How to set yourself up for success at the On Deck Fellowship (ODF)

Tips and takeaways learned based on more than 100 1:1's

The Fellowship

ODF is a highly-curated group of builders and operators looking to start their next venture — from early employees of Google, Facebook, and Airbnb to successful 2nd/3rd time founders.

  1. Community-led sessions
  2. Curriculum content from external domain experts
  3. ‘Socials’ - events to get to know other ODF-ers, e.g. co-founder dating
  4. Pitch and product feedback sessions
  5. Office hours offered by other fellows
  6. On Deck Foundery Weekends/Build Weekends (On Deck’s version of a hackathon)

“Success will be determined by the diligence, proactiveness, and time one puts into helping and getting to know others”.

There are many other practical tips I wish I would have known prior to starting the program. In this article, I would outline my key takeaways which are based on over 100 1:1s, multiple group sessions, and valuable best practices shared by other cohort members.

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash

Be prepared

Putting 200 talented entrepreneurs in one group means there is a lot happening. The first couple of weeks at ODF are overwhelming — embrace it.

Set your definition of success

ODF attracts two types of entrepreneurs: the first is founders with a clear venture in mind, interested in others’ professional input while building their product or looking for a co-founder and key hires.
The second is people that are early in their exploration process, skilled, yet not exactly sure what they want to build, or who to build it with. I was part of the second group.

ODF #5 stats. Source: On Deck

Create a Calendly account

Booking 1:1s is extremely frequent and Calendly is the way to go at On Deck.

  1. Make sure your calendar is in sync and up to date to avoid double-bookings and reschedules.
  2. For a better context, I found it useful to add my blurb and public page link to the Calendly meeting description.
  3. Keep a small buffer in your schedule for meetings you WANT to extend, as sometimes you’ll end up in an interesting philosophical conversation or in a heated bounce of ideas.

Be proactive

Serendipity

ODF is a lot about supporting each other. That’s why it’s more of a community than a program.

Foundry Weekends

Foundry Weekend is On Deck’s version of a hackathon, inclusive of fellows with any skillset. Technical or non-technical. It includes fellows from all On Deck programs and cohorts.

Our hackathon project

Create meaningful connections

As the cohort progresses, you’ll compile a list of people you’d like to connect with. What’s next?

The On Deck Directory (ODD)

The On Deck Directory is the most powerful tool within the community. It’s a sort of an internal LinkedIn to filter and surface fellows who share similar interests.

The On Deck Directory search
  1. Block time to go through the Directory during the first week. It took me ~12h to screen through all 4 Founder Fellowship batches.
  2. Search for people with overlapping interests, e.g. ‘AI’, ‘Healthcare’, etc., or at a similar stage, e.g. ‘looking for a co-founder’. You can even search for fellows in other On Deck programs such as the No-Code fellowship, or the Angels fellowship — in case those pools are of more relevance.
  3. Either ‘star’ them in the Directory or copy their profile information into another sheet. I preferred the latter as it provides more flexibility with adding notes.
  4. Reach out to schedule 1:1s. You want to have meaningful chats with as many fellows as you can in the first weeks so both of you will have each other in mind as you meet others.

Before the call

Reach out
In a batch of 200 fellows, people are being reached out by many, especially as everyone is visible to thousands of previous cohorts’ fellows. Be clear with why you’d like to connect, even if it’s just for a chat.

  • Name John Doe
  • General background Business background working @ Google and Facebook, 2nd-time entrepreneur, ODF #4
  • Icebreakers Used to live in Berlin for 3y, also an engineer turned AI PM
  • How can I help? He asked for feedback about his MVP and input on his ML pipeline architecture
  • How can I be helped? Feedback on my online marketing strategy
  • Anything else? Joining his hackathon project?

During the call

Genuinely listen and echo other people’s thoughts; look for opportunities to help. For example, if the other person is looking for a technical co-founder in the Healthcare space, and you just met one two days ago — offer to make the connection.

My meeting notes template

After the call

Keep up the momentum, your next action will determine if this connection will manifest into a meaningful one. Take the time to write and share a summary of your call. By doing so, you’ll make it easier for both to follow up and support each other.

Quick hacks

  • Add the On Deck Directory as a search engine in Chrome. You’ll then be able to type od followed by a tab to search for a person’s name. Here’s a video explaining how.
  • If you’re short on time, consider joining live sessions for which you have concrete questions. Otherwise, you can watch the recordings later — I do that with 2x the speed.
  • Keep track of the people you’ve interacted with. Consider using Notion, Google Sheets, Roam Research, or any other tool for that matter. Honestly, none of them is a good solution as a personal CRM but it’s something.
  • Slack reminders are a powerful tool to avoid context switching by reminding yourself to follow up on a message you’re interested in.
  • Slack tips for big active workspaces
  • For fellows that are outside of North America — most of your calls and program sessions will be held in Pacific time, thus night time for those based in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Here are some tips to avoid cranky days.

Ending note

The On Deck Fellowship can be many things. For some, it’ll be the place where they’ve found their co-founder, for some it’ll be the network from which they’ve hired their first employees, and for others — it’ll be this amazing network of builders with the “give first” attitude.
Either way, it goes way beyond the 10-week program and I can’t wait to see how this one evolves.

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Sahar Mor

Bringing the latest in AI to the mass through writings and Github repos | aitidbits.substack.com - generative AI weekly roundup in <2 min