Happy DISTRO New Year: 7 Growth Resolutions for 2015, in GIFs

Instead of another list of doomed goals about weight loss and iPhone use… the 500 Startups Distribution team is officially making this a DISTRO NEW YEAR.

Here are 7 growth resolutions for 2015 we’d like to see more early stage founders take on.


Before you get fancy with email marketing or Facebook Custom Audiences, get a list.

Are you collecting user emails:

  • In your personal email footers — yours + all the people on your team
  • On your home page
  • On all your social profiles: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube channel
  • At all offline events & promotions
  • On your Angellist & Crunchbase profiles
  • On your company / team About pages
  • Persistently throughout your site in the header AND/or footer
  • As part of content you publish on a blog, slideshare, infographic, YouTube descriptions and annotations, downloadable white paper or report
  • Via a Qualaroo poll

If not, DO IT.

Yes this one takes resolve, friends, but you’re so worth it.

As Distro wizard Mat wisely counsels:

This year, if you’re planning on growth through paid advertising, you’d better start out by investing significantly in email marketing and email acquisition.

Many advertising platforms simply won’t ever be profitable for you if you don’t feed them frequently updated segmented audiences and cookie pools. If you aren’t the leader in email marketing in your category, you’ll likely have a hard time competing with them in paid channels.


A lot of companies bounce between radio silence and talking at users.

Broadcasts are boring and kind of irritating. Conversations are much more interesting and persuasive.

Are you talking with users:

  • Regularly, at least one good conversation one time a week
  • Live via chat, in person, or by phone
  • Sliced by engagement level and demographic
  • Who CANCEL

The team at Solidarium puts every new hire on their 800-line for two weeks. Everyone — whether dev, sales, “growth hacker” or CEO — comes voice-to-voice with real users in their first days on the job.


“Content” applies to every word, picture, video or sound byte you put out about your business.

Most businesses think of content as a great time to talk about themselves.

Good businesses know that content is an (almost free) chance to demonstrate clairvoyance into their customers’ problems and wants.

Less: blast-y company announcements or minor internal updates that abuse users’ inbox space and social feeds

More: content in any format that educates, amuses, scares, solves, and sells.

A big part of “do better content” is its regularity.

Many of us (i.e., me) get excited about content ideas that never see the light of day.

Good content requires regularity. Regularity comes from establishing an editorial calendar and predictable pipeline.

Whether it’s once a day, once a week or even just once a month, simply being consistent and persistent sets expectations for your audience and for the content creator.


Your quality goes up, and your content’s impact goes way up.


By “better tracking” we don’t mean implement more tools into your stack.

Mat says:

The plural of anecdote may not be data, but often it’s the right answer.

Nothing is more infuriating than investing a lot of time and effort in analytics only to find out later that you aren’t quite tracking exactly what you need to roll up data into stories.

Earlier this year, I spent time with a marketplace startup that had a great analytics stack.

We found that they had the right analytics to track buyers and sellers well, but still couldn’t show the path of a product through from listing to negotiation to sale and articulate what a typical or reference transaction looked like. We had all the user data we needed but would have killed for a handful of solid transaction anecdotes.

Track individual user stories, not just aggregated event data.


Don’t just send it because you wrote it.

Are you optimizing:

1. Subject line: copy, length, emotion

2. Preview text

3. CTA: language, size, color, commitment

4. Content layout

5. Content length

6. Show prices vs. not

7. Simple vs complex

8. More vs fewer choices

9. Send time / day

10. Personalization

11. Trigger events

12. “From” name

Patiently optimize each of these and you can see meaningful lift in specific metrics like open rate, click rate, reply rate, and buy rate.


Price is a psychological anchor that signals product quality, brand reputation & trust.

If you’re scared to price-test aggressively because you think it might alienate your customers, then two realities for you:

  1. No one memorized your old prices
  2. Almost all of your future customers have never heard of you yet — so they don’t care.

Instead of fearfully cowering under “But that’s so much money!” make this the year you optimize your pricing and revenue with aggressive — but objective — price testing.


