Introducing the Honest Marketer Scholarship Recipients

two and half months ago i was compelled to give back. this feeling manifest itself as the Honest Marketer Scholarship, to which 131 people applied.

i wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of essay length, quality, or theme, and i don’t think i could have anticipated what happened. over 100 strangers were vulnerable, genuine, and sincere. they shared their life stories, their limiting beliefs, and why they think marketing today is broken.

in total i read 56,439 words from marketers, designers, finance professionals, students, veterans, athletes, and teachers. i also reviewed these applications anonymously to eliminate possible biases.

here’s how that process worked.

open enrollment

when the application period closed my collaborator opened the Google Form responses and told me the news: 131 people applied.

i confess i was hoping for more, as the number of recipients was a function of applications (1 per 100), but i soon realized this was a vanity metric as our applicants were incredible.


in the launch announcement i outlined a few dates:

  • applications open Dec 11, 2018 through January 31, 2019
  • everyone who applies will hear from me by February 8, 2019
  • recipients will be chosen by February 22, 2019

i’m proud to report all these dates were kept.

the application form was disabled in the late evening of January 31 (Eastern time). i sent everyone a thanks + next steps message February 8. i sent followup questions to 15 of my favorite applicants on February 9/10. and those chosen were given notice + agreed to the commitment by February 22nd.

managing anonymity

a trusted collaborator assigned a UUID, ie sjk34mclsl21, to every applicant in a spreadsheet of responses. each UUID became a column beside the applicant’s email address, a kind of foreign key constraint┬áthat came in handy later.

my collaborator then hit File > Make a Copy to produce a master “backup,” and on that sheet deleted the Email Address column. next they made another copy of that sheet to remove all version control history (otherwise clicking “column deleted” would expose email addresses).

as i needed to get in touch with applicants to ask probing questions, i simply sent my collaborator a Google Doc with that applicant’s ID along with my questions or comments. they then logged into an email address we created for this scholarship and sent the questions to the applicant, along with a notice that they were reaching out on my behalf.

scoring applications

my first filtering mechanism was a question on the survey: “are you currently, or in the last 3 years have you, worked at a tech company?” anyone who answered no, or was seemingly trying to break into the tech industry through this opportunity, was given lower priority. i specifically mentioned in the announcement post that these candidates would not be a good fit.

my second technique to distinguish good applicants from bad, was to quickly skim the answer lengths to my open ended questions “what is an honest marketer?” and “why are you the best candidate for this scholarship?

while i did not recommend a minimum answer length, it became clear that anyone who only replied to those questions in 1-2 sentences was probably not serious about embracing this challenge, a 2 year program that requires a lot more reading, writing, and introspection than the application form.

my third technique was not easy, but simple: read every application, sometimes 2-3x each, and assign a score of 1-10.

after doing this for 100+ qualified applications i reverse-sorted them by score and had around 30 candidates in the 7-9 range. to be clear: no one scored a 10/10.

since 30 is still too many i took another sweep and cut that number in half by applying a rubric of philosophy that i wasn’t able to articulate until reading all the applications.

probing questions

i made a new Google Doc with the IDs of my 15 favorite candidates and 2-3 questions for each of them. my collaborator shared those questions with a ~72 hour time window to reply.

of those 15 emailed for more information, 2 did not reply and 1 replied to let us know they are withdrawing their candidacy. i won’t get into their reasons, but this was a really considerate move for the sake of other candidates.

following a similar scoring process as above, i assigned each candidate a new value of 1-10 for their probing responses only. some candidates, for example, had really strong initial applications but then information they shared in the followup led me to realize this wasn’t going to be a good fit.

finally i reverse-sorted by score once again and had a single “10” and two 8’s.

making the final call

my original plan was to grant 1 recipient per 100 applicants, up to 3 grants total.

prior to reading any applications i decided to double this to 2 recipients. and when i narrowed down those 15 favorite candidates to 3 i couldn’t help myself: i expanded the grant to 3 recipients.

here they are, now that we’ve been introduced by my collaborator:

each has agreed to have their names shared here, else i would not “dox” anyone’s personal identity.

i also think sharing names is helpful to peer applicants who can rest assured the program is underway and not a hoax.

kick off

over the next couple days i’m hosting introduction video calls with each recipient.

we’ll be spending the next 2 years deepening our marketing, development, and leadership skills, and i couldn’t be more thrilled about it. i’ve been reading their old blog posts, Googling their names, doing all the crazy ex girlfriend stuff and it’s awesome.

i’m sure all of us will share updates on our personal blogs and social media, but if you want the meta updates (perhaps quarterly?) just subscribe to this blog below and i’ll keep you in the loop.

program format

the Honest Marketer Scholarship has 4 values and 5 components.


  1. Honesty
  2. Directness
  3. Intensity
  4. Accountability

these represent my personal mantra and should be easy to assimilate into the cohort. i do everything big, and i do it boldly, for better or worse. i also talk publicly about my success and failures, and do not sugar coat feedback. we’re calling it sugar-free at HMS.


  1. Launch School, where recipients will become a full stack developer
  2. GrowthX Academy, a marketing program at which i’m the lead instructor, where recipients will become more efficient and creative at customer acquisition
  3. Book Shelf, aka an ~unlimited supply of relevant marketing and business materials shipped from my Amazon to a recipient’s front door
  4. Mentorship, via 1:1 video calls, emails, and a private Slack group between myself and the recipients
  5. Projects, apprentice-style and paid, to execute marketing and product ideas at one of my companies (Fomo, Cross Sell, Lobiloo, Fork, etc)

i’m currently finalizing a shared program calendar that will outline a specific cadence and rigor for each of the components above.

at HMS we’re building champions, and we will do whatever it takes to maintain a standard of excellence. more on this soon, likely a version-controlled “HMS Handbook” on Github or similar.

next steps

this experience has been amazing.

we’re opening up a 2nd batch of the Honest Marketer Scholarship in a few months.

stay tuned for that, and updates from our current recipients, right here on your favorite Ryan’s blog.