Interview with Robert Neivert, Venture Partner at 500 Startups

How did you become involved with startups?
I have been working on startups since I was at Stanford, my father started his own company, so I always assumed I would as well. I found a lot of other friends all doing startups, so I often get invites to join others, or I recruit them to join me.

As a Venture Partner at 500 Startups, what do you think is the biggest value of an accelerator?
You get access to experts when you need them, even if you don’t know you need them. It is really amazing to get access to so many experts. As a startup there are a lot of things you just don’t have resources to be able to do and you cannot hire an expert in every area. But with accelerators, or in our case, with our Seed Program you have access to experts from all over. That is of huge value to startups who are so short on expert resources.

What personality traits of founders are best suited for an accelerator?
The program is what you make it. So often you need to spend the time and effort to contact mentors, and really discuss with 500 staff the issues you face. For that reason the people who are bold and persistent tend to do better in the program. Too much is, of course, bad. You want to be polite and courteous but if you need something, ask for it. That is the purpose of the program – to get you what you need.

The biggest change due to the program is that many people avoid failure before the program. They fear it and they let it control them. By the end of the program, they learn to do rapid testing and accept small failures as being needed to achieve success. This frees them and allows them to grow much faster.

Do you think an accelerator is a must-do for all startups?
No.  It is very helpful, especially for young and inexperienced entrepreneurs or for companies that want to enter new markets, such as expand to the US, but it is definitely not suitable for some companies.

What should people look out for when considering whether or not to join an accelerator?

  1. Be sure you know how the offer works in terms of the equity.
  2. Be sure you speak to previous companies to make sure they do what they say they do. Check for real results, not just marketing hype.
  3. Lectures/talks are good, but check to see if they really do drive results.
  4. Make sure they provide support for what you need right now.  If you are still working on your prototype, joining a sales and marketing program might not be that helpful, but joining one that helps with product-market fit might be great.
  5. Be sure you are ready to take advantage of what they offer, otherwise, it is a waste.
  6. Don’t take it for the money. There is cheaper money available. Take it for the other values they offer.

What do you think will be the next phase of accelerators, if there is one?
Accelerators are increasingly becoming focused on areas (Fintech, for example) and specialties.  I suspect this might be helpful to make sure there is more value from the programs, so I would expect to see more of that.

What are your thoughts on accelerators that allow you to join remotely?
Depends on what you want from the program. I have found getting many teams together has a huge benefit, so I am not supportive of remote-only programs. However, if the program is only focused on a small thing, that does not require a lot of time, perhaps it will work rather than spend a lot of time traveling for a small benefit.

Do you have any tips for entrepreneurs who are applying for accelerators?
Most accelerators have write-ups by previous graduates.  Read about what the accelerator does well and poorly and make sure it is a good fit.  Don’t be afraid to contact some of their graduates to ask how it was and what they got.

Our audience is mostly people in the startup community. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Fall down seven times, stand up eight. There will be many challenges and failures along the way, even for the best companies.  You will need to be persistent and keep calm to achieve success.

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