Almost two years ago, I was sitting in my office on a cold rainy morning; it was the kind of day that makes you want to stay in bed. Surrounded by empty food containers from my “working lunch” and stacks of papers, I was wading through bookkeeping tasks and other unpleasant items on my checklist.
As I looked up from grumbling to myself about a missing invoice, I saw the notification from the accelerator to which I had applied two months earlier roll down the right corner of my laptop screen.
I froze. Applying to this accelerator felt a bit like a Hail Mary — we didn’t think we had a shot, but we desperately needed the money, network, and mentorship to take our business to the next level. And if we didn’t get in…well, I didn’t have much of a plan. Our team really needed this win, and I needed the validation.
Clumsily, I pushed aside cold lunch scraps and paper piles to slide my computer towards me and open my inbox. I tried to avoid reading the preview text in the email so I wouldn’t ruin it for myself.
After seeing the pleasantries of the introduction, I skipped straight to the part that I didn’t want to see:
“Unfortunately, you weren’t selected for our program.”
A giant sigh of disappointment forced its way through my chest and I choked back a small sob. Closing the laptop, I slumped in my chair and texted my husband, “Can we grab a drink and lunch? I’m having a rough day.”
Now, as the Program Director of Founder Gym, this experience weighs heavy in my mind.
Every time we welcome another group of founders into the cohort, that temporary joy is subdued by the fact that there are many more applicants who will receive a different notice. One similar to the one I received two years ago: “You have not been admitted.”
When you spend your precious time and energy completing an application, hearing “No” feels like hearing “You’re not good enough.” or “Your business isn’t good enough.” (Tweet this)
To be honest, thinking about sending rejection emails kept me up many nights during the application review process. Instead of scrolling through my usual Buzzfeed article at 3:00 am, I started writing down ways that Founder Gym applicants could improve their applications, and thus, their likelihood of being accepted.
Before I knew it, this bullet point list of application advice stored on my phone turned into something that our team thought we should share to help our community. And my favorite part about it? This list is not exclusive to a Founder Gym cohort application; it can actually help you submit a better application for any program.
So, here it is!
My Top 5 Tips for Writing a Strong Founder Gym Cohort Application
1. Determine if the program is a good fit for you.
Before you apply to Founder Gym, read about it. Visit our website and review the program details. Check the topic and ask, “Is this a good fit for me based on my company’s stage and goals?” Review graduate testimonials. Read our articles on Medium. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram. Make sure the dates of the program are not in the middle of any major personal or professional events that would prevent you from participating fully.
If you’re still not sure, feel free to email us and ask questions. We’re always here to help!
2. Create a draft of your application outside of the application form.
DO.NOT.SUBMIT.YOUR.FIRST.DRAFT. I repeat. DO.NOT.SUBMIT.YOUR.FIRST.DRAFT. (Tweet this) Instead, use Google Docs or some other collaborative writing tool to compile your first set of responses. Simply copy the questions from the application into your separate document and draft your answers. And don’t get caught slipping with grammar mistakes; use a tool like Grammarly to make sure it’s as perfect as possible before anyone else sees it. I love this strategy for three reasons. First, you don’t have to worry about accidentally clicking submit when your application isn’t done. Second, you can get direct feedback on your application from others by simply sharing it with them (see below for more on this topic). Third, you have time to stew on answers and can easily make changes before you submit your final copy.
When it’s time, pull up the official application on our website and drop in your well-thought out, peer-reviewed answers into each appropriate field. This way, when you submit it, you can rest assured you’ve done your very best work!
3. Be specific!
Successful applicants to Founder Gym provide clear, inspiring, and detailed evidence when they answer questions. For example, when writing your “distance-traveled” story, it’s important that you focus on a clear series of events that demonstrate how you grew and overcame challenges in your life.
