Kicking off VC Unlocked, and a New Website!

Big news! It’s the first week of VC Unlocked!

We’re welcoming an awesome new group to the Stanford campus this week. They’ve traveled from as far as Lagos and Melbourne to be with us here in Silicon Valley and we couldn’t be more thrilled.

In the spirit of #500Strong, we wanted to share some fun facts about the participants and the exciting program we have planned. Here goes:

  • 47% of participants are women
  • 74% are based internationally, representing 17 countries including Brazil, Nigeria, Russia, Colombia, and the UAE
  • Participants have made 250+ investments in total
  • Areas of investment focus include FinTech, BioTech, telecom, FoodTech, and more
  • Participants come from family funds, government offices, startup accelerators, and private equity backgrounds
Participants from the July/Aug 2016 cohort of VC Unlocked on Stanford Campus

In addition to our stellar lineup of Stanford University professors and 500 Startups partners, we’ve also recruited some of the top VCs from Silicon Valley. Guest speakers this year include Renata Quintini (Lux Capital), Jason Calacanis ( Jeremy Liew (Lightspeed VP), Marlon Nichols (Cross Culture Ventures), Andy McLoughlin (SoftTech VC), and Rick Marini (Dragonfly Partners).

We’ve got a packed schedule for the next two weeks. Lecture topics run the gamut, from “Understanding Cap Tables and Ownership” to “Attracting Deal Flow,” as well as practical and action-based exercises, including founder interviews, opportunity assessments, and more.

Outside the classroom, we’ve also planned special visits to Andreesen-Horowitz, class dinners, and, drumroll please, our invite-only DemoDay!

Guest lecturer Jason Calacanis presenting to participants in 2016

Oh, and one more thing. We also launched a new site for VC Unlocked today!

It’s an updated visual design that showcases more information about the program, attendees, and instructors. We think it will be a great resource for prospective students and past participants alike and we’re excited to share it today. Let us know what you think!

Tune in over the next few weeks where we’ll feature guest posts from current participants as well as a fun recap that summarizes some of the key takeaways from the program’s lectures and events.


Announcing “Silicon Valley Secrets for Investing in Asia” with INSEAD

We’re excited to announce that applications are now open for our newest course, “Silicon Valley Secrets for Investing in Asia.” We’ve teamed up with INSEAD, a leading global business school, to offer investors a one-week deep dive on how to apply Silicon Valley investing expertise to Asia-based startups.

After the huge success of our VC Unlocked programs in the Bay Area, this marks the first time we’re taking one of our programs outside the U.S. The course will be held at INSEAD’s Asia campus in Singapore from November 6 – 10, 2017.

For AIPAC investors, that means the same unrivaled access to our Silicon Valley network, investing know-how, and extensive Asia knowledge, minus the 12-hour flight and jetlag.

Sound good? Apply today to be part of the inaugural class in November 2017.

Course Overview

During the course, participants will work directly with INSEAD faculty and 500 Startups partners to explore startup investing trends across different markets in Asia. The program will explore topics relevant for venture capital, such as honing and evaluating investment theses, structuring early stage tech investments, and raising your next fund.

As part of the course, participants will also meet with top VCs from China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia. Admission also includes exclusive access to a special DemoDay, where participants will have the chance to evaluate real startups from the 500 Startups portfolio.

Other key benefits include:

  • Connecting with other Asia-focused startup investors as well as INSEAD alumni
  • Getting feedback on your investment thesis from world-renowned INSEAD faculty specialized in VC and entrepreneurship and 500 Startups Managing Partners
  • Getting fundraising tips and tools for structuring a fund from top VCs in the region
  • Improving your ability to identify and evaluate top startups for your portfolio
  • Building your deal flow
  • Earning a Certificate of Completion from INSEAD


VC Unlocked 2016

500 Startups in Asia

Here at 500 Startups, we pride ourselves on helping build viable startup ecosystems around the world. Since our inception in 2010, we’ve invested in over 1,800 companies and 3,000 founders in more than 60 countries, including Southeast Asian companies like Grab and Viki, which was acquired by Rakuten in 2012.

Geeks on a Plane, East Asia, Tokyo 2016

With $36B invested in startups and tech deals last year, Asia has emerged as a new hub of VC activity. Our decision to launch the first VC Unlocked program outside of Silicon Valley in Singapore is yet another example of our commitment to the Asian market.

We recently doubled down on Southeast Asia with a new $50M Durians Fund, launched a new $10M fund in Vietnam, and appointed a new head of business for China


With three campuses (France, Singapore, Abu Dhabi), 145 faculty members from 40 countries, and 1,400 students in their PhD and degree programs, INSEAD is one of the world’s top graduate business schools.

They recently earned the top place in the Financial Times’ “Global MBA Ranking 2017” for the second year running.

INSEAD Asia Campus

Details & Logistics

We accept qualified candidates on a rolling basis. Space is limited so we encourage you to apply as soon as possible before the deadline of October 18, 2017.

The program fee of $9,800 USD covers tuition, course materials, most meals, admission to DemoDay, and transport to any site visits. Accommodations are not included but can be arranged for an additional fee.

If you have any questions about the program or would like to set up a call, feel free to reach out to Newton Davis at newton [at]


7 Marketing Secrets from 500 Startups Demo Days

Have Fun, Get Deals Done – The Future of Marketing is the Brand Experience

Pitching to top Silicon Valley investors like Tim Draper is nerve-racking. It helps when he’s dressed in a superhero costume.

From Valentine’s Day-Themed (Batch 19) to Summer of Love-Themed (Batch 20), 500 Startups Demo Day is more than a pitch day, it’s a festival where everyone has fun and gets deals done.

Here’s a look back at lessons we’ve learned from the last 7 Demo Days, and how 500 Startups stumbled upon creating the unique pitch day in Silicon Valley.

1. Listen to Your Audience

Back in the day, 500 Startups Demo Day was pretty basic (see Batch 8):

500 Startups Founding Partner, Dave McClure, speaking at 500 Batch 8 Demo Day (back when the most colorful thing at Demo Day was Dave’s language).

During Batch 13 Demo Day, things got a little bit more interesting.

It all started when I bought Dave a unicorn hoodie for his birthday, which happened to coincide with the Batch 13 Preview Day (an invite-only sneak peek to Demo Day). To our surprise, many investors and founders in the audience loved Dave’s unexpected fashion statement, talking and tweeting about it.

Dave noted the audience engagement and decided to wear the unicorn costume again on Demo Day. He also encouraged Founding Partner Christine Tsai, a former ballerina, to wear a rainbow tutu. Again, the response was extremely positive at Demo Day. Silicon Valley Business Journal even dedicated an article to Unicorn theme.

The lightbulb turned on, and we saw the potential marketing value in bringing creativity to our Demo Days. But it wasn’t a mere fluke — we listened to the audience feedback, saw the marketing value, and applied it.


2. Turn Challenges into Creative Advantage

When planning for Batch 14 Demo Day, we found out the only day the venue was available was the day before Halloween. We were not happy. Typically we tried to plan our events around major holidays, like Halloween, assuming people would be busy attending their own company parties. We were worried about not having enough investors attend our event, but we couldn’t change the date. So we decided to exploit the timing instead. Thus, Demo-Ween was born.

