What Works (and What Doesn't) in the World of TechStars
BY Max Chafkin
Want to be a TechStar? Follow these dos and don'ts.
What Works and What Doesn't A scene from Lua Technologies's submission video. Who could say no.(left); Suddenly Vivi Costache was a solo act and that was that.(right)
Want to get into TechStars? You're not the only one. Of the 1,500 who apply, only 1 percent actually get in the prestigious accelator program. The good news? You can learn from other founders' success and, of course, failure. Here are some tips we learned from the 2012 applicants to New York's TechStars program.
Send progress reports
In 2010, the founders of Veri.com applied to TechStars and told David Tisch they would send him a daily e-mail with a reason to accept their company. "Cool," Tisch responded. "Don't miss a day." The gambit took 75 days. It worked.
Show your personality
Animal masks and flames—which feature in the ridiculously overwrought (but effective) team video for Lua Technologies—are optional. Making the case that you have a personality is not.
Decisions at TechStars aren't always final. Rejected candidates can get a second look if they press their case. Another little-known fact: That 6 percent equity stake TechStars takes? It's negotiable.
Cop to your shortcomings
Start-ups aren't expected to have everything right—that's what makes them start-ups—but good founders are supposed to know what needs fixing. Avoid phrases like, "Our greatest weakness is that we have no weaknesses."
Stalk the admissions committee
In January, two applicants showed up at the TechStars headquarters with cameras, intending to make an eye-catching video. The stunt, says David Cohen, was "scary." "It was a good effort," he says. "But don't be weird."
Tisch planned to accept 15 companies for this year's New York program but at the last minute pulled an offer. The reason: He asked the applicants to describe in one sentence why customers would sign up for their service. "Eight minutes later, they stopped talking," he says.
Lose your co-founder
Just after the selection committee met, Vivi Costache's co-founder quit, which effectively disqualified his company, PicSpree. "It was a setback," Costache says. "But that's the way start-ups go sometimes."
Request a nondisclosure agreement
It's the height of impoliteness in the world of accelerators. Your company will be rejected, and you will be subjected to a lengthy screed about how your idea is worthless.