What other reasons do you need to launch a 500 Distro Program in this hub of hubs for the Latin Americas innovation ecosystem?
Our Miami Distro Program brings 500 staff and mentors from Silicon Valley, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil, together to throw one big investor / growth marketer beach party that’s going to rock Miami for 10 straight weeks.
The past couple of years have seen the Miami and LatAm startup ecosystem continue to mature, with more companies emerging in the region, and more money to fund them.
There are plenty of ways to spend your investors’ money, but in our highly biased opinion, nothing beats the ROI on growth marketing: scaling customer acquisition, retention and revenue.
That’s why we’re launching the 500 Miami Distro Program — to help LatAm startups 10x their reach with world class mentorship, hands-on guidance, and funding to power growth experiments.
With the support of program partners the Knight Foundation, the Simkins family fund, Softlayer and Building.co, a new collaborative space for tech companies in Brickell where the Miami Distro Program will take place, we’ll be rolling this program out to our first invitation-only batch starting September 28.
Target companies will be post-seed teams from South Florida, or startups looking to expand regionally across Latin America, as well as throughout the Spanish-speaking market in the U.S. and beyond.
About the Distro Program
The Miami Distro Program is a 10-week growth-focused training and implementation program for companies who have previously raised at least USD$150,000 in funding from other investors.
They’ll be joined by an additional crew of badass growth marketers from around the world, including regional mentors with a track record of blowing up customer acquisition in Latin America, Spain and beyond.
Participating companies will receive between $150,000 to $250,000 in funding from 500 Startups, with $50k allocated to the Distro program fee and another $50k earmarked for growth spend.
The Distro Program Experience
Distro Program will be staffed with 4-6 mentors on site, and additional topic-specific mentors available remotely throughout the program.
500 Distro mentors will be kicking ass and taking names throughout the program with twice-weekly check-ins on key performance metrics, and a low team-to-mentor ratio. No slacking, and no leaky buckets.
MOAR channels and coverage:
The Distro Program focuses on “growth as a mindset.” Growth marketing isn’t a set of hack-tics, but a process of experimentation that builds growth into the structure of the organization itself.
In addition to proven customer acquisition strategies, the Miami Distro Program will cover emerging and geography-specific channels like mobile, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and MOAR.
MOAR ecosystem building:
Experts and mentors coming to Miami from all over Latin America and from Silicon Valley, and 500 Startups will open up selected mentors sessions to the local startup community.
500’s Miami Distro Program is 10 weeks of expert-guided implementation — learning by doing, not by listening to a bunch of talks.
Who It’s For
The Distro Program operates as an investment vehicle for 500 Startups, so getting in requires that you’d qualify for an investment from 500 Startups.
What we’re looking for:
Traction: It’s a post-seed investment, so you should have closed a previous round of financing, and demonstrated product-market fit.
Founder Mindset: We’re looking for founders and teams who are committed to growth as a mindset. This means you’re willing to spend resources (aka MONEY and TIME) on growth marketing to take your company to the next level.
The Miami Distro Program kicks off on September 28, 2015 at BUILDING.co in downtown Miami. In order to be selected, post-seed companies with demonstrable product-market-fit and measurable traction will be identified through recommendations and introductions from our network of 3,000 founders and mentors worldwide. At present, we are not planning to accept applications.
BUT, we’re making many of our live growth programs available to the public on our YouTube channel, so stay sharp and stay tuned.
Header artwork design by Yiying Lu, based on original image from “Miami Vice” by Universal Television NBC Universal Television Distribution.
There are a lot of ways to look at diversity, but the most helpful way I have found is called “diversity debt.” In the same way that engineers can accrue “technical debt” when they push out sloppy code, or business owners can accrue “bookkeeping debt” when they procrastinate their financials until tax time, companies can also accrue diversity debt over their life cycle. The more people your company hires until you have a diverse team (meaning an array of genders, LGBT, socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, able-bodiedness, etc.) — the more diversity debt your organization has accrued.
These huge organizations have accrued a ton of diversity debt, and like most debt situations, it becomes harder and harder to fix the longer you wait. But, if you ask most startup founders, diversity falls very low on the priority list.
What gets done in a startup usually intersects where “important” meets “urgent” — most people in startups agree that having a diverse team is “important,” but when is it urgent?
Recruiting ANY top talent, let alone diverse talent, is the hardest part about being a start-up founder today. If the biggest tech companies, with dedicated budgets and recruiting machines, are making dismal progress, can you imagine how difficult it is for startup?
The truth is that early startup teams are largely a reflection of the founders themselves and their networks. Most founders don’t think about building a diverse network when they are building their professional networks, and this has huge consequences throughout the life cycle of a startup.
