For the last few months, my Twitter & LinkedIn feeds have been flooded with posts referencing On Deck.
With so much hype and no shortage of confusing acronyms on each post (ODX, ODNC3, ODH, etc.), it's forced me to take notice.
So I dove deeper and found what I now believe to be a company primed to be the leader of startups, investing, and talent for years to come. I'll explain. One important learning from my years building communities and startups has been that network effects are the source of value creation. It's clear to me that On Deck has very strong network effects and their community, values, and mission validate it.
But why? What do they do? Why should we care?
Let's dive in.
Bundling Networks, Knowledge, & Capital
On Deck is a community of virtual fellowships where top talent/ambitious people come to connect, learn, and grow. [More on their vision]
When I first read this, I immediately questioned their definition of "talented" people. As someone who grew up overlooked and underserved, I've come to understand these words as signs from gatekeepers that where you worked, which college you went to, and who you knew would dictate your access.
As I dug deeper, I found that On Deck was in the business of expanding opportunities, not siloing them, both from a knowledge and network standpoint. Learning has become social, maybe it always was, but On Deck is perfecting the model online. Hyper-targeted, cohort-based, programs where you receive what you could at a university (knowledge, network, & capital) without the bad stuff (price, location, & time).
Network Driven Growth
Obtaining true a network effect is no small feat, but On Deck is a perfect case study of how it's done.
Earlier I referenced the acronyms (e.g. ODNC) that seem to be so prevalent across On Deck. These happen to be the programs they run—ODF: On Deck Founders, ODNC: On Deck No Code, and so on—across 24 focus areas. But they're more than just an abbreviation, they've become a status signal, signals leak information—abilities, habits, behaviors, or in this case, association—intentionally or otherwise, to everyone else. Being a part of an On Deck program meant something to them, and they want to share it.
This inherently draws eyes and attention to the network.
The CEO, Mark Booth, calls it a "market network", coined by NFX, where each community is driving the growth of the next through demand, building value over time. What I find powerful is that they build demand by focusing on the experience of current members. Planned cohorts provide predictability yet leave room to accelerate on-demand (e.g. new cohorts, an accelerator?), creating a flywheel effect: current members attracting new members.
Community Backed Accelerator
On Deck has recently announced their newest offering, an accelerator, ODX. I must say, the acronyms do make it easy.
Their model is similar to YC; ODX invests $125,000 for 7% of a startup and takes them through a customized program. What I found most valuable was their view that startups need more than capital. Their goal is to surround you with their community, providing potential customers, early collaborators, and access to talent.
As someone who's raised for a startup, this really resonated with me. The odds of success for startups are slim and it's no secret why; From fundraising to sales and marketing to hiring, the battle never ends. With the help of their program, resilient, ambitious, and a bit crazy (good crazy), founders bring their visions to life and help shape our future.
On Deck believe that "the world needs more founders" and I couldn't agree more. I believe they are in the early innings and the best is yet to come.
Entrepreneurship is in its infancy
On Deck is still a relatively small company, 200+, with an ever-growing market to serve. This excites the hell out of me. Not just for On Deck, but for entrepreneurship as a whole.
I don't think we've even scratched the surface of finding out the value we can create when people are given the network, knowledge, and capital to pursue their ideas.
What happens when we give people a chance they never had?
How much value could we unlock when we give people their shot?
Cheers to the future.
If you enjoyed this essay, give me a follow for more on startups and community:Follow @kasrakhalili