Next, Final Frontier: Lessons Learned Investing in West & South Africa

During my time at global early stage seed fund, 500 Startups, I’ve led deals in agriculture marketplaces in Indonesia (iGrow), global workflow management software from Brazil (Pipefy), and even education or sewing marketplaces in “emerging markets” like the MidWest of the United States.
500 Startups has a culture of looking ahead to emerging markets, so I was encouraged to follow my investment thesis that there is massive opportunity in thinking ahead.
There were many haters, especially when I became interested in West Africa:

“These markets are too early.” 


There’s no downstream capital for these companies.”

Initially, I was worried about whether I would be stranding these companies or whether it was too early for 500 Startups.

Over the last eight months, we have invested in four companies in South and West Africa through our accelerator program: Sweepsouth, (B14),  KudoBuzz (B14), mVendr (B16),  Podozi (B16), and just recently accepted SureGifts in Batch 18, one of the fastest growing loyalty technology companies in Nigeria and Kenya.

This piece is about what I learned investing in these markets, and why I think all serious investors should learn and be aware about what’s happening on the African continent.

Geeks On A Plane 2016 will be in Africa, so there is an amazing opportunity coming in March.

Here’s what I learned.

1) Why go to West or East or South Africa in the first place? The Future is African. 

This stat that blew my mind: “Sub-Saharan Africa will have a population boom from today’s 900 million people to 2.4 billion by 2050, with almost half of the world’s children being on the continent by 2100.”

There are 54 countries in Africa with unique individual cultures that are all geared for massive economic growth – 50% of the people on the continent are 19 or younger.

I read this right before my trip, and my mind was blown. There were talks of startups like Paga, ACE, Jobberman, Jumia, and increased funding:

“$400 million in VC funding for African startups in 2014. More than a billion dollars will be invested in Africa by 2018.”

Trends in “M-commerce”, B2B for growing SMEs, fintech, big data, and more have been covered in great pieces like this one from I-Dev International. But, you have to go. There’s nothing you can read in a book that will prepare you for feeling the energy and innovation building in the ecosystem, and we international tech investors have a lot to learn.

2) Mentorship is more rare than money, and foreign investors and entrepreneurs can add immense value.

Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology – a two-year entrepreneurship funded school that finds and invests in entrepreneurs from Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya invited me to visit after I made an accelerator investment in a graduate company called KudoBuzz, a SaaS tool for e-commerce companies.

I was blown away during my time giving a guest lecture and spending time with the entrepreneurs at MEST. What also blew me away was that Jorn, CEO and founder of multi-national SaaA company Meltwater,  spends time every single quarter mentoring young entrepreneurs.

It’s his time, not just the considerable capital Meltwater has invested, that makes MEST an amazing addition to the ecosystem.

At 500, the main areas we were able to help the startups were around understanding the fundraising process.

From our South African founder of Sweepsouth, Aisha Pandoor, called Sweepsouth’s experience in San Francisco in the accelerator a “game-changer for SweepSouth in the level of mentors and the network we’ve had exposure to, both of which would previously have been quite far out of reach for a startup based on the other side of the world.

As one of the first services marketplaces in Africa, it was hard to find local founders and mentors with enough experience to provide meaningful advice, and this is a conundrum for other disruptive African startups.”

3) The challenges are real, but they can be overcome (with time).

Last batch, I led our first accelerator investment in a Nigeria-based company called Podozi, a beauty e-commerce company, going after the exciting African women market who spends five times more on beauty and hair than other ethnic groups and will continue to grow.They had graduated from, a Nairobi-based incubator.

My thesis around Podozi was around my conviction about the growing and interesting beauty market in Nigeria and across the continent, and in the founders, Teniola and Wale. Building an e-commerce beauty brand like Sephora will be challenging, but someone will win in this market. I believe Teni and Wale have the conviction and experience to win. However, their journey will be full of challenges.

Not only were there challenges with logistics, basic office management, and recruiting – the dropping value of Nigerian Naira made tracking metrics complicated and disheartening for them.

Then, there was the bleak downstream capital situation. Clayton Bryan, in the SF office, helped me connect Wale to local angels, as well as explore more downstream capital sources for African-based companies in the European VC scene in London, Dublin, and other hubs.