Startup hiring is also more difficult; there’s huge pressure to hire “A” level people who are awesome long-term culture fits, not to mention limited compensation, higher risk, and no dedicated recruiter. Earlier in my career, I read startup investor Elad Gil’s blog, which advised founders to hire early for homogeneity in values and “culture fit” beer tests. From the purely pragmatic angle, it makes perfect sense. Early team disputes are potentially life-threatening for a startup, and recruiting outreach is expensive. But, this attitude is also a huge contributing factor to the lack of diversity in tech today. This is why startups who value diversity should start as early as possible to avoid accruing diversity debt and build a better culture.
WAYS TO ADDRESS DIVERSITY IN YOUR STARTUP:
1) Start as early as you can.
People often ask me: when in a startup’s life does it makes sense to prioritize diversity? TL;DR answer: Debt starts to accrue around the 4th hire, speeds up around #10, REALLY HARD after #20.
If you don’t believe a homogenous team is beneficial for the future of your company, start early — even when it doesn’t feel urgent. Homogeneity becomes harder to change as your company grows. Small culture and process changes can make big differences over time.
Stage: Founders only, < 4 employees
Under four people, it’s hard to find realistic ways to hire minorities, women, LGBT folks if you don’t already have them in your immediate network. Depending on your funding, it may not be justifiable from an economic perspective either to expend extra effort to source, vet, and convince people to join these already difficult to fill roles. This is why it’s an advantage to have a diverse founding team. Besides the network effects and attracting diverse candidates, the benefits of having a diverse team is experienced early on. The main reason 500 Startups is so gender-balanced is that Dave McClure co-founded the firm with Christine Tsai. These values trickle down. However, finding the right co-founder is like finding the right spouse, so unless you have a diverse network to begin with, this isn’t possible or likely for most people today.
So, at this stage, you should be preparing for the hires you’ll need down the road. Create your team values. Discuss how your culture will be inclusive to people who are different than you. Start building real relationships with people who are very different than you and come from different communities. See resources below to find ideas where to start.
Stage: Hire #9 or #10
When a startup begins to grow quickly, the question is: how much time do you allocate to recruiting vs. just hiring whoever comes to you and relying on the team’s existing network?
At this point, you’re growing and need to hire people quickly. This is when tough decisions need to be made. It means that perhaps instead of referral bonuses, you may use those funds to support a diversity scholarship or send your team to a diversity conference. It means you might have to make hard decisions at inopportune times, but these early trade-offs could have a huge impact on the climate and long term development of your culture.
Offer mentorship. Network with diverse groups and communities, and find new graduates, early stage professionals, people seeking to change careers who are passionate. Hire interns who come from many different backgrounds.
Stage: >20 people
At this point, it makes sense to put some serious resources toward your diversity efforts if your team is still mostly male and white. Hire a recruiter who has experience with hiring diverse candidates. Track internal metrics about your applicants. Invest in outreach, mentorship programs, and conferences.
2) Be proactive about your website, job ads, interviews, and benefits.
Define culture fit, and be specific about what exactly your core values are and the message you want to send to current and new team members. For example, does “work hard, play hard” as a company value manifest as 14-hour workdays and wild weekend drinking adventures as a team? If so, it’s also a huge repellent for anyone NOT a young, extroverted 20-something without kids or any desire for balance. A recent article wrote about how Stripe is rethinking this:
“Stripe has minimized bias in the “culture fit” component of its interviews by focusing on whether the candidate is someone people at the company would actively seek to work with, rather than someone they “want to hang out with…”
How do you compensate for unconscious bias? Other than education, you might try introducing some practices and policies. For example, one of my friends runs a very popular hardware meetup that always fills up. He created a separate mailing list for the women in the group and sends any meetup invites to that list first and waits a day before blasting to the whole community. Another friend has a policy in her startup that if their team is on the fence about a diverse candidate, they will bring the candidate in the office for another interview.
These types of measures are often accused of being “special treatment” or somehow unfair. I don’t see it that way. If you acknowledge unconscious bias in your team, these types of policies can act as a safeguard to counteract unconscious team biases and lead to meaningful learning for the whole company.
Try to interview at least one diverse candidate for every major role you’re hiring for. It’s a version of the Rooney Rule strategy that helped the NFL increase coaching staff diversity. Key is to take them through full process — and it doesn’t count if you rule them out before meeting them. Why? a) You are giving the candidate a better chance to be fully vetted, and b) So you become accustomed to interviewing candidates with backgrounds different from yours. Facebook has started doing this for a select set of roles.
4) Build an inclusive culture from Day 1.
