I’ve won plenty—but lost even more. Here are some of the mistakes I made so that you can laugh at me and try to avoid repeating them.
Requested a budget increase. Grantor felt stabbed in the back.
In the due diligence meeting the funder said of the 18 companies that had reached due diligence before they had funded 16. It would really be hard to lose this grant. After the call the entrepreneur said they could really do a lot if we doubled the budget. I didn’t see any issue with that since we would more than double the impact. After receiving our updated budget the funder said they didn’t feel comfortable with the budget increase. Then they ghosted. And that’s how I lost $500k.
Failed to hit the final submit button.
When I followed up 6 months later to see why we hadn’t heard back the funder said they hadn’t received our application—we had never hit the final submit button.
Now a writer's job is not done until they take a screenshot of the confirmation page
This helped us 2 years later when a grantor said they hadn’t received our application. We showed them the screenshot and they realized it was their error. We were ultimately awarded the grant.
No local experience
When I first started my work in Africa I pitched at a business plan competition with no previous experience setting foot on the continent. And, big surprise, won nothing.
But the enthusiasm was enough, apparently, and someone in the audience anonymously gave me $5k.
Insufficient Risk Analysis.
We scored 4 out of 10 on the risk assessment section of the grant due to listing only 5 risks which perhaps dragged our application down and out of contention.
Wrong color skin.
Awarded the grant initially but the funder wanted to fund Africans (in an email they accidentally cc’d me on) and the foreign born entrepreneur was ultimately rejected.
Double check previous investees to see if they are all black/women and adjust accordingly.
No track record
We deserved to lose that one.
Now we make sure the entrepreneur at least has a successful pilot of 6 months and/or 50 users before applying
No actual real plan to implement.
We deserved to lose that one, too.
At least submit a 3-phase plan to implement in the concept note.
Applied from a manufacturer instead of a retailer.
The funder wanted money to go to a company directly in contact with the end user.
Write grants for organizations that are close to the action as possible.
Wasn’t able to close the entrepreneur.
I couldn’t convince the entrepreneur that we had a good chance of winning even though it was almost a sure thing: the entrepreneur was a perfect fit and it was not a competitive grant. They didn’t apply on their own either. Everyone lost.
I think the entrepreneur’s heart wasn’t in the game anymore. I heard a year later they had wound down their biz.
More competitive than Harvard.
Applied to a prize where there would be 5 winners. Later, I discovered there were 2,750 applicants. Thus no matter how good our application was we were unlikely to win.
We don’t apply there anymore.
During due diligence for funding that was already allocated to us, the entrepreneur took 3 months to get detailed quotes to put our final budget together. The funder pushed us to submit quickly but by the time we sent in the final budget, the funder had run out of funds to disburse.
Already have a detailed budget with quotations before applying.
Entrepreneur failed to draw down on the money.
After they won $120k, the entrepreneur just never made use of it because they needed certain marketing skills which they didn’t have.
We planned to submit earlier but the co-applicant partners kept delaying their parts of the submission. Finally we were submitting 1 hour before the deadline and the funder’s system kept crashing due to the load. We couldn’t submit before the deadline. We were a favorite to win but the funder said rules are rules and we were disqualified.
Submit the day before the deadline.
I hope that helped and made you laugh.
Do you know someone who would find these failures cathartic? Please share with them.