How to Close Checks on Stage: The 3 Elements Every Demo Day Pitch Must Have

By Tanya Soman and Poornima Vijayashanker

Most startup founders have one thing in common: they want to raise money for their companies. There’s a lot of anxiety about “the pitch”: How can a founder squeeze their current life’s passion into a 3-minute summary? Will it compel an investor to cut a check?

There’s also skepticism: it’s hard to believe that an investor would be willing to write a $50K, $100K, or even $500K check after hearing a 3-minute pitch from a founder.

But suspend your disbelief… it does happen.

And for startups that are at an accelerator, it can happen during Demo Day. Demo Day is a frenzy of pitching and networking, and there’s a lot to learn from watching and comparing the companies that go through it together all at once.

For a little over a year now, the two of us have been working at 500 Startups’ accelerator program and have seen plenty of startups go through Demo Day. Some get funding on the spot, some leave empty-handed, and many come away with something in between. These are some 500 Startups companies that have successfully raised money on the big day:

So what’s their secret to closing on stage?

There are lots of pitch tips out there, but we’ve worked with so many companies that we’ve started to see patterns. Tanya, a principal at 500, runs pitch prep and wades through 1500 applications twice a year to recruit companies for the program. Poornima is an entrepreneur-in-residence who advises 90+ companies on all aspects of startup strategy and operations, including, of course, fundraising. Companies she’s advised have gone on to raise $1.5M+ in seed, including AppZen, Headout, Lenda, and Pop Up Archive.

Every company we’ve worked with that also closes checks on stage does the following 3 things in their pitch.

  1. Leads with traction.

Here’s one big mistake that companies make—and it’s even more of a shame when the company is doing well.

When they describe how their company is performing, they’ll lead with vanity metrics like: “We create 10K widgets.” Or, “We send out 10M+ emails a day.”

So what?

Using vanity metrics doesn’t tell an investor how a company is doing. In fact, they tend to make it seem like the founder is hiding something.

No investor has time to dig in while you’re on stage to realize that the company has $150K in MRR (monthly recurring revenue) and are growing 40% MoM (month-over-month).

But this is exactly the type of data that will make them want to back you!

So, you have to mention revenue and growth (of revenue or userbase) within the first 30 seconds to pique their interest.

Pro tip: When you speak about your traction, you’ve gotta own it. So you have to use declarative language like: “We are on target to hit a $1.8M run rate this year.”

NOT: “It looks like…” “I think we’ll…”


So, why do so many companies present vanity metrics instead of useful revenue and growth numbers?

We’ve found that it’s because they honestly don’t know that they’re supposed to talk about how much money they are making. Some may be ashamed because they think it’s too low, while others aren’t used to sharing such numbers in public. Don’t fall into this trap.

Remember: Revenue is real. And if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

If you don’t got it, we’ll talk about how to get it in a future post.

  1. Get to the point quickly.

Often founders tell their life stories during the pitch: how they met their co-founders, lead expeditions through the Amazon, blah blah blah … save it for drinks after Demo Day!

Winning companies get to the point quickly.

You want to start by addressing the problem in the market and explaining why it’s HUGE.  Describe who is experiencing the problem (i.e. the customer persona) and why are you uniquely positioned to solve it. This is where you can highlight your professional background, if it proves your point that you’ve got a competitive edge. Don’t forget to mention important traction metrics like revenue and growth in the first 30 seconds of the pitch, wherever it makes most sense.

**You need a crisp narrative to make people understand your value proposition. And it’s just as important to get it clear in your head before you pitch as it is to practise it over and over and over again. Test your pitch on everyone so they can confirm they understand what your company does.**

**Distill your pitch down to less than 5 sentence, your value prop to 3 advantages, and your solution to 1 line. Remember, you are pitching a business, NOT a product. That business needs to affect a customer or user’s life to mean something.**

Then, you can talk about your unique solution, but do NOT go into a product demo. Founders can get really bogged down in details that just don’t make sense to share in 3 minutes. You want to keep things as high level as possible and get to the points that really matter.

Think about it this way: what is going to make someone want to come up and talk to you after your pitch?

  1. Leave them with an opportunity.

You just spent 2 minutes talking about how you’re company is amazing, and the last thing you want is a lukewarm ending.

