Marketing Hell Week January 2017 – Day 5 Recap


What is Marketing Hell Week?

MHW is Growth Marketing 101 Bootcamp 500Startups puts together for every one of their seed stage cohorts. The event is also livestreamed free.

Join us for Sales Hell on March 1-2, 2017 here:

Below are notes on what’s in the talks and some key takeaways written by Tyler Tate, founder of Crema. If you found the talks useful we would appreciate it if you shared them with your friends!


Product Driven Growth with Annabell Satterfield

Annabell Satterfield, Senior Product Manager, Growth at BitTorrent, Inc. talks about:

  • Why Product is the delivery device for core value
  • How to approach growth from a product perspective
  • Finding the company’s core value and making that your number 1 goal.


Developer Marketing w/ Dellaena Maliszewski

Dellaena Maliszewski, Senior Marketing Manager at O’Reilly Media talks about:

  • Difference between developer and technical practitioner
  • The deadly sins of developer marketing
  • Amplifying your message in the developer ecosystem


Emerging Channels with Aurelie Davis

Aurelie Davis, VP Marketing at One Kings Lane talks about:

  • Programmatic direct mail
  • Podcasts
  • Content Marketing


Pricing Strategy & Optimization with Jeanette Sacks

Jeannette Sacks, Senior Director of Merchandising & Marketing @StackCommerce talks about:

  • How to keep up with your Competitors and Peers’ prices
  • Testing Pricing Changes
  • Multi-level Pricing Structures



Minimum Viable Branding with Scott Kraft

Scott Kraft, Angel, Mentor, Strategy, Brand talks about:

  • Why you should invest in your minimal viable brand
  • How much you should invest in each brand investments
  • New School Branding formula

First up, design expert Scott Kraft talked about developing a brand in startup time. His central message: don’t spend too much time spinning your wheels on name, domain, and logo (contrary to what we typically associating with “brand”), and instead focus more on your brand story and values. Bottom line: you don’t need to spend tens of thousands of dollars to create a good brand.

What is MVB?

A minimum viable brand has stopping power — the ability to grab someone’s attention. It has the ability to quickly differentiate you in a crowded, noisy world. And it has staying power, giving you the ability to build into the future.

Why should you invest in building a brand?

A few reasons are: * To increase return on ad spending (ROAS), gross margin, LTV * To lower CAC * To attract more and stronger talent * To increase press attention * To raise valuation * But the best reason is speed. A strong brand can help accelerate decision making and execution.

What Are Brand Investments?

  • Name
  • Domain
  • Logo
  • Elevator pitch, story
  • Voice and personality
  • Behavior

Contrary to our gut reaction, Scott recommended that we spend the most time on the bottom three, not the top three.

Common Brand Myths

  • Myth: Branding is expensive. Reality: Nike spent $35 to get its brand going
  • Myth: Building a brand takes years. Reality: How old is SnapChat?
  • Myth: Branding effects are unmeasurable. Reality: Try an A/B test where you don’t identify your brand
  • Myth: You can’t be a great brand without a great name. Reality: Success makes most names great but great names don’t guarantee anything
  • Myth: You need a branding expert. Reality: It may help, it may hurt; but many great brands were created without experts

Key Components of an MVB

Like MVPs, great minimum viable brands solve immediate needs and demonstrate future promise. There are six key components of a minimum viable brand — audience needs, functional benefits, emotional benefits, personality, promise, and vision — anchored by your brand pillars. Take time to brainstorm and talk through each of these key components with your team.

Audience Needs

Who are the people you want to reach? What are their objectives and motivations? How will you fulfil their needs? Here’s how to pin down your audience needs: 1. Start by listing all your audiences, including investors, talent, press, etc. 2. Then use the 80-20 rule to segment your customer audience into a primary and secondary group 3. List out the needs of each user group — try to get down to unspoken reasons (e.g. “I want to look good”) 4. Lastly, narrow the list down to the top 2 or 3 needs for each group.

Functional Benefits

These are the tangible gains that your audiences get from working with you and using your products and services. * List out the problems your product solves using the most active verbs you can. Avoid soft verbs (like connect, facilitate, enable) and vague verbs (like revolutionize, redefine, scale); straightforward verbs are best (such as simplify, save, reduce, increase, shorten, grow, protect).

Emotional Benefits

The positive feelings your audiences get that cause them to prefer you over competitors. * What does using your brand make your audiences feel and why? Try to complete this sentence: “You will feel more X because of Y.” (Some example words: Productive, attractive, innovative, protected, recognize.)


How you want to be perceived or, conversely, how your audience will describe you. * Think about your brand pillars (explained below), your top customer audience, their top 3 needs, and top 3 emotional benefits, etc.


What you deliver time and again that demonstrates that you are dedicated to your audiences. This is the best area for your tagline to speak to (e.g. “The Ultimate Driving Machine”). * What is your commitment to your audiences for choosing and sticking by you? It could be functional (“Always low prices”), or emotional (“Don’t be evil”).


Your big objective that encompasses both the immediate and the very long term. What does the world look like in 5 years with your brand? How would it have been different without your brand in it? Try to avoid vision statements oriented around being the biggest or best. Here are some example vision statements: * A completely emission-free transportation system that outperforms the fossil-fuel system * “Obliterate bad coffee.” * “Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”

Brand Pillars

Your brand pillars are the three attributes that you cannot exist without as a company. They might be values, principles, personality traits, beliefs, or an area of focus, but stay away from words like: innovative, revolutionary, connecting, trustworthy, reliable, disruptive, honest, bold. They’re trite and people will immediately

Try to get to something more human. Some better examples might be: imaginative, athletic, empathetic, conscientious, reliable, steadfast, radical, pragmatic, exotic, badass, provocative, egalitarian, enthusiastic, romantic

For example, whose brand might these three pillars describe: 1) electric, 2) uncompromising, 3) master plan.

Putting it all together.

Complete these phrases to create your own “one-liner”: * We make  * For  * Who need  *


Here are some examples: * “We make shoes for competitive runners who need lighter equipment because lighter is faster, and faster means winning.” * “We make an online payments platform for any business or consumer with email who need to send and receive online payments securely, conveniently and cost-effectively because traditional payment mechanisms underserve them.”

To put together your MVB brand marketing kit, use the key components and brand pillars above to craft your one-liner, elevator pitch, sales story, and product marketing pitch. By going through this process first, things like name, domain, and logo will come more naturally and be better grounded.


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Marketing Hell Week January 2017 – Day 4 Recap


What is Marketing Hell Week?

MHW is Growth Marketing 101 Bootcamp 500Startups puts together for every one of their seed stage cohorts. The event is also livestreamed free.

Join us for Sales Hell on March 1-2, 2017 here:

Below are notes on what’s in the talks and some key takeaways written by Tyler Tate, founder of Crema. If you found the talks useful we would appreciate it if you shared them with your friends!