There are super early stage programs like MEST, Savannah Fund and then growth funds, but very few options in between, which is why Podozi and other startups must focus on revenue and growth until they reach the stage they can access capital in their markets or foreign investors.

Four months after making the bet on this team, I watched Teniola (TeniBeauty to friends) pitch at Demo Day stage with confidence.


3) Focus on founders – experienced founders are beginning to emerge

Since downstream capital is challenging to close in the ecosystem, so it makes sense to filter for scrappy founders and innovative, clever business models who can be more cashflow generating if they haven’t raised locally.

Other accelerators are beginning to take notice. While I was at MEST, I also had the chance to coach three Ghanaian and Nigerian women, all-technical team, building a social app for African hair calledTress. Nine months later, they were accepted into the YC fellowship program, and today they are raising a seed round to grow faster.

I’m very excited about the team that is joining me in San Francisco this coming week for the launch of Batch 18 – SureGifts. The founders are ex-Jumia (one of most successful e-commerce brands out of Rocket Internet) early team members and have already raised capital. They have already proven they can expand out of their local market and have scaled from Nigeria to Kenya.

These are the types of founders that we are getting at 500 Startups now, since we have been investing, learning, and building relationships and reputation early.

4) Community is key.

Many programs and accelerators in emerging markets are early and still figuring out how to provide value in their early ecosystems.

Many “angel investors” aren’t used to investing in technology startups and come from real estate or private equity, not operating backgrounds, which can create problems between the local investors and entrepreneurs.  It’s another example where money is less valuable than mentors and experience.

Our role is to support and identify  the best credible and local investors to co-invest with, as well as to provide perspective and mentorship to entrepreneurs on the ground. Even if your fund does not support international investments, you can begin to make the relationships.

Distrust between local investors and entrepreneurs can be complicated, but as foreign investors we can provide perspective about the importance of fair practices and terms for early stage technology investments, as well as encourage communities of entrepreneurs to share information, help each other, and build sustainable communities.

Trust is hard to build, but after my experiences with MEST, She Leads Africa, and other great organizations, I am confident these communities can become sustainable.

 5)  Just go and learn for yourself.

If you’re an early stage investor and have any plans to be a part of the emerging economies globally, you’re missing out if you continue to ignore (or overlook) the African markets – the only color we care about as investors is green.

Foreign investors can provide a lot of value through mentorship and spending time helping entrepreneurs who are solving problems in their communities.

I urge other investors to pay attention to what is happening on the African continent, from Lagos and Accra to Nairobi to Johannesburg.

Come join us at GOAP and find out for yourself.

Additional Resources:

Pitch, Please: 14 Must-Read Pitch Lessons Every Startup Founder Should Know

A few reasons you won’t raise money:

  1. Your business isn’t the right fit for VC (which is totally OK!)
  2. You business could be interesting to VC, but you have nothing yet. Stop pitching, and focus on building a solid business that solves a big problem, getting customers, and assembling a great team.
  3. You’re not talking to the right investors, or you may live in a city without a mature ecosystem that supports early stage companies, or…..
  4. Your pitch sucks, and you can’t tell your story on stage or on the fly.  

I can help with the last one.

Building a great business is more important than a great pitch, but if you don’t know how to tell your story, you probably don’t understand what is most interesting about your business. This problem affects more than just fundraising.

The hardest part about pitching is that it’s not about you. It’s a delicate balance between being authentically who you are, but more so focusing on what is important to your audience. This is what I help founders understand.