You want to finish strong with recapping the highlights:

  • Problem in the market
  • Why you are uniquely positioned to solve the problem
  • Why it’s is a HUGE opportunity right now
  • Traction metrics showing that you’re already making it happen, so they don’t wanna miss out!

Here are some examples of lukewarm endings

“We hope you enjoyed hearing about our product. If you love what we’re doing as much as we do, let’s talk! The first five people to shoot me an email, after this event, will receive a free t-shirt. I look forward to seeing you at the break.”

This is a pretty generic ending. It doesn’t provided a recap, and the CTA isn’t about the actual product!

“Remember when I said we could create anything you could imagine? I wasn’t kidding, I really meant anything! The first five people to shoot me an email, after this event, will receive our product for free!”

This ending also falls short. It’s too wide open, doesn’t convey the opportunity, and frankly the statement: “I really meant anything!”  seems a little incredulous.

Here are some examples of a strong endings



“We are building a formidable business and we’ve got the team to do it. We’re at a $2MM run rate with over 100 customers growing 30% MoM. If you feel this is something exciting, please come talk to us backstage. We’ve got great swag for you!”

In this one the founder Pranay Srinivasan recaps his traction and then gives the audience a clear CTA (call-to-action)



“This is the largest financial transaction you will make in your life. In fact, 4.5 million people do it every year. As it stands right now we do our taxes online, pay our credit cards online, bank online, and now you can get a home loan online too! If you want to talk more about the future of lending, please come and find us after the show.”

In this one the founder Jason van den Brand reaffirms the problem in the market, the market opportunity: getting a home loan, and again gives the audience a clear CTA.

Are you working on a pitch?

Summarize it in 5 sentences, and put it in the comments below. We’ll be happy to review it and send you feedback!


Q&A with David Lee, Founder of Shakr


David Lee (@davidyhlee) is the founder and CEO of Shakr, a service that allows small businesses and individuals to create professional-quality videos using photos and video clips. Lee is based in Seoul and I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions. 

What drove you to build this company in the first place?

The inherent unfairness of the most effective and powerful storytelling medium being monopolized by people and entities that have no other qualification than deep pockets. It’s despicable to allow such power to be so dramatically financially inaccessible. I don’t want to live in a world where I’m bombarded with video produced only by the wealthy. I want to make sure we turn video into a communication medium that can also be used by the little guy that has deep love and respect for his craft, just as effectively (but maybe not at the same degree of reach) as Big Business.

What is your definition of a successful entrepreneur?

Success as an entrepreneur to me is doing something awesome for lots of people. Touching the lives of many, creating massive value at scale, that’s what I’m reaching for. If I do that well, I’ll reap both intrinsic and material rewards.

How do you approach fundraising? 

We focused exclusively on angel investors who have achieved success as entrepreneurs in their lives. Having great angels on board comes with a slew of benefits. We’re also happy to have institutional investors like 500 Startups, NHN Investment, Posco Capital and Strong Ventures on board.

Do you have a mission and/or mantra?

We started Shakr with the idea that we would “Reimagine everything.” Eventually, that evolved to “Great Video for Everyone.” The idea is that video is the most effective and powerful storytelling medium, however the high upfront cost of traditional video creation made it accessible to the wealthy. Shakr is leveling the playing field, and giving the little guy access to producing high production value video.

Can you tell me about an experience where, at the time, it felt like a failure but looking back on it you can see how it was a positive learning experience or led you to success?

Nope. Can’t keep me down. Never could. Really, I can’t reframe any of my experiences in a way that didn’t lead to a positive learning experience. It comes down to this: If you’re not winning, you’ve already lost. So every loss is just a step towards winning – so those losses are not even losses to begin with.


Do you have a mentor yourself? If so, how did you find them and get them to help? How has working with a mentor affected you and your work?

My co-founders DJ, Minku, Simon. They all found me – while working together, they just naturally grew into incredibly important advisors to me. I learn from them every single day. They have helped me think bigger, think fairer, and think through the challenges we run into every day.

Can you talk a bit about what your relationship is like with the tech industry? 

I try not to get involved. I don’t even think there is a “tech industry.” I’m in the business of enabling video professionals to enable normal folk to make lots of great video. Technology is just what we use to make that possible.

Can you recommend one or more entrepreneurs in your region who are doing great work?