Adwords with Soso Sazesh  

Soso Sazesh, Founder and CEO at Growth Pilots talks about:

  • How to get LTV > CPA to hold true at scale
  • Predicting challenges your startups will face
  • Different ways to show ads across a dozen channels to test and optimize

Soso Sazesh, founder of Growth Pilots, talked about advertising opportunities across Google’s various properties, including AdWords, Google Display Network, YouTube, and Gmail. He opened with a quick primer to paid acquisition.

The cost of acquisition (CPA) is the one and only variable over which you have immediate control in paid acquisition. LTV and market size (the reach of your target audience) are more or less fixed (in the short term, at least). The goal is to get LTV to be (much) larger than CPA, and for that ratio to hold at scale, which is challenging, because there are diminishing returns. It can be especially tricky for startups: you may not know your LTV, established companies may be placing irrationally high bids on top keywords (to maintain their position of dominance), and your market may be nascent (e.g. there were hardly any searches for “ride sharing” a few years ago).

Use conversion tracking!

A common pitfall for companies using AdWords is to not use conversion tracking, or not use it properly. Conversion tracking is how you (and Google) measure the effectiveness of your ads. Without it, you won’t know what your CPA is. Make sure you get this right.


Here’s how Google AdWords works from a 50k foot view: * Advertisers choose which searches trigger their ads via keywords * Advertisers pay for each click on their ad * There is a finite number of searches for a given keyword * The goal is finding as many keywords as possible that are profitable

A Google AdWords campaign contains multiple ad groups. Each of those ad groups can contain multiple keywords and ads. That said, Soso recommends having just one ad creative per ad group, so that you can have full control over which ad is shown (rather than allow Google to auto-optimize this).


Keywords are words or phrases you choose to bid on, and correspond to what your potential customers are typing into Google. Remember that you choose keywords, but people think and type in search terms. Try to think like a customer when you’re brainstorming keyword themes. You could also use Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush, Spyfu to help. Categorize themes by level of intent (e.g. “what is email marketing” does not carry an intent to buy, whereas “best email marketing software” implies they’re comparing tools and wanting to purchase one). Don’t ignore branded keywords and competitor keywords — you can potentially get a lot of mileage out of these.

Match Types

Match types let you control which search terms map to your keywords. Here are the types: * Broad: email marketing software * Broad modified: +email +marketing +software * Phrase: “email marketing software” * Exact: [email marketing software]

Soso’s pro tip here was to use the broad modified match type to figure out what keyword combinations perform best, then move those high-performing keyword combinations to an exact match and pause the broad modified keywords. The CPC cost will probably be slightly higher, but overall you save because the conversion is higher and you’re not throwing away money on underperforming keyword combinations.

Where to Optimize

You’ll adjust keywords, bids, budgets, and ad copy to control your campaign. The “Search Term Report” will tell you what search terms people actually searched for to trigger your keywords. This is the basis of keyword expansion and how you discover irrelevant keywords that you may want to negate. Use thresholds/rules to determine what you pay attention to (e.g. filter out keywords with few impressions).

Quality Score

Google will assign a quality score of 1-10 to each keyword based on the relevance of a keyword with the associated ad and landing page, and taking into account the expected click through rate. This quality score is a proxy for the quality of the end to end user experience, and it affects ad position and the amount you pay per click.

The Two-Step AdWords Auction

Your ad position for a given query is determined by multiplying your quality score for a given keyword multiplied by the CPC bid. Cost per click, on the other hand, is determined by the bid and quality score of your next best competitor.

Bid & Budget Optimization

You set a max CPC bid per keyword, but that doesn’t mean you pay the full bid each time. It’s an auction system like eBay.

It’s counterintuitive, but you should control your budget for a campaign by optimizing the bid, not by setting a budget cap. If you’re hitting a budget cap, it means you’re bidding too high. Just reduce your bid and you’ll get more conversion for the same price. Relatedly, use accelerated ad delivery to ensure you’re getting every possible impression.

Google Display Network

Publishers show GDN ads on their websites, and there are billions of daily impressions. The traffic from it tends to be cheap, but low quality. Because ads are repeatedly shown to the same people, “ad fatigue” is fairly high — you need to be constantly refreshing your ad creatives, which can take a lot of work.


There are several ways you can advertise on GDN: * Remarketing. You can put a remarking pixel on your website so that GDN knows who has visited your website but not converted. You can then advertise to those people via GDN. * Lookalike. You could also create a lookalike audience based on the people who have visited your website. * Placements. You can also select “placements” — publications on the web — that you’d like your ad to appear on. * Keywords for contextual targeting. You can enter keywords and Google will show your ad on pages relevant to those keywords.

YouTube TrueView

On YouTube you can pay for plays. You only get charged when someone watches at least 30 seconds of the video. There’s no free lunch though — if you have a low watch rate it will just translate into a higher CPM.

Gmail Ads

Gmail Ads offers some unique opportunities, like being able to show an ad that looks deceptively like an email, targeting users who receive emails from certain domains (such as from your competitors), or target a list of email addresses.



Referral Marketing with Rachel Barge

Rachel Barge, Product Marketing at A3 Labs talks about:

  • How to create a referral acquisition strategy
  • The 4 referral motivations your users can have
  • How to create community, test promotions, and empower your users

Rachel Barge, who grew referrals at Yerdle 100x in a year, coached us on how to cultivate customer referrals. Rachel invited us to check out Ivan Kirigin’s talk on 27 Things Your Referral Program Needs To Win, but Rachel’s perspective is driven by her experience at Yerdle.

She grew referrals at Yerdle by building a community. Talking to them, understanding them, and giving them what they want. No bots. No hacks. But actually talking to them.

Do your customers like your product? If your users don’t LOVE your product, don’t bother with a referral program. If you track Net Promoter Score, 50+ is a good threshold.

Referral motivations

Most people automatically assume a transactional motivation, but there can be other motivations, too. Like “pro social,” a desire to help someone else. Or “identity,” a desire to seen as cool. Or “customer journey” – it’s just a core part of the product. The best referral programs probably have all three. Scarcity could also be used as a motivator.

How to getting started

  1. Talk to customers. The first thing we’re going to do is talk to our customer. On the phone. At a coffee shop. You need to become an anthropologist and study your customer species in the wild. Try to figure out what they love about your product and what their motivation is when you share you with friends.
  2. Get an MVP out the door.
  3. Talk to customers AGAIN.
  4. Create a community. Facilitate communication between members. Figure out what they need and make it happen for them.
  5. Find the leaders in the community and empower them.
  6. Test promotions. Figure out what the biggest friction point is for customers, and then offer a promotion that makes a dent in that friction point (free shipping, for example).
  7. Don’t overdo it. It can be overwhelming.