My Most Common Advice To Founders

  1. Don’t start with slides. Avoid templates. There isn’t a magic order, and templates often create boring, clinical, unsuitable pitches. Instead, master this question: what is most interesting about your business? (Seriously, do you know what it is?)
  2. Traction, Team, Tech, Vision – in general, most startups will fall into one of these categories. If you have (impressive) traction, you have a Traction Story. If you have a great team with a previous exit or serious domain chops, you have a Team Story. If you’ve built interesting technology (read: not a mobile or web app), you have a Tech Story. The problem? Most people choose the wrong story, try to tell all the stories, or think they have a truly interesting Team or Traction story – when they actually don’t. If you have nothing, you’ll probably tell a Vision Story, which means that you shouldn’t tell a Vision Story… and that you better bring the personality!  Hint: When you figure it out, de-emphasize everything else.
  3. Stop selling the product. Sell the opportunity. Sales pitches aren’t investor pitches. With investors, it’s simple. Increase greed; reduce risk.
  4. Benchmarks by vertical. Know what good traction means in your industry, like:
    • Marketplaces –  20% MoM GMV growth & 20% margin
    • SaaS – 20% MRR growth,  <5% churn
    • E-commerce – >10%MoM growth, margins, repeat customers, average cart size
    • Mobile – Engagement (# opens/day) especially if downloads/MAUs are early
    • Social impact – focus on business metrics first before you dive into your epic vision. Order is key. Win their wallets, then their hearts.
  5. Don’t. Be. Boring. When dealing with a skeptical crowd, bring up something interesting as soon as possible. Dave McClure loves the traction sandwich and bringing up #s ASAP. Some pitches start with a shocking statistic.  If you don’t have #s, mention a team brag, accolade, famous investor, anything you can. The most memorable pitches surprise, challenge, delight, educate, and inspire.IMG_2681
  6. Less is more. Good elevator, good pitch. Let the short pitch (i.e. 60-90 seconds) constrain you in the best way. In an investor meeting, let your answers be brief. If you are dominating an investor meeting, you are doing it wrong.draper photo
  7. Cut out detail & marketing speak. 90% of pitches I hear for the first time have way too much detail about the product and product features (looking at you, technical companies.) Cut out:
    • Buzzwords like “disrupt”, fixing “broken” industries, “revolutionize”, “rockstar team”
    • Forecasts of any kind beyond YTD
    • Advisors/Investors (except REALLY famous people/relevant companies)
    • Section for use of funds (we know you will hire developers & salespeople)
  8. Tell a story, and master transitions. Stories and case studies allow you to make points and brag (humbly). You can always tell a great pitch by the strength of the transitions – how the founder weaves each section of their pitch together in a cohesive flow and story.
  9. Nail Differentiation, especially if you are in a crowded space. (Hint: you should be able to do this in 1-2 sentences.) Don’t waste time explaining what everyone already knows, especially the problem. If you are a logistics company, don’t go on and on about how big the logistics industry is after you say it’s $4T. We get it. If you are a food delivery startup, don’t talk about the problem of not knowing what you’re eating for dinner.  Everybody knows. In reality, a) that’s probably not the problem you’re actually solving, and b) we probably already agree it’s a problem — we’re just not convinced your solution is solving it. The more niche, international, or underground your problem/market, the more time you should spend educating. (Hint: there are no straight answers here – you have to iterate on sample audiences, but see #14).IMG_2477
  10. Focus on what you have learned. What are your key learnings? Steve Blank loves to ask founders this during pitch competitions, and it’s because investors are interested in the real story, not the fake Silicon Valley TechCrunch success theatre version. They also want to know they are investing in a team who can fail, learn, iterate, and move quickly.
  11. Bottom up, not top town market story, as Guy Kawasaki has often talked about. Narrow TAM, and be specific. Big #s on a slide make bullshit sensors go off.
  12. Don’t forget delivery. Don’t memorize it word for word. BREATHE. Beautiful, simple slides might distract an audience a little bit, but you are the star.
  13. Your pitch is not your business. Get in your best mental position; work out any insecurities. Come to terms with the imperfection of your company. Ban wishy-washy, apologetic, “trying” language. All startups are lopsided in some way.
  14. Avoid pitch feedback whiplash and don’t try to please everyone. The most successful pitches are often polarizing.


How I judge pitches:

  • Is the product and differentiation clear?
  • Does this pitch communicate the best possible version of this company? (I won’t know this unless I dig in deeper with you.)
  • Does this pitch teach me something, surprise me, or connect me to you as a person?

From Ghana to Poland to the Silicon Valley, I’ve had the pleasure of coaching hundreds of entrepreneurs from all over the world, and many have gone on to raise a lot of money ($50M-ish).

Startup Istanbul:

l love helping people tell their stories. If you want to talk pitching, tweet me at @abarrica. I make extra time to work with women and minorities.


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Diversity debt: how much does your startup have?

There are a lot of ways to look at diversity, but the most helpful way I have found is called “diversity debt.” In the same way that engineers can accrue “technical debt” when they push out sloppy code, or business owners can accrue “bookkeeping debt” when they procrastinate their financials until tax time, companies can also accrue diversity debt over their life cycle. The more people your company hires until you have a diverse team (meaning an array of genders, LGBT, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, able-bodiedness, etc.) — the more diversity debt your organization has accrued.