There’s a lot of emphasis on hiring, but the attrition rate for women and people of color is the more alarming problem in tech. Your culture changes with each early hire. Too often, I notice this culture forms without much thought. When I joined my first startup, my co-workers would make fucked up jokes all the time. I thought this was normal. I would often hear comments that hiring more women or parents or a black person would mean we would “have to hire a HR person” — which is code for saying the “fun” culture would end. A couple years later, when I grew tired of working with startups with similar cultures and started speaking up about diversity, a close colleague asked me if I was becoming a “feminist.” Startups should be fun, but they should also be inclusive, safe spaces, even before a diverse candidate joins.
Lead the team by example, and speak up. I spoke to a young female engineer who told me that another more senior engineer asked her to give him a back rub in front of their founders, and the founders didn’t do or say anything.
Be mindful of humor and defining what’s acceptable — ask yourself, if a healthy number of women and people of color and generally mixed bunch were here, would we be making the same jokes? Work should be a place where people can have fun and be themselves, but founders should use best judgment here and set the tone to prepare the culture for a diverse team long-term.
5) Position matters — and watch the office housework!
When I was helping hundreds of companies with their taxes, accounting, and payroll, I noticed that the first woman a startup would hire would usually be an office manager or administrative role. Now, that’s not to say these roles are not important or valuable (I started my career in customer success/operations), but having primarily women in these roles or as the first female hire sends a message about power dynamics and influence in the office, and it can really turn off potential women candidates in leadership and other roles from joining a culture that feels very Mad Men.
Devote resources to finding women in leadership positions and key roles in engineering, product, and sales as soon as possible.
Take extra care with handling administrative roles and communicating their value to the team. Female office managers have often mentioned they feel like second class citizens in their organizations. Respect is key.
Currently, women do most of the office housework. Pay attention to who takes out the trash, orders food, stays after to clean up after events. Create a rotating schedule for these tasks.
Also important note:
If your startup hires a woman or person of color, it’s not their job to increase the diversity — it’s everyone’s job. Diverse teammates often have to take up the second job of increasing diversity, which may or may not be important to them.
6) Do your best.
I empathize with founders who believe in creating an inclusive culture and make an effort, but still lack the diversity on their own teams.
Our team was led by two women. We hired Joe, who was a year older than my father, who brought a very different and much-needed perspective. We had two gay men on our team. Jose and I are Filipino, an underrepresented group in tech. We did our best to bring on people of different perspectives, which made us a stronger team. Still, we struggled to hire more women and people of color as we grew, especially during periods of rapid growth, and it’s something I still regret. I wish I knew then what I know now, and I hope with this information you’ll be able to build diverse, thriving teams.
Binh Tran brings more than 20 years of experience in tech. A technologist and a four-time founder, his latest win was Klout, the Kleiner Perkins-backed social marketing startup that was acquired in 2014 at a US$200M valuation. Binh will reside both in San Francisco and Ho Chi Minh City, allowing him to work with Vietnamese American founders building startups for their homeland as well as supporting teams with global aspirations. Binh began angel investing three years ago and also advises several startups, including Chute, MirusSearch, and Hired.
Eddie Thai brings experience in tech, media, and telecommunications in the U.S. and Vietnam. He started his career working on product for Nodal Exchange, a novel combinatorial auction platform for commodity futures. After several years working on strategy and finance for U.S. Fortune 500 companies, CJ, and other large corporates, last year he shifted back to startups, advising various Vietnamese teams including Chon.vn (acquired) and POSE.vn. Eddie will provide 500 with on-the-ground deal sourcing, selection, and support. He received degrees from Harvard and Yale and was recently recognized in the Forbes Vietnam 30 Under 30 list.
Why Vietnam? Because it’s big, fast-growing, and underserved by seed stage venture capital firms. Vietnam has more people than California, New York, and Florida combined, and more than 40 million of them are on the internet. It is one of the world’s fastest growing economies since 1990 and has been Apple’s fastest growing market in the world. 500 has invested in 3 Vietnamese startups since last year and we plan to invest in up to 20 more in the next 12 months.
Khailee Ng, Managing Partner of 500 Startups, said “For us, it was never a question of ‘is Vietnam ready as a market?’, but rather ‘are we ready for Vietnam as a market?’, and today, we’re making our first of many moves to be ready!”
Today’s post comes from one of my all-time growth marketing HEROES, Peep Laja of ConversionXL. Peep is a master conversion rate optimizer, and created multiple ultimate guides on CRO before “ultimate guides” were a thing in content marketing.