  • It’s probably best to build your referral program in-house, rather than using a third party tool. You have to integrate with your own systems so tightly anyway.
  • Rachel recommends using Delighted for gathering NPS scores — there’s even a Slack bot that will post the responses into Slack, so you can see customer feedback as it comes in.
  • Sean Ellis has a survey template that asks questions similar to NPS, but that can help you figure out what language.
  • Maitre is a tool that can do waitlists.


Remarketing 101 with John Hamilton

John Hamilton, GM at IdentityLink talks about:

– What is re-marketing; why it’s valuable; how to get started/manage/optimize

– Get started: place pixel; GTM; Vendors

– Manage: Define Metrics (CPA, ROAS, Clicks); Customer profile and value/target CPA; Attribution; Timeframe

– Optimization: Frequency; Recency; Bid; Additional Targeting (time of day)

John Hamilton, General Manager at Live Ramp, showed us how to do retargeting campaigns using Facebook. The bottom line: they’re easy and effective. Everyone should be doing them!

“Retargeting” is simply reaching out to people you already know, who have expressed at least a notional interest in your product.

It could be people who have visited your site, searched for your product, downloaded your app, signed up for a newsletter, watched your video on YouTube, or have otherwise raised their hand in some way — they’ve shown intent. It makes sense to keep targeting them, because your clickthrough rate and conversation rate will be much higher for a retargeted audience.

Remember that: 1. Marking is Math. It’s all about knowing your allowable cost per acquisition and backing out your marketing efforts from there. 2. Nearly every company should be using retargeting or remarketing as part of their user acquisition strategy. 3. Retargeting is easy to get rolling — it doesn’t take a lot of effort

There are several venues you could use for retargeting campaigns: Facebook, Twitter, Google Display Network, AdRoll, LiveRamp (John’s company). But by far the easiest is Facebook, so start there.

Getting Started with Facebook Retargeting

A retargeting campaign on Facebook (especially in the newsfeed) will be far better than any other campaign you will run. It’s super easy to get started: 1. Create a custom audience 2. Select “anybody who visits your website” 3. Bam!

Managing the Campaign

  • How long after a person visits your website do you want to advertise to them? The first 7 days since they indicated intent is good — beyond that is less good.
  • Segment your audience into groups that may have different target CPAs (Think about creating multiple campaigns, one for each segment. You could segment by the page(s) on your site they visit, for instance.)
  • Every aspect of the ad creative matters – imagery and copy are super important.
  • How complicated does your campaign need to be? Can it be non-dynamic (i.e. one ad fits all), or should it be dynamic (i.e. adjust the ad creative according to the individual person)? Facebook’s Dynamic Product Ads lets you connect a product feed, which you can use in conjunction with user metadata passed through the Facebook pixel to show personalized ad creatives.
  • Optimize your campaign using these levers: frequency (how many times should a user see your ad), recency (e.g. within first 7 days), bid, other targeting, like time of day (why show ads between 1am – 4am, for instance)


Want to get the most out of your Facebook Ads?  Massimo Chieruzzi from AdEspresso talks about:

  • How to get the most out of your Facebook ads


Influencer Marketing with Hannah Russin and Monica O’Hara

Hannah Russin (Growth Marketing Consultant. Director of Scalability & Growth at Datascore.) and Monica Ohara, (Growth Marketing for Startups. CEO & Co-Founder of DataScore) talks about:

  • The power of Influencers and benefits of working with them
  • How to identify and attract influencers to work with you
  • What to measure and amplify after the influencer promotes your product


Click here for Day 5’s recap!


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Marketing Hell Week January 2017 – Day 3 Recap


What is Marketing Hell Week?

MHW is Growth Marketing 101 Bootcamp 500Startups puts together for every one of their seed stage cohorts. The event is also livestreamed free.

Join us for Sales Hell on March 1-2, 2017 here:

Below are notes on what’s in the talks and some key takeaways written by Tyler Tate, founder of Crema. If you found the talks useful we would appreciate it if you shared them with your friends!



Top of Funnel with David Quiec

David Quiec, Customer Acquisition & Demand Gen. Distribution Hacker in Residence for 500 Startups talks about:

  • The 5 Guardrails to follow
  • How to achieve Business-Channel Fit
  • Creating operations for scale

David Quiec, a paid-acquisition pro, gave us five guardrails to follow for finding the right growth channel and making the most of it.

You only need one channel, for now

Ad networks are huge; you’re tiny. You could easily spend $100,000 on just one channel. So rather than spread yourself thin across many channels, focus on just one and become an expert in it. You might want to start out by testing out two or three channels, but try to quickly figure out which one works best and throw all your weight behind it.

Usually, channel matches business

There is typically a “right” channel for your particular business model. For example:

  • Display ads work well for entertainment or novel inventions that are fun, but have low mindshare. (Google Display Network)
  • Organic search is best for sites with lots of content such as directories and news sites (Google, Yahoo, Bing)
  • Native ads (e.g. those paid ads at the bottom of news articles) work for companies that have a strong educational component, like health and beauty or home improvement (e.g. RevContent, Taboola, Outbrain)
  • Paid search works well for e-commerce and other transactional businesses (Google, Yahoo, Bing)

Understand your acceptable CPA

As a general rule, you want your customer acquisition (CAC) cost to be no more than a third of your customer lifetime value (LTV). So first figure out your LTV (or at least estimate it); then divide by 3 to know what your acceptable CAC is. From there, look at the conversion rates your seeing to figure out what your CPC bid should be.

For example, if your LTV is $60, then you can probably afford to spend $20 to acquire a new customer. And if your conversion rate for a given channel is, say, 5%, then you know that you can afford to bid $1 per click. ($20 * .05 = $1.00)

Track to optimize

Even when you’re focused on a single channel, there’s plenty to keep you busy. Split your channel into numerous sub-channels, whether that’s by keyword, audiences, etc., and then double down on the ones that are cheapest and pull back on the ones that are more expensive.

Operationalize campaigns for scale

Look for ways to scale up your growth operations that don’t require a lot of hands-on effort. David gave the example of automating the bids on thousands of search ad keywords by exporting to a spreadsheet, using a plugin to calculate the best bid, and then uploading the spreadsheet back to Google/Bing Ads. (I think this is the plugin he was talking about.)



Run Growth Like A Hedge Fund with Gaurav Agarwal

Gaurav Agarwal, VP Growth at Molekule talks about:

  • Creating a growth engine that’s repeatable and scalable
  • Channels and Risks for every startup
  • Test and Scale the Portfolio theory around Risk vs Upside


SEO 101 w/ Bernard Huang

– SEO in 2016, Is SEO right for me?

– Keyword research, on-site content, on-site technical set up, off-site hacks

Bernard Huang, cofounder at Mushi Labs, gave us a great intro to search engine optimization.

State of SEO in 2016

In 2016, SEO is all about quality content, which is evaluated by keyword co-occurrence (e.g. if your post is about “Hillary Clinton”, Google knows that “Bill Clinton” is closely related, so using both terms would be a positive signal).

