Applications Open: On Deck Fellowship #3 🌎

 min read
December 17, 2019
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Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring On Deck alums Ming Lu and Vik Duggal. If you’re an early-stage founder, angel investor, or exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs - you’ll be in great company.

Note: If you’re an early-stage founder anywhere from pre-idea through pre-seed, consider applying to On Deck Founders.

Note: This article is adapted from a live discussion for the On Deck community featuring Josefin Graebe. If you’re an early-stage founder, scaling founder, or senior exec interested in joining our community, consider applying to one of our programs.

This article is the first in our annual series Year in Preview.  In the 4 years since we launched the On Deck Founders program, we’ve seen +1000 companies get started and raise over $2B in funding.

Applications to the March 2020 Cohort are now open

The scope of what On Deck Fellows have achieved in the past 6 months is nothing short of phenomenal.

In just six months, around three hundred Fellows have formed nearly 80 startups, and gone on to raise over $23M of cumulative pre-seed funding from investors including Founders Fund, Coatue, Village Global, Collaborative Fund, Bedrock, Longevity Fund, and more.

We say On Deck is the first place top talent looks when thinking about starting or joining a startup.

Today, On Deck alumni are working on challenges from lending infrastructure for emerging markets, to detecting genetic defects in embryos, to building a bank, building infrastructure for donations and personal finance, logistics tools for food services, and so much more. We’ve also seen no fewer than five Fellows launch their own venture capital funds, and several more taking seats on other rocket-ships. And mark our words, the best is yet to come…

“On Deck is the first place top talent looks when thinking about starting or joining a startup.”

The next great connective force in tech

We live in unprecedented times. We know that:

  • many solutions to challenges faced by our planet and species are deeply rooted in technology.
  • All great technology companies start as startups.

But we also know that most startups have partially or poorly formed founding teams, fail to identify meaningful problems to solve, or never even get off the start line… this “opportunity cost” of wasted human potential is immense.

We believe anyone can learn to (no)code and build great products, anywhere in the world. But while talent is everywhere… opportunity is not. The scarcity has shifted to:

  • Access to talent — conventional wisdom holds that founders should know each other or have worked together prior to starting a startup. We believe this to be false: founders can be matched, or meet randomly — and we engineer this serendipity at On Deck.
  • User attention and distribution — in an industry driven to “build something people want”, attention has never been more scarce. Getting buy-in from a network of well connected, committed early adopters and advocates can be the difference between life or death for a new product.
On Deck is building the infrastructure to help high potential people get started as founders, and help experienced founders move faster.

Leading with intimate, highly curated community, we help form stronger founding teams, help founders accelerate through the “idea maze”, and when the time is right — hire and scale rapidly.

On to what’s next: Fellowship #3!

Today, we’re opening applications for the third On Deck Fellowship cohort, and announcing some big changes to how we operate.

Global + Local 🌍🏡

San Francisco is a remarkable place: the epicenter of the technology industry’s networks of capital and influence, and ground zero for many of its breakout success stories.

But as the rent keeps climbing, and infrastructure for remote teams keeps getting better, times are changing. Today, we believe it has never been more important to be deeply connected in San Francisco, but never less important to actually build your company here.

“It has never been more important to be deeply connected in San Francisco, but never less important to actually build your company here.”

The first Fellowship was an extension of the On Deck community over the three years prior: centered on San Francisco, with a focus on offline connections and the serendipity of being in the room with great people. Our motto was literally “get the right people in the room and get out of the way.

When we opened our second cohort to include a talented group of ~70 Fellows in NYC, our community was thrust into the digital domain. The effect was mind-blowing: with 2,000–5,000 Slack messages sent every day between Fellows & alumni, 85% of whom are active daily, many rank the vibrant online community as the most valuable part of their On Deck experience — albeit one underpinned by the offline relationships formed during bi-coastal kick-off retreats and small, intimate dinners over the eight weeks.

With the third cohort, we’re inviting up to 60 Fellows from around the world to join 100–120 based in San Francisco.

