At 500 Startups we receive thousands of applications from promising startups around the world. After we carefully cull them, we reach out to founders and have them participate in a startup accelerator interview with us.
We know that start-up accelerator interviews can feel like interrogations, but they are a necessary evil to help us dig deeper to understand the startup, its founders, and see if we can help them grow.
We ensure a mutual fit by educating founders throughout the process and teaching them how 500 Startups can help build their company.
If you apply to one of our future batches and receive an invitation to interview with us, here’s the low down on our startup accelerator interview process and how we recommend you prepare to ace your interviews!
Step 1: Share the news of your upcoming startup accelerator interview with your co-founder and team!
The 500 Startups accelerator is a 3-month in-residence program hosted in sunny San Francisco, CA, twice a year. We invite teams of up to 3 people to participate in it.
We know it’s a big time commitment for founders and their companies, which is why we encourage founders to think ahead before going through the entire process.
If your company is outside the US, you will need to look into getting a visa, setting a budget for round-trip travel, and managing a remote team.
Step 2: Prep for your phone screen.
You’ll begin the startup accelerator interview process with a 30 to a 45-minute phone screen with one of our venture partners or entrepreneurs-in-residence.
We’ll be digging into your application. Remember to revisit the application you submitted before your phone screen, or better yet have it in front of you!
We will ask you to provide more details around the following areas:
- Metrics — we recommend that you come to the call with data! The key metrics we want to understand are product engagement, conversion to monetized customers, churn, and overall growth rate since launch. We’ll also dig into metrics specific to your business model such as two-sided marketplaces, B2B, B2C, saas, mobile app, media, etc.
- Co-Founder chemistry — having invested in 2,000 companies, we can spot the signs of teams that are contentious versus collaborative. What we care about is how complimentary your skills are, and how you share the ups and downs. We also want to know if you have worked together before or have been a part of a company exit, such as an acquisition or IPO.
- Milestones since launch — if you have notable accomplishments, such as having raised capital, closed contracts, or anything else you think will add to your credibility, we invite you to share these with us. Pending deals are great, but we don’t consider those to be milestones.
- Marketing experiments — if you haven’t done any marketing and have managed to grow, that’s great. However, it makes us suspicious. We want to know what are the experiments you’ve run either paid or organic. What has and hasn’t worked, and why. We are looking for repeatable processes.
- Team — tell us who else is on your team? Have you managed to woo top talent from other companies? Is your founding team composed of subject matter experts?
- Customer — who is using your product and why? The more specific you can get the better, even if you think your product is for everyone! Here’s an example from Batch 9 company Lenda. Instead of being for everyone, their initial pitch was: “We help homeowners in California, Oregon, and Washington refinance their home equity loans online.” Starting with a growing niche demonstrates you’re a founder who is focused!
Step 3: Prep for your group interview.
If you passed the phone interview, you would be invited to do a group interview.
There will be two twenty-minute group interviews with around three to five people, who will again be either venture partners or entrepreneurs-in-residence at 500 Startups.
These will be back-to-back interviews.
We do not cover the cost of travel. You’ll need to decide if you want to have these interviews in-person or virtually.
While many of the themes and questions will be similar to the phone screen, given the time frame and number of people interviewing, the format is more rapid-fire. Hence, we recommend you practice providing short responses.
Long-winded and wishy-washy responses don’t help. Take the time to practice being direct and brief.
We can tell which founders have prepared for the startup accelerator interview. Those are the ones who often make it to the final round!
Step 4: Participate in the on-site workshop
Companies who pass the startup accelerator interview phase are invited on-site to 500 Startups in San Francisco for a two-day workshop; this is the final round of our process.
The workshop helps us get to know the founding teams better, and for them to meet the 500 Startups staff.
During the workshop, we host talks, put founders through many exercises, give them a chance to have informal meetings with our staff of EIRs and Venture Partners, and walk them through several pitch prep sessions.
On the last day of the workshop, all founders will deliver a final pitch.
We grade companies based on:
- their participation throughout the entire workshop
- how well they incorporate feedback during the exercises into their final pitch
- individual interactions with staff members.
We are looking for founders who:
- are above all else—coachable
- can respond to feedback thoughtfully
- can demonstrate their commitment to improving themselves and their company.
Step 5: The Offer
Within one week of attending the workshop, companies receive either an offer to attend the upcoming batch or written feedback. We take time to give detailed feedback to the companies who didn’t get into the batch. We encourage many to apply to the next batch. Those who get in will receive a series of instructions to help them prepare for the batch.
Ready to ace your upcoming startup accelerator interview?
The first step is to apply to our upcoming batch. Apply now!