Google uses machine learning to measure how users engage with a given result. Do they click on a result but then immediately hit the back button? Or do they click on a result and stay there. Pages that are good at engaging users will move up the ranks.

Should you SEO?

Here are three things to think about before you SEO: * Make sure people are looking for what you offer. No one is searching for self-warming socks, so you can’t SEO that. * SEO takes a LONG time. You should probably only work on it post product-market fit. * SEO success is NOT guaranteed. Beware.

How to setup your SEO account

You definitely want to familiarize yourself with the Google Search Console.

Google Search Console.

  1. Set it up (here’s the link). Add all the variations of your URL (http, https, subdomains, etc.), but set a default (such as https).
  2. Send a sitemap to the search console. Includes a URL for each page, only submit unique pages, and don’t submit any pages that link to a different canonical URL.
  3. Use a robots.txt file to tell crawlers what to index/not to index. You can also link to the sitemap from here.
  4. Use “fetch as google” to preview how Google crawls a page, and also to force it to re-index a page.

Google my business

Set it up, get some reviews. This will enable your business to show up in a right side panel for Google searches about your brand.

Bing Webmaster Tools

Has more advanced tools than the Google Search Console, but hopefully you want need them.

Keyword Research

Understanding keywords is the foundation of SEO. How are people searching for your keywords? How many searches are those keywords getting? Brainstorm ideas, analyze current search traffic (using the Google Search Console for your site), look at what competitors are targeting (try Semrush), see what Google autosuggests (try Ubersuggest), use the Adwords Keyword Planner. Categorize keywords by intent to figure out content topics you could target.

On-site Content Considerations

There’s a lot you can on your own website to help with SEO. In a word, it’s all about intent — matching the user’s intent with on-target content.

Content relevance

So how do you craft content people (aka “Google”) want? By copying what already works in the SERPs and making it better! Look at the top five results for a given keyword. Their formula is working! As a general rule comprehensive content works best. So, can you take the current top results and make something more comprehensive?

User engagement metrics

Staying on your site longer before backing to SERPs is good. Appealing hero images, user generated content and photos, well formatted readable text, engaging text and video are all things that could help keep users on your site longer. Again, copy the types of content that are already working in Google and make your content 10x better.

Top on-site technical considerations

Technical SEO is becoming less relevant, but here’s what to watch out for: * Crawlability. Crawl it yourself (try screaming frog) and look for any problems. Or check the Google Search Console. * Title tag. This is what will show up on SERPs, so it should be unique, interesting, and relevant. Make it between 30 and 65 characters (or 512px long, max). One of the great tips Bernard shared was to use Adwords to a/b test what titles and descriptions will drive the most clicks. * Meta description tag. This is a suggestion for what Google could use as the description in the SERP, but of course Google will extract whatever snippet it thinks is most relevant. Should be less than 160 characters. Pages with great content may not even need a meta description tag though (and making big changes to an existing meta description tag can actually reset what Google thinks is the most relevant snippet). * Internal linking. Internal links are like internal votes to important content on your site. Another good tip from Bernard is to use contextual nav bars to get a bunch of links above the fold on your website. Three things are important to internal linking: * Total number of links to a given page. * Internal link depth. Links from high-ranking pages carry much more weight than links for low-ranking pages on Google. * Make sure all your pages are linked to from within the website *

Mobile friendliness.

Have a good mobile UX and fast page load speed to be considered “mobile friendly” by Google. This will give you a boost for searches coming from mobile devices. You can test it here.

Off-site SEO hacks

Backlinks are other sites linking to your content, and they are considered external votes to your website. Citations, on the other hand, are local directories citing your local business. It’s hard work, but here’s a few ways to build backlinks: * Generate PR by doing something noteworthy or hustling journalists * Find sympathetic bloggers, or trade guest blog posts * Pay for sponsored content (market rate somewhere between $50 and $500 for a post) * Be creative. For example, Mixpanel gave free access to their software for companies who put a badge on their website. Their badge had a link with the keyword “mobile analytics”, giving them tons of backlinks for that term.


Affiliate Marketing with David Quiec

David Quiec, Customer Acquisition & Demand Gen, Distribution Hacker in Residence for 500 Startups talks about:

  • Affiliate Marketing Foundations (Pay for Performance, Types of Affiliates, Types of Programs, Pros & Cons)
  • What Success Looks Like
  • Best Practices for Affiliate Programs


Email Marketing for Startups with Susan Su

– The 7 golden rules of email marketing, easy as a checklist

– 10+ email components you can / MUST test

– The email mistakes that MOST startups are making that permanently turn off perfectly good leads

Susan Su, Head of Marketing at Reforge, talked about how to make content marketing work for startups. What is it? Content marketing is a way to communicate with and convert interested people into customers.

But content takes at least 6 months before it starts showing results for your business.

You have to the planting the seed and nurture it for a long time to grow.

Problem: I wrote a blog post but it’s “still” not working.

Solution: Ask yo’self these questions

  • WHO wants this content? Go niche — “tech people” or “moms” isn’t nearly precise enough. Think about demographics, psychographics, expertise level, monetisation potential. Susan recommended a blog post by Andrew Gierer called Everyone In SaaS Is Using Buyer Personas Incorrectly
  • WHY should they ‘eat’ it? Content is only worth creating if it addresses a real customer painpoint. What curiosity is it answering for them? What does the content make them feel or think? (Emotion is crucial!) How can you make the content so compelling that people want to share it?
  • WHAT content? Content is everything you can see, read, hear, feel, or experience — it’s far more than just blog posts. Susan recommended checking out her article 19 content marketing ideas that aren’t blog posts. Ipsy, for instance, didn’t write a single blog post, but saw massive growth through makeup tutorials on YouTube.
  • HOW good does it need to be? Depends on the channel and audience. Quality is good, but velocity and regularity are crucial, so don’t gold plate it. Use the “waterfall effect” — create content one level above the the target persona, making it aspirational for them. For instance, there are probably 4 or 5 levels from newbie to elite.

Problem: I’m a poor / busy founder. What’s the ROI of content?

Cool ways that content can work for you

  • Sell. Content marketing can give you a built-in database of leads.
  • Save. Lower your CAC
  • Grow. Nurturing strangers into well-acquainted friends can increase your LTV.
  • Profit Center. Content is its own thing and can become profitable in its own right.

Brand Content vs Direct Response Content

Brand content is not meant to directly convert your audience into customers; it’s means to increase awareness. You can’t tie it to dollars in the short term. Direct Response content, on the other hand, is all about getting people to buy something. You’ll need a mix of both.

Problem: I released my content. Crickets chirped.


Crickets chirping is really just a distribution problem. There are three things you can do to drive distribution.

