Accelerators, Part 1: A roll of the dice

1901367_10152226383201276_1194021043_n The 7 Generation Games team has just got back from Vegas so odds are on our minds. We were in Vegas where our CEO’s daughter/CMO’s sister/our celebrity endorser was headlining UFC 170. We also hosted a 7 Generation Games tweetup tied to the event.

Vegas is all about odds: slot machine odds, poker odds, blackjack odds, fight odds. Our CEO, who is a statistician, never gambles in Vegas because she understands odds – as she points out, the money that built these huge casinos didn’t come from the house losing.

That said, we’ve taken a little bit of a gamble recently. We’ve spent the last few weeks pulling together the materials to apply for a few accelerators. We’re applying for 500Startups and ImagineK12. They’re both highly competitive programs in Silicon Valley, and the reality is we have zero idea whether we’ll get in. We’ve applied for a couple of other accelerators before (including a few where we thought we stood a really good shot) and admittedly did not get in. We’re even less certain this go round. 

Literally, we could toss a coin in the air and predict with as much certainty how it will land as we do of predicting whether we’ll get into either of these programs. In fact, we actually probably think we stand less of chance of getting into either of these programs than we do of calling heads vs. tails. And it’s not because we are not incredibly awesome – because let’s face it, we totally rock.

Then why apply? Or maybe we should go back a step and explain what an accelerator is. An accelerator is a program for startups that brings together a group of companies and provides a bunch of resources (mentors, seminars, office space, a bit of money, connections, coaching, etc.) in exchange for a percent of equity.

There’s a lot of value in taking part in an accelerator. For us, it’s not about the money and more about all the other resources these kind of programs offer – mentoring, making connections, guidance on how to break into incredibly tough to crack markets (like school districts), etc. We believe we could learn a lot from taking part in an accelerator, and we think we’d be a good company that other selected companies could learn from (we’ve got experience, a solid team, we’ve gotten grant funding, we’re cool people to hang out with overall, we could go on all day…).  To us, there’s plenty of pluses to taking part in an accelerator which is why we decided to take a gamble and apply.

The truth is these programs – like pretty much anything else out there were people are selected by other people – are super subjective. They involve a lot of who you know more than what you know. We know that, so we’re not complaining about it, we’re just pointing it out. We have opted to put our time and focus on developing our game, networking with teachers, getting the word out to schools, beta testing, revising our games, etc. over schmoozing. Now, we schmooze from time to time — and when we schmooze, we can schmooze with the best of ’em — but putting development ahead of schmoozing is an intentional decision we made, not that we don’t recognize a value in schmoozing and we’re not criticizing people who have it as a priority. They’re often the kind of people who are more likely to get into things like accelerators. We’re just saying we have consciously decided to put most of our energies into our product.  

BhHXdXrCUAAQVYhHere’s another thing about accelerators: The further along we are, the less appealing we become. It seems counterintuitive, right? If you were going to invest in a company, you’d think you’d prefer a company that’s got it rolling, more than just the “I have a great idea on paper.” You might think that a startup that has a working product, a growing market, a validated concept, an in-house development team and actual (tiny, but actual) revenue would be a plus ahead of a startup that has just an idea. You would be wrong. Part of the goal of these types of programs is to help companies at the very beginning — and while we feel like we’re at the very beginning (and we’re often not any older than these other companies), we’ve moved faster. Having a development team in-house has enabled us to be literally years ahead of some of these other companies because we don’t need to look for a development team and/or don’t have to work with a staff in Nepal/India/Thailand/wherever.

But we figured we’d still give it a go. At this stage in our development, the benefits of being selected for an accelerator are still there, and if nothing else, the some of the questions on the applications (we’ll get to those in the next post) help us refine the way we present the work we’re doing. Also, as we’ve applied to one or so programs a quarter for the last year, the application process is also showing us the tremendous amount of progress we’ve made –  as each time we submit an application, we see that we are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were the time before.  Even if we don’t get selected — there’s a value in seeing that growth.

Another thing we’ve learned throughout this whole process is that yes, it would be great if we selected for one of these programs. At the same time, we’re set up so that if we don’t get this thing, we’re in a position to get something else. I believe that’s what they call in the gambling world, hedging your bets.