Joonhee Ahn, founder of and former CEO of Handstudio. With, he made a way to curate YouTube at massive scale.

What challenges do you have to deal with, and how do you overcome these challenges?

I think entrepreneurs all have a view in their minds, in their souls, of a world that’s at least a little bit better. Most of them run out of steam, run out of money, run out of air to breath before they can persuade others to help them make that better world a reality. Like all entrepreneurs, I’m frightfully overmatched by the inertia of the world. My challenge is to express the right words, the right intentions, all at the right times and to the right people, and if not the right words, times and people, something close enough to right. If I’m doing that at least well enough, but ideally far better than well enough, I’ll have great people around me to help drive us to and beyond where we’re going.


What’s the greatest memory of building you company? What was the hardest day and why?

The greatest memory was about two months ago, when one of my co-founders led our first town hall meeting. We originally had weekly all-hands meetings but they lost meaning. My co-founder Minku led the reimagination of what our company meetings should be, and I was incredibly proud to see everyone come together under his leadership. Since then, we’ve had engaging town hall meetings where progress is shared, paths are clarified, obstacles are overcome.

The hardest day was when I turned down a hundred thousand dollar check when we were days away from pay day, with close to zero dollars in the bank. (Every one still got paid on time.) I’ll leave the why to another day, off the record. 🙂

What is your long term vision for the company?

We’re in this to make great video creation accessible to everyone. The current situation only makes sense to big companies, who were the only ones that could afford to produce high production value video before Shakr. That ends now.

– FIN –

500 Investors

We recently wrapped up our first-ever investor training in partnership with Stanford Center for Professional Development.

Our full class brought together 34 impressively awesome participants — 16 women and 18 men from 14 countries around the world.

500 Invest stats on global investor reach

Participants’ backgrounds included prominent existing tech investors looking to break into new global markets, family offices getting ready to launch into tech investing and accelerator-building, multilateral organizations looking to set up venture capital as asset class, young entrepreneurs setting up funds in universities, and active angel investors looking to sharpen their existing investment thesis and scale the volume and reach of their investment activity.

Our 50/50 Scholarship brought 16 women to the table, making up a class that was almost 50% women investors. We see this as a huge win and step forward in changing the gender ratio in venture, and want to extend an extra thanks to the community — and to Stanford — for supporting the scholarship initiative.

500 Invest angel investor meetup
We covered a LOT of material during our two week program, with every day including classroom time, meet and greet sessions, pitches, and in-depth and heated startup assessments following 500’s Batch 12 Demo Day. The course was taught by Mike Lyons, Mike Lepech, Pedram Mokriam, Dave McClure and Bedy Yang with several guest speakers such as Jason Calacanis, Mari Baker and James Currier.

This course will allow you to wrap your your head around why and how this asset class works in the Valley, thanks to top notch faculty with libraries of knowledge.

— Fares Ghandour, Investment Manager at MENA Venture Investments

I was really fortunate to be in this first batch of the program. I found the course the be very relevant for many reasons; it was conducted jointly with Stanford whose faculties are themselves industry practitioners and have been in the industry for a long time. Then, there is the additional appeal to the program, as half of the participants are from outside the US and almost equally, were made up of women. It was a good mix of angel investors, VCs and even a university professor! Then there is a good mix of lectures as well as real-life experience thrown in for us to engage with real companies and real issues faced by them. We even attended 500 Startups Demo Day for its Batch 12!

Well done 500 Startups and Stanford!. I don’t think I can find the same experience elsewhere in the world.

— Jalamudin Bujang, CEO at MAVCAP

Participating in IGSVI gave me more insight into investing in Silicon Valley and has extended my network further not only with VC’s in the US but also with VC’s and angel investors around the world.

— Sigurdur Arnljotsson, General Partner at SA Framtak VC

The IGSVI program brought clarity to how I can most effectively run a Venture Capital Firm, more so than any blog, book, mentor, or past experience ever could. By bringing together the brightest emerging early stage investors from around the world to Silicon Valley for a jam-packed two week experience, IGSVI provided us with the opportunity to build a professional network that will work together to fuel entrepreneurship on a global scale.

