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7 Tips for Applying to TechStars

On the first snowy Saturday we had in NYC, DigitalOcean was lucky enough to be one of the 70 companies invited to attend TechStars 4 A Day. While we know our chances of being accepted are slim (8%) they are still 6x better than general admission, which sees 1200 companies vying for 15 spots (1.25% chance of acceptance).

Regardless of whether we are accepted, the one-day event was worth it. How could it not be, when the first speaker after David Tisch’s introduction is none other than Fred Wilson.

Applying to Techstars

1. Team!

90% of your application is how strong your team is. Techstars wants to see what you’ve accomplished in the past, how long the team has been together, and how well you work together. Be your own biggest fan.

2. Rise Above the Noise - Social Proof

As Fred Wilson said “Techstars helps you rise above the noise.” The same is true for your application. You’re competing with 1200 other startups, how will you stand out? David Tisch was quick to point out that sending 1,000 emails a day has been done before and won’t be looked upon favorably.

Social proof will be.

Specifically, getting mentors to send an email to Techstars saying how great you are. Sometimes you are lucky enough to know a mentor prior to your application and getting a recommendation is easy and straight forward. As for the rest of us, you are going to have to look through the list and use social engineering to get a meeting, wow them, and have them sing your praises.

3. The Application Process Doesn’t End

Until the finalists are announced, continue to update your application. Likewise, if there are relevant developments shoot an email out to Adam and Dave. The key here is to show progress. That doesn’t mean to fire off an email every time you launch a new feature or restyle your design, but if you do make significant headway definitely send an email. A simple litmus test is to ask yourself whether or not your announcement qualifies for a press release– if it does, then let them know.

Moreover, even when you are rejected don’t take it too hard. Many companies have applied twice, three times, even four times before they were accepted. Like Mark Suster, Techstars looks to invest in lines (not dots) and sometimes that trend isn’t visible until the fourth time you apply.

From Application to Finalist to Techstar!

With 1200 companies applying for just 15 spots, it’s obvious that most aren’t accepted. But understanding what Techstars is looking for from finalists and their eventual selected companies can help you figure out how to answer some of the application questions (and also prepare you for what they’re going to ask once you’ve made the first cut).

4. How Will You Hire?

To quote Steve Ballmer, “Developer, developers, developers!” With everyone hiring you better have a great answer on how you’re going to staff.

5. How Can Techstars Help You?

Put yourself in their shoes. Let's say they have two equal startups: teams are great, ideas are great, but one clearly spells out how they plan to leverage what Techstars offers, while the other can’t make a clear case...which would you choose?

Simply put, Techstars gives you the ability to reach anyone you want.

If your business depends on selling to large enterprises like Best Buy, they’ll get you a meeting. If your startup depends on leveraging media connections you dont have, they’ll put you in front of the right people.

Dream big, and then spell out how Techstars and their network will help you win big.

6. Road Map

When the alumni panel was asked what they would do differently, the most common answer was related to time management. For this reason plan ahead.

Figure out what you need and want to accomplish in the three month program and detail it out. Not only will it help with answering question 5, but it will help you stay focused once you get in. If you don’t have a plan, it’s easy to get dazed and confused and spend the first two weeks running around to mentor meetings.

7. Sleep!

This will be your last chance to recharge both your mind and your body.

The next three months will be grueling and intensive but well worth the effort. During those months, it' s important to stay on top of your health and not get burnt out in the first half of the program. Save enough energy to sprint to the finish line. Agile pun intended.

It may also be a good idea to break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend because they’ll surely hate you while you’re in Techstars.

If you’re married, then just remind them that they said for better or worse.