Interview: Montclair State Grad Matt Cartagena Discusses His Startup Accelerator Book

Photo: Matt Cartagena, co-author  Photo Credit: Courtesy Matt Cartagena

Matt Cartagena, co-author | Courtesy Matt Cartagena

NJTechWeekly.com recently interviewed Matt Cartagena, co-author of the new book “Accelerate: Founder Insights into Accelerator Programs.”

Both Cartagena and co-author Luke Deering are graduates of Montclair State University. Cartagena now lives in Newark, while Deering has returned to the U.K. The third co-author, Chris Dowdeswell, also lives in the UK.

This book has received some very enthusiastic reviews. Perhaps more impressively, startup community guru and cofounder of TechStars Brad Feld became involved in its publication. In a blog post, Feld said: “If you want to understand how an accelerator program works from the inside or are considering applying to an accelerator, this is the book for you.”

Tell me about your background and those of your co-authors.

Previous to co-authoring “Accelerate,” I was a strategic planning analyst for Party City Corporation, and I attended Montclair State University for both undergraduate and my MBA. While in corporate, I had this strong urge to try my hand in some entrepreneurial projects, so I left to help sales at a startup that Luke and Chris had created, VineUp, and also began working on what became our book, “Accelerate.” 

How did you get the idea for this book?

The idea for the book evolved from a blog that we had been running called How to Write a Business Plan. For this blog, we had interviewed hundreds of successful entrepreneurs that had graduated from top startup accelerator programs. Eventually, the blog had so much useful content on the startup accelerator experience that we thought it’d be interesting to launch a Kickstarter campaign to try and turn all of that great content into a book. We also learned, ironically enough, that most entrepreneurs we interviewed believe in NOT writing a business plan.

Fortunately, the Kickstarter campaign was successful and got the funding (about $13K) that it needed, as well as the attention of Brad Feld, cofounder of Techstars, who was awesome enough to write the foreword to “Accelerate.” Since then, we’ve been published by FGPress and launched in August.

How did you go about gathering the material for this book?

Both Luke and I interviewed 150+ entrepreneurs on various topics, ranging from coming up with a startup idea to the ins and outs of an accelerator experience. Much of the work that went into the book was interviewing accelerator graduates, curation, filtering for unique content, narrating each chapter, editing, and design/publication of the book. It was quite interesting collaborating with Luke, who is in the U.K., since I’m located in New Jersey. Though we’ve known each other from our undergraduate studies at Montclair State University, we collaborated virtually on this project, and actually saw each other only once during the whole length of its creation.

Who should read the book, and why?

If you’re contemplating joining an accelerator program, this book is for you. If you’re an entrepreneur who wants to learn from other entrepreneurs that have been through some of the most intense startup environments, this book is also for you. I say this because “Accelerate” is the only book that contains such a large and wide sample size of advice from accelerator graduates. Combined, there are hundreds of graduates featured in “Accelerate” that have raised over $2.6 billion in funding combined.

Anything else people should know about this book?

We’ll be updating “Accelerate” every one to two years. So, as the accelerator landscape continues to evolve, we’ll be sure to include the most insightful advice and explanation of trends for aspiring accelerator participants.

 Are there any particular revelations about accelerators that people should know?

There’s lots, but judge your accelerator wisely. Do your research and treat the process seriously. You’re going to be giving up equity and, though a small amount, you want to make sure that your “part-owner” is right for your startup and that you’re right for them.

What are three takeaways from the book?

 “Accelerate” is loaded with a wide range of advice from all types of entrepreneurs, but these are just some of the quotes from the book I like particularly:

 “Don’t apply because it’s a popular program, apply because it will get you to where you need to be.” Diane Bisgeier Tate, manager, Mozilla WebFWD accelerator program.

“Do not waste time in slower markets that you need to educate rather than sell to: life is too short to spend it convincing people that the Internet is going to be big.”Gabriel Hubert & Stanislas Polu (Seedcamp)

“Finding a macro trend and demonstrating how something your company does ties into that trend is really helpful to reporters.”Kathryn Minshew Cofounder & CEO, The Daily Muse (Y Combinator)

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