Learnings From Running a Cohort Program

Learnings From Running a Cohort Program

I’ve been part of a cohort program at On Deck and have run two cohorts of a cohort program with TPF. I’ve previously written from the candidate side about how to make the most of a CBC. Today I want to cover the other side of running a CBC.
Here’s what I have learnt:

Selecting members in the Cohort is important

Goes without saying that the community makes a big part of the experience and the value of a cohort increase with the quality of the members.
It’s very tempting as a business to increase the intake to increase the revenues. But if you lose track of quality, the overall cohort will suffer. Similar to how it works for an educational institution.
That’s why we had a long application form to only consider serious applicants who had already given it some thought. Our judging criteria consisted of: specificity of the idea, feasibility, online presence, co-signer, and diversity.
Another aspect I would add here is amount of time they can give the cohort. Often, people pay up for a cohort but when they're not active in the community helping others or requesting help, it doesn’t add value.

Seed expected behavior

A community follows its leaders. I’ve noticed that example behavior has to be seeded by the program team.
For example, I set the ball rolling with the intros and others followed suit. Similarly, I started sharing tweets of what has happening in the cohort and my learnings, and the members then started posting.
People are social animals and will pick up on cues. If no one else is participating in the chat, others won't. No one wants to be in the spotlight.
Once they start contributing and posting, you should reward these positive behaviors — retweet, like, share, and appreciate the moment members take the initiative.

Interaction within the cohort

Through my experience, I felt the members who I had 1:1 interactions with me during office hours, did the best. This is also a selection bias, because the ones who were active ended up booking office hours. So we can't attribute all the success to me lol.
The ones who take the initiative to interact 1:1 with other community members also do better than the others. There is a downside to a lot of DMs though.
Good because there is participation, bad because others can't see the activity and as a result will never know that these conversations are taking place. So I always encouraged more people to post on the public channels.
Live events
Live events are the core of the experience. I’ve learnt a lot from how On Deck does virtual events, here is a thread with tips:
Use music to get everyone warmed up and thrilled for what’s to follow. For example I had this upbeat playlist that I played before every session.
Always greet people who join by their names. It creates a good connection and makes people feel welcomed.
Use a checklist to ensure that all the micro tasks are completed.
To get more people to attend the live sessions, emphasize on asking the questions bit. Because the content is recorded and can be viewed later but the main thing missing is that you can't ask questions.
If you're running a global program — you'll never be able to get the timing right. The best time that accounts for most of the world remains 8-10 PM IST.
Include more networking or fun sessions. We did this well in the first cohort through fun game events. Even though the ones who joined were generally younger students, they would form stronger bonds as an outcome from these games.

Getting tiny details right

The tiniest of things matter in a cohort program.
For instance, in Discord we messed up permissions for the second cohort and as a result the intros channel was not open leading to quite a few people missing sharing their intros.
Another thing is recordings should be uploaded soon after the session and after processing. If there's a member who wants to see the recording but it's not available, that counts as a bad experience.
Sessions should be informed 24 hours before hand.
Persistent follow ups with people are required to get them to be active. They were appreciated by the members.

Provide value

People are default busy and will struggle to find time — so you have to make it worth their while
The value of a cohort program can be summed up as being a system of accountability.
People can learn skills on their own but the peer accountability can only come through a community and through persistent follow ups.
A cohort program should have a blend of sessions with popular people as crowd pullers, and hands-on workshops where the real value is accrued.
I've seen that 30% of the cohort will also be the ones that complete their capstone project (validated through experience with On Deck and through conversations with people who are part of such programs)

Final Thoughts

Running a cohort program is a fairly intensive project. Since it is all about the experience, theres’ a lot that can go right but there’s a lot that can go wrong as well.
You’ve to really nail the details to give your members an experience that they remember for life. And give them the skills and accountability to be able to fulfill their potential.

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