The Year in GIFs – a Look Back on the Tech Madness of 2013

2013 is fast coming to a close, so we thought it’d be a fun learning exercise to reflect on all the major events in tech from the last 12 months – IN GIF FORM. Without further ado, here’s what people cared about this year.


Probably the biggest story of the year – Snowden blowing the lid off PRISM. Most people’s reactions:




Conspiracy theorists:




The whole thing basically turned into a crazy spy movie when we watched Snowden flee to Hong Kong and eventually Russia.




It was all pretty exciting until we figured out that NSA was probably looking through our iPhone and (extremely embarrassing) Google search history.




But hey, whatever, there were lots of cool new gadgets and innovations this year to distract us!


Like Google Glass, which didn’t make you look like a NERD AT ALL.



Elon Musk also promised us the Hyperloop, which could make transit in California go from this:



To this:




Not sure why there’s wind inside the vehicle, but whatever. Just wear pants.


Apple also gave us the most fabulous UI ever in iOS7. Come on, look at those COLORS.




We’re guessing Apple consulted an outside expert for the redesign.




They were also nice enough bless the world with a GOLD iPhone




which apparently was kind of a big deal to some people.



(actual Apple store footage)

Amazon promised us delivery drones so we can get our bulk toilet paper ASAP




and Google bought a bunch of scary robots.










I’m definitely looking forward to the Drone Wars of 2020.


In sadder news, Steve Ballmer (our favorite dancing CEO) announced his imminent retirement.


Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer dancing


We’re sad to see you go, Steve.




Since we care about startups and stuff, we should probably run through the big exits and acquisitions. Twitter finally IPOed




which made it really fun to be around people who had shares. Really, it was awesome to keep hearing about it over and over.


eye roll

“Ooh, look at me, I can afford Uber now.”

Yahoo snatched up Tumblr, which made Marissa very, very happy. Just look at her face!



Facebook tried to lure SnapChat with $3 Billion, but they weren’t having it. The internet’s reaction:




Snapchat founders:




Google also tried to get us to use Google+ on YouTube for some reason. Just stop it, Google.




Bitcoin went up, down, up, down, and is now going up again maybe? I don’t even know anymore. At least we have Dogecoin.




And oh yeah, Tom Draper wants to turn Silicon Valley into its own crazy tech utopia (dystopia?).




Heading out to the bars tonight? Don’t forget that Uber’s requiring your weight in gold for all rides after midnight. 




If there’s anything to take away from 2013, it’s this: Beyonce proved that she’s better than all of us. COMBINED.


bow down


She’s the only person who can actually pull off stealth mode, and that’s a FACT.



We’re bowing down.

Here’s to 2014! Try not to drunk tweet too much tonight.

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The 12 Days of Online Marketing

This post is part of the ongoing Distribution series. Every week the 500 Distribution Team highlights actionable resources for marketing your startup. Get even more tips by following @500Distribution on Twitter and subscribing to our email newsletter.

As we look back on 2013, it’s time to reflect on some of our favorite distribution tools, tricks, and tactics. To get in the holiday spirit, the 500 team would like to bring you our own spin on a classic song. Cue festive music:

12 Drummers Drumming Up Business


It’s time to play beat that business drum. You’re going to have to really fight for your first customers in almost every case, so beat the drum every way you can and learn to carry a beat. For early stage startups, you probably need to consider a few unscalable ways to get those early adopters.


11 Pipers Piping Proper Source Attribution


Good acquisition source attribution is something almost no early stage startup nails. It can’t be done retroactively, so implement it early on. If you don’t already use them, get to know about UTM tracking and the tools available to generate URLs with proper source attribution.


10 Lords-a-Leaping Through an Optimized Funnel


To all the lordes out there who think their funnel is already easy to leap through, we have some bad news. It’s probably not, especially if you’ve never put a fair amount of time and testing into it. To get started, check out our blog post Get More Conversions NOW – Funnel Optimization 101.


9 Ladies Dancing Around a Heat Map


Where the mouse travels so do the dollars, users, and success of your startup. So it’s a good idea to know where users are clicking and how they’re interacting with your site. Two tools that can help big time are Crazy Egg and Click Tale.