In our past Demo Days, we always focused on the pitches, not wanting to take away from the big day of our batch companies. However, the thematic timing forced us to look at the Demo Days from a different angle. We decided to make Demo Days more entertaining. We added the Halloween theme to our Demo Day, aka “Demo-ween” — presenting the content in a new form. The new form of Demo Day allowed startups and investors to dress up, have fun, and get deals done together.

As a result, the Demo-ween not only helped us maintain the previous demo day attendance, it also attracted more international investors than ever before (50% increase). By presenting the content in a more engaging format, we turned a challenge into our competitive advantage.

The first Demo-ween was so successful, we decided to make it an annual theme. 

3. Use Product-Launches to Rejuvenate Your Brand

In 2016, we started adding speciality tracks to our seed program, starting with a Fintech track in the Batch 16 program.

In order to highlight our new Fintech focus, we made the Batch 16 Demo Day poker themed. In order to create an authentic experience, the 500 events team hired a top poker player to give attendees poker lessons and play blackjack. Founding Partners Dave McClure and Christine Tsai also dressed up for the poker theme.

Partly in thanks to a successful Fintech-Themed Demo Day, we saw a 23% increase in Fintech applications to the following batch.

4. Embrace Company Culture

During the Batch 17 program in June 2016, the 500 team and batch companies attended the San Francisco Pride Parade. Pride inspired us to redefine the meaning of “unicorn” at 500. In tech, a unicorn company means a billion dollar company valuation. We decided that being a unicorn also brings about a sense of love and unity. We are not only about making profits and increasing portfolio company valuations but also about celebrating people and culture.

The momentum of the Pride Month continued into our Demo Day planning process. We wanted to use the upcoming Demo Day as a platform to promote 500’s company value of embracing diversity and inclusion. We chose the theme “Beauty & the Geek” based on our B17 tracks Fashion & B2B and decided to break down gender stereotypes by having Dave dress up as the “Beauty” and Christine the “Geek”.

After Demo Day, Microsoft offered to sponsor our efforts to advocate diversity in tech by supporting our Unity and Inclusion Summits. Our open and embracing culture has attracted a very diverse group of companies. In our latest batch, Batch 20, 36% of our batch companies were international (from 10 different countries), 20.5% of companies had at least one female founder, and 25% of companies had a black / Latinx founder.


5. Make It About Your People

At the end of the Batch 17 Demo Day, a flash mob of the 500 team appeared from the audience and started dancing on stage with Dave. The big screen started playing videos of venture capital investors and founders of successful 500 portfolio companies around the world wishing Dave a happy birthday. The B17 Demo Day happened to be Dave’s 50th birthday and our 500 family planned a surprise for Dave.

The Demo Day birthday surprise is just one example of the many things that we would do simply because we care about people. We build the 500 brand by connecting with people on a personal level.

6. Create Positive Emotion

From the previous Demo Days, we began to see that themes created a supportive environment for founders and investors to develop relationships. For Batch 19, we chose a Valentine’s Day theme because we wanted to bring more emotion into the experience.

We dressed up our founders as Cupid (Christine) and the Queen of Hearts (Dave) and decorated the stage with all shades of pink and hearts. Investors could give batch companies Valentine cards that said, “I have my eyes on you!”.


7. Leverage Culture & History

Our Batch 20 program was based in San Francisco around the same time as the city’s 50th anniversary of the “Summer of Love” – the 1967 summer event that drew nearly 100,000 young people to the city’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Starting from early spring 2017, streets in San Francisco were decorated with the “Summer of Love” theme. We decided to do the same theme for our Demo Day to pay tribute to the city’s history.

With flowers, rainbow-colored lighting and our emcee in a Grateful Dead bear costume, this Demo Day brought a sense of nostalgia to the city many 500 Startups team members call home.


Our Demo Days are instrumental in building the 500 brand. We strive to create an organic ecosystem of investors, founders, and corporate partners by providing meaningful and engaging content to our audience.

If your goal is to stand out from the crowd and flaunt your unique brand to the world, don’t forget to incorporate these 7 Marketing Lessons from 500 Startups Demo Days:

  1. Listen to the Audience: Gather feedback from your audience, catch the opportunity, and act on it
  2. Reframe the Challenge: Look at the problem from another perspective and turn challenges into advantages
  3. Inspire with your products: Rejuvenate your brand with new products
  4. Embrace Company Culture: Integrate the company values and culture to create a powerful marketing message
  5. Focus on People: Build a people-centric ecosystem to organically grow your business
  6. Engage your audience with Emotions: Create Positive emotions to Drive Connection and Awareness
  7. Integrate Art into Business: Leverage the power of culture and history in your marketing

500 Batch 22 begins July 24th, 2017 in San Francisco.

Click Here to apply for our the Batch 22 Seed Program.

More from Yiying Lu: 


Yiying Lu is award-winning bilingual (English & Chinese) artist and designer. Born in Shanghai China, Educated in Sydney Australia & London UK, now based in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, she currently is a Design Lecturer at the NYU Shanghai Program on Creativity & Innovation. She is also an individual creative consultant who provides talks & workshops for global startups and corporate innovation teams on design thinking, entrepreneurship & creativity. Her projects have been featured in many publications, including The New York Times, Forbes, NBC News, TIME, CNN, BBC, San Francisco Chronicle, TechCrunch, Mashable, and The Huffington Post. She was named a “Top 10 Emerging Leader in Innovation” in the Microsoft Next 100 series. For more from Yiying, you can follow her on TwitterLinkedin and Medium.


Are there ghosts in your convertible notes?

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.

Are you investing in convertible notes or securities? Do you know what a phantom liquidation preference is? Did you know it could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars? Let’s illustrate how with a simple example…

Sally purchases a convertible note with a valuation cap of $5 million in Tuber Corporation for $100,000. Six months later, Tuber closes its Series A with a pre-money valuation of $10 million, selling new shares at $1/share. Thanks to its valuation cap, Sally’s convertible note converts at $0.50/share and she receives 200,000 shares of Series A stock. Sally’s very happy about this outcome.


A year later, Tuber is acquired. Unfortunately, the acquisition price is not enough to trigger a conversion of the preferred stock. Series A holders will just receive their liquidation preference. Assuming the Series A investors negotiated a standard liquidation preference, each Series A holder should receive the “original issue price” of their Series A stock. The question for Sally then becomes, is the “original issue price” of her Series A stock $0.50 share or $1.00 share?

Assuming Sally’s convertible notes were silent on this issue, Sally would most likely be entitled to receive a liquidation preference of $1.00/share in the above example or $200,000 (an outcome that greatly benefits Sally). This benefit to Sally, getting $1.00/share as opposed to $0.50/share (which ends up being worth $100,000), is known as a phantom liquidation preference.

While most investors would prefer to keep this phantom liquidation preference, many companies are drafting convertible notes to avoid it. Their argument is that investors are double-dipping — benefiting from the discount/valuation cap when their security converts and again with the liquidation preference. This argument may be valid, but as an investor you should at least be aware of it. As some investors successfully retain the preference, it could be worthwhile to fight to keep it. 

Understanding nuanced concepts like this can provide investors with a critical edge in the crowded venture capital space. To this end, UC Berkeley will be partnering with 500 Startups at Venture Capital Deal Camp in February to breakdown concepts like this and explore other mechanics of early-stage deal making. Deal Camp also features VIP access to 500’s famous Preview Day and simulated negotiations with real companies. Check it out and consider applying!

