The Next Chapter: On Deck Fellowship

 min read
April 30, 2019
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Three years ago this month, On Deck was first introduced to the world with a post on Product Hunt:

Being “on deck” — the state of being between things or thinking of moving on — can be a time filled with uncertainty. Especially if searching in secret, it’s not always clear where to turn first. How do I find co-founders? How do I evaluate whether my idea is any good? How will I get people to try it?

It turns out this feeling is a common one. In the days following that Product Hunt post, over 1,500 people applied to join the community, including over 500 engineers, many experienced operators and repeat founders. We learned that the best people are nearly always passively looking for their next thing, but had been lacking opportunities to connect with one another and share ideas. These people need to get in a room and start talking. On Deck created the room.

Throughout 2017 and 2018 the original, informal San Francisco-based dinner series quickly evolved into a thriving global community, with volunteers stepping up to host in NYC, Boston, LA, Tel Aviv, London, and beyond.

To date more than 3,000 On Deck attendees have connected with co-founders, collaborators, and early hires in 24 cities around the world — and helped countless others by making introductions, brainstorming ideas, and providing a sounding board throughout the process of starting up.

And like many of those in our community, we are just getting started…

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Introducing the On Deck Fellowship:

Conventional wisdom says founders should have known each other or worked together to build a valuable company. We believe this to be false — that founders can meet randomly or even be matched, and go on to build great things.

But sometimes, a few hours over dinner just isn’t enough.

Starting May 31st*, we’re changing how On Deck operates, right to the core.

[*EDIT: we’ve pushed the Fellowship kick off back to June 15 due to larger than expected application volume]

We’re inviting up to 100 of the very highest potential individuals from the broader On Deck community to join an 8-week cohort. The program consists of:

  • Fellowship ‘kick-off’ retreat, in an amazing venue in the City.
  • Weekly dinners, each featuring Fellowship members and invited guests speaking about their experiences founding and scaling startups in enterprise, consumer, crypto/fintech, life-sciences, and more
  • Weekly ‘co-working jams’ — hosted with industry partners in enterprise, consumer, and crypto/fintech sectors, helping you understand the unique challenges and opportunities of operating in their respective sectors.
  • An additional series of events for female founders, including private online community.
  • Regular 1:1 introductions to others within the Fellowship cohort and broader On Deck community.

Why should I do this?

On Deck’s ultimate goal is to help more people build better companies, through forming stronger, better aligned teams; fast-tracking early hires; and helping founders construct a community around them at the very earliest stages. To this end, there are only two rules:

1) Everything is confidential — the identities of participants are held in confidence among the group, creating a secure and supportive environment for those who haven’t yet made the leap to move on from current roles/companies

2) Come with a spirit of service — think about how you can give value to others without expecting anything in return.

Do you want in? Apply here.

Or do you know someone amazing who might be interested? Refer them here.

Are you a VC or other firm interested in sponsoring one of our dinners or co-working days? Contact david [at] for details.

UPDATE: Frequently asked questions:

1. Does it cost to participate in the Fellowship?

Yes.While many On Deck events have historically been free to attend, the Fellowship is a bit more operationally intensive. Charging for participation allows us to keep the wheels turning, maintain alignment with Fellows (vs. serving the motives of sponsors and third parties), and provide a lot more value over and above the standard one-off events.

We also believe that each participant having some “skin in the game” encourages them to make the most out of their investment; to be present and engaged with the community and opportunities that come their way.

Our goal is to make the Fellowship accessible to the absolute best talent around, we’re excited to be able to offer scholarships to those who may not have the means.

2. Do I have to be in San Francisco to join?

No — amazing talent is everywhere. However, we believe the opportunity to connect face-to-face and be offline together is crucial. So we prefer you are able to attend the kick-off event (June 15th), and would benefit from attending other events too. In the future, we hope to be able to provide some assistance to help exceptional people to join us.

3. How do you assess candidates?

We’ve developed a framework for assessing candidates on at least one of the following:

  1. 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.
  2. Technical excellence | Has advanced degree and/or recognized as a research leader within applicable technology fields (e.g. machine learning, STEM).
  3. Product leadership | Held senior roles at notable companies, and can point to examples of products they’ve built/scaled to hundreds of thousands of people.
  4. Industry experience |Worked in X industry for Y years, and has developed and can speak to unique insights or unfair advantage they possess vs. all others.

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