We already know many of the former group: deeply experienced, repeat founders from around the U.S. and as far afield as London, Tel Aviv, Tokyo and New Zealand. We’re excited to meet many more, to learn from their diverse backgrounds, cultures, and insights into the most important problems we can help them solve around the world.

Applications are open to the best talent, anywhere.

The magic of getting offline 🛬☕️🏡

Staying true to On Deck’s core ethos — we believe there’s no substitute for getting offline with great people.

We'll spark things off with an overnight kick off retreat in early March, carefully designed to make sure every Fellow can unplug, connect, and leave with relationships including at least 10 “strong ties” and 75 “loose ties “ — your nodes into the broader On Deck network.

In addition, we ask that global Fellows commit to spending as much time in San Francisco as they can during the 8-week program. You will get the most value from participation if you take this an opportunity to invest in building your Bay Area network, and can take those relationships back home to stay connected remotely. At a minimum, we think you should spend at least 1–3 weeks

Again: if you plan to build an impactful, global technology company, you don’t have to live in San Francisco, but you will have to visit and develop your network here. If you’re offered a place in the Fellowship but can’t make this happen for financial reasons, talk to us — we’re working on some solutions for you.

Co-working and Immersion Sessions 📚👩‍🏫📝

Fellowship cohort three will have access to a private co-working space, available for meeting and collaboration during the day; and hosting a string of intimate dinner events and expert sessions in the evenings.

Cohort two featured a who’s who of Silicon Valley, co-hosting with, and including guests from Founders Fund, First Round Capital, Village Global, Bessemer, Union Square Ventures, Coatue, Index Ventures, Bain Capital Ventures, Signalfire, and more; along with founders of breakout startups like Mercury, Codecademy, Clearbanc, Lattice, and more. Most dinners fell into one of five sector “tracks“ — enterprise, consumer, fintech, crypto, and biotech.

With guidance from our community, we’re upgrading this formatting substantially. There’ll be more of the same amazing amazing guests — but rather than sprinkling thematic events throughout the cohort, we are focusing them into 2–3 day “immersions” so that Global Fellows can time their visits with the industries and interests they most align with. The fields we’re coving so far include:

  • Biotech & longevity
  • Fintech & crypto
  • Planet+ (climate positive ventures)
  • Consumer Healthcare
  • eSports & Gaming
  • Govt/civic tech
  • Hardware & Robotics
  • Education

We’re excited to be welcoming Longevity Fund back to co-host the biotech & longevity “immersion”, and will be announcing further partners in coming weeks.

Leverage the online community 👩💻📈🌏

We’re upgrading some basic stuff, like building better forums and wikis for Fellows to share their knowledge, a more robust directory for finding and connecting with Fellows and alumni according to skills, goals, and interests, and adding a robust lineup of webinars and other resources.

We’re also rolling out “suggested connections” for each Fellow, and using the same clever machine learning to group Fellows into iterative weekly dinner groups.

Guiding Values 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦🤫🙏

On Deck lives by four core guiding values, crucial to the kick-off retreat, and well beyond.

  • Service: On Deck is bigger than any one person. For this community to thrive, it must be 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.
  • Sacredness: By default, everything is off the record. Many in this group are searching for something deeper in their lives or making big transitions, and others may not yet have publicly shared this with friends, family, or employers. Please honor that, and avoid sharing anything you learn about each other without explicit permission.
  • Respect: You are all now part of the On Deck family. You’re all embarking on what will surely be a rollercoaster of a journey — but you’re in this shared experience together. With that comes a sense of responsibility: be inclusive, stick together, and respect one another.
  • Gratitude: have a spirit of curiosity and gratitude. We’re bringing together 200 fascinating people, most of whom likely have never met each other…how amazing is that? Get to know each other, and make the cohort what you want it to be for yourself.

Continuing the theme of gratitude, thanks for reading this far — and we’re excited to have you on the journey.

Time to apply? Click here

Do you know someone we should be including? Forward them this blog.

* We have a rolling interview and offer process. Final offers given by Feb 13th, 2020.