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

What the World Could Look Like in 2040

“The best way to build the future is to create it” the quote from Peter Drucker best explains Singularity Universities vision for the world of tomorrow.

Earlier last month I had the opportunity to attend Singularity University’s demo day at NASA in Silicon Valley. SU is a global community and accelerator that uses the phrase ‘exponential’ to describe the focus of their entrepreneurs who take part in their programs.

The energy was high, the demo tables were bare, but had just enough energy to catch a passerby interest. Eleven early stage companies were set to pitch on exponential technologies which shape industry on earth and in space. I chose six of them to spotlight below.

Keep in mind, most all of these entrepreneurs are top researchers in their specialty and not web geniuses as some of their websites are in general underwhelming.

Here are the top 6 companies shaping the future (in no particular order)…


I’m sitting, I’m ready, and we jump straight into space.

Problem: We have solar power and huge areas where we can generate it, ex. Sahara Desert but transferring it globally is an issue.

Solution: REBEAM uses a microwave emitting machine to shoot large mirrors on satellites to then transfer power to other grids world-wide.

If that doesn’t already sound cool enough then you should hear the practical application. Drones. For those of you who own them, they normally stay charged for about thirty minutes until they die. With this technology we can keep drones flying for indefinite periods of time.


Problem: Normally with construction groups, underwriters, etc. this process can take months and now with Deep Blocks turns into a day.

Solution: Deep Blocks takes the building planning process and completely streamlines it with AI. Give whatever consumer building the numbers right off the bat.

They’re still early but definitely a group to keep tabs on.


What’s brown and sticky?

… a stick, but if you were thinking poop then you’ve arrived to the best place for this group.

Problem: We aren’t doing a great job at detecting cancer early.

Solution: Clinicai wants to take your poop, measure the frequency, smell, and size with a sensor attached to your toilet bowl. These researchers believe that we can detect early onset of colon cancer as well as a slew of other diseases from the comfort of your bathroom and their technology.


Manufacturing on the Moon, Mars, and elsewhere. The Space Economy. The new frontier.

Take dust on the moon, what can we make from this? Well these material scientists (who met at the European Space Agency) had identified a problem they could solve.

Problem: One of the biggest issues of space exploration was the fact that we were limited in supplies. If we wanted to build colonies or even research bases how would we do that?

Solution: Astro Lab uses autonomous robots to collect and gather materials, aka dust and dirt, and let’s use them in larger robots with the capacity for 3D printing.

Where do these guys even start, well their idea is Earth. They want to start utilizing surplus materials to create the technology here to then port it to a more interplanetary use.

In the words of the great Ron Burgundy, “I’m not even mad, that’s amazing”


Problem: African consumers don’t have access to affordable refrigeration essential to keeping foods, medicines, and other items cold.

Solution: Affordable off-grid solar refrigeration. The pain points of cooling and staying cool are fixed with Afriji’s hardware.

I wish I had more information on hand but again, these founders are all research based and didn’t have the best data on their websites. Definitely worth emailing them if you’re interested in affordable tech for African countries.


Problem: The ratio between unused to usable satellites in space is about 3:1. This means for every three working satellites in space that we have one that works.

Solution: Intelligent Space is taking a stab and cleaning space debris and monetizing it. Recycling for space.

Honorable mention:


Problem: How do you know what nutrients you’re deficient in?

Solution: Hardware that interacts with software to learn your nutrient deficiencies and sends you packets of personalized vitamins to take daily. A big ticket item possibly for those who take vitamins regularly, great food for thought (you see what I did there?).


That’s it for the round-up! Always looking to talk more about future tech, stay tuned for more posts via my LinkedIn or shoot me an email – //

Next, Final Frontier: Lessons Learned Investing in West & South Africa

During my time at global early stage seed fund, 500 Startups, I’ve led deals in agriculture marketplaces in Indonesia (iGrow), global workflow management software from Brazil (Pipefy), and even education or sewing marketplaces in “emerging markets” like the MidWest of the United States.
500 Startups has a culture of looking ahead to emerging markets, so I was encouraged to follow my investment thesis that there is massive opportunity in thinking ahead.
There were many haters, especially when I became interested in West Africa:

“These markets are too early.” 


There’s no downstream capital for these companies.”

Initially, I was worried about whether I would be stranding these companies or whether it was too early for 500 Startups.

Over the last eight months, we have invested in four companies in South and West Africa through our accelerator program: Sweepsouth, (B14),  KudoBuzz (B14), mVendr (B16),  Podozi (B16), and just recently accepted SureGifts in Batch 18, one of the fastest growing loyalty technology companies in Nigeria and Kenya.

This piece is about what I learned investing in these markets, and why I think all serious investors should learn and be aware about what’s happening on the African continent.

Geeks On A Plane 2016 will be in Africa, so there is an amazing opportunity coming in March.

Here’s what I learned.

1) Why go to West or East or South Africa in the first place? The Future is African. 

This stat that blew my mind: “Sub-Saharan Africa will have a population boom from today’s 900 million people to 2.4 billion by 2050, with almost half of the world’s children being on the continent by 2100.”

There are 54 countries in Africa with unique individual cultures that are all geared for massive economic growth – 50% of the people on the continent are 19 or younger.

I read this right before my trip, and my mind was blown. There were talks of startups like Paga, ACE, Jobberman, Jumia, and increased funding:

“$400 million in VC funding for African startups in 2014. More than a billion dollars will be invested in Africa by 2018.”

Trends in “M-commerce”, B2B for growing SMEs, fintech, big data, and more have been covered in great pieces like this one from I-Dev International. But, you have to go. There’s nothing you can read in a book that will prepare you for feeling the energy and innovation building in the ecosystem, and we international tech investors have a lot to learn.

2) Mentorship is more rare than money, and foreign investors and entrepreneurs can add immense value.

Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology – a two-year entrepreneurship funded school that finds and invests in entrepreneurs from Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya invited me to visit after I made an accelerator investment in a graduate company called KudoBuzz, a SaaS tool for e-commerce companies.

I was blown away during my time giving a guest lecture and spending time with the entrepreneurs at MEST. What also blew me away was that Jorn, CEO and founder of multi-national SaaA company Meltwater,  spends time every single quarter mentoring young entrepreneurs.

It’s his time, not just the considerable capital Meltwater has invested, that makes MEST an amazing addition to the ecosystem.

At 500, the main areas we were able to help the startups were around understanding the fundraising process.

From our South African founder of Sweepsouth, Aisha Pandoor, called Sweepsouth’s experience in San Francisco in the accelerator a “game-changer for SweepSouth in the level of mentors and the network we’ve had exposure to, both of which would previously have been quite far out of reach for a startup based on the other side of the world.

As one of the first services marketplaces in Africa, it was hard to find local founders and mentors with enough experience to provide meaningful advice, and this is a conundrum for other disruptive African startups.”

3) The challenges are real, but they can be overcome (with time).

Last batch, I led our first accelerator investment in a Nigeria-based company called Podozi, a beauty e-commerce company, going after the exciting African women market who spends five times more on beauty and hair than other ethnic groups and will continue to grow.They had graduated from, a Nairobi-based incubator.

My thesis around Podozi was around my conviction about the growing and interesting beauty market in Nigeria and across the continent, and in the founders, Teniola and Wale. Building an e-commerce beauty brand like Sephora will be challenging, but someone will win in this market. I believe Teni and Wale have the conviction and experience to win. However, their journey will be full of challenges.