8 Maids-a-Milking Every Drop of SEO Value


While SEO (Search Engine Optimization) might not move the needle for every startup, it’s still vital for companies to invest time in the basics. If you’re a time-poor founder like most, then try our 5 SEO Wins that Take 5 Minutes to get started.


7 Swans-a-Swimming Through a User Survey


If you’re having conversion problems I feel bad for you son. No really, I do. Figuring out what’s missing or why your users are dropping off early is a tough nut to crack.  Sometimes, it’s better to be direct and just ask them why. In that case, you’ll want to use something like Qualaroo who offers some of the best behavior insight surveys.


6 Geese-a-Laying Clear Value Propositions


As it turns out, people are very bad at reading online. Instead we skim, skip and generally don’t give a damn about all that text you carefully prepared. Internet people are basically honey badgers; they just don’t care.




That’s why it’s important to very clearly spell out the value propositions of your product. You only have a few seconds of their attention, so make it count.


5 Gold Rings of Retargeting


The scary truth about incoming traffic is that only about 2% or less converts. That’s where retargeting comes in. If your product is something tough to sell in the initial sessions, retargeting can bring prospects back to seal the deal. Be sure to read our post on Two Quick Ways to Get More Conversions with Retargeting.


4 Tweeting Birds


Twitter is becoming a stronger channel for online marketing every day. With new ad products, retargeting on the way, and all that organic and earn media value, it’s a channel you can’t afford to ignore. If your birds aren’t growing fast enough, check out our post on 4 Easy Ways to Grow Your Twitter Followers.


3 French Hens Emailing You Incisively


How often do you email your prospective users and customers? Probably not enough. In most cases, early stage startups would rather not “bug” their small collection of emails with too many marketing messages. But if you don’t bug them, they aren’t likely  to bug you in the form of giving you money, clicks, engagement or otherwise. A great way to start is with trigger emails.  Learn more about them in The Power of Trigger Emails


2 Turtle Doves Dialing in Your Analytics


There’s no shortage of ways to track your users. Google Analytics is great, but there are a bunch of other tools out there if you need a little more. For most startups, that comes in the form of Mixpanel. If you’re thinking about setting up this powerful tool, be sure to read our post on Implementing Mixpanel: What You NEED to Know.


And an Acquired Customer in a Pear Tree.


After all that, we hope you end the year with the gifts that keep on giving: conversions, user growth, and of course, revenue.


make it rain

If you’re ending the year with coal in your stocking instead of growth (sorry), then it’s time to plan out your online marketing resolutions for next year. Don’t worry –  with some effort and planning, you’ll get back on Santa’s nice list.


What’s Next?


If you enjoyed this post, first check out these additional resources for how you can up your game from the 500 Distribution team:








Then, sign up to get a daily bite-sized distro hack (and one awesome GIF) delivered to your inbox:

>> Subscribe to Distrosnack here <<

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4 Easy Ways to Grow Your Twitter Followers

While tweeting might not be at the top of your startup’s to-do list, it’s an invaluable (and cheap!) channel for broadening your audience and potential customer base. The great thing about Twitter is that it’s a fantastic place for experimentation mess. As long as you don’t do anything TOO CRAZY (e.g., SpaghettiO’s infamous Pearl Harbor tweet), you can try out lots of different tacts to see what works for your demographic.


Here are a few quick tips to get you started:




This sounds like common sense, but I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve gone to a startup’s Twitter profile only to see that their last tweet was in 2012. If you want followers, you have to tweet ALL THE TIME. And no, this doesn’t mean that you need to hire an intern or a social media guru (barf). If you use an app like Buffer, you can load up a lot of great content early in the week, then schedule it to go out every few hours. Also, remember that people live outside of your time zone, so don’t feel bad about tweeting something at midnight or 3am your time.


No one wants to waste a follow on an account that looks dead, so keep your tweets coming out regularly! While you’re at it, please make sure your profile has a bio, header, and profile photo. DON’T BE AN EGG.