2009 was the year of mobile.


If you’re not doing mobile, it’s never too late to start.*

*Correction: it’s almost too late, so hurry up and DO IT NOW.

4 ideas / commandments for mobile:

1. CRO your mobile landing page by:

  • cutting your copy in half or more
  • limiting headings to 4 words max
  • using responsive layout
  • reducing scrolling so your page is comprised of simple actions collected onto one screen.

2. Use deep links to take users to a specific location in your mobile app rather than just launching the app.

3. Explore push notifications and, if you’re adventurous, SMS as unsaturated engagement and conversion channels.

4. Finally, if you see a high open rate on an email but a low CTR, keep in mind that people are less likely to take action from their phone. Consider segmenting these recipients out and sending them a targeted followup.


It’s easy to put off “obvious” goals for growing your company — or heck even yourself — till tomorrow or next year, but there’s no time like right now.

From all of us at 500 Distro… Happy New Year, and DO MORE DISTRO!!!!!

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The Year in Distribution – Our Top 10 Posts You Don’t Want to Miss

On the plane, on the train, on your parents’ 20 year old couch — there’s no time like RIGHT NOW to catch up on your growth reading, and do better distribution in 2015.


1. This Email Got a 60% Open Rate — Here’s How

The 500 Events team is a production powerhouse, putting on 5 – 6 major content conferences per year. But the party’s no fun unless people show up.

This post goes behind the scenes on 500 Events’ single most effective conversion channel — EMAIL — and look at how 500 Events has gotten up to 60% open rates on sales emails (not just transactional messages and confirmations).


2. 23 Campaigns Every Startup Should Run to Gain Immediate Traction

& Build Unit Economics

500 Mentor Juan Martitegui shares the unit economics playbook that he developed while building MindValley Hispano, plus helping 30+ startups gain traction by working with their unit economic metrics.

A MUST READ / work of art that you should print out and tape to your wall.


3. Things That Don’t Scale — Boatbound Shares 4 Surprising Ways to Turn Random Strangers into (Paying) Fans

A lot of founders or would be founders don’t have the time of day for things that “don’t scale” despite what’s been published on the subject.

This post looks at how Boatbound, a 500 company that’s created a marketplace for boat owners to rent out their unused vessels, has hit YoY growth of 1100% using a shortlist of non-scalable, yet highly effective, methods for building a rabid 2-sided community of users and fans.


4. 7 Ways to Use Facebook Custom Audiences to Grow Your Startup

So you’re on a tight budget and you’ve got a lonely marketing team of one… in this short guide, we’ll go through what we’ve learned while promoting AdEspresso and helping our users succeed in Facebook Advertising.

This post takes a close look at Facebook Custom Audiences, one of the most effective way to create advertising campaigns with a laser-focused targeting.


5. The Startup Guide to Hollywood

Just as with Sand Hill Road, there is a method to the madness in Hollywood. The better you know the landscape, the better you’ll play the game. So we’re going to dig into:

Part 1 – Who to work with in entertainment?

Part 2 – Celebrities 101

Part 3 – Selling to entertainment companies

Part 4 – A 3 minute introduction to content deals

Part 5 – Is it worth working with Hollywood?


6. Growth in Asia: How Shopline Acquired 6X Users in 9 Weeks

Shopline is a DIY ecommerce platform that has grown their paying customer base by 14x in 9 weeks, plus more than doubled their conversion rate while continuing to grow their overall user base.

We talk to Shopline’s Fiona Lau about how a bootstrapped startup acquires users in the Asian Tigers, the one tool most companies are underutilizing for both growth and product, and why 7-Eleven might be the key to unlocking ecommerce in Taiwan.


7. How Startups Can Navigate the PR Puzzle

Are you familiar with what PR can do for your startup?

1, PR does NOT stand for Press Release

2. Media relations isn’t the only function of this oft misunderstood industry

And good PR means more than having a Techcrunch blogger’s email address.


