Tips for Applying to TechStars

Given that TechStars in Seattle application deadline is looming (June 1 – get ’em in!), I’m reminded of the challenge of reviewing so many great applications in such a short period of time.  I thought I might throw out some tips to applicants from my perspective (in having to review nearly 700 applications for 10 spots in Boulder).  Hopefully this will make Andy Sack’s life easier!

  • Apply early!  This year, we got almost 25% of all applications in the last 6 hours.  We had mere days to review those final applications before narrowing it down to the finalists.  I spent a sum total of maybe 2 minutes per application at that point, and thus probably missed some gems.  The earlier you apply, the more time we have to review your app.  You can always edit your application once it’s submitted (plus, applying early lets you update us on your progress, showing execution and communication).
  • Team.  Execution.  Idea.  In that order (usually).  Make it ridiculously easy for us to see how killer your team is, that you’ve done cool stuff or know how to do cool stuff, and that your idea is unique.  Don’t bury it in tons of words; communicate it quickly, not in a diatribe.
  • I feel the need to repeat the above point.  Team.  Execution.  Idea.  In that order.
  • Execution is everything – once your application is submitted, don’t be afraid to send ULTRA short 1 line emails to me updating your progress.
  • Registering a URL doesn’t count as progress.  Mockups don’t count as progress.  A functioning prototype counts, as do added features.  So do page views & customers.
  • Show me, don’t tell me.  I loved 1-3 minute videos because I got to see the team and a quick demo of the product.  Anything longer than that I barely watched simply b/c I didn’t have the time (or I stopped watching at minute 3).
  • If you password protect your video, please make sure the password is included with the application.
  • If your site requires a beta invite, send me one!
  • Make sure the email address you submitted works.  Surprisingly obvious, but I’m listing it because a handful didn’t.
  • Single founders have a hard time at TechStars because of the speed at which the program moves and what is demanded of you during that time.  Work really hard at getting a co-founder if you’re by  yourself.
  • I responded to every single email I received.  But sometimes it took me a few days.  Be patient, and don’t take ultra short emails personally – it’s purely a volume challenge.
  • Have a technical founder.  We move at the speed of light here.  Outsourced firms can rarely keep up with the pace that’s demanded.
  • Small picky tip – when emailing, put your company name in the subject line.  Helped me to keep organize and remember who went with which company.

Good luck to all teams that are applying, and if you are non-selected, don’t take it personally.  Use it as a challenge to keep working hard to get to a point where it does make sense.  I felt truly honored by ALL teams with the privilege of being able to glimpse into what they were doing.

    Second best answer to yes is no

    I’ve seen this theme come up recently a lot in talks with entrepreneurs trying to raise money, or trying to sell their product. A ton of time is spent working with the investor or possible client, and the discussion ends up going nowhere. Cycles are lost, people are rejected without knowing why, and everyone gets frustrated.

    I’m a big believer in honesty about what I’m thinking and feeling, and that includes saying no. In any discussion, the second best answer to yes is NO. Silence is the worst thing you could ever do to someone. I’m not sure why people feel the need to go silent when they really want to say no. Is it that we as a culture like to avoid conflict? We don’t like to let people down or disappoint? What is it about that two letter word that is so scary?

    I say that as investors, parents, friends, colleagues, bosses, whatever your role, we all practice saying no – but give reasons why. It’s no fun to be rejected, but at least when armed with the reasons why, we can improve our pitch, product, stance, opinion, whatever the question. In this scenario we all win. The askee isn’t continually bugged with a proposition, the asker can improve the ask and simultaneously move on quickly to other prospects. It saves time, frustration, and feelings.

    Don’t be afraid of saying no. But do so with support and information, and we all win.

    You’re most important investor is your….


    Investors invest cash and (hopefully) time into your company.  Their decision to invest in your venture is usually a business decision (unless you’re friends, family, and fools cash).  However, your spouse invests cash (probably your savings), your house (2nd mortgage), your children’s future education, his/her time with you, his/her sanity, and possibly the marriage…  your spouse basically puts EVERYTHING on the line, not just cash.

    Yet the tendency is to come home and unload on your spouse.  “We can’t make payroll this week”, “We lost the biggest deal, I’m not sure we’re going to make it now”, “That stupid employee….” the list goes on and on.  What that does essentially paint a very poor picture for your biggest investor, which will in turn cause significant doubt on his/her part that you can succeed, which will also create friction and resistance to your business at home, the very place you need the most support.

    The  best thing you can do for your business and your marriage is to treat your spouse like your most important investor (which they are!).  Don’t unload on him or her, but rather be optimistic on what’s going on.  “We lost our biggest customer today but I’ve got 2 other deals in the works that could make it okay…”  When you have the full support of your spouse, you’ll find they come in to the office to help with grunt work, they’ll edit/read documents for you, they’ll do whatever it takes to ensure your success.  It can save your business and ultimately your marriage.

    But now you still need someone on which to unload.  Here’s where your advisory board (different than your board of directors) comes in handy.  You should have established this on day one.  Create yourself a personal advisory board that will help you think through founder problems.  Most people are very willing to help be a sounding board, and if you select carefully, your business will be stronger with it.