Awhile back, I asked Peep to review a few landing pages for a few 500 companies who had volunteered for the critique from Batch 13. Little did they know what they were signing up for…
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: Landing pages can change fast and A LOT — especially startup landing pages, and especially if you’re doing growth right (aka running experiments). Peep’s commentary on the landing pages reviewed for this post reflects the strengths and weaknesses of those sites at the time of review. While these sites may have changed since the original critique, the fundamentals of CRO have not.
HUGE thank you to Peep. Everyone else, listen up.
Most of startups have a single goal: to acquire more customers, more leads. That’s what we’re optimizing for.
It’s tough to see problems on your own website (hard to call your own baby ugly), so here’s some outside feedback. I’m going to review 5 startup websites – pass on my feedback – and hope some of the lessons will apply to your website as well.
I’m only focusing on the above the fold area as that’s the only bit most of your new visitors will ever see. While the size of the fold varies from device to device, fold is very much alive and matters a great deal. People do know that scrolling exists, but they need to be compelled to do so.
How do I go about the reviews? By using heuristic analysis.
How to go about heuristic analysis
Heuristic analysis is a structured experienced based assessment. We evaluate a web page against a set of heuristics, and apply our field experience on top of it.
Just like someone who’s been fixing shoes for 10 years is way better able to assess what’s wrong with a broken shoe compared to a layperson, the same way an experienced conversion analyst is able to have better instant ideas on what’s wrong with a web page.
When you analyze a site, the worst possible way to go about it randomly. “I think this is bad” and “I don’t like it” is not the optimal way. Unstructured approach yields less value as you’re not really sure what you’re looking for, “stuff that’s bad for conversions” is way too generic.
You need a structured process.
When evaluating a site, I will:
Assess each page for clarity – is it perfectly clear and understandable what’s being offered and how it works? This is not just about the value proposition – it applies to all pages (pricing, featured, product pages etc).
Understand context and evaluate page relevancy for visitors: does web page relate to what the visitor thought they were going to see? Do pre-click and post-click messages and visuals align?
Assess incentives to take action: Is it clear what people are getting for their money? Is there some sort of believable urgency? What kind of motivators are used? Is there enough product information? Is the sales copy persuasive?
Evaluate all the sources of friction on the key pages. This includes difficult and long processes, insufficient information, poor readability and UX, bad error validation, fears about privacy & security, any uncertainties and doubts, unanswered questions.
Pay attention to distracting elements on every high priority pages. Are there any blinking banners or automatic sliders stealing attention? Too much information unrelated to the main call to action? Any elements that are not directly contributing to visitors taking desired action?
Understand buying phases and see if visitors are rushed into too big of a commitment too soon. Are there paths in place for visitors in different stages (research, evaluation etc)?
Let’s now analyze 7 startup websites using heuristic analysis.
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen any data – qualitative nor quantitative – for these sites. Half the advice I will give will probably make no difference, and I don’t know which half. Heuristic analysis is always only the starting point for a proper data-driven investigation.
The main thing in the visual hierarchy here is the embedded YouTube video. There’s no prominent headline to tell me what this site is about. First piece of text I see is “Try out the Storygami player” (which isn’t a link or button).
I guess it’s some sort of a video player, but why should I try it out? No clue. Most websites that feature a promo video see on average a 10% play rate. Storygami gives no reason to watch the video, no indication of how long the video is, so the metric might be even lower for them.
In any case, if ~90% of the people are not watching the video, what are they missing out on? Make sure that info is conveyed via images + text.
The actual value proposition is conveyed on the right, but it’s very small and unimportant compared to the video, not easy to notice even.
The headline “Add amazing content overlays into your video embeds” suffers from poor clarity.
Only as the very last thing the benefit – 90% higher video engagement – is mentioned (yet no proof offered).
The last poor idea here is the premature form ejaculation. You’ve shown people 2 vague sentences – and expect them to sign up for something that they don’t even understand yet. The conversion rate for this is going to be very poor.
Main things I’d change / test:
Add a value proposition above the video. Lead with “Increase video engagement by 90%” or similar
Add a strong reason above the video to actually play the video. Experiment with auto-play: even though it’s annoying, I constantly see it win in A/B tests.
Offer proof of claims via case studies and testimonials next to the client logos. Also add context to the client logos.
Instead of the sign-up form, invite them to a tour page that shows examples and offers ample proof. As a secondary call to action, add a sign up text link for returning visitors.
The first experience on this site is seeing this “loader” animation:
Reminds me of 2001 when half the websites online started with “loading Flash.” Not the best user experience. Site loading speed matters.
After the site finally loads after too many seconds, the animations continue as you scroll down. These are distractions that stop people from focusing on what really matters – is this place for them, and how can it help them?