The diversity problem in tech is rampant everywhere you look. Facebook only hired 7 black people out of 1,231 hires in 2013, and only added 26 black people last year even with much more effort. Twitter just held a frat party.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 3.31.56 PM

These huge organizations have accrued a ton of diversity debt, and like most debt situations, it becomes harder and harder to fix the longer you wait. But, if you ask most startup founders, diversity falls very low on the priority list.

What gets done in a startup usually intersects where “important” meets “urgent” — most people in startups agree that having a diverse team is “important,” but when is it urgent?

Recruiting ANY top talent, let alone diverse talent, is the hardest part about being a start-up founder today. If the biggest tech companies, with dedicated budgets and recruiting machines, are making dismal progress, can you imagine how difficult it is for startup?

The truth is that early startup teams are largely a reflection of the founders themselves and their networks. Most founders don’t think about building a diverse network when they are building their professional networks, and this has huge consequences throughout the life cycle of a startup.

Startup hiring is also more difficult; there’s huge pressure to hire “A” level people who are awesome long-term culture fits, not to mention limited compensation, higher risk, and no dedicated recruiter. Earlier in my career, I read startup investor Elad Gil’s blog, which advised founders to hire early for homogeneity in values and “culture fit” beer tests. From the purely pragmatic angle, it makes perfect sense. Early team disputes are potentially life-threatening for a startup, and recruiting outreach is expensive. But, this attitude is also a huge contributing factor to the lack of diversity in tech today. This is why startups who value diversity should start as early as possible to avoid accruing diversity debt and build a better culture.


1) Start as early as you can.

People often ask me: when in a startup’s life does it makes sense to prioritize diversity? TL;DR answer: Debt starts to accrue around the 4th hire, speeds up around #10, REALLY HARD after #20.

If you don’t believe a homogenous team is beneficial for the future of your company, start early — even when it doesn’t feel urgent. Homogeneity becomes harder to change as your company grows. Small culture and process changes can make big differences over time.

Stage: Founders only, < 4 employees

Under four people, it’s hard to find realistic ways to hire minorities, women, LGBT folks if you don’t already have them in your immediate network. Depending on your funding, it may not be justifiable from an economic perspective either to expend extra effort to source, vet, and convince people to join these already difficult to fill roles. This is why it’s an advantage to have a diverse founding team. Besides the network effects and attracting diverse candidates, the benefits of having a diverse team is experienced early on. The main reason 500 Startups is so gender-balanced is that Dave McClure co-founded the firm with Christine Tsai. These values trickle down. However, finding the right co-founder is like finding the right spouse, so unless you have a diverse network to begin with, this isn’t possible or likely for most people today.

So, at this stage, you should be preparing for the hires you’ll need down the road. Create your team values. Discuss how your culture will be inclusive to people who are different than you. Start building real relationships with people who are very different than you and come from different communities. See resources below to find ideas where to start.

Stage: Hire #9 or #10

When a startup begins to grow quickly, the question is: how much time do you allocate to recruiting vs. just hiring whoever comes to you and relying on the team’s existing network?

At this point, you’re growing and need to hire people quickly. This is when tough decisions need to be made. It means that perhaps instead of referral bonuses, you may use those funds to support a diversity scholarship or send your team to a diversity conference. It means you might have to make hard decisions at inopportune times, but these early trade-offs could have a huge impact on the climate and long term development of your culture.

Offer mentorship. Network with diverse groups and communities, and find new graduates, early stage professionals, people seeking to change careers who are passionate. Hire interns who come from many different backgrounds.

Stage: >20 people

At this point, it makes sense to put some serious resources toward your diversity efforts if your team is still mostly male and white. Hire a recruiter who has experience with hiring diverse candidates. Track internal metrics about your applicants. Invest in outreach, mentorship programs, and conferences.

2) Be proactive about your website, job ads, interviews, and benefits.