Thing 1: Relationships

Distribution is about relationships. It’s the depth of relationship that matters: if your link is weak, then go find someone whose link (to the audience) is strong.

Thing 2: Awareness lifecycle mismatch

Don’t try to sell shoes and sunglasses to an eyeless prehistoric fish. Think about where your customers are on the “customer awareness lifecycle,” which goes like this:

  1. Unaware: A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, brushing teeth wasn’t a “thing”
  2. Problem Aware: Then, people became aware that lack of dental hygiene was making their teeth rot.
  3. Solution Aware: After realizing the problem, people then realized that brushing their teeth would help prevent tooth rot.
  4. Product Aware: Once people know the problem and the solution, you can then make them aware of your product. Crest toothpaste!

Thing 3: Quality matters most

Distribution is double the journey. Content marketing is a slog, and there are very few shortcuts. You may be able to outsource some of the content creation, but you definitely need to take ownership of distribution. Creating the content only gets you half way there. Distribution takes just as much, if not more, effort.

Problem: I don’t know what content to do.

Solution 1: Map your funnel

No “content for content’s sake.”

Solution 2: Reverse engineer what works

Go back to WHO WHY WHAT HOW questions, and make sure you’re doing demand-driven content, and not too much vision-driven content. Don’t create stuff that people don’t want to eat or share. Here are some good tools to help you know what you should be creating content about:

Solution 3: Look at top content.

What does top content look like, from the topics and headlines to thumbnails and structure? Take what’s working and do it even better.

Solution 4: Find your right platform

Find the channel that best suites your audience and content. Ask yourself: are you more about communicating, or collecting?

What about process? AKA can I outsource this sh*t already??


  • In-source and up-source. Do it yourself first and define the parameters before handing it off.
  • Create templates and category buckets.
  • Pick a calendar, and stick to it.
  • Measure religiously, cut ruthlessly


Click here for Day 4’s recap! 

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Marketing Hell Week January 2017 – Day 2 Recap


What is Marketing Hell Week?

MHW is Growth Marketing 101 Bootcamp 500Startups puts together for every one of their seed stage cohorts. The event is also livestreamed free.

Join us for Sales Hell on March 1-2, 2017 here:


Analytics 101 with Gabriela Ghimis

Gabriela Ghimis, Growth at Digit talks about:

  • How and when to measure analytics
  • How to choose what to measure and how much
  • How to report and review analytics



Retention with Jeannette Sacks  

Jeannette Sacks, Senior Director of Merchandising & Marketing @StackCommerce talks about:

  • How to apply Retention Marketing Foundations
  • How to measure retention through cohort analysis, LTV, and churn rate
  • Goal setting and action planning on your retention marketing plan



A/B Testing with Ron Schneidermann

Ron Schneidermann, CMO at AllTrails talks about:

  • Why you should trust data over everything else
  • The three pre test questions to ask your customers
  • What you should choose to A/B test and how to execute


Pinterest and Visual Marketing Basics w/ Brittany Murlas

  • Why you should use Pinterest
  • How to advertise on Pinterest
  • How to optimize your posts for maximum pins

Click here for Day 3’s recap!


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Marketing Hell Week January 2017 – Day 1 Recap


What is Marketing Hell Week?

MHW is Growth Marketing 101 Bootcamp 500Startups puts together for every one of their seed stage cohorts. The event is also livestreamed free.

Join us for Sales Hell on March 1-2, 2017 here:

Below are notes on what’s in the talks and some key takeaways written by Tyler Tate, founder of Crema. If you found the talks useful we would appreciate it if you shared them with your friends!



Growth for Pre vs Post P/M w/ Chandini Ammineni

Chandini Ammineni, Distribution Partner at 500 Startups talks about:

– Pre vs Post P/M fit startups: differences in goals, process, type of data, important metrics

– The need for process to achieve scalable repeatable predictable growth

– What is a growth mindset and why it is needed

Pre Product-Market Fit

Chandini debunked the myth that every startup should be focused on growth, encouraging us to focus on finding product-market-fit through qualitative, learning-oriented, non-scalable hustling first, and only shifting to growth mode once we’ve found our first 1,000 rapid fans, at which point you’ve arrived at initial product-market fit, which she defined as:

A product that solves a problem “well enough” for a “big enough” market.

During this exploratory phase, it’s crucial to learn about your customers—who are they, where do they hangout, what is their problem. Ask them open-ended questions and keep an ear out not just for their pain points and aspirations, but the specific language they use, which can help you articulate your service.

At this phase, engagement and retention are your key metrics. Once your retention curve flattens out over time — say at least 40%-50% of your customers are sticking around after several months, you’re ready for growth.


Post Product-Market Fit

Once you’ve achieved product-market fit, the goal shifts to achieving scalable, repeatable growth. “Growth of what?” you may ask; growth of your OMTM, your One Metric That Matters. Your OMTM could be users, customers, revenue, gross margin, etc., but you should be strategic with the metric you choose to rally your team around and align it with your fundraising plan.

Chandini encouraged rapidly running experiments and then doubling down on what works, a bit like playing battleship. This should occur at all levels of the funnel — from lead generation, to conversion, to retention. It’s important, however, to have a high level goal in place and focus on what will have the highest impact towards that goal so you don’t “die of indigestion,” as Chandini put it.


Key takeaways

Focus on achieving product-market with qualitative methods first, then shift into a process of rapid experimentation to figure out what does and doesn’t work, and then double down on what does.


How To Get Your First 1337 Customers (Theory) with Chandini Ammineni


How To Get Your First 1337 Customers (Case Studies) with Bernard Huang

Bernard Huang, Distribution Hacker in Residence for 500 Startups talks about:

  • How to think about growth
  • War stories in the early (customer’s #1-10), mid (customer’s #11-100), and late (customer’s #101-1337) stages.

Bernard gave fast-paced account of unorthodox guerrilla marketing tactics that he’s experimented with in the past. What is guerrilla marketing? It could be broadly described as “Things that are morally questionable” that probably don’t scale… but they may still be really effective early on. Here’s the overall process:

How guerrilla works

  1. Objective. “I want more X.” It needs to be measurable.
  2. Hypothesis. “If we do X then we’ll get more Y.” You need a plan.
  3. Experiment. Assume nothing. Track your experiments. Gather feedback (both qualitative and quantitative).
  4. Conclusion. Did the experiment work? If so, can we scale it?
  5. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Failure is part of the process, and that’s ok.


Basics of guerrilla

Guerrilla marketing often uses tactics such as: * “Borrow” as much as possible * (Politely) spam people * “Hack” systems * Incentive people to help you * Think outside the box

“The #1 rule of Growth Club is that you don’t talk about what happens at Growth Club.”