— Elizabeth Galbut, Founding Partner at A-Level Capital

The IGSVI program hosted by 500 Startups at Stanford has been extremely valuable and worth-while in the critical stages of building the foundation of my investment career. In 10 days, I learned more and gained more Silicon Valley insider connections than I would have in 6 months or more on my own. 500 Startups has truly found a way to “accelerate” the work of emerging fund managers much like they’ve done for hundreds of startups. The teaching staff was top notch, no logistical detail was left to chance, and instructors were hands-on and available. Our class was made up of people from every corner of the earth, and made the experience more enjoyable than I could have ever imagined. I have made some life-long friends, and learned a ton in the process.

— Arlan Hamilton, Founding Partner at Backstage Capital

I came in wanting to invest in every angel investment deal that came my way. I left with an understanding of my area of expertise and a clear investment thesis.

The highlight for me was the commitment that Dave, Bedy and the the entire 500 team had for each of the participants to get significant value. In fact at times I caught myself thinking that how could Dave reveal all his secrets and learnings gained from his experience of investing in almost 1000 startups. The diversity of the 35 participants was equally impressive with only 20% from the U.S. and the balance from all over the world. Needless to say that it was a very valuable 2 weeks and it’s for sure saved me a ton of money which I would have wasted in investing outside my area of competence and outside my thesis.

— Piyush Chawla, Angel Investor

We walked away with new connections and new friendships — people we’re excited to support not just as investors but as friends.

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IGSVI was a huge success, and, in classic 500 style, it’s something we’re doing again — probably sooner than is sensible or sane.

From short workshops in your region to the NEXT IGSVI later this year, learn more about 500’s upcoming investor training programs at



Join our 500 Startups Transatlantic tour! We’re back on the road and want to meet YOU. Come meet members from our investment team and learn more about building your startup. We want to meet some of the world’s most promising startups. Our evening meetups are free to attend and will be followed by a relaxed evening of drinks and mingling. Learn more about 500’s seed fund and accelerator. Have questions? Get answers here.

Can’t join the tour? Learn more about 500’s accelerator program and apply online.

Attendees will:

> Meet 500: Who’s behind 500? You’ll find out. In return we’ll want to meet you, learn more about what you’re working on, and help you out. We think it’s a good deal.

> Ask 500: Chat with the 500 team and its founders to find out how they select who to invest in, and what it’s like to join the 500 family. This will come in handy if you end up joining us!

> Network 500: We’ll be bringing together other great founders from your area, so this will be the perfect time to network and buddy up.

500 MAP Global Road Show-01
Map image credits: Ksenia Lukanova

Tour will include stops in:

> May 19 – NEW YORK: RSVP

> May 20 – TORONTO: RSVP

> May 28 – TEL AVIV: RSVP

> June 1 – LONDON: RSVP

> June 4 – BERLIN: RSVP (With special guest Dave McClure)


 Meet Our Kickass Team:




District Cowork is a new coworking space in New York for entrepreneurs with modern open space, designer lounge, conference rooms and a relaxing rooftop.


AngelList is where the world meets startups. Investors: invest in early-stage startups. Startups: find team members, angel investors and venture capital.


SoundCloud is the world’s leading audio platform, where anyone can share and discover unique music and audio, on the web and on mobile.


Partner: General Assembly is an educational institution that transforms thinkers into creators through education in technology, business and design. Our global network of students, instructors, and entrepreneurs aims to bring people together to take advantage of a new kind of learning-by-doing approach to education.


Partner: OneEleven is over 15,000 square feet of start-up development space in the downtown Toronto core where our region’s brightest minds will have complete access to high performance computing, training and development, industry partnerships, and domain expertise, mentorship and financing to create the next generation of data-driven technologies.

COMMERCISM Comrade Q&A: Part 2 With Shopify’s Chief Platform Officer

500 Startups has always been bullish about online commerce, despite economic fluctuations. The future of commerce is not in traditional brick & mortar stores, but in the innovative online plays from companies like ModCloth, Polyvore and Shopify.

 Shopify’s Chief Platform Officer, Harley Finkelstein, will be speaking at our upcoming COMMERCISM conference, so we asked him to share some lessons he’s learned as a serial entrepreneur + his thoughts on the future of commerce.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since founding your startup or starting your career in the eCommerce space?

