Over the last few years, I’ve reviewed the good, bad and ugly of thousands of applications for startup programs all over the world. With six new Techstars city programs open for applications, providing some hints and tips seemed timely.
In no particular order, here are some things to consider:
1. Do a bit of digging into the program, the mentors, the MD and the partner and target your application accordingly. Do your due diligence on us and don’t be afraid to talk about it when we’re chatting. If you want to work with a particular MD because of their background or a program because of its mentors or corporate partners, then it’s a sign that you’ve done some research – which is great. For example, it’s unlikely that our Fintech programs would be interested in an Uber for pooper-scoopers. It’s always brilliant when we talk to companies who understand what we’re looking for, and who tailor their replies accordingly. We’re pretty clear on what matters most to us. There is a lot of detail on how we pick teams and why we don’t in our FAQ – well worth a read.
2. We ask people to make videos one minute long for a reason. It forces you to focus your thinking. Obviously, we can live with a little flexibility +/- 60 seconds, but not a huge amount!
3. Learn how to demo your product. Everyone should be able to do this. It can be as simple as a one minute screencap with you narrating the story of your incredibly technical, but not public-facing infrastructure start over slides. Don’t know how to make a screencast? Now you do. On the team video front, Alex Iskold wrote a great piece about how to make your application stand out, including some examples of great team videos. It’s definitely worth a read.
4. If you are applying at the idea stage, or if you don’t have a designer or developer on the team, you’d be amazed at how easy it is to create and impress folks with simple prototypes. Here’s how anyone can build one. This is also something you can use in your demo video. For Bonus Points – this can also be used to show potential co-founders and employees that you’re not building vaporware…
5. Be careful if you use placeholder videos in your application. You’d be surprised how many people forget to replace them. Be wary of using copy and paste – I’m looking at the person who shared something rather more adult than they intended in an application in the past. Also, don’t rickroll us in the video sections. 😉
6. Be precise. I wrote about the importance of words a while back. This is important. Short sentences that get to the point can help. Long rambling ones (and I recognize I’m guilty of this) don’t.
7. Don’t play the politician. We’ve all seen the trick they do – ignoring the question they were asked and instead answering the question they wanted to be asked. We ask specific things for specific reasons. If you don’t know the answer, that’s fine. Saying you don’t know something is not just ok, it’s actually great.
8. “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter. I didn’t have time to write you a short one” is one of my favourite quotes ever. Spend time on your application. Subtract the obvious and add the meaningful. Your goal is to get us sufficiently excited about your company to ask for a call or a meeting. Essay type answers to questions are tough to read and even harder to follow. Make it short. Make it to the point. Make it clear and easy to understand.
9. Create a Google Doc and collaborate with others on your answers. I’ve reviewed enough applications to know a thoughtful one from a cobbled together one almost straight away. Well prepared applications stand out. Get someone to review yours. Spelling, syntax, grammar and clarity are not deal-breakers, but precision in applications is a strong signal that you can take a systematic approach in other aspects of your business. Find someone who doesn’t know what you’re doing and get them to review it for clarity.
10. If you’re finalizing and submitting your application, just do a quick check on all of your social channels and website to make sure they all a) work and b) are active. You don’t have to have hundreds or thousands of followers on Twitter, but if I go to a social channel and see that the last update was shared 6 months ago and there hasn’t been anything posted on your website for a similar amount of time, I’m going to see a miniature red flag. Also, make sure that the www and non-www version of your URL both work (my inner-SEO nerd says don’t forget to pick a canonical domain).
11. Be honest. If you say people work for your company, make sure they actually work for your company. I reviewed an application recently that said that a pretty prominent person had joined a company in a C-level role. I was impressed. Until I talked to that person (who I happened to know). They had met the company once for coffee and had a very preliminary chat about an ad hoc advisory position. Lies have a funny way of finding their way into the light.
12. Update us. Once your application has been submitted, you can access the update field in F6S. The selection process can sometimes take several weeks or months – particularly if you apply early. Keep us posted on your progress. Show us traction and momentum. General excitement helps. A lot!
That should give you some food for thought. If you’ve got questions, queries, comments (or if you want to apologize for that NSFW link), you can find me on Twitter and all the other obvious places, or leave your comments below.