Not only were there challenges with logistics, basic office management, and recruiting – the dropping value of Nigerian Naira made tracking metrics complicated and disheartening for them.

Then, there was the bleak downstream capital situation. Clayton Bryan, in the SF office, helped me connect Wale to local angels, as well as explore more downstream capital sources for African-based companies in the European VC scene in London, Dublin, and other hubs.

There are super early stage programs like MEST, Savannah Fund and then growth funds, but very few options in between, which is why Podozi and other startups must focus on revenue and growth until they reach the stage they can access capital in their markets or foreign investors.

Four months after making the bet on this team, I watched Teniola (TeniBeauty to friends) pitch at Demo Day stage with confidence.


3) Focus on founders – experienced founders are beginning to emerge

Since downstream capital is challenging to close in the ecosystem, so it makes sense to filter for scrappy founders and innovative, clever business models who can be more cashflow generating if they haven’t raised locally.

Other accelerators are beginning to take notice. While I was at MEST, I also had the chance to coach three Ghanaian and Nigerian women, all-technical team, building a social app for African hair calledTress. Nine months later, they were accepted into the YC fellowship program, and today they are raising a seed round to grow faster.

I’m very excited about the team that is joining me in San Francisco this coming week for the launch of Batch 18 – SureGifts. The founders are ex-Jumia (one of most successful e-commerce brands out of Rocket Internet) early team members and have already raised capital. They have already proven they can expand out of their local market and have scaled from Nigeria to Kenya.

These are the types of founders that we are getting at 500 Startups now, since we have been investing, learning, and building relationships and reputation early.

4) Community is key.

Many programs and accelerators in emerging markets are early and still figuring out how to provide value in their early ecosystems.

Many “angel investors” aren’t used to investing in technology startups and come from real estate or private equity, not operating backgrounds, which can create problems between the local investors and entrepreneurs.  It’s another example where money is less valuable than mentors and experience.

Our role is to support and identify  the best credible and local investors to co-invest with, as well as to provide perspective and mentorship to entrepreneurs on the ground. Even if your fund does not support international investments, you can begin to make the relationships.

Distrust between local investors and entrepreneurs can be complicated, but as foreign investors we can provide perspective about the importance of fair practices and terms for early stage technology investments, as well as encourage communities of entrepreneurs to share information, help each other, and build sustainable communities.

Trust is hard to build, but after my experiences with MEST, She Leads Africa, and other great organizations, I am confident these communities can become sustainable.

 5)  Just go and learn for yourself.

If you’re an early stage investor and have any plans to be a part of the emerging economies globally, you’re missing out if you continue to ignore (or overlook) the African markets – the only color we care about as investors is green.

Foreign investors can provide a lot of value through mentorship and spending time helping entrepreneurs who are solving problems in their communities.

I urge other investors to pay attention to what is happening on the African continent, from Lagos and Accra to Nairobi to Johannesburg.

Come join us at GOAP and find out for yourself.

Additional Resources:

The Virtual World is Calling: 16 Predictions for the (Near) Future of VR

A year ago, I met up my friend Eugene Chung who used to run film & media for Oculus virtual reality (VR).  Eugene was telling me about his first VR film he created. At the time, I had very little knowledge about VR but definitely wanted to learn more and very curious. I asked Eugene why anyone should care about VR. His reply? He simply insisted that I should try it for myself and experience “The Rose and I”.

That day, I went to Eugene’s studio in SOMA and put on the Oculus Rift headset for the very first time. Boom, and finally I got it — I was in space and could see the little prince standing on the little planet not too far way. I walked towards him then realized I can walk around the planet. I could see him climbing in and out of his cave and plant his rose.  All I could say was I felt magically. Wow…

According to CBInsights, VR and AR startups have raised over $1 billion in funding since 2014.  VR did not only rock my world, but also the world of many other industries. VR has a depth of engagement that most other medium cannot match because of the immersion it offers. As Chris Dixon mentioned “VR will be the ultimate input-output device. Some people called VR ‘The last medium’ because any subsequent medium can be invested inside of VR, using software alone.”

From events to healthcare to travel — VR is not simply for kids to play games, but offers new forms of experience and expression. The space is moving so fast that most people are missing a lot of the best, under-the-radar use cases that have popped up in the last couple of years. Here’s a sampling:

1. Travel

Who wouldn’t want a “real life” experience in the Safari before committing to a $10K of travel cost?  Large hotel chains like Marriott and Thomas Cook are gearing up to create their own VR experience and giving their customers first peek before they arrive. 

Not only Marriott launched its “VRoom Service”, Discovery channel also launched its Discovery VR initiative and let you swim with sharks, ski downhill (although this makes me sick), or learn to forage for food via a phone and Google Cardboard.

2. Films & Entertainment

Last week, I finally got the chance to experience the Void’s Ghostbusters experience in New York. I felt that I was the actual Ghostbuster holding the proton gun catching ghosts while running around New York. I can feel the suspension bridge shaking and the elevator moving. It was absolutely thrilling. Even better than the actual movie  

3. VR Journalism

Startups like Within and Cryworks have created numerous VR journalism experience for New York Times and Wall Street Journal. Startups like Ryot also make VR film set at a school in Ghana and were able to raised $1.9 million during an annual gala.  Imagine you are sitting on stage during the Clinton & Trump debate instead of watching it from afar.

4. Real estate

Real estate shoppers can now “walk” around the properties and peek out windows to envision how their future home would look like via tools like Matterport and Toursler. Traditional real estate companies like Coldwell Banker, Halstead and Zillow are also catching on and providing their customers virtual home experience before dropping millions to purchase a new property.

5. Education

I got the chance to play with zSpace a few months and it was absolutely amazing. Using their special glasses and monitor, I was able to manipulate the heart, turn it around and do cross-sections search. They are now selling these medical training apps to hospitals and medical schools.

Google’s Expedition Pioneer Program and Nearpod VR also provide guided tours of places where school buses cannot go or startups like Unimersiv for history lessons, Immersive VR Education science and space learning, 

6. Healthcare and paging Dr. House:

Specialists are expensive and typically patients have to go to them to get surgery. But what if Doctors could do surgeries remotely using robotic tools and VR headsets? It would revolutionize and help democratize cutting-edge surgeries. Loyola hospital is using SnowWorld VR video to help with treating burn victims during wound care and physical therapy. Startup like Psious is also helping people face their fears, from spiders to heights to public speaking by using immersion VR therapy.

7. Sport / Live Streaming

This is still a little way to go, but companies like NextVR and Cryworks are working very hard to provide real time and live streaming experience for VR. Can you imagine seeing the Warrior games live sitting at courtside but you are really in the comfort of your home? That would truly be amazing.

8. Shopping

I want to see how I look in red, green or black in different environment and the VR is the only way that can shopper the instant gratification of trying things on without actually doing it.

9. Virtual fitness

Imagine you can train and swim with Michael Phelps and golf like a pro with Tiger Woods. Startup like StriVR is providing VR training for college and professional football teams.

In additional these existing use cases, I would also love to see the following use cases to happen:

10. Virtual Reality Search

Imagine you are in a VR environment and you say “I am in New York and I am hungry for burger”, it should immediate search and take you to the best burger joint in New York. Not exactly like beam me up Scotty…but I believe the future VR search will take you to anywhere in the world anytime you want.