The 800-pound gorilla in the room is a complete lack of clear, benefit-driven value proposition. No human being can understand “what” and “why” without scrolling down, and that’s a huge waste.
If these guys are measuring scroll depth (they should), they will most definitely see more and more people dropping off as they scroll deeper.
No meaningful attempt is made to communicate what is this place, who it is for, what can they do with it and why should they do it. This is conversion optimization 101.
Main things I’d change / test:
Instantly get rid of the “loading” thing. No technical reason can be used as an excuse for this.
There is no value proposition conveyed, only buzzwords.
Instead of the stock photography, show a screenshot or three of your app – way better clarity, way more value.
If you want people to watch the video, compel them to do so.
Tell — or show — people that there’s so much good stuff below the fold.
This is pretty good – starts with a statement that will resonate with people, and arouse curiosity. They could be more specific about “art” – are we talking about $10 wall prints, hand-made sculptures or original paintings?
Way down the page it’s revealed that it’s $200-$3000 – and whether that’s affordable or not depends on the target audience. You might be able to increase your lead quality by stating that up front, at least in your paid acquisition campaigns.
Next obvious step in the customer journey is well laid out, but the call to action is too vague.
Click fear is a real thing. Your landing page CTA should make it absolutely clear what happens when I click on it, and it should be low-commitment at this stage.
The bottom of the page is a needlessly large FAQ section. The thing about FAQs is that there shouldn’t be a need for an FAQ section, and all the questions that will arise should be answered in context.
Main things I’d change / test:
Clarify what kind of art are we talking about here + address some of the key FAQs above the fold via bullet points (3 max).
Test low-commitment, high clarity call to action copy on the button
Test moving the first question of the quiz to the home page right away
Remove social sharing here, but consider adding social proof as a standalone line
There is a prominent headline, but the handwriting font makes it hard to read. The second line is crucial to communicate who this site is for, but nowhere is the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) mentioned. What’s the value proposition? Will I increase online sales? Reduce return rates?
Also, it’s an app. When it comes to software, you can’t have enough screenshots. More screenshots! They are the best tool you have to communicate what you have there.
Show me proof that it works, and instead of pics of lipstick show me the product in use – like in a retail setting.
“Learn more” button merely scrolls down – what a waste! Instead of the world’s worst sales pitch (“Interested? Get in touch”) demonstrate them the value of your product, and show them how easy it is to implement it. Make me want it!
Main things I’d change / test:
Use a different font for better readability
Improve the clarity of the value proposition – tell me what this will help me do!
Add proof that it works
Show me what it’s like: move screenshots / photos above the fold
Create a page where you demonstrate the benefits, and show the ease of implementation. Link to that page from the main call to action on the home page.
The value proposition is vague at best (“achieve more” hardly strikes an emotional chord with people), and the descriptive sub-header does not pack much punch either. They definitely need to involve a copywriter who understands qualitative research.
The testimonial photo is prominent, but it’s a terrible choice – looks like an unrelatable stock photo model (no full name presented which makes it even more suspicious – he’s OK to show his face, but not disclose the name?). Even the quote looks fake, who talks like that?
Out of curiosity I did an Google image search for it – and what do you know, it really is a stock photo – used on a large number of website. If it looks fake, it is! Don’t use cheesy stock photos, everyone can see through it. It only hurts your credibility.
Next in the visual hierarchy is the box with a call to action – “sign up for a free initial call with a coach”. There is no benefit communicated here – not even trying to make me want it. No specifics – who is this coach? Will this person be able to actually help me in my specific circumstance? I might be an executive in a large manufacturing organization, yet the coach has only SME experience. That wouldn’t be a match. They do have a “find a match” option down the page, but most won’t see it. Move it higher!
Main things I’d change / test:
If you’re already using standard templates, test against a better one
Get rid of the fake stock photo dude
Improve your value proposition: test different offers, nail the main benefit that people actually care about – find the emotional button
Add specifics on how the coaching program works, give me an idea about costs
Most people need to be sold the idea of getting a coach to begin with – create a page for that
The landing pages reviewed here suffer mostly from the same issues, and these are problems I see again and again.
Lack of a clear and compelling value proposition
Asking for a transaction (sign up) before the user is ready
Add proof to your claims to minimize friction
Entice people to scroll down
The point here isn’t to call out the few brave companies that volunteered for this review, but to show that EVERY BUSINESS can stand to improve conversions on their landing pages.
You have 2 main levers to compel people to take action: a) make taking action as easy as possible, and b) increase your visitors’ motivation, so they’d actually want to do it.
These 5 websites lacked in the visitor motivation department. Does yours?