators in Europe, NMA consists of a team of serial entrepreneurs, business angels, digital natives, startup junkies, and professionals of the media industry who believe in change and entrepreneurial power.
The three founders of Minty – Petra Kemkova, Andrej Kiszling and Frantisek Kocurik – worked very hard not just for applying to NMA, but also during their 6 month-long program in Hamburg. They have raised 170K EUR from Neuology Ventures in 2017 to scale up their project.
My first thought when I had the chance to have a long informal conversation with Petra and Andrej was “How does it feel to be the only startup in the country who was selected for this?”
“Well, I feel normal,” laughs Andrej humbly. “It was quite busy during the program,” says Petra. “We had so many meetings that often times I did not have time to just sit down and get work done!”
Mintystock.com is an online platform for illustrators and publishers. Illustrators can display their work and also get paid for it without having to worry about the licensing contracts and legal formalities. Publishers can find creative artwork online which is tailor made to their needs.
When asked to elaborate, Petra and Andrej explained that during the first week of the program they had to do the Product field workshop – NMA’s revolutionary way of defining a startups’s product/market fit. “It is a ‘design thinking’ way of defining where your problem is, what your product does, what are the solutions, and much more. Basically, the guys in NMA want to understand what you do.”
From the second week, NMA helps startups get meetings with different stakeholders for their business. “There are meetings with large companies like Google,” says Andrej. “Pitch trainings, where we learn how to pitch to clients, investors and illustrators in our case. We basically try to figure out how we can help these people,” says Petra. “But the facts required for pitching to each of them is different.” For instance, investors would like to know more about future revenue numbers, and clients would like to know what’s in it for them.
“It is great learning because in NMA, they throw you straight into the water! We start pitching almost day one,” sums up Andrej.
Petra and Andrej found it very hard to pitch to all these people. “I don’t like pitching,” says Andrej. “I like going up on stage to talk, but pitching is stressful.” According to Petra, the biggest problem with pitching is that it all happens really quickly. “Usually in a company you go and pitch to people when you have everything figured out,” explains Petra.
“But as a startup you have to quickly solve legal issues, product issues, marketing, everything. And when you are jumping from one subject to another in your work, its difficult to form and articulate clearly what you are doing and you end up making mistakes. You mix up the different information with the different audience.”
Since most departments in a startup are still being built up, many times founders are still learning about their work or are yet forming processes. And when founders pitch in this state of mind, they end up speaking more about the last think they were working on, instead of highlighting the needs of the audience.
Now, what can startups do to avoid this? Well, no matter how busy it is, it is important to take time off before any big pitches. “While pitching, it’s important to find your own style,” says Andrej. For Minty, it was the strong female voice of Petra as she pitched to many investors. “It was interesting because I was the only girl there,” she says.
An accelerator program–though helpful–can be very challenging for a founder. Minty had a fair share of mountains to climb before reaching the summit, too.
“Sometimes a meeting didn’t go well because we were not mentally ready for it,” says Andrej. “And as an entrepreneur sometimes you feel that someone is overseeing everything you do,” explains Petra. Before Minty, Andrej had his own advertising agency and Petra ran an illustration agency. “In the past we didn’t have anyone asking us questions or telling us what to do. So it was a big learning curve here. And when someone asks you to do something differently, you wonder whether you trust this person enough to rewire your thoughts based on this.”
Minty figured out the licensing part of its business with the help of NMA which connected them with different publishers. “We came with moral values, vision, what we want to do and in which field. NMA helped us figure out how to live off it,” says Petra. “They helped us get the right connections, which was a big help,” says Andrej.
“Investors started noticing us more after we became part of this program. And we know that we can rely on NMA for support even now, after we have raised our first round of funding,” says Petra.
Minty started off as an agency for illustrators in 2014. When the number of illustrators started increasing, Petra and Andrej decided that they needed support to scale up if they wanted to service a large number of illustrators. So to raise capital, they applied to different accelerators, investors and finally got through to the NMA.
The process for application, evaluation and acceptance to different accelerator programs can be different and may also be based on the type of business involved.
Usually accelerators require startups to send in a pitch, budget estimation for the future, team info and some company data along with the application form. Petra and Andrej both feel that its important to be very relaxed and have positive energy before the interview with the accelerator. “They are assessing the chemistry of the team and the attitude of the people towards the business”, says Andrej.
The process involved filling up the application form with the required documents followed by a Skype interview. The detailed application process can be found on the NMA website. The next batch of NMA selection process will happen in January 2018 and the application process will be open the whole month of October 2017.
Based on Minty’s story, it’s evident that if a startup finds the right accelerator, there is no looking back from scaling up or raising capital. But of course the energy of the founders and the startup team does go a long way in finding one!
Kavita is a freelance writer and has over 15 years of experience in writing, editing and managing content. She has worked with leading publishing houses and websites in India and Switzerland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.