8. Series A is a Moving Target — Raise the Right Seed

Fundraising in 2015? Many of the companies we observe approach seed fundraising thinking they want to raise $1M or $1.5M…but a $1M raise is an arbitrary number that most founders think they want to raise.

Raising an arbitrary amount of money for their seed is one of the most common mistakes a founder can make — it also happens to be one of the deadliest.

Here’s how you should be thinking about fundraising in the coming quarter and year.


9. 2 Mixpanel Pitfalls — and How to Get it Right

Why are some users visiting, but not registering? Why are others registering, but not buying?

Despite its friendly demeanor, Mixpanel can has common pitfalls that can trip-up even moderately experienced users or technical ‘numbers’ people.

This post looks at the two most costly pitfalls that we’ve seen too many times (shakes head) over the course of helping 100s of companies understand and implement analytics-driven distribution.


10. Activate or Die: 3 Keys to Activation for SaaS

Imagine you’re living the marketer’s dream.

You’re acquiring hundreds, even thousands of customers every day because your product and marketing are just that awesome. Your team, investors and family are pumped, and there’s a feeling of excitement as your user metrics go up every day.

However, all this means nothing if you ignore one key metric – activation.

This post covers 3 keys to user activation for SaaS and a couple of ways you can improve your activation rates right now.


If you made it this far and you’re still reading, then we predict you’re going to have a GREAT year in distribution in 2015.

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500 Global Startup Series: Enter the Middle East

500 Global Startup Series: Enter the Middle East

The 500 Global Startup Series brings insights from new tech regions and puts a spotlight on talented entrepreneurs in every corner of the world. We’re kicking off a 7 part series and beginning with a comprehensive look into the tech landscape of the Middle East & North Africa region (MENA). Over the next few months, we’ll also explore different areas such as Israel, India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, China and more. We’ll also discuss the successes and challenges that global investors and founders face in 2015 and beyond.

It’s clear that a major entrepreneurial shift is taking place in the Middle East and the startup scene has grown exponentially in the past few years. 500 is excited to see Syrians, Egyptians, Turkish, Lebanese and Jordanians embracing entrepreneurship. A number of VC’s and accelerators have also launched over the past years and this new activity serves as a strong benchmark for 500. Whether its our own investment into a company or angels investing in local incubators, it’s certain that MANY are in search of the next big thing.

Two years ago, 500 made its first investment in the Middle East — in a startup called Jeeran, a local reviews platform that has grown to a quarter of a million reviews in 10 cities. Fast forward to now, we have Partner Hasan Haidar permanently based in Bahrain and scouting for startups who will further develop the foundations of a digital and prosperous future for the region. The next generation is shaping a digital landscape and a lot of players want in on the action, including 500.


“The MENA region is home to an active, passionate and driven young population, with tech savvy founders seizing the opportunities in their own back yard. The MENA region is an untapped opportunity, with 400m people sharing the same language and similar cultures, 50%+ smartphone penetration in some markets, and 1/3 of the population under the age of 15” – Hasan Haider, Partner @500 

We’ve witnessed tremendous growth in internet usage and just to highlight an example, internet users in Egypt grew 3-fold in the past 5 years – now at 45 million users. Egypt has also observed an unprecedented growth in the number of new tech startups after the revolution in 2011. (Image Source: World Bank)

With a region ripe with potential, 500 hopes to fuel this entrepreneurial movement by bringing smart capital to MENA entrepreneurs. 500 is discovering great opportunities in mobile tech, e-commerce, video, content, hardware, SaaS, healthcare, solar energy, education, social networks, gaming and much more.


Today we see numerous startups finding success: Souq.com (Dubai), MarkaVIP (Istanbul), U-Turn (Saudi) and OTS (Saudi/Jordan/Egypt) to name a few. The Middle East is showing huge potential and we’re find more and more founders across the region building digital solutions for local problems. Significant acquisitions of startups by international and regional companies include: Corona Labs, Thompson Reuters, and N2V. We’re particularly happy to see women at the helm of building tech startups in the region and we were excited to recently invest in our first female-led startup in the Middle East.