11. Virtual Reality Office Space and real time conference call

Why bother to even go to work if you can work remotely and virtually. You could feel like you are just in the office and be able to do real time conversations with your colleague in the next cubicle.  

12. Virtual reality storage

Home videos have been relegated to boxes in the attic, but what if you could BE in the house you grew up in, next to your grandmother. In twenty years it will be amazing to go back and relive memories.

13. Virtual reality city planning

Imagine you can walk around a city that not yet exists. VR will be lower cost tool for city governments and urban planners to create the new worlds.

14. AR contact lenses

Why even brother with a smartphone if your contact lens can directly detect and find you all the Pokemon. Companies like Samsung already applied for some of these patents. I can definitely see physically embedded lower-powered sensors and chipsets could become another exciting enablers for mixed reality.

15. Virtual Reality Dining 

There’s dining in the dark. But what about dining at the top of Mount Everest or underwater, next to a coral reef? Or watch your food being prepared as you eat it. Experience your food in a new way.

16. 4D experiences 

If you’ve read Ready Player One or any other VR sci-fi then you’ll have heard about haptic suits and VR that engages the senses beyond sight and hearing. Touch and smell are on the horizon.

I look forward to meeting founders who are as excited as I am in creating the future.  What other use cases are you hoping to see in the future? Let us know in the comments!

Together, we can make this virtual world a reality.    

For more predictions as well as a closer look at the current state of VR, check out my slide deck The Virtual World is Calling: 18 Predictions and New Realities

Disclosure: I am an investor in Penrose Studios and Cryworks. I asked the founders if they would give me the opportunity to invest in them. And fortunately they said yes 🙂   

How to Invest “Smart Money” — 4 Lessons Learned

I recently attended VC Unlocked: Secrets of Silicon Valley Investing, an investor training program run in partnership with 500 Startups and Stanford Center for Professional Development. The two-week program took place July 25th – August 5th, 2016, and a class of 28 participants dove deeply into the world of tech, understanding fund dynamics and hearing from seasoned experts.

My big takeaway was that along with all the attention and hype startups are garnering around the world, there is still a large gap in the knowledge available to investors entering the space.

We hear a lot about “dumb money” and to avoid it like the plague, but is that it? As a former educator I believe not – and so here are a handful of tips for new investors from VC Unlocked to make your money smarter:

1. Understand the market/ecosystem you are investing in

Copying and pasting a playbook from Silicon Valley directly into a different region will not get you the startup ecosystem you hope for. It’s taken a while for this message to make its rounds, but it’s important to know that building up the key components are what matters; Do smart founders, early and later stage capital, legal and other services, and exit opportunities exist in your market? If not, how will you as an investor traverse those voids?

Bedy Yang and Mary Grove speak about building ecosystems around the world.

2. Educate yourself and peers on good etiquette and best practices

Unless you imagine yourself solely generating your own deal flow and funding your companies throughout their lifetimes, you will find yourself working alongside and benefiting from the participation of the rest of the startup community. It is in your best interest to play well with others, and this applies to how you manage the interests of and your relationships with LPs, fellow investors, and entrepreneurs.

Good behavior could be saying “No” quickly and kindly to founders that do not fall within your investment thesis, having a discussion with your LPs about recycling management fees, or understanding which terms are investor vs. founder friendly.

Your responsibilities as an investor will include:

  • knowing what you are buying
  • how to navigate and properly negotiate terms
  • what part you play in being a constructive board member beyond just writing a check

The good news is, there are many thought leaders and content around these topics that you can find online, and even better news is my colleague will be sharing a post devoted to the best ones!

Jeff Clavier shares his fund’s journey.

3. Know your value proposition as an investor

“Why you?” is a question investors are often heard asking founders, but it is just as important for investors to ask themselves both for fundraising as well as deal flow. During one of the sessions, David Hornik of August Capital said, “If you don’t have dealflow, you don’t have anything.”  Echoed by Constance Freedman of Moderne Ventures, she pushed for differentiating yourself from other investors.

Whether it is your industry expertise, personal network, or unparalleled access, investors should be able to articulate how their assets power their investment criteria. Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC encouraged everyone to have “a clear schtick” because at the end of the day smart founders will optimize for investor-market fit.

Capturing a great session with Jason Calacanis

4. Be transparent with others, honest with yourself

This tip will go a long way, allowing you to attract the best relationships, utilize your time efficiently, and build your brand.

“Be clear about your investment filters and make sure they are known by founders, investors, everyone.”

Dave McClure tells us, “Be clear about your investment filters and make sure they are known by founders, investors, everyone.”

This will help you avoid pitfalls of herd mentality or just falling in love with the problem the company is solving, as well as not wasting meetings with founders you would never back.

Another area of transparency that requires some introspection was brought up by Mary Grove of Google for Entrepreneurs, who said that while it’s widely known that diversity fosters innovation, she pushes investors with the question of “What are you doing to brand yourself or understanding of your own biases?”

Lastly, Jason Calacanis of and LAUNCH spoke to always giving back to founders with something constructive, regardless of his investment decision. For each meeting, Jason shared that he takes time to thoughtfully respond to the founder(s) with feedback on what was positive and candid concerns around potential challenges.

While this is not an exhaustive list of how to be a more valuable investor, it’s a start to what is a long journey journey ahead should you choose to become one.

As far as 500 Startups is concerned, this is the way we have guided ourselves in our various ecosystems and how I’ve tried to reestablish our presence in New York. It was never about blindly setting up an office, but rather working alongside all the other great organizations that are building up the meaningful pieces of the tech scene. The response has been wonderful so far, and I’m looking forward to bringing some of 500’s larger programs and resources to New York.

Keep your eyes out in the coming months for more announcements!

Our 2016 VC Unlocked class
Our 2016 VC Unlocked class

19 content marketing ideas that aren’t blog posts

9 min read

I talk to a lot of teams about content marketing, a great way to get quality organic traffic at higher volumes if you put in the work and do it right.

Most of these conversations tend to start with:

“So, we’re thinking of writing this blog post… should we write about X, Y or Z?”


“How can I hire someone to write more posts?”

These aren’t the wrong questions to be asking — if you’ve determined that content marketing is an important part of your growth marketing framework.

But, they make me a little sad.

The reason is because, to me (and to your future traffic) content is blog posts, but it isn’t JUST blog posts.

Content is holistic; it’s anything we can read, watch, see, or hear.

Content is holistic; it’s anything we can read, watch, see, or hear.

But content marketing is much more specific than that. Content marketing means that it’s easily quantifiable, measurable and repeatable.

In other words, it’s not billboards.

And it’s not just blog posts either (although those are great).

Today, I’ll be sharing 19 content marketing ideas — with live examples — that aren’t blogging.

If some of these are surprising or “don’t seem like content,” then I encourage you to think about all the ways content plays a role in your lead generation and nurture. It’s everywhere, if you only look.

Finally, I always like to remind myself that content marketing is always content PLUS distribution, so I’ll also look at distribution channels and potential for each idea.

I hope these will inspire you to create some of your own.

(There’s a summary of the full list at the end, in case you’re don’t want to read / don’t care about examples).

Offline experiences as content marketing

1. Conferences you organize

Not all conferences are content marketing. Some of them are just conferences, where the organizer is primarily in the business of producing and selling the event experience.

Others, like the following, are single-organizer, where the organizer is a vendor to the event audience it brings together.

Content marketing is content + distribution.