Guerrilla war stories

Bernard sprinted through at least a dozen techniques he’s actually used on projects in the past. Some of them may not work anymore, but they’re sure to at least spark ideas. * Event hacking. Bernard created a “SXSW Food Crawl” event (unaffiliated with SXSW, mind you) and got 25,000 RSVPs before SXSW caught on and asked them to change their name. 16,000 people showed up on the day. * Hack internet communities. Somebody posted a $37 “VC-investment” incentive on Hacker News which generated a lot of discussion. Bernard applied and won the competition, and the press wrote articles about “How they might spend their $37 invemsntment.” * Manipulating Quora. While at 42floors (Zillow for commercial real estate), Bernard identified dozens/hundreds of Quora questions relevant to that business, scraped the data, figured out the most viewed/upvoted questions, wrote/generate answers for them, and then bought upvotes. It resulted in thousands of high-quality inbound visitors. * Buying backlinks. Basically, you’ve got to know someone who knows someone, because no one wants to be outed as either buying links or selling links. And if you do it, you have to be carefully that Google doesn’t detect it, because they can and will penalize you (as happened to Bernard), or even ban you from the Google index. * Buying trust / and social proof. Get people to write review for you on Google My Business and elsewhere. * Buying social signals. You can pay people to tweet you or like you on Facebook. Probably doesn’t impact SEO though, but may help in other ways. * Negative SEO attacks. This tactic has less impact now than it used to, but having spamming sites linking to a competitor can lower their ranking marginally. Bernard doesn’t recommend doing this. * Community-driven content. Bernard hired people to create content for a given audience, posted it on Reddit etc., and canned the writers whose content didn’t generate buzz, and kept hiring the writers whose content did get a strong social signal. * Buying karma. You can buy Reddit accounts with good karma to post from.

* Lead magnets / squeeze pages. Bernard made a cake-price-calculator for the baking community as a lead magnent that went viral and continually generates new leads. * Scientific content hacking. Look at posts that can strong social signal. And then do the same thing. Dollar Shave Club basically just stole the Old Spice formula for their insanely viral video. * Meetup Hacking. Creating meetups on can give you a strong PageRank source to drive to your links, as well as position you as an influencer.



How to Prepare For Growth with Hiten Shah

Hiten Shah, Founder, Quick Sprout & Kissmetrics talks about:

  • Everything you need to know and do about Product and Growth
  • Product: a simple 5 step formula for producing new ideas
  • Growth: Don’t focus on hacks, dark patterns, or a one size fits all solution. Growth is a company-wide mindset.
  • How to achieve Product/Market Fit



Copywriting 101 with Nemo Chu

Nemo Chu, Growth Hacker, Distribution Hacker in Residence for 500 Startups talks about:

  • The difference between salespeople and copywriters
  • The 4 Levels of Sophistication
  • The Ingredients of Every Ads



OMTM + Building a Pipeline of Experiments w/ Nemo Chu

Nemo Chu, Growth Hacker, Distribution Hacker in Residence for 500 Startups talks about:

  • How to choose your OMTM or your north star
  • How you should go about experimenting
  • How to optimize your customer journey


Nemo Chu, formerly at KISSmetrics and Bloomfire, led a great workshop on how to brainstorm and prioritise marketing ideas. As an example, we chose one of the batch members — an event management SaaS company — defined their One Metric That Matters (OMTM) as B2B sales, and split their funnel into four parts:

  1. Top of the funnel – getting people to the website
  2. Signup – getting people to claim an offer by signing up to a webinar
  3. Follow through – getting the people who signed up for the webinar to actually attend
  4. Conversion – getting webinar attendees to become customers


We then broke up into four teams, with each team tackling one section of the funnel. First, we individually brainstormed ideas for three minutes, writing each idea on a separate notecard. Nemo encouraged us not to judge the ideas at this point, but to simply focus on generating as many ideas as possible.


Really Simple Guessing

Once we’d each written down several ideas, we then came together as a team, talked about each card, and then scored it using a three-fold rubric:

  1. How few Resources required? 4 is few.
  2. How Scalable is this idea? 4 is very scalable.
  3. How does our Gut feel about this idea being a nom run? 4 is great!

We wrote the score for each of the three questions in three corners of the notecard, and wrote the total score in the bottom left corner. At the end of process, we had a prioritised list of things to do to improve the funnel.

So Resources, Scalability, and Gut — RSG. Playing off that acronym, Nemo coined this process as Really Simple Guessing.


1-Click Upsell

In addition to the exercise, Nemo also had some good tips for upselling. Rather than show a “thank you” page after a customer has purchased, why not use the opportunity to invite them to purchase something else as well. You could even chain these together sequentially and keep offering a number of different upsells (or downsells if they decline). This can be an easy way to increase the average order value.


Key Takeaways

Brainstorming and collaboratively judging ideas for each level of the funnel is a great method to generate ideas and prioritize them as a team.


Click here for Day 2’s recap! 


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Here’s What Happened at #DealCamp at Berkeley

Guest blogger – Adam Sterling is the Executive Director of the Berkeley Center for Law, Business and the Economy, co-founder of Startup@BerkeleyLaw, and a former venture capital and startup attorney.

I returned to U.C. Berkeley almost two years ago to help establish the university (and Berkeley Law in particular) as the world’s leading institution for the study and practice of law and entrepreneurship.

After completing our second Venture Capital Deal Camp with 500 Startups last week, I’m confident that Berkeley is the place to be for investors, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and students interested in innovation.

Below is a recap of Deal Camp – if you weren’t able to join this week, we’ll be back with another session in October! 

Deal Camp is a collaboration between Startup@BerkeleyLaw, our institute for venture capital and entrepreneurship, and 500 Startups, a leading global venture capital fund and startup accelerator. The program is an intensive four-day course focused on the nuts and bolts of deal making for investors who want to improve their ability to define, negotiate, and execute early-stage investments.

At Deal Camp last week, we welcomed over 30 investor participants (our “Deal Campers“) from 14 different countries (Australia, Brazil, China, Finland, France, Germany, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

Our Deal Campers represented various sources of capital (including corporate funds, family funds, and venture capital funds) looking to increase and improve their early stage investments. While our dynamic faculty curated a robust curriculum, our Deal Campers were the stars of the show!

Here’s what happened at Deal Camp:


Day One – After arriving at Berkeley Law, the Deal Campers spent the morning sharpening their own investment theses (with the support of the 500 Startups investment team) and then headed off to the 500 Startups Mountain View headquarters for the world-famous Preview Day. At Preview Day, the Deal Campers took front row seats to observe pitches from the latest and greatest startups in Batch 19 of the 500 Startups accelerator. After the pitches, the Deal Campers met with the Batch 19 founders to practice applying their investment theses.