“What is most exciting about the ecosystem in the Middle East are the STARTUPS themselves. With all challenges in the region, they must be brave and deal with the gaps in the investment scene as well as political and economic hurdles. Entrepreneurs stand tall despite the lack of resources.” – Riham Mahafzah, CEO & Co-founder of SilkRoad Images.

“The Syrian tech scene is trying to redefine itself. The war changed everything and Syrian entrepreneurs are trying to change their business model, find new markets.. basically they’re trying to survive. Some of them were able to adapt quickly.” – Moe Gashim, CEO @ShopGo

With a growing youth population and high unemployment rates, we may also witness a spike in entrepreneurship out of opportunity and necessity. Most young folks have access to technology and they have ideas, but they need startup capital and that’s where 500 can help. We’ve recently invested and recruited several MENA companies into our accelerator program:

I. Wuzzuf (Egypt) – The best online recruitment experience: https://angel.co/wuzzuf

II. Tamatem (Jordan) – Mobile Apps & Games Publisher for the Arabic Market:https://angel.co/tamatem

III. eTobb (Lebanon) – Interactive health platform focused on connecting Doctors & Patients: https://angel.co/etobb

IV. Connected2.me (Turkey) – WhatsApp with web interface & anonymity:https://angel.co/connected2-me

V. Shopgo (Syria) – eCommerce solution for MENA: https://angel.co/shopgo

500 looks forward to meeting more founders in the region and helping unlock their ideas, energy and potential. Some extraordinary entrepreneurs from the Middle East are even landing right on our doorstep here in the Valley. We’re left inspired.


“I believe that the Middle East is the land of opportunity. So many challenges in all areas and sectors begging for solutions and hence the opportunity. The online/tech market is also not as saturated as in developed markets.”  – Ameer Sherif, CEO @Wuzzuf @BasharSoft

Some observers would argue that with significant geopolitical instability in the Middle East, the risk and uncertainty is too high for investment. As with all regions of the world, there are many complexities and histories to understand before entering into a new market. For one, bankruptcy is a criminal offence in several MENA countries which makes it difficult to develop a risk-taking entrepreneurial culture. It also happens to be illegal for American VCs to invest into Iranian companies. The list goes on. However, one could argue that technology and entrepreneurship can be extremely transformative for the region in the coming years. Even in times of political uncertainty, 500 sees a huge opportunity in the Middle East. With the right density of tech talent, creativity, risk capital and belief that it can be done, anything is possible.

500 Founding Partner Dave McClure argues there is a lack of startup experience on the investor side, at least for most MENA tech investors. There is a lot of capital in the region, however its mostly being managed by finance and real estate investors, not tech entrepreneurs who are angel investors or seed fund managers, as in Silicon Valley. Still, there is a large sum of money to deploy in the region and 500 believes that multiple small funds would help dramatically. 500 would like to coinvest with more seed funds of size $10M-$100M active in the region, such as MENA Ventures, Sawari Capital – Flat 6 Labs, WAMDA, Oasis 500, Silicon Badia, to name just a few. Unfortunately, aside from those investors, almost no one is investing at the $250K – $2M range in the MENA region.

“The general understanding of venture capital, valuations and equity financing in the region is still developing. We will be running and participating actively in regional events and programs to try and raise the level of knowledge of the asset class with investors here. Founders also have an issues where there are very few mentors that can actively advise them in the region. By putting startups from the region through our Silicon Valley accelerator programs we hope to significantly improve the tools available to startups from the region for growth.” – Hasan Haider, Partner @500

There is also an adversity towards ‘risk’ in the Arabic speaking market. Investors want safe bets. At 500 we know that big successes come through experiencing and learning from failures, then continuing to take risk and persevering, and we believe that a cultural shift in this direction can happen over time. If an entrepreneur can learn to fail, pick up the pieces and start another company, others will follow. With this shift, there will be a larger acceptance around failure and new role models will emerge. Obstacles can be overcome.


