Last night, I spent 3 glorious hours at the Techstars Boulder Happy Hour talking with entrepreneurs about their business ideas. Most of them were applying to Techstars and just wanted to get on my radar. Some of them were still trying to figure out if Techstars was right for them.
I spent a lot of time answering the same question; “What’s the secret to getting in?”
As I singularly read each and every application that comes in for the Boulder program, I can honestly say there is no ‘secret’. But there are definitely some tips that can increase your chances. I’ll highlight them here for you.
1. Apply early so I can get to know you! Don’t wait until you’re prototype is done, or you reach your first major milestone, or whatever the reason you’re waiting to apply. Mark Suster has a great post on lines, not dots… its this reason that I encourage you to apply early. Once you apply, I can begin to track your progress, I can see how quickly you can execute, I can get to know you through your application updates or email communications. I get a much better sense of who you are and what you’re capable of achieving, rather than a simple snapshot at the end of the application cycle. Furthermore, I guestimate that about 25% of the applications come in the last day. Sheer math calculations will tell you that I can’t spend as long on those applications compared to the ones that apply early. So the likelihood of error on my part increases. Lastly, getting your app in early will make you eligible for a Techstars for a Day invitation. It’s an awesome one-day mini camp where you’ll meet Techstars mentors, get feedback on your biz, listen to sessions to help you improve your odds for success. At the end of the day, even if you don’t get into Techstars, this one-day mini-camp will definitely help you and your startup.
2. Demonstrate rapid execution. Techstars mantra (and subsequent book) is “Do More, Faster”. With the program that is only 13 weeks in nature, you have to prove that you can move at lightning speeds. Apply early, then update your application with major milestones as you hit them, demonstrating your ability to execute like mad.
3. Short & succinct videos. You have the opportunity to submit a Business Video and a Team Video with your application. These don’t need to be highly produced videos (in fact, I’d argue that I’d be left wondering why you spent so much time producing the video and less time coding/getting users/executing…). Sitting in front of your cell phone video camera works great. But keep them short. Like 1 minute or less short (each). I basically stop watching the video after 1 minute, and if it’s a really long video, I might not watch any of it. It’s simply a time factor (multiply hundreds, or this year, probably a thousand applications x 2 videos… won’t happen). For the business video, I love to see a demo. If you don’t have a prototype yet, then maybe walk me through workflow via drawings. If none of that is possible, then you can talk about it. For the team video, show me YOU! I want to get to know you, who you are, what you’re capable of. I want to like you, I want to be impressed by you. I want to see your personalities. Little tip, for me, humor works wonders…
4. Nail your 140 character description. I can’t tell you how many times I read descriptions of the business that say something vague. Something like “we’re using the web to change people’s physical lives” or “we’re changing the world through social media” or “our mobile application represents a paradigm shift for gaming…” None of that tells me what you do. Use the 140 character to tell me exactly what you do. Not who you are, not what your mission is, but what your product does. Keep it to 140 characters (writing paragraphs just demonstrates an inability to follow directions). A well written 140 character description shows me you’ve put time and effort into making your product easy for people to understand and makes me excited to read your application thoroughly.
5. Get references! It’s amazing how much a reference can help you. It demonstrates to me that you know how to get people engaged with your product/idea/biz/you. One of the single biggest success factors for teams that go through the program is being able to deeply engage mentors, demonstrating you can do that before the program even starts means you’re that much more ahead. Find local mentors or advisors that can provide a reference on your behalf (this will help you even if you don’t get in, you’ll have a mentor for your company!.)
6. Don’t skimp on the team section. Talk about where you went to school. Talk about any things you’ve built in the past. Talk about successes you’ve had in the past or leadership roles you’ve had or awards you’ve won. Provide LinkedIn profiles and GitHub profiles. We shout from the highest mountain that Techstars invests in teams. Show me how awesome your team is.
7. Be concise. I have to read a massive amount of applications. Help me help you by writing concise, succinct sections. Bullet points work great. Highlight what matters. I don’t need massive background information on how you came up with the idea, or detailed thoughts around pricing. Be efficient with your words, it demonstrates a knowledge of your product/biz/market/self/team/everything and respects my time.
8, Demonstrate your personality. At the end of the day, we’re investing in people, and I want to know who’s on the other end of that application. Don’t be afraid to be a little irreverent, humorous, or entertaining. Plus it will help me remember your application in a sea of applications…
*New!* 9. Create a userid/pwrd for me. This is a small personal thing – but I end up subscribing to 600+ different sites over the course of the application cycle. And usually when I create an account in your system, it ends up blank (b/c I don’t have friends there yet, or content there yet, or whatever). Create for me a userid/pwrd test account and have it pre-populated with stuff, so I can see and understand your vision clearly and quickly.
Early application deadline is a mere 2 days away at midnight, 2/26, MST – and will make you eligible for an invitation Techstars for a Day. If you miss that deadline, get it in as soon as you can! Final deadline is 3/16.
Looking forward to getting to know you and your startup better!