Straight up tell people to follow you


Already have a lot of people using your product or reading your blog? Funnel them over to Twitter by pimping yourself out! Add follow buttons in high traffic areas of your site to funnel people over to Twitter. The Verge and Buffer are great at doing this in a well-designed, non-intrusive way on their respective blogs:


Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 3.36.58 PM
Screen Shot 2013-12-10 at 3.34.28 PM

(PS, follow me and 500)


If you have an app, you should gently remind users to follow you somewhere in the app since they’re probably already signed into Twitter on their mobile device. Any time you write, present, or create content, include your startup’s Twitter handle! If you’re speaking at a conference, every single slide of your deck should have your startup’s URL and Twitter handle on the bottom. And don’t forget to upload your deck to Slideshare after to get even more exposure.


Share stuff that doesn’t take people away from Twitter


The easiest content to retweet is content that doesn’t take you to a different website. Photos (uploaded through Twitter, NOT Instagram), videos, and Slideshare presentations all display in timeline, so there’s no reason for someone to click away from it and get one step farther from retweeting you. Here’s an example:


Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 2.27.36 PM


If you’re going to tweet out an article, take a few minutes to find a compelling quote if the headline isn’t eye-catching. Like this:


Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 2.43.08 PM


The title of the post wasn’t bad by any means (“Why Worrying about Startup Competitors is Ridiculous”), but I found a more compelling quote in the article itself and decided to use that instead. People can still click through to the post, but can also just hit RT and feel like they shared something valuable. (sad fact: most people don’t even read the stuff they RT, so make sure the headline sounds cool)


Being consistently retweeted (even if it’s only a few RTs) will result in growing your audience over time. Remember to test out different kinds of content to see what works best!




You know how people go on Twitter to make jokes about whatever big event everyone is watching? Think the Super Bowl, Awards Shows and Season Finales – these are all opportunities for you to make your company part of the conversation and get more followers. One of the most recent examples of this is how DiGiorno (yes, the frozen pizza) joined the #SoundofMusicLive conversation:


Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 4.25.25 PM


This resulted in a ton of retweets and a nice increase in followers. Here’s what their growth looked like the day of the event:


Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 3.54.08 PM


They saw a solid increase in 5k followers from tweeting some funny pizza-themed stuff about the sound of music. Just make sure you DON’T try newsjacking with something that isn’t light-hearted or humorous. Dramatic or serious world events are a big no-no, so don’t touch them with a 10-foot pole unless you want to end up on a “Top Twitter Fails of 2013” list.

Above all, remember that you can’t expect Twitter followers if you aren’t using the service consistently. And remember, you don’t need to create your own content to get followers – all you have to do is find existing content that  potential users care about.

What’s Next?


If you enjoyed this post, first check out these additional resources for how you can up your game from the 500 Distribution team:








Then, sign up to get a daily bite-sized distro hack (and one awesome GIF) delivered to your inbox:

>> Subscribe to Distrosnack here <<

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Implementing Mixpanel: What You NEED to Know

This post is part of the ongoing Distribution series. Every week the 500 Distribution Team highlights actionable resources for marketing your startup. Get even more tips by following @500Distribution on Twitter and subscribing to our email newsletter.

You might be overwhelmed by the sheer number of analytics platforms for startups. In my opinion, event-based analytics provide the most insight, unlike a platform like Google Analytics that focuses on usage metrics like pageviews and time on site. After testing out a few options, I’ve come to really like Mixpanel because it’s simple, fast, and has great documentation so you can get up and running quickly.

But even with great documentation, there are a few mistakes that first timers are likely to make. Here’s what you need to know to get started.

Client vs. Server Side Implementation

The first thing to know is the difference between a client side and server side implementation. With a client side implementation, you are sending events/properties to Mixpanel via javascript. The javascript gets triggered from your user’s computer, as opposed to a server side implementation which gets sent directly from your servers.

There aren’t many differences between the two types of implementation, but this is why I think server side is the way to go:

With client side implementation, many features of Mixpanel are built right into the javascript library. The idea of super properties (don’t worry, I’ll explain later), aliasing new users to existing or newly registered users, setting and creating distinct IDs –  all of this is just built in. But even with all of these features, I still choose to do server side implementations.

