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I got an email from an applicant today asking for clarification from us on just how early is too early for Techstars. They cited the fact that we said “Nothing is too early. We’ve accepted companies with no more than an idea…” on the web site.

This particular company has an idea, two founders, and a splash page. I emailed them and asked if they had a prototype or other early progress on the idea. And if not, I wanted to know if they had built other stuff in the past that we could check out. This prompted their request to clarify our position on investing in idea stage companies. So here is some insight:

1. As investors, we obviously would like to be confident in your ability to actually deliver on the concept you’re thinking about. At a minimum, this means we need to see some demonstration of talent. It doesn’t have to be extensive progress on your current idea. But it has to lead us to believe that you’re somebody who can deliver. This is why we ask you to reference stuff you’ve built in the past on the application. Idea people with no history of execution or at least tinkering will have a tough time getting into Techstars. And a splash page isn’t going to impress anybody.

2. We’ll probably receive 300+ applications again this year. So progress on an idea is very likely to be at least a “tie-breaker” against other companies with great ideas.

3. We believe strongly that natural founders do stuff. They play. They tinker. They just get going without waiting for someone to tell them it’s ok to get going. They know that this is the only way to turn an idea into something of value. So we look for that.

So I suppose the best answer to the question “How early is too early?” is if you’re an idea stage company that is so early that it a) hasn’t even started on a product and b) have founders with no demonstrable history of doing anything related to what you’re proposing, then it’s probably too early. This doesn’t mean it won’t be a huge success. But it probably does mean you’re too early. Fortunately, this is a pretty low bar. You can get over it by ripping out a quick prototype or pointing at something that demonstrates that you’re talented and capable. So go for it!

David Cohen
(@davidcohen) Founder & Managing Partner of Techstars, previously founder of several technology companies. David is an active startup advocate, advisor, board member, and technology advisor who comments on these topics on his blog at DavidGCohen.com