There is still a great deal of work to be done and a long silk road ahead. 500 is excited to see what MENA entrepreneurs will build in 2015 and we hope to invest, guide and connect them with a strong network of global mentors, advisors, investors and fellow startups.

“500 Startups is bullish on opportunities to invest in the MENA / Arab-speaking market, and the accelerating adoption of internet, smartphone, and payments activity in the region — as a result, we plan to increase activity in 2015 & beyond.” – Dave McClure, Globetrotter & Founding Partner @500 

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The Ultimate 500 Holiday Gift Guide

2014 is coming to a close and it’s that festive time of year again! Looking to find the perfect gift for your friend, colleague, family or lover? Well look no further. We’ve curated a little list of products BUILT BY 500’s portfolio companies. Happy holidays from US to YOU!

For foodies  

Doughbies (prices may vary) 

“I hate cookies”, said no one, ever……. Doughbies delivers freshly baked cookies in 20 minutes or less. Everything is handmade in small batches by local bakers who care about quality and method. YUM.

Available at https://doughbies.co/

LovewithFood (10.00/month)

Do you have that kale-lovin’ and snack-a-holic friend? If they’re too busy zen’ing it up at Yoga, this is the gift for them. LovewithFood delivers natural or organic snacks to their front door every month. With every snack box you get, you are donating a meal to feed a hungry child in the U.S.

Available at https://lovewithfood.com/

For audiophiles, DJs & rock-n-rollas

Drumpants 129.99  (15% off your pre-order with code: thanks15) 

Little drummer boy has taken on an entirely new meaning this holiday season. BEHOLD: DRUMPANTS. A wearable controller that uses 100+ built-in sounds, including percussion, synthesizers, pianos, and more. Or, upload your own custom sounds.

Available at http://www.drumpants.com/

Bohemian Guitars (Use code ‘500bohos’ at checkout to get 25% off your entire order!)

Unleash your inner Hendrix and snag a Bohemian Guitar for the new year. Feel good while purchasing too — for each guitar sold, one guitar goes to a partnering organization to support youth music education.

Available at https://www.bohemianguitars.com/


Avegant (499.00)

Wanna look like Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge this winter? Pre-order your Glyph and take your multi media experience to a whole other level. Boldly go where no man/woman has gone before with this new personal theater headset.

Available at http://avegant.com/

For extreme sports lovers

Zboard (549.00)

Wanna channel your inner Marty McFly and blast into the future? Hook it up with the new Zboard! A weight-sensing electric skateboard, simply lean forward to go and lean back to stop.

Available at http://www.zboardshop.com/


Karma (149.00)

FACT: We’re all a little addicted to being online

FACT 2: Sometimes wifi is hard to come by (bad connection, travel)

FACT 3: When we can’t connect, we sometimes lose our shit.

Well not anymore folks! Checkout Karma and get hooked up with wifi anywhere, anytime.

Available at https://yourkarma.com/ 

For folks who want to pimp out their home & office 

Astroprint (149.00)

Do you have mad DIY skills and plan to 3D print your own gifts this year? Make it simple and hook up AstroPrint for all your 3D printing needs.

Available at https://www.astroprint.com/

Ninja Sphere (329.00)

Calling all IoT groupies! Here’s a new toy you’ll wanna snag in 2015. Introducing the elegant and intelligent Ninja Sphere that gathers data from sensors and actuators to build a model that can inform you if something is out of place. It monitors temperature, lighting, energy usage, you and your pets’ presence.

Available at https://ninjablocks.com/

Wanna personalize all the gifts above?

Hook it up with GiftGram.

Available at https://giftgram.com/

BONUS TIP! Gifts to send Dave McClure this year: 

Available at http://www.walmart.com/

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This Email Got a 60% Open Rate — Here’s How

The 500 Events team is a production powerhouse, putting on 5 – 6 major content conferences per year. But the party’s no fun unless people show up.

Today we’re going to go behind the scenes on 500 Events’ single most effective conversion channel — EMAIL — and look at how 500 Events has gotten up to 60% open rates on sales emails (not just transactional messages and confirmations).