  • Define culture fit, and be specific about what exactly your core values are and the message you want to send to current and new team members. For example, does “work hard, play hard” as a company value manifest as 14-hour workdays and wild weekend drinking adventures as a team? If so, it’s also a huge repellent for anyone NOT a young, extroverted 20-something without kids or any desire for balance. A recent article wrote about how Stripe is rethinking this:

“Stripe has minimized bias in the “culture fit” component of its interviews by focusing on whether the candidate is someone people at the company would actively seek to work with, rather than someone they “want to hang out with…”

  • Examine your job postings for language that alienates women, minorities, parents, older people. This includes highly exclusive language and aggressive language. Hire More Women in Tech is a fantastic resource and primer. Read more about writing better job ads here.
  • Revamp your interview process. Beware of whiteboard technical interviews or alcohol-based social test outings with prospective employees.
  • Publicly offer and describe benefits on your website, and include domestic partner benefits, maternity, paternity, and adoption leave — even if no one needs it.
  • Use referral bonuses with care. If your startup is currently dominantly young, white, or male, $10K referral bonuses may be contributing to your diversity problems… which brings me to my next point:

3) Understand unconscious bias, and try to compensate for it.

Educate yourself and your team about unconscious bias. Here’s a great video.

How do you compensate for unconscious bias? Other than education, you might try introducing some practices and policies. For example, one of my friends runs a very popular hardware meetup that always fills up. He created a separate mailing list for the women in the group and sends any meetup invites to that list first and waits a day before blasting to the whole community. Another friend has a policy in her startup that if their team is on the fence about a diverse candidate, they will bring the candidate in the office for another interview.

These types of measures are often accused of being “special treatment” or somehow unfair. I don’t see it that way. If you acknowledge unconscious bias in your team, these types of policies can act as a safeguard to counteract unconscious team biases and lead to meaningful learning for the whole company.

  • Try to interview at least one diverse candidate for every major role you’re hiring for. It’s a version of the Rooney Rule strategy that helped the NFL increase coaching staff diversity. Key is to take them through full process — and it doesn’t count if you rule them out before meeting them. Why? a) You are giving the candidate a better chance to be fully vetted, and b) So you become accustomed to interviewing candidates with backgrounds different from yours. Facebook has started doing this for a select set of roles.

4) Build an inclusive culture from Day 1.

There’s a lot of emphasis on hiring, but the attrition rate for women and people of color is the more alarming problem in tech. Your culture changes with each early hire. Too often, I notice this culture forms without much thought. When I joined my first startup, my co-workers would make fucked up jokes all the time. I thought this was normal. I would often hear comments that hiring more women or parents or a black person would mean we would “have to hire a HR person” — which is code for saying the “fun” culture would end. A couple years later, when I grew tired of working with startups with similar cultures and started speaking up about diversity, a close colleague asked me if I was becoming a “feminist.” Startups should be fun, but they should also be inclusive, safe spaces, even before a diverse candidate joins.

  • Lead the team by example, and speak up. I spoke to a young female engineer who told me that another more senior engineer asked her to give him a back rub in front of their founders, and the founders didn’t do or say anything.
  • Be mindful of humor and defining what’s acceptable — ask yourself, if a healthy number of women and people of color and generally mixed bunch were here, would we be making the same jokes? Work should be a place where people can have fun and be themselves, but founders should use best judgment here and set the tone to prepare the culture for a diverse team long-term.

5) Position matters — and watch the office housework!

When I was helping hundreds of companies with their taxes, accounting, and payroll, I noticed that the first woman a startup would hire would usually be an office manager or administrative role. Now, that’s not to say these roles are not important or valuable (I started my career in customer success/operations), but having primarily women in these roles or as the first female hire sends a message about power dynamics and influence in the office, and it can really turn off potential women candidates in leadership and other roles from joining a culture that feels very Mad Men.

  • Devote resources to finding women in leadership positions and key roles in engineering, product, and sales as soon as possible.
  • Take extra care with handling administrative roles and communicating their value to the team. Female office managers have often mentioned they feel like second class citizens in their organizations. Respect is key.
  • Currently, women do most of the office housework. Pay attention to who takes out the trash, orders food, stays after to clean up after events. Create a rotating schedule for these tasks.

Also important note:

  • If your startup hires a woman or person of color, it’s not their job to increase the diversity — it’s everyone’s job. Diverse teammates often have to take up the second job of increasing diversity, which may or may not be important to them.

6) Do your best.