Events are GREAT content marketing because they are full of content that’s usually recorded in video, audio, text, and on social media.

While they’re happening, they self-distribute through the “buzz” they create by leveraging attendees’ and speakers’ innate desire to simultaneously show off and feel like they’re part of something big.

After they’re over, you get a bunch of recorded content that can do your bidding across a number of different channels:

  • YouTube
  • Your own blog
  • Other blogs
  • Industry news outlets
  • Not to mention, if your content is really good, shared across people’s social channels, Slacks, emails, etc.

2. Conferences you speak at

When you speak at a conference, you are actually content marketing yourself and your business — it’s not only brand marketing.

susan su unbounce cta conference

The reason why is because you get your own little slice of all of the above, only you don’t have to deal with any of the considerable operations or logistics.

In other words, you get to swoop in, create some stuff that someone ELSE is going to record and distribute for you, and let them stack all the chairs long after you’ve dropped the mic.

Conference speaking usually breeds more conference speaking, as long as you’re decent and have spent between 20 – 40+ hours preparing for your presentation.

How to be a good conference speaker is its own hairy blog post. I suggest you observe top-rated single-track speakers like:

  • Rand Fishkin
  • Ramit Sethi
  • Oli Gardner (all content marketers, by the way)
  • as well as famous things like the Apple Keynotes

Beautiful slide design and good acting are important flash, but don’t replace substance. It’s much easier to do public-speaking when you’re not bullshitting.

3. Meetups and parties

If you’re not a big SaaS vendor ready to throw a resource-intensive conference, you can scale it down and create a meetup (with or without speaking) or just a party.

“Don’t be invited, be the organizer.” –Dave McClure

“Don’t be invited, be the organizer,” Dave once said to a group of aspiring angel investors about how they could start creating dealflow (aka, traffic) for themselves.

When I was at Inside Network, a startup that sold data and content to Facebook Platform developers back when that was still a thing, we organized a party in conjunction with f8 (Facebook Developers’ Conference) that generated lines around the block and a LOT of inbound for the core business. The main “content” we created was in the curation of the invite list, and it self-distributed because it piggy-backed off of the brand marketing, audience, and location of f8.

Audio and Video Content Marketing

4. Podcasts

It seems like more and more people are doing their own podcast, and that’s because it’s still relatively “green pasture.”

Multimedia content reaches people in different contexts, through different sense doorways, that reading just can’t touch.

Podcasts become our accompaniment to commuting, manual work, or travel. You are literally speaking into your captive audience’s ear.

Sheel Mohnot and Josh Muccio have hit over 20,000 downloads per weekly episode within a year of launching The Pitch podcast (a podcast about investing).

Downloads are a vanity metric, though. What really matters is the high quality inbound they’ve generated: 2 investments, key hires for featured guests (and portfolio companies), and a sponsorship pipeline with a waiting list.

Podcasts, like all other types of content marketing, won’t perform for you if you don’t have a goal. If your implicit goal is just to make yourself feel cool because you created some owned media, then that will be the sum outcome. If your goal is to get leads or engagement at a specific part of your funnel, then you will need to build the other pieces of that funnel to make sure you’re getting directional growth.

5. “TV shows” or video series

Ipsy is a $500 million dollar company that has built its growth strategy on what are essentially reality TV shows on YouTube.

Have you ever watched one of the many, many beauty videos on YouTube? They don’t seem like a big deal, until you watch one or two and get completely sucked in.

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 12.59.19 PM

This is because these are real people, talking about and demonstrating accessible products. These are TV shows because they follow the same character through the varying seasons of their lives.

They are content because they are mostly brand-agnostic storytelling, but they are also marketing because they’re backed by YouTube’s distribution firepower and because every three to four episodes there’s a clear Ipsy call to action.

To learn more about the Ipsy process, read this Forbes piece or go check out their YouTube channel.

6. Non-serial videos

Commercials and content are blending the line more and more.

SK-II is a premium beauty line that’s top in Asia, and one of its parent company’s (Proctor & Gamble) billion dollar brands.

Their “Change Destiny” series, distributed primarily on YouTube, is as much story it is commercial advertisement.

Change Destiny Tang Wei commercial

But the main factor at work here isn’t the “Mad Men” style storytelling. It’s the organization of the funnel around each video, which leads to a microsite with more content as well as conversion opportunities.    

Can videos work for non ecommerce, non beauty category? Adobe’s Marketing Cloud videos are an example of a content-advertisement hybrid for SaaS.  

Print Content Marketing

This is one of my favorite categories of all time, and I’ll explain why.

Print has higher barrier to entry, thus relatively lower volume.

Also, sometimes you get to enjoy a captive audience, as in one of the examples below. (Airline magazines)

7. Your own guide

It started out as a way to sell more tires, by getting more people on the road, by giving them more reasons to take long road trips. Pretty indirect.

In 1900, when the Michelin Guide was created, there were only 2,500 drivers in all of France. If the company wanted to expand its tire and parts business, it would have to expand the market itself.

Michelin Guide 1900

Like a true piece of content marketing, the original Guide was all about lateral experiences and stories, with about 10% of the content being sales material for tires.

Today it’s even less, and that’s why to me, the Michelin Guide is a piece of content marketing that has crossed the line over to brand marketing.

This is because of its vectors of influence, and its measurability. It hits less than half a million direct viewers in actual circulation (and shrinking), but its brand influence continues to grow as the brand continues to make or break restaurant businesses and expand into new countries.

Yet, it’s hard to measure exactly how that ripple effect sends business back to the core brand, which is important for no-brand or emerging content marketing in today’s extremely competitive landscape of peak content.  

Like some of the big conferences mentioned earlier, the Michelin Guide is another example of content that has become its own product.

Michelin Guide product 2013

8. Your own magazine

Universities do it, airlines do it, hotels do it. This is a fit for “experience”-based businesses that want to diversify their acquisition and engagement channels, and speak to people in the nooks and crannies of their day or week where a blog post can’t reach. For example, on a long flight.

It’s measurable in terms of circulation and “traffic” footprint, and most of the content isn’t sales pages so much as demand-generating storytelling about cities and travel experiences.

The American Airlines magazine, American Way, reaches 193 million people per year, and United’s Hemisphere’s reaches 140 million.

As with conferences, this type of content marketing is also its own product, with its own production cycle, and its own separate monetization (advertisers for magazines, sponsors and ticket purchasers for conferences).

Most startups won’t be able to whip up a magazine and get David Carr as a contributor as quickly as doing some blogging, but there’s a cache to print and visuals that’s unique and defensible and possibly a good fit for product categories in lifestyle, ecomm, and experience-based businesses.

9. Your own book

I Will Teach You To Be Rich is a book that Ramit Sethi wrote about personal finance for young people that became a bestseller because he understood, and leveraged, the channels of distribution for published books.

When the book first reached bestseller status, a lot of people started asking Ramit when the next book was coming out. He would smile like the Mona Lisa and say nothing.

Most often, we think of a physical, published book as the end product. Instead, and if structured correctly as part of a much larger funnel of audience conversion, it’s a powerful instrument of content and brand marketing.

In Ramit’s case, the book was at the top of his funnel, not at its end.

It’s an influential “lead magnet” to familiarize them with the brand, build trust, and bring them to the site where Ramit markets relevant high-quality and proprietary learning products. Those products can transform a $7.51 book sale into an ARPU (average revenue per user) in the low thousands up to over ten thousand dollars (NOT including revenue from repeat purchases).   

