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Five lessons learned from a startup accelerator

- Goquets, a Des Moines-based startup that makes it quick and easy to send flowers anywhere in the United States, was one of nine national teams selected to participate in the Iowa Startup Accelerator’s 2015 Cohort in Cedar Rapids. Shawn Harrington, co-founder of Goquets, shares the lessons he learned from the experience.

The journey of going through a 94-day startup accelerator brought many teachings to mind that can be applied to everyone’s business. Whether it’s the desire to be more innovative or to push your team one step further, the key takeaways outlined below can make the difference.

Know your pitch: We never knew who was going to show up at the accelerator and ask what we were working on. This ranged from group tours to news crews who would come through with an interest in what each team of founders was building. With this, having the core pitch of our business memorized was essential for making sure people knew the basic details of how we’re different. This gets replicated for each company and its employees. How often are you called upon with a client or outside the workplace to tell your own story? Each time this happens is a new opportunity to push your brand further.

Be ready to adapt: Understand that as your customer evolves, you should too. Even since developing our initial idea at a Startup Weekend event in 2013, we’ve seen a shift in the floral market, and more opportunities are opening up because of it. Many companies will stick with campaigns that brought them success just a few years ago, then get stuck on trying to figure out how the success rate of each campaign has dropped. Identify where that next trend is and ensure that your team is open to growing with it.

Always be testing: The process of adapting includes getting to the drawing board and generating the ideas of how you will tackle your next new initiative. With this, it’s easy to get too excited with big ideas. As many business owners painfully find out, the market does not always react with that same level of excitement. This leads to failed campaigns and teams that struggle to determine how they never hit their goals or get the traction they had hoped for.

Rather than look back on what didn’t work, the answer should be to look ahead by testing for what you think your customers will react to through small campaigns before executing the overall plan. Test small, prove that each initiative is valuable to your customers, then go big. It’s a process that many of today’s high-growth startups have developed into their workflows for every project.

Failure happens. Assess and move on: A big part of the testing outlined above is noticing which campaigns are up and down while making the adjustments. Was that big idea not the home run everyone thought it would be? If that’s the case, then the sooner your team can come to terms with it while taking in what you learned, the better off you will be going forward. It’s important through this to not let pride and ego get in the way of actual results.

Maintain momentum: This might be the toughest one. It pertains to overcoming many obstacles and emotional barriers, not just within your own company, but also with everyone who surrounds it. While overcoming your company’s challenges and staying transparent, make sure to celebrate the successes along the way. Your team, your customers and your business partners can all feed off this. 

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