A. Test and test and test and test. I think that persistence is really important in business, but in the ecommerce retail space, you have an opportunity to try something and see if it works and pivot from there – I think that’s the biggest lesson. In a traditional brick and mortar business, you can’t really try something to see if it works and then rip it all down if it doesn’t and try again; it’s just too expensive. But the digital world lends itself well to a culture of experimentation, and I think that’s really important.

Q. Who else in the industry should be on our watch list, in terms of innovation & growth?

A. I think the entire retail industry is being democratized right now. Every pillar of retail is changing, from fundraising to prototyping to the actual shopping cart. You’re seeing Kickstarter and crowdfunding platforms democratizing funding, and making it really easy to raise money. You’re seeing 3D printing making it so simple to create prototypes and samples. You’re seeing companies like Shopify making it really easy to create a store and begin selling in a matter of minutes. I think that there’s not just one company to look at, because the industry in general is going through this incredible revolution. It’s important to keep your eyes peeled.

Q.  What is the the future of eCommerce & why?

A. Everywhere. There are these rumours in the industry that e-commerce is going to kill offline commerce, and it’s online versus offline. You have companies like Best Buy saying that during last year’s holiday season, online did amazing but offline didn’t do so well. I don’t think the future of retail is one or the other. I think the future of retail is commerce everywhere. It’s all about consumer choice. Retailers and merchants need to be ready to transact any way the consumer feels most comfortable.

Want more e-commerce insights? Check out blog post #1 with Wanelo CEO Deena Varshavskaya.

Who else is leading the charge at COMMERCISM? Check out our complete speaker lineup, and join the revolution on 3-21-2014. Can’t make the conference? Be sure to tune into the Livestream here at

Upcoming Events in NYC, Russia, Estonia, Croatia & Germany

In this post….
SMASH Summit – Thurs, Jul 26th, NYC
Geeks on a Plane ‘Eastern Europe’  – Sept 18 – 20, Moscow, Tallin, Zagreb, & Berlin (more details below).

up next…

At SMASH,  we’ll cover new tactics, “hack-tics”, and strategies for Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter & more, because let’s face it – customer acquisition is hard as sh*%, and relying on your awesome product to move the needle is probably a terrible strategy.  At SMASH, you can hear case studies and lessons learned from folks like: Fred Wilson (Managing Parnter, USV), Chris Ackermann (Strategic Partnerships, Facebook), Dan Porter (Founder, OMGPOP), Dror Shimshowitz (Head of Product, YouTube), Katia Beauchamp (Co-Founder, Birchbox), Jessica Lawrence (Managing Director, NY Tech Meetup), & many more!


and in September…

Eastern Europe has been on 500’s radar for a while so we’re stoked to tour the burgeoning tech hubs in Moscow, Tallinn, Zagreb & Berlin. GOAP is an invite-only tour that has been uniting Geeks the world over since 2008. Aside from discovering the pulse of these ripe tech hubs you will have fun on planes, trains and automobiles, meet startups, geeks, and new friends from all over the world, & learn about cultures in other countries.


Periscope vs. Meerkat

I started using Meerkat right as buzz started to build up in early March. For those still unfamiliar, Meerkat is the live streaming app that allows you to view anyone live streaming you follow on Twitter. That’s right, anyone in the world. Within a few weeks, it had nearly 100,000 downloads and raised $14M in capital. Then, I went to SXSW and the buzz was not only the sound of a bee, but also the color of one.

Meerkat fan

As a non-celebrity — not even in the tech world — my largest stream maxed out at 50 viewers during the PSFK Retail Innovation salon, where I kept a two-hour Meerkat going while I spoke alongside executives from major retail companies like Home Depot.

I also serendipitously participated with Product Hunt’s Erik Torenberg’s Meerkat flash mob at SXSW that aimed to top the most popular stream and make it to one thousand subscribers (they almost did it), although I was disappointed to find there was no dancing.

At the end of SXSW Interactive, I felt like there was an over-hype of the platform. It had great branding, true, but it seemed to be mainly the tech crowd participating — basically as homogeneous as the city of San Francisco.

Back in San Francisco, Twitter had already bought Periscope, another live streaming app that is nearly identical to Meerkat but has much better reach to the Twitter user base, and re-launched the service. I instantly found the rush of hundreds of viewers was much more attainable than on Meerkat, plus you captured people from all over the world.