I empathize with founders who believe in creating an inclusive culture and make an effort, but still lack the diversity on their own teams.

This was my startup inDinero in 2012:

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Our team was led by two women. We hired Joe, who was a year older than my father, who brought a very different and much-needed perspective. We had two gay men on our team. Jose and I are Filipino, an underrepresented group in tech. We did our best to bring on people of different perspectives, which made us a stronger team. Still, we struggled to hire more women and people of color as we grew, especially during periods of rapid growth, and it’s something I still regret. I wish I knew then what I know now, and I hope with this information you’ll be able to build diverse, thriving teams.

Very Short List of Groups (so much more at Hire More Women In Tech and this fantastic piece):

Please send more resources I should add to this list!

I’m passionate about making tech more inclusive. Please send suggestions, additions, and feedback to me @abarrica!

Big thank you to Monique Woodard, Rose Broome, and Aubrey Blanche for helping me with this piece.


7 Lessons from 500, YC, Angelpad alum — How to Prepare For Any Accelerator Interview

This month 500 Startups and General Assembly teamed up to hold a pre-accelerator program. Last week, we had our mini Demo Day.

I led the final week of the program where, in addition to 60-second pitch workshops, profile show-and-tell, and pitch deck review sessions, I organized mock accelerator interviews.

To help me, I called a few of my friends*, Ryan Jackson of Paid and Andrew Norris of Taplytics, both YCombinator alums, Mason Blake at UpCounseland Tristan Pollock of Storefront (now EIR @500) who went through AngelPad, and Selcuk Atli and me from 500Startups (both of us with YC backgrounds from Boostable/inDinero).

We started with a panel introducing ourselves and the accelerator processes: YC does 10 minute interviews with a few partners and cares more about founders than ideas; 500 does a deeper dive over 20–30 min and focuses on people and growth. With Angelpad, you’ll be talking to Thomas and Carine, and there will be fewer companies in your cohort. Each pre-accelerator company then had a 5-minute mock interview with us.

Despite the differences between us and our accelerators, the six of us noticed very similar patterns in the founders. The following mistakes to avoid and advice will help you prepare for any accelerator interview (and some investor conversations, too!)

Most Common Mistakes:

1) Over-talking

Most common mistake: over-explaining product, technology, everything. Tangents. Doing a full sales pitch. Remember you are getting people excited about your business, not trying to sell them your product.

2) Defensive answers and body language

Confronted with a tough question or interviewer, many people become visibly stressed, nervous, verbose, even angry or hostile — their postures change, their voices speed up, and they over-talk and under-listen.

3) Strange co-founder dynamic

This is really important. Nothing worse than seeing co-founders disagree, interrupt one another, or have one founder completely dominate while the others sit in silence (looking at you, “CTOs”).

4) Not telling a story

Or, telling the wrong stories. Or, taking forever to tell a very simple story. Clinical “problem — solution — market — traction” pitches are so forgettable. Not having any prepared user stories.

5) Losing control of interview

These are the cringe-interviews where founders surrender into reactionary mode and have to go on the defensive. We’ve all been there.

6) Not being able to talk differentiation

Being “marginally better” is never good enough. “Design” was also an answer that fell flat. Some people talked too highly, too much, or too weakly about competitors.

7) Terrible energy

Founders with low energy make interviewing not fun at all. We had quite a few companies who didn’t bring any energy, aliveness, or personality to their interviews.

No assholes. No BS. — Selcuk

Our advice:

1) Be brief.

Nail your elevator pitch. If I have to spend 10 minutes figuring out what you are doing — you’re not getting in.— Andrew

Nail the elevator pitch — less than 20 seconds: what do you do, who is your target market, why is this rad? Ryan gave this example format: “We are Paid, Autopilot for Accounts Receivable. We help companies invoice their customers and get paid with 200% return on their ROI.” They apparently like the “X for Y” over at YC. Whatever you do — make sure it’s clear. Remember to say your company name. In all following questions, answer the question as briefly as you can. Avoid tangents. Don’t make us interrupt you. If you are in a Skype or remote interview, this advice is even more important.

Answers before explanation.— Ryan

2) Know your trigger questions. Breathe.

