Equipping Companies with the DNA for Success

by Jim Jen, Executive Director, AlphaLab

In speaking with prospective AlphaLab applicants I talk a lot about the nuts and bolts of our program – funding, mentorship, networks, resources, etc. I also try to touch on our philosophy, which gives founders a better sense of what they should know when deciding whether the accelerator program is right for them.

AlphaLab is centered around lean startup principles and rapid iteration. We urge companies to utilize customer feedback and test out their concepts quickly and cheaply to internalize the “build, measure, learn” cycle into their company’s DNA. This is critical to building a product that customers care about and love. We extend this beyond the product realm, applying it to business model, marketing messages and investor decks – with a goal of continuous improvement through market interaction.

Embracing this approach early helps companies to avoid premature scaling, cited by the Startup Genome Project as the “#1 Cause of Startup Death (http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanfurr/2011/09/02/1-cause-of-startup-death-premature-scaling/ ).” I have seen this problem both from startups here in Pittsburgh and during my earlier career in California. When not enough emphasis is placed on getting critical customer feedback, companies can financially and emotionally commit to the wrong product or business direction. Given the increasing expectation from investors that companies demonstrate their ability to be “lean”, it is critical that startups are able to infuse this into their DNA from the beginning. When screening applicants, this measure of “fit” plays a significant role in the evaluation, and is at the core of our underlying philosophy.