Inside a Techstars Accelerator: The Application & Interview Process

December 4th, 2020

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In our series Inside a Techstars Accelerator we unpack elements of the application process and the accelerator experience, so you ave all the information you need to make a decision about applying. 

This article explains all the steps of the application and interview process, including lots of sample questions you might be asked to answer. You might also be interested in:

What To Expect From the Application Process

Thousands of companies apply to Techstars, and our staff personally review every application that comes in. You can see the accelerators with applications open here. Applications for each program are open for approximately three months. You are able to apply for a first choice and second choice program each time that Techstars opens a new application group. Theoretically, if there was a program you were interested in each cycle, you could apply at most six times a year.

It takes most teams anywhere from two to five hours to complete their application for the first time. After you fill out your first application, you are able to update sections with new information for your subsequent applications. Before you submit your application, you are welcome to run your answers by your mentors / advisors / or other founders to make sure that you have correctly portrayed your company.

In the application portal, you also have the option to request a recommendation from an advisor, mentor, or other individual that knows your business well. This is nice to have, but not required.

Want some more tips for the application process? Here are some great resources:

First and Second Round Interviews

You may receive an invitation to interview anytime between one and 30 days after the application deadline. We do our best to review all applications within four weeks of applications closing and we will notify all applicants about the state of their application.

It’s worth bearing in mind, as Techstars founder David Cohen often says, “Some of you are here despite your idea.” 

We’re looking for strong entrepreneurs who can overcome the obstacles necessary to build a great business. In the interviews, we’ll want to get to know you and understand why you think your team has the unfair advantage over all the other companies out there. Techstars wants to see what you’ve accomplished in the past, how long the team has been together, and how well you work together.

Again, we want you to highlight your strengths, whilst also being upfront about your weaknesses. We don’t expect you to know everything.

Prepare for the interview process

First of all, do all of the normal preparation you would do for any interview – dress smart, practice your introduction, anticipate potential questions / rehearse answers, prepare some questions of your own.

First, as part of your interview preparation, you should think through why you’re applying in the first place, and have an idea of how we can work with you. One of the value drivers of Techstars is the collective expertise of the program staff, the mentors, and everyone else you’ll be introduced through Techstars (including after the accelerator). We aim to be more than just a shareholder in your company – think of us as an extra cofounder. We have the people-power and knowledge to help you, we’re committed to your long-term success, and we’ll see you through to the end. 

Make sure that your introduction highlights how the specific Techstars accelerator you’re interviewing for can help you. Do your research, apply what you’ve learned, and tell us how we can help you grow, both during the program and beyond. Your experience in the program is just the beginning — Techstars and our worldwide network are for life. 

Remember that saying ‘I don’t know’ is as relevant an answer as any. If you’re feeling the heat during the question sessions, keep your cool and answer every question honestly. A willingness to learn, the honesty to admit what you know and what you don’t know, and a real desire to learn and improve in your business are paramount to succeeding in any of our accelerator programs.

Also, the interview stage is a good chance for us to meet any additional cofounders and your extended team, if any.

Questions you should expect:

What’s the hardest part about the business you’re building? What have you learned since you started? And what have you learned with your first customer?

Bonus points if you can give an answer to all this in under two minutes! We want to know what you see as the key value proposition, and also what insights and learnings you’ve gleaned since you started. Be prepared for a follow-up question along the lines of, “If this were to fail, what’s the most likely reason?”

If I gave you $200k in cash and said you needed to spend that money on hiring people, who would you hire?

Essentially we’re asking what skills you’re currently missing on your team. Be sure to tell us how many full-time team members are on the team, and how long you’ve all worked together. We really like to see evidence of the team working well together, even if you’re all geographically dispersed or you’ve outsourced some of your development. A favourite follow-up of Jag Singh’s is “As the CEO, what drives you crazy about your cofounders?”

Who are your (likely) customers?

Be as concise and specific as you can! 

What would be your ideal outcome from working with Techstars?

If you’ve done some research about the Techstars network, the people you’re interviewing, and talked to some of our alumni, this question should be an easy one!

What are the most important *leading* indicators for your business/product? or What’s your most important KPI this week?

We want to know what’s the most important unknown you need to figure out next, and also what your plan is for doing that.

How did you validate this market, and what is the scope of the market?

We want to know where you see the market going in the next few years, and if you can scale. The big question you need to answer is: can you defend this against a team that may be better funded?

Other questions we may ask you:

  • What led you to apply to Techstars?

  • Why are you building this company?

  • What problem are you solving?

  • Tell me about each member of your team and how they contribute to your overall success.

  • How do you know each other?

  • What’s the biggest organization (in headcount) that you could picture becoming?

  • How do you make decisions?

  • Who is the most indispensable person on the team?

  • Tell us about a conflict within the team that you’ve resolved.

  • How do you decide compensation for each other?

  • How did you decide who was the CEO?

  • How hard would it be to recover if your co-founder/CTO/etc. left tomorrow?

  • Who is your customer?

  • Who built the current product?

  • How long have you been working on this?

  • Do you have a development roadmap?

    • BizDev roadmap? How far out do they go? What are you going to accomplish in the next three months and one year?

  • What do you think the lifetime capital requirements of this company will be? How much total money will you need to raise?

  • Are you working on this full time?

    • How are you paying your bills?

  • Walk us through the competitive landscape.

  • What early assumption(s) do you feel confident about and are building around?

  • What are your ultimate expectations for this business? 

    • Big acquisition? Small acquisition? Run it forever and IPO?

  • What are you most worried about right now?

  • If you were offered $1 million for the business right now, would you take it?

  • How do you plan to take over the world?

The Screening Committee

If you make it through the interview rounds, we will invite you to the screening committee! At this point, you have a one in two chance of being offered a spot in a Techstars accelerator.

The screening committee is a group of individuals composed of the managing director and program manager, program mentors, accelerator corporate partners (if any), other Techstars team members, alumni, and subject matter experts. You will interview with the screening committee virtually and answer various questions based on the problem/market you’re tackling and the scope of your product/idea.

We know the application and interview processes are long, and we truly appreciate all the effort you put in, your hard work and patience. We’re looking for strong entrepreneurs that can overcome the obstacles necessary to build a great business. In the application and interviews, we do our best to get to know you, and to understand why you think your team has the unfair advantage over all the other companies out there. Techstars wants to see what you’ve accomplished in the past, how long the team has been together, and how well you work together.

We want you to highlight your strengths, while being upfront about your weaknesses. We don't expect you to know everything.

And if you don’t get in this time, we strongly encourage you to apply again. It takes many companies a few tries to get in, so don’t be discouraged. Instead, take the feedback you receive during the process to make your startup better, and then when you apply again, show us how well you learn! Persistence and an ability to digest and apply feedback are two of the most important qualities we look for. 

#Inside a Techstars Accelerator

About the Author

Saba Karim

Based out of Denver, Colorado, Saba Karim is the Global Startup Pipeline Manager of Techstars - responsible for helping source startups from across the world for all of its accelerators. You can follow him on Twitter here @sabakarimm.