We launched Fight the Virus Challenge four weeks ago. Our deadline was tight — we gave ourselves three weeks to promote, review applications, interview and choose founders for our program. This was totally unreasonable but we were used to sprinting and suffering a bit in the process...
Gadi and I spent the first week spreading the word. We used our proven channels — our mentors and friends and founder communities like Elpha, Product Hunt and Indie Hackers. Radu from helpwtihcovid (organization we love) and his team reached out and shared a list of companies best fit for our program. Fireside chat speakers and mentors who helped us in our previous batches generously posted about our challenge on their Twitter and LinkedIn. Strangers and friends came together to help us.
Then applications started rolling in. Two days in, we passed our previous record of 300 applications. By the end of the week, we got over 2,500 applications. We hadn't planned for this. We were screwed (in a good way).
We gave ourselves just one weekend to review applications and choose companies to interview. We're a 2.5 person team and reviewing thousands of applications over a weekend was impossible, stupid and unreasonable. But we tried anyway... until Colin, Stefan and Nick jumped in to review applications when we couldn't handle the load.
We concurrently reached out to biotech, medicine, robotics experts to help us interview founders working on ideas we didn't have expertise in. Startup founders, doctors and scientists — John Waldeisen, Holly Liu, Paul Sawaya, Patrick Lee, Ryan Witt, Chiu Chau, Sasha Targ, Kathryn Armstrong Loving, Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, Daniel Ha, Colin Barceloux and Leo Ferreira — joined to interview founders (often with a 10 hour notice) without a moment's hesitation to help us review companies. We seriously couldn't have done this without them.
We had 186 interviews, back to back, from 10am to 7pm, each 15 minutes, for a week. When my mom asked what I'd been up to, I sent her this picture:
(I swear, I'm okay.)
Our process was far from perfect. We had to delay our deadline for interviews so we had more time to review applications — then everything else got pushed back. Emails were stacking up as we raced the clock. We even had to take off a random Tuesday to get our shit together.
There were many mornings I wanted to sleep in. There were Calendly accidents and Zoom hiccups. We were building while everything around was on fire. But it all worked out in the end — founders understood our ridiculous schedule.
What we were doing though wasn't nearly as hard as what some founders we met were doing. They were building buzz cut robots, racing cars for kids to learn science, a job search platform for students who lost their internships and affordable ventilators built by 100+ part-time volunteers. Some founders had to pivot 180 because they suddenly lost all their customers. One founder pivoted in four days from a successful events business to selling gift boxes of local goods so that he didn't have to let go of any of his employees.
After 186 interviews, we're finally "done" and we'll call founders we select for the program today. The quality of applicants for this program really blew our minds and we're sad that we can't fund more companies.
It hasn't really hit us that this program's about to start next Monday and now we have to figure that part out. Can we make our online XX experience as good as our offline XX experience? One thing I know for sure is that our team could pull off anything now :)
Thank you Gadi, Colin, Nick and Stefan for staying up late and waking up early to read hundreds of applications and interview founders at a moment's notice.
Thank you John, Holly, Paul, Patrick, Ryan, Chiu, Sasha, Kathryn, Daniel and Leo for being the experts that we are not, asking tough questions and giving thoughtful feedback.
I'll leave you with this --
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
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