Another place in the application where you should be specific is when you describe how, if admitted into the Founder Gym Cohort, you can help your cohort peers. Think of this section as an opportunity to go wild and describe your superpowers; those aspects of yourself that truly set you apart from everyone else. Are you finance wizard who can pull together a profit and loss statement like it’s nobody’s business? Can you train your peers on how to create their first sales funnels and track conversation rates? Shout it out! We want to know what you can bring to the community to ensure #WeAllGoUpTogether.
4. Get feedback from others before you submit it.
Yes, I covered this above, but it honestly needs its own section. It really is that important. Before you submit your application, ask others to read it! Have them check your grammar, spelling, and click on any and all links you are including. A big no-no is submitting an application full of errors. After all, if you don’t care enough to submit a high-quality application, what’s going to make anyone think you care enough to build a high-quality company? (Tweet this) Also, have your people audit your digital presence. For instance, when someone searches your name online, what shows up? On LinkedIn, are your best experiences and skills on full display? On Twitter, are you tweeting about celebrity gossip or your successful startup?
5. Give yourself time.
When you visit the Founder Gym website and see the application deadline, create several calendar reminders so you don’t forget! Then, carve out time over a week or two to complete your application. It’s a great way to train yourself to be as disciplined as you need to be for the FG cohort experience. With 10 to 15 hours of training and exercises during the cohort, discipline is a muscle you can start strengthening during the application process!
It’s always hard to hear that you’ve not been accepted into a program. However, every rejection is an opportunity to assess your decisions, your path, and your priorities. What really needs to happen so you can get to the next level? (Tweet this)
Remember my story about the accelerator? Well, after lunch (and a cider or two), I checked in with my husband and realized that it was time to make some tough decisions about the business. Decisions I had previously avoided; that was until I received the rejection email from the accelerator. Had I been accepted on the first try, I would have continued on the same path. Instead, the rejection notice was a wake-up call. It offered me the chance to truly reflect on what I could be doing better, both in my application and my business, overall.
If you are one of the many founders who was not accepted into Founder Gym’s Cohort, we encourage you to apply again. We are eager to see how you handle adversity, grow from the experience, and come back even stronger next time.
There are many stories of applicants who just were not ready but applied again and were later accepted. We’ve shared some of those stories below, but you can find more examples in our article “Great Founders Eat Rejection for Breakfast.”
“I remember when I didn’t get accepted, I almost shed tears. But, looking back, I realize I was accepted at the right time, with the right companies to go on this journey with! So, I would say, DONT GIVE UP!!! If this is what you want, whatever caused you to apply in the first place, it still rings true today! One of THE best decisions I made was to apply again. What I learned was invaluable. And the support… man the support! When I tell you I love the other founders in Founders Gym… man, I love them and miss our sessions. I really could go on and on, but YES apply again!”
“I applied for the first Founder Gym cohort but was not accepted. I am glad I chose to apply again for the second cohort because it was actually a much better point in the trajectory of my company for me to be a part of the program. I was able to really dedicate the time that was needed to fully benefit from the experience.”
“I applied to the first cohort of Founder Gym, and I got rejected. I was confused and upset because I thought we deserved a spot in the cohort. It would have been easy to say, “F*** FG,” but I had to remind myself, other people are out here grinding too. I had to truly humble myself, and remember why I started my business. I used the time between applications to focus more on my business, and cultivate a healthier mindset of where I needed my business and mental state to be. I saw applications were open for cohort 2, and I applied with no expectation, but I knew my company had grown, and I mentally matured as a founder. When I got accepted I was excited, yet grounded. I knew I was entering this cohort with heavy hitters, and I had to get my game up to both keep up and stand out. I say all that to say, rejection does not mean permanent denial. If this is what you want to do, keep applying. As a founder rejection is part of the game and prepares you for greater things.”
See. They didn’t give up. And neither should you. (Tweet this)
Now, ask yourself:
“What can I do today to make sure I’m ready to submit a winning application next time?”
We are accepting applications for our next FG Cohorts. If you want to level up your fundraising skills and join a global network of top founders, apply by the next deadline.
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