What we’re looking for


You’ve probably read that part of the secret sauce at Southwest Airlines is selection of markets. If a city has a lot of snow, or fog, or an old, crowded, high-traffic airport, they skip it – that’s too many factors that have the potential to interfere with their model, which calls for planes to be turned over in 35 minutes rather than the industry-standard 90 minutes.

We think of our Upstarts in the same way. For us, the right startups will enter our program with a combination of factors that will enable our team to refine and launch the company quickly.

Here’s what we are looking for (at the highest possible level):

A Business

At Upstart Labs, we’re investing in businesses – not just products and entrepreneurs. If you can’t (yet) articulate your revenue model, it’s time to hang back for a few months and get that sorted out. Having a customer or two lined up is a plus. Not all VCs and startup incubators will ask you to be able to demonstrate how you plan to make money – there are plenty of firms willing to fund the development of a killer product in the hopes that a business model will follow. That isn’t our model.


If you aren’t taking your business prospects seriously, why on earth would we? This doesn’t necessarily mean that we expect you to quit your day job before you first pitch your idea to us – having a “real” job that gives you the flexibility to hack in your spare time is an excellent way to bootstrap your V1. One of the reasons why we’re focused on technology startups is the low cost of entry. Technical founders reduce that startup cost even further, and help us accelerate time to launch – we strongly prefer startups with a technical founder. Regardless of the skill set of the founder(s), acceleration only truly happens when there is commitment to the project. You will be expected to be committed to your new business full-time once you enter our program (even if you haven’t quit that day job in advance of being accepted, you’ll need to before you become an Upstart).


We’re looking for entrepreneurs that are resourceful. One of the best ways to demonstrate resourcefulness is to package up your business (the combination of your product, your revenue model and yourself) in a way that makes you look like “a real company.” Start with the way you look. If you don’t have a friend who is a graphic designer and willing to help you out, you can source a decent logo at 99designs.com for a few hundred dollars. Turn your new logo into business cards for under $20 at uvcards.com. Make a super-professional web site yourself (seriously, you can do this) with Squarespace. And, for the love of Pete, have someone who spells well flip through your deck before you start shopping yourself around. One “you’re” instead of “your” can shut down an audience’s brain to the rest of your pitch.

A Deck

Speaking of pitch decks, we expect you to have one when you meet with us. Guy Kawasaki wrote what’s still probably the best advice on tech startup pitch decks more than six years ago – if you haven’t read it yet, please do so now (here is another nice reformatting of his advice). You may think you’re “keeping things casual” when you come in without a deck, but keep in mind – we’re betting on your ability to sell your company to investors along with our bet on your business. Take the opportunity to show us what you can do.

Send us a note when you’re ready to come in – we’re looking forward to seeing your deck.


Upstart Labs partners with early-stage companies and their investors to build sustainable businesses.

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