5 factors influence open rates:

  1. Subject line
  2. Sender
  3. List quality
  4. Snippet Preview
  5. Content

Let’s dig into each of these in more detail.


A campaign’s subject line has the most obvious direct impact on open rates.

Good subject lines:

— have a CTA  in the form of short, action verbs that act as a call-to-action before the recipient even opens the message

— include “hot buttons,” irresistible words like: free, new, instantly, you, and now OR brands or household names that your recipients care about

— are mobile-optimized to be under 40 characters

Mobile optimized campaigns deserve a special shout-out here. 65% of emails are opened on mobile devices first (I know I’m not the only one who swipes down on my inbox first thing in the morning).

While people are increasingly taking action on email directly from their device, it’s still more common for people to use email on mobile as a pre-check for emails they want to follow up on later from their desktop.

But… we get a lot of email, and people forget.

So, if you see a high open rate on a campaign, but a low click through rate where you want a high CTR, consider sending a follow-up campaign targeting people who opened but didn’t take action. You can even choose a send time when people are more likely to be sitting at their desk at home or work.

The subject line will always have the biggest impact on open rates, but let’s look at the other levers that 500 Events uses for its top performing campaigns.


No one’s going to open your email if it doesn’t make it into their inbox.

Who the sender is can affect how many subscribers even see your subject line hit their inbox, and of course our relationship to the sender has a big impact on whether or not we feel like opening their message.

Here are 3 things to help your email through the filters, machine and human:

1. Send at regular intervals

If people don’t hear from you in a long, LOOONG time, the next campaign you send will likely act as a disengagement trigger — reminding them that they get way too much email, and need to unsubscribe from some (yours).

Even “engaged” subscribers won’t open every email that you send, and are more likely to open every 2nd or 3rd campaign — IF you’re sending at regular intervals. If you’re not, then subsequent messages can seem like random, non-sequential clutter.

Although the conference business orients around date-specific (or seasonal) events, 500 Events maintains an email rhythm by sending at regular intervals leading up to an event, tailoring campaign content and subject lines based on sales goals.

2. Previous campaign performance

Email content is extremely important, not just for the action you want subscribers to take right now but to earn your spot in their inbox for next time.

If your past campaigns made your subscribers happy by being useful, funny or insightful, more of those subscribers will open your next campaign.

If your past campaign looked spammy to the ESP — or was even Marked As Spam by people who were annoyed by your message — then fewer subscribers will open next time, some will unsubscribe right away, and overall deliverability will go down.

More opens = more opens. Send good emails. (More on this below.)

3. Get a reply

Consider asking for a reply to your initial email in order to increase your priority rating in that person’s inbox.

This is a natural fit for the Welcome email.

A non-awkward way to do this is to ask how they’re doing with the product, what brought them to your site, what they’re struggling with, or how you can help them.

Now let’s look at the next factor affecting open rates.


At a previous company, we had an email list of over 650,000 subscribers. We sent a lot of well-designed, content-optimized emails at regular frequencies, and had top copywriters iterating on our subject lines. However, our open rates were often less than 1%.

If you amass a lot of unqualified users, whether that’s through paid channels or something else, many of those users aren’t actually going to be very interested in opening your emails, engaging with your company, or buying your stuff.

The Welcome email that goes out to every new 500 Startups subscriber includes a prominent invitation to unsubscribe.

While it can be sad to lose hard-earned subscribers, a big list with a low open rate is just a vanity metric that gets in the way of campaign optimization.

The 500 Events emails are also sent to segmented sub-lists, which allows for more precisely targeted subject lines and regularly results in open rates over 50%.


Your email’s preview snippet is a second chance at getting your subscribers interested enough to open your email.

Two common mistakes I’ve seen with the snippet:

1. Forgetting to replace the default text (i.e., in Mailchimp, “Enter a preview of your email message here”)

2. Repeating the subject line, using words that take up characters but don’t convey meaning

The preview snippet is a second headline, and it’s important. 500 Events typically sends 3 – 10 test messages that the entire team checks across a common devices and ESPs to make sure every piece is optimized.