Doing everything server side is more manual, and this means you have more control over everything. You will need to code certain features yourself, but you’ll have a better understanding of how everything works. Lastly, you will notice that sending events and properties server side is more accurate. The vast majority of internet users have javascript enabled in their browser, but it’s still not 100%. I want control and accuracy, which is why I choose server side. The rest of this blog post will assume you are using a server side implementation.

Distinct IDs

Distinct IDs are the way all event based analytics platforms associate different events that occur on websites to the individual users who perform those events. Each user, whether signed in or not, should have a distinct ID. With a server side implementation, you will need to create and store distinct IDs for both brand new and existing users.

A distinct ID is any string of characters that can uniquely identify a user of your product. You will send the distinct ID along with each event to tell Mixpanel which events were performed by which users. Since we’re doing everything server side you will need to create this distinct ID yourself.

But what do you actually do with your distinct ID? When do you create a new one? What about existing users? Here’s how to create and assign distinct IDs for different users that come to your site.

The distinct ID for users can be stored in 2 places: in our database, or in a cookie on the user’s computer. We should always try to use the database version first, which requires that a user is registered and logged in.

When a user visits our website, we first need to check if they’re logged in. If they are, that means they are registered and can’t be a new user; if they aren’t, check if the user already has a cookie from our website. A user could already be registered but not logged in, and if that’s the case, they should already have a cookie from us.

If we determine that a user is brand new (not logged in and doesn’t have a cookie), we need to create a distinct ID for them.They aren’t registered yet, so we shouldn’t store their distinct ID in our database. That’s because we don’t have a good way to associate this user with a database record. Instead, we’ll create and store their distinct ID in a cookie on their computer. When they register, we’ll store their distinct ID in our database.

People vs. Events

Mixpanel breaks down analytics into two parts: people and events. Events are actions that happen on a website, such as a registration, purchase, or a click.  People are the customers that perform these events. In the screenshots of Mixpanel below, everything under “engagement” has to do with events, and everything under “people” is – obviously – people.

people events

Super Properties

Super properties are extremely powerful. Using them, you can set up persistent properties that are sent with every event to Mixpanel. Normally, properties are only sent once per event, but with super properties, we can set a property that gets sent with every future event a user takes. We use this feature to conduct split tests. When running a split test, it’s important to pay attention to two things: the outcome of the page the experiment is testing (of course) and how the different variants in the split test affect their actions going forward.

Super properties are one of the features that come built in the Javascript library. However, we need to build this feature ourselves when running a server-side implementation. To accomplish this, we need a function that stores any number of properties to a cookie for the user. Then we need to wrap the mixpanel.track() function with functionality that reads every super property from the cookie and sends them with the event. Lastly, set each super property to the user’s “people” property since we also might want to segment our users based on their super properties.


Mixpanel is a great tool, but it can be a little overwhelming to set up. Be sure to think through how you want to model your product using Mixpanel before you start coding. Even after implementing Mixpanel on 10+ products, I often require revisions after the first implementation. As with everything, analytics is an ongoing process. Understanding why things happen in your product is critical for every startup, so the time required to get analytics up and running is well worth it.

What’s Next?

If you enjoyed this post, first check out these additional resources for how you can up your game from the 500 Distribution team:

Then, sign up to get a daily bite-sized distro hack (and one awesome GIF) delivered to your inbox:

>> Subscribe to Distrosnack here <<

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Leah Buley on Design, Research, & Business Strategy PUBLISHED DECEMBER 4 2013

We interviewed design strategist Leah Buley, who works on the future of small business and personal finance at Intuit. Her work spans a variety of industries, including media, mobile, financial services, education, and non-profit. Check out what Leah has to say about a UX team of one, user research, building design into your business strategy, and more:

Having worked as a lead UX designer at Barclays, Adaptive Path, and now with Intuit, how has your approach to UX changed over the years?