10. Your own column

The difference between having your own column in a relevant news outlet and simply being mentioned in that news outlet represents one of the fundamental differences between PR and content marketing:

When you write your own column, you are presenting your own thoughts in your own words, and if done right, positioning yourself as a thought leader and sending interested attention back to your own property.

Additionally, you have a chance to:

  1. Make it recur
  2. Organize it around one theme (to establish your thought leadership around that theme)

Guest posting is a good start, but it shouldn’t be the end. Instead, plan out what your series of thematically related content is going to be, and make it an ongoing column instead.

Here’s one example from Arteen Arabshahi, an investor from Los Angeles whose recurring content is helping him to rank for the keywords [ Los Angeles tech startups investors ].

Educational Format Content Marketing

11. Teach your own class

Educational institutions benefit when practitioners with experience in the real world come into the classroom to teach others, not from theory but from their own direct experiences.

The practitioners, of course, benefit because it’s an effective piece of brand and content marketing.

There are two really good examples of this that I can think of off the top of my head.

First, is 500’s course on angel investing with Stanford Center for Professional Development. It’s a 2-week course and is most definitely its own product (with its own marketing, its own development budget, etc).

FullSizeRender (1)

Yet, it’s also content marketing for 500 Startups fundraising.

It generates a lot of content (two weeks’ worth of recorded experience, plus a reverb effect of blog posts and articles), builds the brand, and creates more investors who may one day invest with 500.

Another example are Steve Blank’s entrepreneurship courses, which he taught at Stanford, Berkeley and Columbia, as well through Udacity and elsewhere online.

Stanford also put together one-off classes by Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, Brit Morin of Brit + Co, and Dharmesh Shah of Hubspot — all of which were captured as recordings and continue to live on (and drive brand awareness and traffic) back to their creators.

For content marketing, an offline course functions like a conference. Both are places to establish thought leadership, “get mileage” (aka record and redistribute in different formats) and measure results.

You can find more examples of education-as-content-marketing at Coursera, Udemy and CreativeLive.

12. Webinars

Webinars are a great way to convert people, especially for higher commitment products (where commitment is measured in price or involvement). This is because webinars build trust by leveraging content you create — either live on the fly or beforehand.

content marketing for startups webinar

My Content Marketing for Startups webinar is a prerecorded video I made with Camtasia. It currently has 20,240 views, and helps 500’s channel and other video content rank for keywords like [ startup growth marketing content ].

whiteboard fridays moz rand fishkin

Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Fridays are a weekly webinar-style video shared as a blog post. In Whiteboard Fridays, Rand explains one SEO topic in detail.

Because it’s Rand Fishkin and they’re Moz, they do a fantastic job building out the full content funnel — the video is transcribed for search engines (and normal human readers), and they even come with their own shareable custom infographics and images.

You can use webinars for:

  • Saas / b2b
  • Demos
  • How-tos
  • Q&A (ie, answering sales objections)
  • Doing live analysis or teardowns
  • Promoting special launches and events.

13. Roll out your own full online course

Steve Chou at My Wife Quit Her Job uses his 6-part email course not only as a lead magnet to boost email collection, but also as a conversion tool once you’re in email funnel.  

When I was at AppSumo, we launched a comprehensive course called the AppSumo Marketing Plan, teaching the quant-based marketing methods Noah used for the Mint launch, as a product and as marketing for the brand and for other products.

CopyBlogger has repurposed much of their content into online courses around their main keyword areas: content, traffic, design, and conversion. Here’s an example of a landing page. Sign up for their free course and study how they’ve structured the funnel.

Educating people is a powerful way to persuade them, because you get to demonstrate value and authority and build trust before you go for a conversion. And it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated.

Case in point: a lot of the courses on Udemy, paid and free, are essentially content marketing for their creators. There’s even a Udemy course on creating Udemy courses.

14. Education center

Because Schwab is primarily an investment bank, a lot of their business is in managing trades. This can be confusing for consumers, and that confusion is an enemy to engagement and upsells.

They use content marketing to engage existing brokerage customers and turn them into higher value customers who invest more and trade more — by creating a full-blown Education Center with how to videos and articles, news analysis, and data tools.

Schwab education center

Schwab also offers live workshops, another format for content aimed at increasing customer LTV.

Downloadables as Content Marketing

15. Ebook

It was an ebook that brought in a 5-figure lead for Worthix, a Batch 16 company. Ebooks continue to work for Hubspot (who have so many that they’ve created a library) even though they already have my email, as they move me further and further along their lead qualification funnel.

Ebooks have higher perceived value, and can be distributed on Amazon.

It’s not trivial to create a high quality ebook — between content, design and distribution — but it’s doable, and serves as a more evergreen reference point for your brand and authority.

It’s also a better lead magnet. You can always put an email collector on a blog post, but I can always ignore it.

If your ebook is gated by an email collector, and I really want that ebook, then not only do you incentivize the email capture (now I have an actual reason to enter it), but you also qualify me as a lead. Now you know this email belongs to someone who really wants this info.

Finally, because an ebook is usually longer form than a blog post and often presents data or some original findings, it can generate a ripple effect of press attention and additional content.

16. Downloadable PDF with higher perceived value plus you get an email capture

This is similar to an ebook but it’s shorter. It will still trigger a higher perceived value than a blog post, and will still incentivize email entry.

In B2B, downloadable PDFs can be especially useful because they lend themselves well to data presentation, branded design, and B2B customer norms.

PDFs can also be important for lead nurture after you get the email:

Dell created a PDF-driven nurture program aimed at addressing customer objections and dropoffs that resulted in a 35% higher average order value and 300% more engagement with nurture emails.

17. Downloadable spreadsheet as an engagement device

Spreadsheets are attractive because they are pure utility. Who doesn’t want something that promises them a shortcut?

A classic example of a spreadsheet-as-content-marketing is Noah Kagan’s Quant Based Marketing spreadsheet that he used to model out the Mint launch tactics. The spreadsheet has earned Noah thousands of new and high quality email signups to a list where he sometimes (gently) promotes other relevant and premium AppSumo / SumoMe products and experiences.


18. Instagram

Does Instagram count as content marketing, or is it social media? Does it matter?

I’m not going to get into the ins and outs of Instagram here as there are whole businesses built around that. If you want to learn Instagram marketing, I recommend you check out Foundr Magazine’s Instagram guide (they also use PDFs, ebooks, and webinars in their content marketing to you…:).

I will say that Instagram is the most “content marketing” of any social media type, and is just as much content as it is social.

Your IG account won’t be successful without careful curation and creation of original content, and like other content marketing, isn’t a direct sales channel for your stuff. It is top of funnel lead gen, brand building, and engagement marketing to existing audiences.

Examples: 2016-07-26 18-30-58

foundr magazine instagram

19. Infographics

Infographics say it all with one image, literally.

infographic of infographics

Neil Patel presents a solid summary of the method and components of a great infographic including how to pick a topic based on keyword rank and shareability, how to find the data (since infographics are usually a visual presentation of data), and how to use Dribbble to find a professional designer.

If you’re serious about it, read the above. I’ll just summarize by saying, infographics can be an effective form of content marketing that can diversify you away from text-only, and they have their pros and cons.

Pros: they addictive to look at, shareable across social channels, and can “go viral”

Cons: they are hard to make and require real design work to be effective. You can try a service like Piktochart to make your own, but it’s much better with a real designer.

