A note for those who consider joining On Deck

Food for thought for those who aren’t sure if joining On Deck is time/money well-spent

Source: On Deck

A year ago I was at an intersection.

I was looking for a co-founder for a venture I was building and it wasn’t an easy task. As I was contemplating whether I should be operating as a solo founder, a friend told me about a new entrepreneurship program called On Deck that attracts top talent in different stages of starting their business.

A short Google didn’t yield many results and I had my doubts about the worthiness of this 10-weeks and (back then) $1,700 program.

Three months later, it was clear to me that joining On Deck was one of the best decisions I’ve made over the course of the last few years.

During my cohort, I documented and published my learnings and takeaways about the experience so future fellows would know what to expect. This piece got much traction and became the go-to guide to learning how to successfully navigate the program. Yet, many still followed up out with one specific concern — “Is On Deck the right thing for me? Is it time/money well-spent?”.

After multiple chats with potential-future-fellows, and in the light of On Deck’s recent massive growth and expansion to other programs — I’ve decided to write a piece based on the pattern of concerns I’ve witnessed. Although it’s curated towards the Founder Fellowship, the majority holds true to other On Deck programs as well.

The four horsemen of doubt

#1 Time

“How much time will I be required to put?”

One of the most known sayings at On Deck is that “On Deck is a buffet” — you get to choose how much time you’d like to spend and on which activities.

Based on my and other fellows’ experience, I’d suggest the following time-commitment framework:

Further context about the different activities can be found in my previous piece.

“I’m heads-down building my venture — does it make sense to put X hours a week on something ‘else’?”

Yes. Every activity you’re currently busy with can be accelerated with the help of the On Deck community, therefore making it a worthwhile time commitment. Hiring? You can post in the #c-recruiting channel. Looking for advice regarding your SEO strategy? Search for past recorded sessions in the On Deck Directory and if needed — reach out to the fellow who led the session. Looking for a co-founder? Join curated social sessions with others looking for a co-founder or post in #c-active-cofounder-search. Interested in an intro with someone who works at a specific company? Post in #c-asks or search for fellows who work or have worked there before.

Regardless, you’re one message away from multiplying your knowledge and access, and by doing so — saving precious time.

#2 Money

“Is paying the membership fee a smart monetary investment?”

The current cost of the Founders Fellowship is $2,990.
It’s not a cost that can go unnoticed, and as such — requires justification on why it’s an investment rather than an expense.

As an early-stage founder, you’re in a constant race to get your product in front of users and iterate your way to achieving a product/market fit. Being able to get valuable introductions and answer specific questions, either engineering- or business-related, is invaluable and helps you to avoid mistakes other fellows have already made.

Engineering advice on Slack. Source: author

On Deck fellows get $50k in partner credits along with discounts for other popular SaaS tools. Among current perks, you could find $10k in AWS credits, $20k in Stripe credits, and more.

There are many opportunities for those who seek freelance gigs, either at other On Deck fellows’ ventures or at external companies by someone posting on their behalf. Either way, there is a considerable stream of interesting projects you can choose from. Furthermore, with On Deck’s recent acquisition of LeanHire, a contract-to-hire platform, freelance projects can potentially convert into full-time positions.

#3 Talent

“Do people who join On Deck are of a high caliber? Can I actually find a co-founder that has extensive experience or get advice from industry veterans?”

On Deck prouds itself by being the place where top tech talent goes when they start a new venture. It’s likely you’ll see familiar faces from your Twitter feed, yet the majority of your cohort will consist of strong operators who have worked in successful companies and startups such as Google, Stripe, Slack, Coinbase, etc.

I personally assumed that as On Deck scales it’ll have to compromise on the quality of fellows it brings onboard. Five cohorts later, the introductions channel doesn’t cease to amaze with the caliber of people who end up joining.

Except for being an amazing pool for finding your co-founder or your next founding member, it’s also a great place to learn about how others approach Design/Engineering/Product, exchange notes, and grow your skills in your domain of expertise.

#4 Specific goals

“My current focus is fundraising/looking for a co-founder/hiring first employees — is On Deck the right thing for me?”

Every fellow has her own goals and expectations from the program. The most common ones are:

  1. Finding a co-founder — each cohort has ~150 fellows, with further access to previous cohorts’ fellows. Moreover, On Deck shares with its members a great playbook to help structure the co-founder dating process.
  2. Fundraising — for those who are in fundraising mode, the Slack and On Deck Directory contain numerous tips and templates. On Deck also has its own network of VCs and angels, as well as specific programs for both. These provide unprecedented access to capital, shortening the time it takes to close a funding round.
  3. Support network — starting a company is a rough journey. For many, the On Deck community is first about supporting one another: from being a sounding board on professional matters to personal ones such as celebrating a recent win or venting out a failure.

What else can you expect to gain?

  • Content exploration — if you’re passionate about a topic, e.g. “Dev tools for AI teams’’, you might find others sharing a similar passion, having the option to collaborate on a side project or have joint brainstorming sessions. I had many interesting chats around AI Product Management and the intersection of AI<>Healthcare which formed into a recurring event with several other fellows.
  • Serendipity — helping others is a core value at On Deck. This community thrives because it is driven by a spirit of service to others. Be generous with your time, knowledge, and support. Karma has a way of finding its way back.

A word for non-U.S folks

“What about time-zone differences?”

On Deck gradually scales into more geographies and therefore curates experiences accordingly in the form of sessions being held in an EU-friendly timezone. Regardless, I’d encourage also joining sessions that are in a U.S timezone should you find them beneficial. Last, keep your evening slots free for potential 1:1s w/ U.S-based fellows.

“Are there enough fellows in [country_name] for me to find a co-founder?”

Finding a co-founder as an international fellow is a lot easier than it used to be as international cohorts are becoming increasingly popular. Also, On Deck has a built-in virality, hence spreading the word about the co-founder you’re looking for can manifest in an introduction with a non-On Deck fellow.

Nevertheless, and though it’s hard to appreciate it today, having connections to companies and fellows from different countries can be extremely valuable in the future for both yourself and your venture.

Final words

Being part of a curated group has proven itself again and again and became the norm with examples such as the Thiel Foundation, Pioneer, and Y Combinator.

It does come with a price in the form of time and money commitments, but more often than not, these investments are ones that can pay off big time and even become a competitive advantage of their own.

If you play your cards right, joining On Deck might become the best decision you’ve recently made.

Engineer->Product->Entrepreneur. Working in the intersection of healthcare and applied AI

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