I feel like I’ve been on a fifteen year trek up that long river that is the product development process. I actually first started out as a developer, way down the river, near where it empties out to the sea. Then when I transitioned into UX I moved a little further upstream and started focusing on user interface design. In particular, I became very gung ho on heuristics and design patterns and usability testing. I was just fascinated by the question of what makes an interface good, and how can it be made better. But over time, I learned (sometimes quite painfully) that without proper user research and strategy, the subtle nuances of interface design are irrelevant. I became more interested in how you know for sure that you’re designing in support of the right goals, which naturally required me to paddle a little further upstream.

These days, my interests are taking me almost off the product roadmap completely. I recently transitioned into a new role at Intuit focusing on growth and development for Intuit’s sizable user experience community. So now I’m thinking a lot about people’s skills and interpersonal dynamics and how they impact a big organization’s ability to consistently make better products. Basically, how they help or hinder the skiffs that you send down river.

Most startups have a UX team of one and it can be struggle with how much needs to be “taught” to the rest of their team. What are the most important principles a UXer should teach his or her team in order to be successful?

A few of my favorite principles, in no particular order:


    • You are (probably) not your user. Imaging how you would use it is not enough.


    • Spending lots of time with real users leads to better products. (For more on this, see:


    • Great experiences are focused. To make great products, simplify.


    • User experience isn’t just UI design. The products we love best are coherent and harmonious and reliably awesome across every customer touchpoint.


    • Everyone on the team owns the user experience. It’s not just the UX person’s job.

What are the best strategies for inviting ones colleagues, and skeptics into the user-centered design process? Why is it even important to do this?

What a funny question…I guess it’s a matter of faith for me that products that are designed based on user needs naturally result in better experiences for people. And that organizations that are driven by user centered values are more likely to make well designed products. So, how to invite people into that process? This may sound weird, but I think the first and best thing you can do is to make UX work visible and tangible by making it physical. Put up pictures of customers on the wall. Put up product sketches on the wall. Invite team members to pick up a marker and sketch on top of those things. This makes it their process — and through some kinetic magic the team starts engaging with design from a more empathetic, energetic, constructive, “let’s roll up our sleeves and work on this together” kind of place. I don’t know how it works, but I’ve seen it in action enough that I know that it does.

When should a company invest in user research? What are some common mistakes that companies make with approaching research?

As the inimitable Nate Bolt says, “Designing without research is like getting into a taxi and just saying, ‘Drive.'” The short answer is that any team that designs a product should also do user research—both to validate that the product works as intended, and also to provide inspiration and exploratory ideas to inform what the product could be in the future. Design should be the yummy middle of a research sandwich. Getting people to invest in usability-style validation research is usually an easy sell. The exploratory research can be harder to get people to invest in, precisely because you don’t know what you’ll learn and therefore can’t predict the value of it. But exploratory design research is so important. It fuels empathy. It provides inspiration. It gives you stories and anecdotes that can help you remind your team again and again what users are really like. And it feeds into handy tools like personas and design principles, both of which can be used almost like a laser level throughout the design process to continually reevaluate whether the foundation you’re designing lines up with your vision and customers’ needs.

But this notion of “investing” is actually part of the problem. When people talk about user research as a discrete chunk of work that you do or don’t allot time and budget for, they often decide not to do it. User research shouldn’t be a project. It should be a mindset and a set of practices that are shared by everyone on the team—and that you do in lightweight ways all the time.

Other than Intuit, which company has your favorite UX?

Ah, my latest guilty pleasure is Houzz. I guess their business model is to put homeowners in touch with residential contractors, but they have a clever strategy that hooks you in by featuring lots and lots and lots of interior design photography and articles. Basically, it’s shelter porn. Their web and mobile interaction design probably isn’t groundbreaking (though it’s a nice, clean design). But their content strategy is so well executed. The high quality photography, the feature length articles with a chatty, “here are some tips” writing style, the information architecture, the approach to community generated content. With the rise of responsive design, content strategy is becoming one of the most important disciplines for UX (if it wasn’t already), and Houzz’s content strategy is great.

What advice do you have for bootstrapped startups on integrating UX practices?

Design is more powerful when coupled with user research. That may sound like ‘no duh’ to you, clever reader, but I’m always amazed how many people I meet who claim to be user centered designers but never actually spend time with customers. If you do nothing else, start there.

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