Bonus: Quora, forums and public Slack groups

Forums and Slack groups are where content and community blend together. Forums are extremely unsexy, and yet they still answer a lot of people’s intent-based queries — and, as long as they’re public, they are highly indexable.


The key to success for any type of content marketing is not to spam.

It’s marketing, and it’s also a product. Create it painstakingly like a product the world will see (because that’s what it is), and then spend the next long while proudly distributing it.   

It took me at least 30 hours to research and create this post, and I am a fast writer. If you aren’t, or don’t like writing, or don’t have 30 hours to spend on this, then consider some of the options I’ve listed:

  1. Conferences you organize
  2. Conferences you speak at
  3. Meetups and parties
  4. Podcasts
  5. TV shows
  6. Non serial videos
  7. Your own guide
  8. Your own magazine
  9. Your own book
  10. Your own column
  11. Teach your own class
  12. Webinars
  13. Your own online course
  14. Education Center
  15. Ebook
  16. Downloadable PDF
  17. Downloadable spreadsheet
  18. Instagram
  19. Infographics

Content comes in all forms, distributes on all sorts of channels, and, once created, has the potential to become your own personal magic pasta pot for traffic and conversions.

strega nona endless magic spaghetti pot

The Hunt: How Startups WIN on Product Hunt

Product Hunt (PH) has become the de facto source for new and upcoming technology products.

Product Hunt win with Arka

If you get featured on the homepage, the next 24 hours could be glorious:

  • Thousands of site hits, a boost in customers
  • MOAR revenue
  • Massive brand awareness among target audience

Or, it could be an utter failure. You might get low conversion rates to your site, ghosted from the PH featured page and buried under your competitors.

You choose.

How to WIN at Product Hunt

I’ve helped companies like Indemand and Arka gain over 1,000 upvotes in less than 24 hours, which — with high conversion from PH to landing page — led to hundreds of new customers and thousands of revenue dollars in just a few days.

Don’t worry, it’s a repeatable process. Here’s the step-by-step recipe for how to gain traffic and conversions from Product Hunt.

#1 Gather the important information

Ok, this sounds boring, but if you want someone to post you on PH, the person should be relevant to you and you should build that relationship before making the ask.

I post about things that get me excited, as well as for 500 Startups and AngelPad companies because I’m a part of those communities.

Here’s the info you should gather and customize to fit PH.

  • The date to post
  • Category (Tech/Games/Books/Podcasts)
  • Product name
  • Website
  • Catchy tagline (40 characters or less)
  • Blurb on why I think the product is awesome (I’ll write this as the hunter, but helpful thoughts are encouraged)
  • Special offers for the cat-loving PH community (optional)
  • Links to 1-2 recent articles (optional)
  • Platforms and tags (ex: web, developer tool, transportation)
  • Media (one for icon, one for header)
    • I highly recommended you customize your images for PH. Here’s an example from Arka:

custom image product hunt arka

  • Status (available now vs pre-launch)
  • Twitter handles of founders (to be added as PH Makers and tweeted out — Twitter promotion is 🔑 )

The above fields are from the PH hunt form and the PH product page itself. The ‘Hunt a Product’ form does change from time to time, but here’s what it looks like today.

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.39.40 AM

#2 Use the power of social network effects

Find a strong PH influencer to post you and follow that person (in this case, me).

tristan pollock product hunt influencer

Then have your team and friends follow the hunter as well. This amplifies your post reach because all followers are notified when a product is hunted, and if they upvote/share, their followers are notified with a PH alert. And on and on.

Extra points if you have a strong collection built around your business and can get the collection creator to add you. I like to post about 500 Startups, ViceTech (experiences), Frontier Tech, Digital Nomads, and Music (and creativity) in my collections.

Collections can be picked up and promoted by PH at any time. An example is my Comedy collection that was featured on the PH email newsletter. This can give your PH post longevity, in addition to the norm of using upvotes to rank highly for specific keywords.
Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.45.16 AM

#3 Post at midnight, because timing is everything

This is key.

Hunting a product at midnight gives you a full 24 hours on the front page.

You also get another 24 hours on the Yesterday page that sits right below the Today featured feed on the home page. 95% of upvotes occur in the first 24 hours.

To make sure I’m in sync with the Maker when hunting the product, I ask them to:

  1. Send me an calendar invite for 11:30pm-12:30am for the day we are hunting with all hunting information included
  1. Comment on the post immediately after it is live. Here you should mention that you are the founder and here to answer questions (the more PH community engagement the better)
  1. Share with your personal and business networks. Usually if you are the top post by 9AM PST (aim for 100-150 upvotes) then you are in good shape for the rest of the day. Here’s a sample message you can send out:

Hi Friend – help us squish it on Product Hunt this morning!

To upvote [MY PRODUCT] follow these instructions:

1/ Go to the homepage.

2/ Find [MY PRODUCT] and upvote (note: if you are in a shared office space with others upvoting, use a different IP address by using your mobile device with Wifi turned off and you’ll get a more powerful upvote).

3/ Add a comment about why you love us, or a question about the product (the more engagement we have the more visibility we get).

4/ Share to your own networks via Twitter/Facebook/text/email (get creative with email lists, friends, family, accelerators, etc).

Much love,


#4 Focus on engagement and conversion will come


Arka saw a spike to their landing page that peaked 24 hours in, and lasted four days total with about 10% of traffic remaining over the next two weeks. Over 120 new customers paid for their product.

arka conversions

Indemand saw an even larger increase in traffic and customers, including:

  • Users. An increase of 7,000 unique visitors with their user base growing by 25% just through Product Hunt. About 15% of the total uniques churned.
  • Revenue. Over $150k worth of custom deals came through Product Hunt, plus an increase of MRR by $5k. This happened over the first 5 days after the hunt.

I attribute their success to these factors in order of importance:

  1. Product Hunt community. At the end of the day, the most successful products on PH fit the community, which is still majority tech oriented, and come from Hunters/Makers who participate in the community, write thoughtful comments, and have been engaging on the platform over a longer period of time. The Indemand founders fit this mold and so did their product.
  1. Hustle hard. The Arka and Indemand teams did everything possible to bring awareness to their hunt from alerting their accelerator batch network to downloading their LinkedIn contacts to handing out candy on the street. They were determined, creative and very, very persistent.
  1. Hunter-Maker collaboration. If it isn’t clear already, I spend too much time on PH. As their Hunter, I worked closely with Arka and Indemand to improve their content, share it to additional communities I have access to (e.g. accelerators, personal networks), and, of course, have competitive fun in the process.
  1. Timing. Post between 12am-2am. No excuses. Indemand pulled an all-nighter to monitor questions, comments, and fuel the hunt.

#5 A note on external factors

There are always things you can’t control.

For example, if a new product by Google is hunted the same day as your product it will draw attention away from you. Or the fact that less people are engaged on PH from Friday to Monday, so you probably want to avoid those days. Some of these factors you can plan for. Others you can’t, but if you follow the above steps, you should be able to gain healthy initial exposure, but always make sure to be respectful of the Product Hunt community rules by reading their FAQs.

Lastly, if you haven’t used PH often, it’s best to get involved, comment, ask questions, upvote products you like, and talk with other Hunters before hunting your own product. Give before you receive. It’s called cat power. 😻


Tristan is a Venture Partner at 500 Startups, follow him on Twitter here.