2020: Year in Review

Learn the playbook and pragmatic tactics for early-stage fundraising from Mike Wilner, a startup founder, advisor, and author of Oversubscribed, a book on seed fundraising.

 min read
Last Updated: 
July 5,2021
Article Category

A Tactical Guide to Seed Fundraising

Learn the playbook and pragmatic tactics for early-stage fundraising from Mike Wilner, a startup founder, advisor, and author of Oversubscribed, a book on seed fundraising.

 min read
Last Updated: 
July 5,2021
Sachin Maini
Editorial and Content Lead
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Pausing to reflect

This time twelve months ago, we had just wrapped up the second Founder Fellowship ("ODF"), and opened applications for the third. On our small team, Brandon Taleisnik (@btaleisnik) was a one-man band running ODF. COVID had yet to appear on most people's radars.

Adapting to the pandemic

In early March, everything changed. After agonising over the decision for days, we made the difficult (and at the time controversial) call to cancel the ODF3 kick-off retreat, and delay programming a month until the threat had "passed.”

Battening down the hatches, we prepared for the worst. We didn't know if the community would survive. But from that all-time low, sprung a new high. The virtual "kick off retreat” struck a chord, creating an instant bond among our group of ~160 Fellows.

As the COVID crisis started to unfold, the On Deck community rallied. Fellows sprung into action, launching 50+ projects to support those in need — sourcing PPE, developing and distributing tests, and so much more. They inspire us to this day.

A bright spot

To its participants, ODF became a lifeline: a source of "serendipity" and supportive community for many, otherwise isolated during this most vulnerable stage of company building. But uncertainty is a catalyst for opportunity. New norms create new needs.

We rode that momentum into the announcement of another, totally virtual cohort. ODF4 doubled down on global + remote, and introduced a dedicated curriculum for the first time.

Introducing the On Deck Directory

With internal no-code infrastructure stretched to breaking, we pivoted the @cosign team to focus on building internal tools for the Fellowship. The On Deck Directory was born.

Investing in the new wave of builders

As Marc Andreessen declared, it "time to BUILD!" On Deck was on a mission to 10x the number of founders building world-changing companies. We heard from many experienced operators looking scale their angel investing, so we launched a program for them too.

A new narrative was emerging. ODF is for experienced talent in the earliest stages of starting companies. ODA is for experienced operators getting started as angels. But ambition manifests in many forms.

Here come the creators

The On Deck Writers Fellowship marked an entry into a new category of programs. Authors, essayists, bloggers, and newsletter writers are entrepreneurs too. No matter what you want to build, a great way to start is by building an audience.

Raising our seed round

We announced our seed round in August! Welcoming an incredible group of ~70 friends and supporters like Village Global, Data Collective, Keith Rabois, Marc Andreessen,  Chris Dixon, Balaji S. Srinivasan, Signal Fire, Bloomberg Beta, Henry Ward, Fred Ehrsam — who invested $3M to supercharge our growth.

Launching On Deck Labs

With the raise and subsequent "On Deck Labs" announcement, we opened a new chapter for On Deck — gradually pulling back the curtain on a vision of a "modern education institution.”

At On Deck Labs, we are building the operational infrastructure to run tens, and then hundreds of programs in parallel.

Going global

Not content with vertical expansion, in September we went international. We announced our expansion into Europe with the formidable Erika Batista at the helm.

Unlocking talent

The idea of "unlocking" talent is core to On Deck.

In May, we experimented with a novel "convertible ISA" — supporting talent while in transition.

In July, we announced a partnership with Savvy to provide healthcare cover while "on deck."

In September, we announced the On Deck Access Fund— a donor advised fund ("DAF") dedicated to supporting underserved talent in tech. Hundreds of thousands of donations have come in from community members and donors; with On Deck matching 1:1 up to $1M.

To take on this herculean effort, we embarked on a rapid expansion of the team. On Deck grew from 6 to 55 over the last 12 months — with another 11 who started the first week of January ’21.

To our community

It's been a crazy run, but we're still just getting started.

To everyone who has been a part of the On Deck community this year, referred a friend, hosted a session, or contributed in your own unique way— thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. It's you who make this community so special.

With Love,

The On Deck team

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