  • We’re investing heavily in our online community to support global Fellows
  • We're opening a private workspace in San Francisco
  • We're running a full-cohort kick-off retreat
  • We're doubling down on intimate offline events for the highest potential founders and leading experts


1). How much does it cost?

The Fellowship costs $1,290 to join. This is fully inclusive of an overnight retreat, 8 weeks of co-working space in San Francisco, weekly dinners and other events, including thousands of dollars worth of value from our partners (i.e. $10k AWS credits, and discounts with 20+ products/services), and ultimately: the opportunity to build relationships with 200 high potential co-founders, early hires and lifelong collaborators.

We believe great founders don’t need funding to get started building a company. Indeed, many in our community come out of high paying senior engineering and product roles, and/or have had past successes as founders. People for whom personal runway is no problem — but giving away equity too early doesn’t make sense.

However: our goal is to make the Fellowship accessible to the absolute best talent around. For this reason, we’re excited to be able to offer scholarships, a few sponsored places, and are working on other options to provide assistance to those who have all the skills and potential, but don’t have the means.

Please apply to be considered for the Fellowship first, you’ll have the option to request financial assistance after your offer.

2). How are you incentivized to select great people?

Simple: our reputation, and a desire to uphold the trust of our community above all else.

It’s right there in the tag-line: On Deck is the first place the best talent looks when thinking about starting or joining their next venture.

The best talent doesn’t need money, and doesn’t want to give away equity before they’ve crystalized what to build, who they’re building it with, and who the right partners are.

By charging Fellows for participation, you become our customer. This sets us apart from most investors, for whom LPs are “customers” and founders their “product.”

As a Fellow considering joining On Deck, this should act as a significant reassurance: you know that you’ll be in good company, among others who are forward thinking about their ownership and capital planning.

3). I still don’t get it—why are you doing this if you don’t invest in Fellows? What’s in it for you?

Ok — you’re persistent. But we’re consistent :-).

On Deck is building the first place the best talent looks when thinking about starting or joining their next venture. If we accomplish this, it’s is an incredibly valuable asset which enables unique advantages in a number of different business lines.

The On Deck team also angel invest periodically, and our Co-Founder Erik Torenberg is also Co-Founder and Partner at Village Global—which loves backing On Deck alumni (though for the avoidance of doubt, On Deck + Village Global are unrelated).

4). Do I have to be in San Francisco to join?

No, you can be anywhere in the world, but you do have to commit to attending the kick-off retreat in early March, and to visiting San Francisco for as much of the cohort as you can.

5). How do you assess candidates?

Our screening criteria starts with: “do we think this person is fully committed to starting a company in the next 3 months”

Beyond that, we’ve developed a framework for assessing candidates on one of the following vectors:

  • Raw entrepreneurial potential and network — Previously founded or was early generalist employee of a notably successful company, and is now moving on to a 2nd/3rd/etc venture.
  • Technical excellence — Has deep technical experience (2–3 years+ as an engineer with reputable technology companies), and/or has been recognized as a research leader within applicable technology fields (e.g. machine learning, STEM).
  • Product leadership — Has held senior roles at notable companies, and can point to examples of products they’ve built/scaled to hundreds of thousands of people.
  • Industry insight — Worked in X industry for Y years, and has in doing so developed some unique insights or unfair advantage they possess vs. all others.

6). What stages are most fellows at?

We define being “on deck” as a state where one is actively exploring opportunities.

The formative stages of a company are the most critical, and they set the foundation and trajectory for the journey ahead. We want to ensure founders at this early stage have the adequate resources and infrastructure they need to succeed.

At the earliest, applicants must have intent and ability to leave their role within the next 2–3 months, in order to start working on a startup idea—whether or not they actually know what that idea is. If your time horizon is beyond 3 months, you can still get in touch and subscribe to updates for future cohorts!

At the latest, applicants can be recently funded and functional, but must be still anticipating adding a “co-founder” (in name and equity allocation).

Visit the full FAQ for more.

Applications to the March 2020 Cohort are now open

Note: If you’re an experienced professional looking to gain clarity on your next move, check out Execs On Deck

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