The increased mainstream usage on Periscope did lead to more trolls, but shortly before April Fools’ Day, it started to lead to more comedy as well (just like Twitter’s last purchase, Vine).

zuckerberg-scoped-screenshotI HAD to get involved in the Fools’ Day fun, so I started a series called, #Scoped (a few days before April 1 in order to remain under the radar).

In use: ‘You got scoped!’ My X for Y was Funny or Die for Live Streaming. It was a parody on how link baity titles on Periscope could easily draw in 200-300 viewers in less than 30 seconds.

Some titles of my #scoped streams, included:

> Riding in a Ferrari

> Mark Zuckerberg Breakdancing

> Running from the Police

> House of Cards Season 4 Sneak Preview

If I added enough visual context that seemed real it would throw off the viewers (and add some smiles to their day once they realized it was fake).

Then I’d shout ‘You got scoped!’ and have a little laugh with my viewers.

While it was a fun enough joke, #scoped also showed  that Periscope easily drives more adoption than Meerkat if you know how to market your streams.

Marketing them correctly is easy. Here are the three Ts you should always follow:

periscope interface1 – Titling. It starts with titles. It’s your subject line. If you don’t make it short (ideally one line, or less than 30 characters) and punchy, no one will click through.

2 – Twitter. Make sure your Twitter bird icon is highlighted. Sharing to Twitter is especially important if you add a hashtag or @name in the title that will draw additional eyeballs.

3 – Titillating. Once you get your first 20-30 viewers on a stream it’s a critical time. You need to be showing something interesting. It’s video, so that means there needs to be movement, audio, and a unique portal into a world you don’t see everyday.

This isn’t the real power of live streaming though. Imagine if you had live streaming apps on Twitter during the Arab Revolution or streaming police encounters like Ferguson. Then it’s even more powerful.

So without further ado. Here’s a breakdown of Periscope versus Meerkat.


1 – a prairie dog.

2 – a mobile app that allows you to live stream.


1 – an underwater lens that allows you to see above the water, generally used with submarines, or by small children.

2 – a mobile app (owned by Twitter) that allows you to live stream.

Meerkat Periscope
App Store Ranking (USA: Social Networking) 164 24
Funding Raised $14M, Greylock, YouTube founder Chad Hurley, actor/singer/songwriter Jared Leto, Sound Ventures, Vayner/RSE, Comcast Ventures, Sherpa, Slow Ventures, Soma Capital, Universal Music Group, Raine Ventures, Broadway Video Ventures, WME, CAA Ventures, and UTA. Previous investors Aleph and Entree Capital are in this round, as well. Acquired by Twitter.
# of Countries >100 Rank for Social Networking 11 92
Common Use Case Tech, Business, Events Interviews, Personal Lives
Twitter Authentication Required Required
Privacy Public, Private Public, Limited
Average Adoption Time for 5-10 Viewers (Avg Est) 30 seconds to 2 minutes 15-30 seconds
Top User @Madonna
Fahad @f3k
27k followers, 8M hearts
# of Languages 1 25
# of Ratings (iOS) 442 942
# of Users (Est: 100*Ratings) 358,000 836,000
All-Time Rating Average 3.5 3.7
Featured on iTunes 445 517
International Factor Low to Medium High
Android? Viewing Only No

*This is based on data I’ve found from third parties and personal experiences. Accurate as of 4/23/15.

Click to Expand
Click to Expand

You could also look at site traffic as a gauge for user awareness, and potentially click throughs from streams posted as tweets.

periscope meerkat topsy data on tweets

If you look at this as a win-lose situation, I believe Periscope will win. Twitter gives them access to a vast amount of more users, and even though Meerkat had early brand success and had early celebrity adoption more celebrities, streamers, and viewers are moving over to Periscope at a rapid click.

Below shows the number of streams tracked on Twitter for Meerkat. Periscope launched on March 26.

Week Number Of Hits
28 Feb – 28th Feb 1
01 Mar – 07th Mar 354
08 Mar – 14th Mar 3217
15 Mar – 21st Mar 30698
22 Mar – 28th Mar 65014
29 Mar – 04th Apr 5880

At the end of the day, it will come down to how many people log on to watch your streams. 