Day Two – Deal Camp returned to Berkeley Law and kicked off with a lecture from Berkeley-Haas professor Gregory LaBlanc on the business case for venture capital. This was followed by a lecture from Neil Dugal of 500 Startups on early stage financing terms and processes. At lunch, the Deal Campers enjoyed a fireside chat between Ben Ling of Khosla Ventures and Bedy Yang of 500 Startups. After lunch, I started a two-part interactive workshop on modeling the economics of early stage finance with my good friend, Scott James of Accel. We then finished off the day with a lecture from leading venture capital expert, and Berkeley Law professor, Robert Bartlett, on the art of the valuation.


Day Three – We kicked off with a review of the various term sheets and definitive agreements used in early-stage venture capital and was followed up by a case study workshop with Christine Tsai of 500 Startups. Christine explored a few of her more successful investments and interviewed a couple of her favorite founders. At lunch, Berkeley’s very own Peter Minor (founder of the CITRIS Foundry incubator), interviewed Michael Berolzheimer of Bee Partners. Peter and Michael discussed strategies for finding value in new and developing startup markets. After lunch, we kicked off our Term Sheet Olympics and the Deal Campers spent the afternoon preparing and negotiating venture capital deals.


Day Four – The final day started with a lecture from the New York Times Deal Professor, and Berkeley Law faculty member, Steven Davidoff Solomon. Professor Solomon discussed venture capital exit strategies and the state of M&A in 2017 (along with some very insightful predictions on the future of venture capital). Following the Deal Professor, I completed our cap table training with Quinn Rotchford of AngelList and enjoyed an interview with Ellen Pao of Kapor Capital on the relevance of human capital in the venture capital world. Ellen was fantastic, insightful, and a highlight of the program! After Ellen’s talk, we were treated to a two-hour, no-holds-barred, AMA (“Ask Me Anything”) with Dave McClure of 500 Startups (led by Christine Winnett, executive director of the Berkeley incubator SkyDeck).


Unfortunately, Deal Camp had to come to an end on Friday, but not without some fireworks! Our Deal Campers each received a certificate from Berkeley (set to music and many, many high fives) and spent the night making future plans with one another over cocktails at Berkeley’s famous Freehouse bar and restaurant.

I’m proud to call Berkeley my home away from home and to declare that #BerkeleyMeansBusiness! Go Bears!

Thank you to Adam Sterling for contributing to the 500 blog. For more insights from Adam, follow him on Linkedin or Twitter.

BAM!: 500 Startups Reveals Accelerator Secrets…Again


We are excited to announce the next session of our newly rebranded Bootcamp for Accelerator Managers (BAM!). 

#500BAM will be held in San Francisco April 24-28th. Apply here:

In this one week deep dive, 500 partners share all the juicy secrets they’ve learned after running 40+ accelerator programs for different stages in the startup lifecycle.

Participants will learn how 500 Startups rocketed to the top of the accelerator food-chain and became one of the best accelerators in the country and the world.


Building on the success of our first Bootcamp for Accelerator Managers

We ran our inaugural bootcamp, called VC Unlocked: Accelerator edition, in May 2016.

It was both fun and eye-opening for the 18 participants (40% women) from 14 geographies, who spent one week learning about 500 Startups’ many successes and failures.

The managers came from a mix of private, government, university and corporate accelerators.


Their favorite sessions were “Metrics for Success” by Founding Partner Dave McClure, “Making $$$, i.e. Why Most Accelerators Fail” by our CFO Paul Yoo and “Evaluating Accelerator Applicants and Due Diligence” by the Head of our Mountain View Accelerator, Elizabeth Yin.


A “one-size-fits-all approach” certainly does not apply in the accelerator world. Its important for up-and-coming accelerator managers to understand different models.

Participants heard from the leaders of Moderne Ventures (a real estate accelerator), UpWest Labs (an accelerator that links Israeli entrepreneurs to Silicon Valley) and Village Capital (a social entrepreneurship accelerator).

They also got to meet the team and chat with founders during their visit to the Highway 1 Hardware Accelerator.


The group got a taste of 500 Startups’ energy while they screened startup pitches at our exclusive 500 family-only “Preview Day.” They said loved our culture, enthusiasm and above all, our transparency and willingness to reveal our “secrets.”

Apply now for the April 24th-28th Bootcamp

The 2017 edition will build on the success of our first program and will bring together accelerator managers from around the world to learn and share their experiences.

To learn more see:


Photo credits: Paulina Szyrmer and Yiying Lu

Batch 20 triples down on FinTech and Digital Health, Takes on Uncle Sam with GovTech

500 Startups’ 20th program (B20) in Silicon Valley starts at time that will be remembered across the world. Only three days after a new (and highly controversial) United States government administration has taken power and Silicon Valley is preparing for a Trumpocalypse.

Seeing this regulatory disruption as an opportunity for private sector tech companies, B20 includes GovTech (13.6% of B20), FinTech (27%) and Digital Health (15.9%).

In total, there are 44 companies in the four-month program that will run from January to May. Popular technology trends — including SaaS, marketplaces, AI/bots, big data, analytics, devops and hardware — also remain prevalent in the seed program formally known as an accelerator but continually geared towards scaling companies with early traction.

In total, 36% of the B20 are international representing 10 countries. Canada comes in first in terms of founder representation. Israel is a close second. Founders in B20 also hail from Thailand, Hong Kong, Latvia, Estonia, Brazil, United Kingdom, Nigeria, and France.

B20 is also a diverse set and has 20.5% of companies with at least one woman founder, 11.4% of companies in with at least one black founder, and 13.6% of companies with at least one latinX founder.

Programming continues to be focused on growth, fundraising and storytelling in B20 with a few specialty events, including the notorious Marketing Hell Week, the second B2B sales summit, and a new two-day, intensive fundraising boot camp.

For specific companies in the batch, General Motors is also getting involved and offering exclusive mentorship and access to the automotive industry.

Here’s the full list of companies published in TechCrunch.

Applications for the next program (B21 in Mountain View) are being accepted here.

picture1Pictured above: our SF Seed Program Team

How to Nail Your SaaS Trial: The proven six-step formula shaped from years of experience

The following guest blog post is adapted from the Nail Your SaaS Trial ebook, written by Autopilot’s CMO, Guy Marion.

When your investors, advisors, and community ask how your product is coming along, you want to tantalize them with stellar activation rates, rampant word of mouth growth, and tweets raving about the onboarding experience.



Not luke-warm or confused feedback that your product has “great potential” if only they knew where to start.



After spending years launching, optimizing, and studying SaaS trials, I’ve found there’s a formula for creating a high-performing onboarding experience—one that is educational, accelerates time-to-product success, and sets the right tone for your customer’s experience ahead.

Now it’s yours.

Step 1. Define trial conversion goals

What are you trying to accomplish with your trial, and how will you know if your SaaS trial nailed it? Activation rate, cohort-based conversion rate, and average revenue per user (ARPU) are the three most important metrics you need to track.  

Activation rate is the % of trialists who successfully accomplish key events in your app—and therefore reach “Aha!” moments. This might include adding a tracking pixel, inviting a new user, or integrating a 3rd party app (see Step 2 below). Activated trialists are amongst your most valuable users.