TIP: The number of characters you get for your snippet can depend on how long your subject line is, so testing campaigns across devices and ESPs is essential.

The last factor influencing open rates is one that we forget about because it comes after recipient clicks to open. But, content has a big impact on email open rates because subscriber trust and engagement are cumulative.


The 500 Events emails have been uniquely effective at getting people to share email content and to actually look forward to the next campaign (according to recipient feedback), as well as register for events.

Let’s look at a recent email announcing Founders’ Weekend, a founders-only event coming up in January.

Pictures of the PRODUCT

Most event emails feature a standard combination of speakers’ headshots and logos. We’re so used to this template that we can recognize an event blast just by its’ image gallery.

The Founders’ Weekend email campaign takes a more a “fun-forward” approach that features pictures of the product experience: Giant Jenga, food trucks, a cool girl DJ (that’s our Jess Erickson, by the way), pillows ready to be hurled at other people, and a logo for the 500 Distribution team that’s doing an AMA at the conference.

(Click here to see the full campaign)

Speaker head shots are essential for an email promoting a conference, and though you don’t see the usual grid of faces here, headshots still appear in the main email image:

Here, the speaker head shot image doubles as a unique and shareable “Product” image, sometimes getting forwarded around entire companies and shared on social media.

Header Image

A lot email campaigns — especially for events — don’t utilize the header image.

Not every email has to use a header image, for example text-only internet marketing style emails can be very effective without the extra formatting of a header image or newsletter template.

But if you’re sending a newsletter or sales newsletter, you need to use all the real estate you can get.

DON’T: header image that just shows your product or event’s logo

DO: Image that conveys key benefits. In this specific case, that’s: location (vegas), exclusivity / scarcity (founders only), time span (a weekend), and style and brand (500 Startups, yo!).

The header image you see here was the result of over 30 iterations that took up one entire afternoon of part of the team’s time. This were more than just back and forth about an image; it was an ongoing discussion about how to brand founders’ weekend.

Your header image is the first thing people see when they open your email.

GOOD header images…

1. Convey key information like this one


2. Are memorable and shareable like this one


3. Send brand signals like this one


CTA Button

500 Events takes a “hamburger” approach to the CTA button:

The call-to-action itself, “Join the WolfPack,” is sandwiched between a quantity-limited deal and key logistical information affecting the reader’s decision to sign up.

The CTA button appears twice: right away at the top of the email, and again after an introduction with the event’s key info and selling points.


The purpose of email is to convey information (duh!), but the irony is that people don’t read.

However, even if you have to keep your words brief (generally recommended unless you’re a masterful long-form storyteller), you can use other text elements to shape your funnel.


The FW email repeats the same key product information in 4 different ways:

  1. bright red headlines
  2. paragraph text
  3. bullet point
  4. sidebar with pictures

Every content zone says the same thing in different ways.


Finally, 500 Events emails limit outgoing hyperlinks. Note that in the FW email, none of the images are linked, and no random videos or funny references are linked (though there would have been many opportunities.)


We’ve just covered 5 factors that influence email open rates, and shown you a few ways that the 500 Events team hits email open rates almost twice the industry standard.

Email marketing is one of the most powerful, lowest cost ways to engage users and convert customers. But, subscribers have to open your emails before they can do any engaging or selling.

No matter what tactics end up working best for you, here’s one rule of thumb for any campaign:

If you wouldn’t open your own email, why would anyone else?

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Q&A with Etsy Designer, Jessica Harllee

Warm Gun Design Conference is THIS WEEK (December 4th) and 500 caught up with speaker and Etsy Designer, Jessica Harllee, to talk about experimentation, tools and tips for aspiring and veteran designers alike.

Can you give us a sneak preview on your talk: “How data can focus design decisions & anchor a well-designed experience”? 

Earlier this year we wanted to release a fresh new design of our Etsy seller onboarding, but when we tested the design in an experiment it wasn’t performing well enough to replace the original version. We looked at the data we got back and used that to inform a handful of design tweaks. Come to my talk to hear what the outcome was!