My last Periscope stream had 233 viewers. My last Meerkat? Zero.

about the author

Tristan Pollock is an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at 500 Startups and the co-founder of Storefront, the online marketplace that connects makers with retail space. Previously, he co-founded SocialEarth, the Huffington Post of social entrepreneurship. A Minnesota native from a family of makers, Tristan now lives and creates in San Francisco, California.

He’s on periscope as @writerpollock 


Five Years @ 500 Startups — Oops, More Like One Thousand Startups!

After five years of busting our butts at 500 Startups, we recently invested in our 1,000th company (actually, we think it happened sometime in March). That’s over 1,000 investments in amazing startups around the world by our team of 50+ badasses who reside in 12 countries and speak 20+ languages (and spit fire sometimes while doing it).

We should note that the # of companies in our portfolio is a bit of a vanity metric, and our focus is more often on results and returns (which are doing alright, thank you). Nevertheless, we believe investing in 1,000 companies is still an important milestone, and a testament to the hard work of many people striving to achieve a common goal. That goal of course, is to find, fund, and help grow the best entrepreneurs and startups from around the globe. These entrepreneurs inspire us daily — not just because they’re awesome (they are!), but because they’re #500STRONG and have invited us to join them for a small part of their journey… and we are very thankful to be along for the ride.

First it’s important to note that over 300 of our investments are in companies that started outside the US, across 50+ countries. As it turns out talented founders are not limited to Silicon Valley. We have put more airline miles behind us than a sassy flight attendant spanning the globe to identify the next generation of kick-ass founders. And we’re not stopping, as we continue to double down with our recently-launched regional funds 500 Kimchi (Korea) and 500 TukTuks (Thailand). This is in addition to our other investment efforts in Latin America, India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. This might sound strange for most Silicon Valley VCs, but actually our team is on the ground in those geographies, they speak the language, and in most cases they were born there.


Of course DIVERSITY on the 500 team (over 40% female) and amongst our founders (see below) plays a big part in the work we do, so it’s incredibly rewarding for us to look back and see that over 250 of our investments include female founders on the team, and over 150 of those companies have a female CEO. We applaud other investors who have recently begun to focus on diversity, although for 500 this has been our focus since we started. We encourage others to join us in funding accents, women, minorities, and people who look and sound a little different — together we can make a lot more impact in this area, and avoid the narrow-minded and myopic focus on people who come from only one demographic, geographic, or socio-graphic neighborhood.

Finally let’s talk about our accelerator programs that now graduate over 150 companies per year (in addition to the 150+ seed investments we make annually). Since we started our accelerator in 2011, we have graduated over 400 companies from 18 cohorts out of 3 locations (Mountain View, San Francisco and Mexico City). Although our program is only 4 years old, many of these companies have now raised Series A & B institutional rounds, and we are starting to see several reach valuations over $50-100M. Graduates from our accelerator program who have raised over $1M now include: Vessel, SourceEasy, Carelulu, Pop Up Archive, Totspot, ProductBio, Neighborly, Lenda, Shopline, RAIN, ProductBio, Givesurance, Shakr, Zoomforth, Shippo, Unwind Me, Holidog, PredictionIO, Whale Path, DOZ, FameBit, TargetingMantra, Friend Trusted,, ToutApp, TalkDesk, 9Gag, PicCollage, CompStak, Soldsie, TokyoOtakuMode, Whill, LeTote, Traity, ContaAzul, Happy Inspector, uBiome, ClubW, just to name a few.

If you think you have what it takes to do a startup, we encourage you to Apply now to our upcoming Batch 14 (note: our new US accelerator terms are now $125K for 5%, less a $25K program tuition).

In addition to our investment efforts, we run several other related programs such as our industry conferences and events on e-commerce, customer acquisition, and venture capital innovation, and our recently-announced investor education class with the Stanford School of Continuing Studies, titled “The Insider’s Guide to Silicon Valley Investing”. We also have lots of ideas for new startup services coming in the future.

So what’s next? Are we done? Are we changing the name to 1000 Startups? Well no and no, although someday we might decide to change it to 500 VCs. We have no intention to slow down, and although we did over 300 investments last year, we are just beginning to hit our stride. In fact, after 1,000 companies, we finally feel like we are ready to start scaling.

Giddy up.

Recent Press Coverage: TechCrunch, CNN Money