Conversion rate is the percentage of new trialists who convert into paying customers, which you should assess on a cohort basis, attributing the sale back to the trial create date. Some benchmarks I’ve seen for raw (not qualified) trial signup to paid conversion rates:

  • Standard: 7% to 10%  
  • Better: 10% to 15%  
  • Best: Over 15%

You’re getting into Zendesk territory if you’re hitting over 15%. But it takes a long time for companies to rev up to that, if they ever even get there.

Average Sales Price – ASP (often used interchangeably with Average Revenue Per User – ARPU): this is the average revenue each new customer pays, and is simply the new revenue divided by the number of new customer purchases within a given time period.  

Step 2. Pinpoint the key behaviors that correlate with success

Nail down the activities that users need to perform if they are serious about solving their problem using your SaaS app. Here are a few common ways to define activated trials…

  • Completing one or multiple actions: Sharing a file, inviting a user, adding a pixel, or publishing a journey, for example.
  • Crossing usage thresholds: Number of projects created, photos uploaded, code committed. This will vary depending on what your product does.
  • Login frequency or duration: User has logged in more than 10 times, or been in-session for more than x minutes, in the last 7 / 14 / 30 days.
  • Outside-of-product events: Account configuration with a tech specialist, quick start call with an account manager, user training with your customer success manager, etc.

Pro Tip: Trigger automated messages or engage based on usage, as seen below in the case of SaaS app Hint Health.  


Step 3. Map out your activation nudges

Free trialists like feeling welcomed—getting the red carpet treatment while learning how to solve their problem using your product. They even appreciate gentle reminders to pay, so they don’t risk interrupting their account activity.

So how do you do this tactfully and appropriately?


Nudging people at the right time can help them overcome hurdles or “stuck in the mud” moments, make decisions, and move closer to buying.


We’ll walk through numerous real-life examples in Step 5.

Step 4. Build your SaaS trial journey

This is where it gets fun—structure your messages and actions into a cohesive trial experience using an engagement or marketing automation app to target, time, and personalize your messaging. Whichever platform you use, you’ll want to choose from the three most common types of SaaS trials to get started fast.

Option #1: Time-based

This is a series of emails (and/or in-app messages) dripped through the course of a free trial. It’s an easy place to start if you’re beginning from scratch, helps you get baseline conversion data fast, and can be quickly updated.

Option #2: Usage-based

In a usage-based model, you target your messages and timing based on users achieving (or not achieving) the key in-app events outlined in Step 3 above. This is typically used by freemium apps that rely on upgrading free users into paid users. Doing so can cut on-boarding times by as much as half.  


Option #3: Time and usage-based

This type of trial combines time and usage to create a personalized free trial journey for every user. By combining the best of the usage-based freemium approach with the “clock is ticking” free trial window, this approach is more complicated and takes a bit more time to develop content for, but drives higher engagement and conversion rates.


Step 5. Create your emails and in-app messages

Now it’s time to scrape the best customer messaging from your prior email and hustling experiments, sit down, and write the content for your emails and in-app messages. Download our ebook for plenty of examples—here I’ll summarize a few.

1. Welcome emails. Sent immediately after a user signs up for a free trial to encourage them to log in, and to make them feel welcomed to your service. Inject humor, a friendly face, or simply direct access to key account information.


Asana takes a clear, prescriptive approach in its welcome email—watch a video, take these actions.


Susan Su uses this StudySoup example in the ultimate email playbook, which I highly recommend. It’s email marketing wisdom in a capsule.


2. Usage tips. Send these after one to two sessions to drive usage and help your user be successful. Target this email or in-app message and personalize the content to help your user achieve the next key event, as outlined above.

Give actionable best practices, or invite abandoned users back in, like in this Dropbox email.


Instapage uses Headsup to invite new users to a group demo of its SaaS service. Since launching this in-app message, the company has seen a 30% increase in attendance rate for its weekly demo webinar, leading to increased product usage.


3. Sales touches. Sent within 24 hours to schedule a sales or success meeting, if needed. Use a text-based email and Calendly to eliminate the hassle of scheduling, and enable a single rep to serve a high volume of customers in a 1:Many manners.


4. Usage review. Sent halfway through the trial to give users a bird’s eye view of their progress and suggest areas to explore further


Zendesk takes the usage review email to a whole other level by including aggregated data to benchmark your performance against relevant peer groups:


5. Expiry warnings. Sent with one week left in the trial to remind users to buy. Be helpful and confident, not pushy and salesy.

Basecamp pings users 5 days before their 45-day trial expires.


6. Feedback emails. Sent post-trial if the user didn’t convert to paid. Include a link to a survey that helps gather info to make your product better. Use a thankful tone.

Feedback text-based email from Autopilot. Here’s the feedback survey we send at the end of our trial experience at Autopilot, which gets high response rates and offers a trove of actionable insights.


For example, we find that 27% of expired trialists don’t buy because they’re still evaluating their options, providing us an automated opportunity to offer a call with sales, or to nudge them back into product. It’s a win-win.

Step 6. Measure your SaaS trial with these metrics & iterate

Metrics reveal if your trial is actually working or not. Beyond the three goals outlined in Step 1, here are the key performance indicators you’ll want to track:

Leads, customers, and revenue: Measure your performance and share the impact of your killer SaaS trial with your team by creating a dashboard that automatically tracks leads, acquisitions, and revenue.

Your conversion funnel: Use Mixpanel, Heap, or Kissmetrics to track your trial signups, activations, and conversion. Develop an activation to conversion funnel comprised of 1-3 specific events to see where users drop out, and where your event-based opportunities lie.


Open rates and clickthrough rates: Your marketing automation system will offer insights into the individual emails and in-app messages. Open, click, and unsubscribe rates vary dramatically based on the level of personalization and usage-based segmentation you’re doing. Low open rates are 1-5%. High open rates are 30%-50%.

MRR trends and insights: Did your new SaaS trial increase your MRR? How did subscription growth change three months before and after you implemented your new SaaS trial?

Nail your SaaS trial

To recap, here are the 6 steps to wow SaaS users with an amazing on-boarding experience:

  1. Set your high-level conversion goals
  2. Pinpoint the key behaviors that show value
  3. Choose your nudges that help users take the next step
  4. Build your SaaS trial journey
  5. Create your emails and in-app messages
  6. Measure everything and iterate

You now have everything you need to turn free trialists into paying customers. I’m excited to see what you build, and your results!



Autopilot is visual marketing software for automating customer journeys. With native integrations to Salesforce, Twilio, Segment, Slack and Zapier and the ability to connect to over 700 purpose-built tools, we empower marketers to nurture relationships and grow high-paying customers using email, web, SMS, and direct mail channels. Check out Autopilot’s website and follow them on Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook.

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