Who/what inspires your thinking around design?

I’ve found that the places I work in and the unique people I work with really influence how I design and the process I go through. I worked at an agency and at Kickstarter before coming to Etsy, and each experience has had a profound impact on the way I think about designing, building, and maintaining products on the web. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredibly smart, talented people.

The other thing I’ve realized is that, more often than not, the people who influence my thinking about design aren’t other designers. The product managers and engineers that I work with or the normal, non-internet savvy people who use the sites that I work on can make you see design in a totally different way.

What’s your work style?

When I first start a project, I like to think through things on my own for a bit and try to wrap my head around everything. This usually means I’m parked at my desk, blasting music on my headphones. I try and get feedback as early and often as possible; it can be hard to show unfinished work but the project ends up better because of it. Then I bounce back and forth between focusing really hard and getting feedback from the rest of my team. Similarly, I like bouncing around between wireframing and prototyping; I don’t usually make elaborate mockups and my design process isn’t really linear like that.

Can you walk me through a typical day?

I usually get into the office around 9:30. I’ll spend about an hour having coffee and getting settled before my day really starts. We have a team standup every morning, which consists of all the designers, product managers, and engineers working on Etsy shop management tools for sellers. The standup helps us touch base and focus on what we’re going to work towards for the remainder of the day.

Most of my time throughout the day is spent hopping between a handful of projects, which could mean doing anything from wireframing to development to bug fixes. I also spend a good amount of time giving feedback to other designers and responding to feedback, whether that’s through Basecamp posts or pull requests.

The number of meetings I have is usually pretty minimal. I have about three critiques a week; this could be with other designers on the shop management tools, or other product designers from across Etsy, or engineers or product managers on my projects.

I usually leave work sometime between 6–7. There’s no mandate for how long you should stay, as long as you get your work done. There’s almost always a group of people grabbing a beer or having some kind of event after work, too!

How much experimentation is allowed at Etsy? Any constraints? 

Well, my first interpretation of “experimentation” was testing designs and flows against each other, which we do all the time. Most new features are launched as an experiment before we release them to everyone. The only real constraint is that we try not to experiment on the seller side; our sellers have very established workflows and we try to respect that as much as possible.

As far as experimental design and straying from established design patterns goes, we have a style guide team at Etsy made up of a handful of designers throughout the company that discusses adding new design patterns and deprecating old ones. As much as experimentation is encouraged, I think we’re all ultimately interested in creating a consistent, seamless experience.

What is a recent problem you were given and how did you approach solving it? 

Recently I was working on a tool that we were beta testing with a lot of Etsy sellers. We had suspicions that part of it was going to be confusing, but we wanted to get as much feedback as possible so we released it to the testers anyway.

The beta testers were extremely vocal about their confusion around the tool in the forums, and we let them use it for a few weeks then asked for some more specific feedback. We devised a few approaches to address their confusion, which ranged from minimal copy changes to a complete rewrite of the interface; ultimately we were interested if a smaller change could have the desired impact.

We made a handful of small copy changes, changed the locations in the interface in which we were linking to the tool, and released the update to the beta testers. We haven’t gotten much negative feedback around it since.

It can be easy to respond to negative feedback in a panic and think that everything needs to change for the product to work, but allowing yourself to get to the root of the problem goes a long way.

What are some useful tools you use in your everyday work?

Earlier in the year my team invested a lot of time in building a style guide, which I rely on constantly. It minimizes the amount of time I spend writing CSS or making visual design decisions and allows me more time to think about meatier design problems. The other tools I rely on are centered around communication; I’m constantly on IRC talking to my coworkers, posting or receiving feedback on Basecamp, or discussing implementation via pull requests on Github.

Any tips for up-and-coming designers? 

Make as much work as you possibly can. Learn how to write well; design is as much about writing and storytelling as it is about visuals. Have hobbies outside of design; you’ll be a much more well-rounded person because of it.

– FIN – 

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