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July 03, 2018

Interviewing via video conference

I want to share some thoughts I’ve had over the past month as Chris and I have interviewed candidates for our next Techstars Adelaide accelerator program.  We talked to many great founders about some really interesting ideas, but we also saw a lot of things that could have been improved in the interview process.  Here is a list of things to consider if you have to do an interview or even a sales call via video.
Let’s start with the basics - you need a high-speed internet connection.  If you don’t have it at home or in your workspace, take the time to find a place with reliable internet, otherwise, we are going to see frozen video and we will have trouble hearing you.  This is really important.  If we can’t hear you, or you can’t hear us, nothing else matters.
Think about the room you are in and what we will see from our side.  The best teams called in from a lab or a workshop.  Calling in from a coworking space or even your home office is OK, but not if we are getting distracted by lots of people walking around behind you.  If you are at home, please find someone to mind the dogs and family.  We love dogs and family, but if either of us is distracted by them, you aren’t going to come off as well as you could.
Make sure you look at your camera lens at least some of the time. That is the only time we really feel like you are talking to us directly.  The worst look is for you to be constantly looking over your laptop screen, scanning everyone who comes into your coworking space, making it look like we are really the distraction in the room.
If you must call in from your mobile phone, don’t walk around while you talk.  We appreciate that you are busy, and some of our best calls came from founders who were outside or in their cars, but don’t pace around while you talk.  We nearly got dizzy from one call, and again, look at your camera occasionally.
You should also be looking at our video occasionally for signs that we want to interrupt or perhaps that we’ve even stopped listening.  We don't do that very often, but if you just keep talking without a break it makes it hard for us to get through all of our questions.  It’s tough to break in if you don’t pause occasionally, and you need to see if we have follow-up questions or if perhaps you aren’t even answering the right question.
If you are working on hardware, show it to us.  Then it’s OK to get up and walk around.  One of our best calls was with a founder building a new type of sensor.  When we asked if the sensor could be used with aircraft, he stood up, panned the camera around and showed us the aircraft fuselage he and his team built in the workshop for testing!  We were very surprised, and very impressed.  Even a 3D printed model will help us understand what you want to build, just don’t try to pass it off as the real deal if it is just a model.  On the other hand, another founder showed us what we thought was a model, and it was only later that we realised it was actually a working version of the product so it goes both ways.
Be ready to talk as soon as your time arrives, and don’t wait until then to find out that you need to download and test a video conference client.  We understand technical problems happen, and we have backup plans.  Things happen, and we get it, but try to be on time and be prepared, and if you can’t, then let us know as soon as you realise you won’t be on time.  If we think the call isn’t important to you, it won’t be important to us.
Now for some bonus tips for applying to an accelerator, incubator or any other startup program.
If you are a startup, we get that you are early stage, but please get a domain and an email address.  At the very least put a signature in your email with your name and company name.  I receive lots of emails and it slows me down and doesn’t give a good impression if I have to figure out who [email protected] is before I can answer.  I also appreciate it if the subject line is something like “News and pitch deck from Mycompany” rather than a reply to one of my own mass emails like “Re: congratulations on making it to the top 80”.  You want to stand out from the top 80 and it begins right here.
If you have to fill out an application, do a good job, please.  Unanswered questions or answered questions that didn’t show much thought will hurt you.  If we ask, “Why are you applying?” don’t answer “Because we need the money.”  Also don’t run on and on with all the details about your company in the first answer.  It’s a balance.
Be sure and update your LinkedIn profile with your new company unless you really are in stealth mode. Telling me you are working full time on the business and then having it not show up when I start looking around doesn’t feel right.
Don’t claim to be bigger or better than you really are.  If you make a claim, we just might see if we can verify it.  I only work with people I trust.
If the application process allows you to upload a photo of yourself, strongly consider doing it.  We’re not profiling you but it does help us keep everyone straight in our minds as we talk to many founders.  At least put up an avatar so we can remember you.
Ask if you can send more information outside of the application.  We are happy to learn more about your company and while we may not answer every single email and we don’t want you spamming us, it does help us get to know you and your product.
In our process, we ask for a video of your team, and while we don’t expect great production values, we do hope you will let everyone at least say hello and show some of your team’s character.  Have a bit of fun with it.  We are trying to get a feel for who you are and if we would like to work with you.
Remember you are not out of the running until the program starts without you.  Keep showing you are interested and ready to participate right up until the end, because things happen and you might get your chance to join when someone else drops out or doesn’t get through due diligence.  And speaking of due diligence, if there is anything negative that might show up you want to come clean about it before due diligence.  If you wait for us to find it, it won’t be as good as if you take us aside and explain a youthful mistake or a failure you have learned from.
Last year I encouraged a company to apply to our program just for the experience of applying because we ask good questions and I thought it would be good practice for them.  It turns out they did great and got into the program and are now doing fantastic.  I hope this helps you get into your program!

July 3, 2018 in Entrepreneurship | Permalink