Know your nervous ticks, too. Talk too fast? Jiggle your leg? Identify the top questions, personality types, and factors that give you anxiety. Defensiveness comes from stress and lack of mindfulness. Take a breath before answering a question. Accelerator interviewers want to know you are coachable, so defensiveness during an interview is a horrible signal. Stay in control.

Be aware of the story you are telling with your body, not just your words. –Andrea

3) Be a team. Plan founder contributions.

First of all, unless totally necessary, don’t correct or interrupt your co-founder (unless they aren’t following #1, then perhaps a team-agreed signal or nudge). Be a team. Address any tension before heading into an interview.

Every co-founder should speak during an interview. It’s fine if someone takes charge, but all founders should be ready to contribute. Interviewers may single out people in the team, so every co-founder should be able to articulate the basics.

Be careful to not fall victim to the “Eye Contact Problem.” They will always be looking at the last person who spoke, but they don’t have to be the one to answer.—Ryan

Before an interview, assign question categories, like “Maria will take fundraising, business, and sales. Pablo will take anything technical and tell our user story, and Jenn will take questions about competitors, differentiation, and market.” If you have a team with previous exits, baller backgrounds with great companies, or any amazing feats, be sure to mention them. If you find it hard to brag about yourselves, empower each other during the interview.

Bonus points: I always ask “How did you all meet?” Most investors want to bet on strong c0-founder relationships that can withstand the tough times. A few of the teams we interviewed laughed, looked at each other, waited for the other to speak, started talking at once, then sentimentally reported the “story of how they met.” I call this the “newlywed effect,” and it’s something that I appreciate very much.

4) Know your story.

On a macro-level, this applies to your company: what is genuinely interesting about your story as a product, as a team, in your space? Have you learned anything? Why are you doing this? On a micro-level, this applies to how you will talk about your traction and value proposition: do you have a great customer or user story? Come prepared with data, results, or a story that will surprise us, overturn an assumption we have, or inspire us. And, be able to tell your stories succinctly. All great stories can be told in under a minute, and some only need 20 seconds or less.

Avoid marketing speak. No synergy. No disruption. No bullshit. — All of us

5) Prioritize Top 3 things.

There are tough interviewers and investors out there who will try to dominate and intimidate you. Along with your simple, short elevator pitch, also come prepared with the three things you want to cover before the interview is over, for example: differentiation within your market, traction (which, if you have, talk about as soon as possible) and team backgrounds. Interviews can span a few minutes to half an hour, but knowing YOUR agenda will help ensure you don’t get trapped in someone else’s line of questioning or run out of time before your startup’s best can shine. If you get derailed, you can maneuver back to your Top 3. We also suggest knowing the Top 3 things that you DON’T want to bring up, but we also warn that these things might actually belong on your Top 3 list.

6) Be more than marginally better.

Differentiation is key. If you are entering a crowded space or have robust competition, this is Concern #1 on every interviewer’s mind (looking at you social networks, sales automation SaaS, food delivery, etc.) There is a reason you started your company. You may not know it yet, but there is. As an early stage company, it’s hard to know what your “moat” or “secret sauce” is, but you should avoid describing your company’s advantage in terms of features, slight advantages, user experience — instead, describe in simple language the value that your customers and users get from your service. Describe the vision of what you are building toward.

Being marginally better than your competitors is not enough — really need to have a key differentiator, a reason to switch, something you do MUCH better— Mason

7) Bring your best self.

Understand that your interviewers will be talking to many companies in one day, one after another, for hours. They can all easily blur together. If you have low, uninspiring energy, your traction better be fucking incredible. There’s nothing more inspiring than a founder who is passionate about what they are building, their mission, their team, their customers. Pump yourself up with music, go to a morning rave, read the journal entries from the day you quit your job to become an entrepreneur — do whatever it takes to bring your most authentic, alive self to your interview. Your only job in an interview is to make someone in that room excited about you and your company.

Make the interviewer generally excited, and energize the room. Confidence without delusion — Selcuk

Now, go crush those interviews.

I’m interviewing companies right now for 500 Startups Batch 14 in San Francisco. Follow me @abarrica.

*Not happy with the lack of diversity in my interviewer group. I did ask women and minority friends, too, but got no reply or couldn’t make it happen. I was still compliant with 500 policy on panels (at least 1 woman, aim for 50/50) due to my active involvement (I talk enough for at least 2 people!) Next time — more outreach and planning!