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Zen, and the art of Hearing “No”


Zen, and the art of Hearing “No”

by Dilyan Dimitrov, founder at Eleven Accelerator Venture Fund

RejectedIn Eleven, we work in cycles. Every few months we open a new application window, review a few hundred applications, interview, meet, assess, and select 10 to 15 companies to join our programme. And before we start again, we try to give meaningful feedback to all remaining few hundred applicants. We do this, because we would love to see these people move up the learning curve and try again next time – actually we have seen startups reapply and get selected. And our advice counts, because after seeing 1,500 applications, interviewing 500 teams and sitting through that many pitches, we have some idea of what is going on.

Generally, the reactions (if any) to our feedback letters fall into one of two categories: a “thank you for your feedback, it makes sense and we will consider it in deciding what to do next” or “you may have misinterpreted our application, and here is why”, the latter usually followed by a long list of things we got wrong (come on, guys, why did you not explain all that in the first place). However, the reason this is one of the least fun jobs in running an accelerator are the few cases where the “you got us wrong” thread escalates quickly to a random version of “you are stupid and your momma is fat” kind of argument. In an attempt to avoid such scenarios as much as possible, please consider our perspective on rejections (and please, note, we don’t like this any more than you do, it is part of the process).


Don’t get me wrong, applying is totally worth it, and getting in is the best thing that can happen to your startup, so nothing should stop you from applying; simply brace for the worst and hope for the best.

The chances that you will not get selected are much bigger than the chance of getting in. From a purely statistical point of view, we have funded less than 3% of all applicants. There are ways to improve your chances, and you can read about it here and here, among many other available resources. Be prepared that you may not get in. We like confidence, and it is good for any startup, but trust me on this one, cockiness is not.


It hurts me to say this one (it is a lot of work), but if you are not selected, ask for feedback. We will send you a few paragraphs anyhow, but if you disagree, or if you want to find out more, ask us. And please, understand, while we try to be very candid and open, sometimes, when we give feedback we try to do what employers do with their “We believe you are overqualified for this job” rejections – we try to be nice, not necessarily honest.

What is more, asking feedback will show us you care – and that your project was not one of the ones started just so it gets funded, but it was something you believe in, and you will pursue your goal no matter what we decide.


One thing I learnt during my near 20 years of professional life – if you are in a room with more than two people, and you think you are the smartest one in there, you are probably wrong. I am not saying I am very smart, don’t get me wrong, I learned to live by this rule the hard way. Simply, when we are on different opinion, give yourself five minutes to consider the opportunity of NOT being right.


There are several things you can do after that, some of them smarter than other. One thing you can do is to send us hate mail – the “yo momma” kind of thing – and if you are a single founder the only effect is that we know you a little better (and maybe we get an urge to write this blog post). If you applied as a team, though, note that the email you just sent as an individual was on behalf of the entire team, and if the other guys ever decide to apply again, it may fire back.

Another path to walk is, to ignore us and steam ahead with your project. If you do that, we will be genuinely impressed! And you can always come back and rub your success in our noses, showing us what suckers we have been for not selecting you.

Finally, you can research, test, pivot, launch MVPs, speak with clients, get data, pivot some more, validate, and come back next time. We run quarterly cycles – you have three to four months between each one – enough time improve and reapply, and if you did your homework well, the chances of getting in will inevitably improve.

We admire each and every single team member in the projects that apply for Eleven – it takes courage to even remotely consider the consequences of quitting your day job and starting your own company. What takes more courage, though, is to keep going after the first hardships. After all, as Oliver Goldsmith said, Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.

Plese, share with us what would you expect at the end of your application process to an accelerator, if you are not selected?

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