In the last few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about applications while applying to a lot of different things. Just a few years ago, I sent five applications to universities, hoping that at least one of them would let me in. Four out of the five did.
Last summer, I had the privilege of being a Summer Associate at TechStars in Boulder where I worked with twelve incredibly talented young companies for three months. I applied the year before and was turned down for the same position.
I recently applied for the second class of The Bold Academy in San Francisco and I got in. I’m incredibly excited to take part in Bold’s journey to help people unlock their fullest potential!
In movies, characters going through the tense interview with a cold faculty member at a college who seemingly will decide their fate is commonplace. The university brings the character in to ask them questions and size them up before determining who gets in and who doesn’t.
Yet for me and most people I know, we never had this experience. Most of us were a set of numbers, some extracurriculars, and proof that we could articulate ourselves in some essay format.
Many other applications and their processes can be easily hacked, and that’s what I want to talk about here.
How I got into TechStars and The Bold Academy
Every year, the Summer Associate position at the TechStars Boulder program gets more and more competitive. It’s the chance to go through one of the top accelerators in the world and get an amazing education in all things startup. And the first time I applied, after the second round of interviews, I found out that I didn’t get in. I was disappointed but I came up with a plan.
I was going to meet and get to know all three of the Summer Associates for the summer of 2010, take them to coffee, develop those relationships, and let them know how badly I wanted to be in there next summer helping out and learning from the best.
I got to know Adam, Gregg and Al quite well over the next year. We developed genuine friendships and when it came time to apply for the Summer Associate position, they knew at least one of the applicants pretty damn well.
Fast forward a year and a half, I’m applying for The Bold Academy, Amber Rae’s “life accelerator.” I reached out to Amber with a few questions about the program to see if the program and I would be a good mutual fit.
Amber and I ended up jumping on Skype a few days after we first chatted on Twitter. A few weeks later we had tea at her house in Boulder the day that applications opened. I made a few suggestions about challenges that her upcoming group could take part in. After that, we had a really good conversation about figuring out your life’s purpose, past achievements and failures, and then we ate some of Amber’s delicious baked apple slices.
A few weeks and two parts of the application later, I found out that I’d been accepted into the next class of The Bold Academy.
The secret to getting into both TechStars and Bold was making myself human. So many people applied to both programs and never followed up, never attempted to make themselves more than an applicant, in the most basic form of the word. Gregg, Adam, Al, and Amber all got to know me, they all learned how genuinely interested and serious I was about the spot that I was applying for.
If I were in their position, I’m guessing that it’s a whole lot harder to deny someone you know, compared to someone that you don’t.
Go forward and stand out on everything that you apply to. Reach out to those who run programs and those who help out, make yourself human and make it known that you really want to be a part of what they’re doing. It’s undoubtedly one of the best thing you can do to hack most application processes.
And regardless of the rules that they tell you about the application, always remember: There are no rules.
How do you set yourself apart when applying to things? Let me know over on the Hacker News Discussion
If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very humbled if you followed me on Twitter.
(Photo Credit: Robin Sloan)
For years, I can’t remember loving much on the Internet. I can count on both hands the things that I’ve loved, cited repeatedly, and told people were really important.
Yesterday, I came across one of these things (which I have since experienced three more times): “Fish,” by Robin Sloan.
Fish is a meditation on what it means to love something on the Internet, a problem I’ve been thinking about for about two years now (but haven’t articulated nearly this well).
In Fish, Sloan argues that we never really look deeply into the things that we “like” or “fave,” or share online, that we merely tell others “this is something that I enjoyed” and then we move on. How weird is that, right? At the tail end of my experience with this video/article/photo/blog, “I’m done here but I’m leaving this for you.” Spend your time on it, my time with it has passed. And then we likely never return to that piece.
The Internet has done weird things to our brains. So have follower counts and the ability to see how many people clicked the link to see this blog post. Vanity pageviews, vanity shares, vanity everything.
The point of this post is about Robin Sloan and his excellent and truthful meditation he entitled “Fish.” All I’d like is for you to download it. Watch it. Experience it. I’m not sure what exact form of media it is but I really enjoyed it and I hope you do too.
I’m going to go think about what it is I believe and believe to be true.
Please, take part of your day and experience Fish. Your future self will thank your present self.
I work really well off of lists. I love to make them and I love to plow through them. Most of the tools in the To-Do list market make me depressed though. We haven’t even come close to figuring out how track and manage our lives, work and tasks effectively through software.
Some quick thoughts:
I like that in Asana I can press enter and create a new task.
I like that in Lift I have a big button to press to mark that I’ve accomplished something.
I like in Trello the Doing, To-Do, Done columns (that they’ve created but I’ve arranged in that order). Dragging something between columns feels satisfying, like a micro-manipulation of the work I’m doing.
I like the feeling of seeing a giant list of things that I’ve done that day, but separate from what I’m doing, or still have to do. Those are different things and should be in a different list, not part of the main list of things left to do but visually represented as being in a different state of action.
I like that in Well, you can add an Instagram picture as the cover of a list. It gives a list some personality which usually has absolutely none.
Clear had nice sounds and animations, giving life to all of this productivity management.
None of these tools feel tailored for me though. They feel so general and impersonal.
None, to my knowledge, let you easily export your data or import from another To-Do app. There’s no standard file format for import/export (although I’m sure CSV would work).
Maybe we need to pitch future To-Do apps for teams to use. Use it with friends. Use it for family. Join as a cluster. Social - but in the sense that my work and your work are tied together and we need to always be on the same page. When you check off an errand, I want to know. There’s a give and a take to our work. But this all needs to have personality and feel like it was built just for me.
Which To-Do apps do you love (or hate) to use? Continue this discussion over on Hacker News.
I’d also be humbled if you would follow me on Twitter.
(Photo by Craig Mod)
Our brains do this tricky thing. When they sense negative space, they fill that space with stories. And unfortunately, it seems as if the best things just appear out of thin air. So when your favorite band releases their latest album that absolutely blows you away, your brain tells itself that these guys must just have it and that the way you create things is totally different from the way that they do.
The comforting thing is, it’s not.
I love when companies like Apple release or leak prototypes of devices because you get some insight into the fact that the final product didn’t just emerge from their brains, pristine and polished. The first draft of anything came out looking chunky and ugly. And then it was crafted and sculpted into something that people eventually appreciated.
The creative process is the silent, hidden foundation that lies beneath every product. To be great creators, we must understand that the process exists and happens to everyone. And that those that we look up to go through the same steps and have the same struggles.
Long before you ever play with a new app, there’s a long line of sketches, designs, redesigns, dummy text, code written and code deleted. There are buttons that exist just to prove that something works before they’re whisked away, never to be seen again. Your favorite software started off as a bunch of ugly ducklings.
997 design comps in a shared folder,
9,695 git commits,
a bundle of notebooks full of sketches,
and dozens of photographs from launch night.
That’s what it took to create a beautiful, simple news-reading app. I doubt many first drafts made it into the final product with nearly 1,000 design comps and a bundle of notebooks full of sketches. Those guys struggled for months to build something elegant and easy to use and this is what goes into it.
It’s fun when a cross-section of someone prominent’s creative process comes out because it humanizes both them and the product. Flipboard suddenly turns into the product of a lot of good people working on a hard problem, rather than just the Flipboard app itself. Revealing the process shows that the product is the process, just at one particular stopping point.
It also shows that you can do it too. That the toils and problems that you face aren’t unique. That all creators go through the same thing.
We all struggle. We all bang our head against something that we can’t quite figure out right now.
Because we get to have these a-ha moments. And that’s the beauty of it all.
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