Startup Growth Blog: AARRR Funnel for Startups

Startup Growth Blog: AARRR Funnel for Startups

Successful startup founders start by understanding their customer journey through which a visitor becomes a paying customer. They can do this by using the AARRR Funnel developed by Dave McClure, investor and founding partner of 500 Startups. In this article by StartitUp, we will examine how the AARRR funnel is applied for businesses and highlight two key metrics that early-stage startups should focus on.

Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue.

This is the AARRR (Must Read!) startup metrics model developed by Dave Mcclure. These 5 metrics represent all of the behaviors of our customers.

We want to break down these 5 metrics on your product and look at them separately, then analyze and monitor them so that we can optimize them. A successful startup is one where they are able to optimize every single one of these 5 metrics.

It’s important to understand about AARRR, because only when you understand all the metrics, you will understand where exactly is wrong with your startup, so you don’t guess and make the wrong assumptions. When you understand AARRR, you can become a startup doctor, because you will know exactly what or which part is wrong, and then fix it.

 

Breaking down a business through AARRR funnel

For example, a Chinese restaurant owner opens his restaurant in San Jose. After 3 months his business is still quite poor, so he simply blames that people in San Jose don’t like to eat Chinese food (impossible!).

The truth is that many startups make the same mistake of thinking if something doesn’t work, it must be everything, or they just guess the wrong reason why their business is not working. Like any website or app, a restaurant relies on many things to be optimized. It needs to have a good location. The storefront needs to look good so customers want to go in. When users are in, customers need to feel comfortable with the interior, and they need to be sold on the content in the menu. Moreover, when they go through the menu, they need to feel comfortable with the price point. Also, the user will obviously rate their experience in terms of the service, the taste of the food, etc.

So, while 1 restaurant owner will conclude that people don’t like Chinese food. Another store owner that knows AARRR-fu will find out maybe it’s because his storefront doesn’t look interesting enough, his price point is too high, or what not.

The truth is, any part of a customer’s experience and its details from walking past the storefront, to going inside, finding a seat, ordering, eating, paying, and leaving the restaurant, are all very crucial to the restaurant’s business.

Case Study: Michelin 1 star restaurant chain called Ding Tai Fong focuses on every part of the detail. They optimize everything. They are so detailed that when you are paying for the bill, the cash change they give back to you is always new so that you don’t get your hands dirty. So they have someone who goes to the bank every morning to get brand new cash to start the day off. It’s something as subtle as this, but this way, people love their whole experience from beginning to end and come back again or tell their friends.

 

Website case study: StartitUp

StartitUp is getting 1000 visitors/month (Acquisition), and our Activation (conversion) is 70%, so that we are getting around 700 users/month. Out of those 700 users, only 20% of those users are coming back after their first visit (Retention). Out of those 20% (140 users), only 10% are paying (Revenue), so that we end up with 14 users paying each month. Out of the 700 users, about 10% of those are referring out service to their friends (Referral). The funnel can be illustrated as follows: 

When we look at the example above, we can separate each behavior and try to optimize each separately.

For example:

1. StartitUp has a good Activation (conversion) rate of 70%, which means we are dealing with a real problem and we have a real solution, and we also have a convincing landing page.

2. We want to get more signups, so we look to improve our Acquisition (visitors) by adding more acquisition channels or work on SEO to try to get more users.

3. We then look at our Retention, and saw that our Retention is pretty horrible at 20%, so we build some extra features like email newsletters and gamification to get users to come back so that we have another chance to monetize them. But we realize users are not coming back to our service because our service somehow isn’t delivering the value promise we made – it doesn’t solve their problem or it’s not clear how to use our service. We also create a better tutorial feature to help users get started with the guide so they can properly reap the benefits from StartitUp.

4. We also see that we are not doing a very good job converting users into paying customers (Revenue), so we look at our price structure and our pricing page to see if we are not doing a good job communicating, or if we can build a stronger pricing plan with the main pricing plan that we want people to buy highlighted.

5. Finally, we check to see why we are not being recommended (Referral) to friends and see if we can put in some social sharing features to increase the number of referrals. This could also be that our service doesn’t have any referral value since it’s not good enough.

 

Pro-tip for early-stage startups: focus on Activation and Retention

For early-stage startups, we don’t need to focus on all of the 5 metrics during the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) phase. The 2 most important metrics we want to monitor and optimize right now are Activation and Retention (Retention is King! – If people like using your product and they return to use it, then you will be successful).

These are the 2 main metrics that will determine whether or not you have built a service that people need. A good Activation tells you that your UVP and landing page is convincing and that you successfully get the user to go through with 1 use cycle post logging in. Good Retention tells you that your MVP actually delivers the UVP to the customers.

If you plan to start charging immediately, then Revenue will be one that we want to monitor as well. Acquisition and Referral are not immediate, but they are the engines to drive new customers to your website, so do keep them in mind when building your MVP.

Important: Before you can get good Activation and Retention, which means that you have proven that your product does indeed deliver the UVP, there is no need to start getting users. The reason is that before you are sure that you have a working solution, the users you get now will leave anyways. You will be depleting your users, and it might also give you bad reviews. Therefore, before we can validate your MVP in a later section, only focus on getting “early adopters” and leave the Growth Hacking for later.

Read the original article by Dave McClure here. Click on “Tiếng Việt” on the menu for the Vietnamese translation provided by 500 Startups Vietnam.

 

The Startup Growth blog is powered by the Saola accelerator at 500 Startups Vietnam where we help early-stage startups find their path to exponential growth. Check us out to learn more about what we do and apply for our next batch coming up soon!

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Nhu Tran: Quality Education Delivered To Every Home

Nhu Tran: Quality Education Delivered To Every Home

“Education is the only way for us to get out of hardship,” Nhu’s father explained repeatedly when dropping her off at school every morning. He did so rain or shine despite having to run all over the city to sell construction equipment. A desire to repay such sacrifice motivated her to succeed at some of the world’s top companies and then, recently, co-found an edtech startup. Nhu’s venture, Schola, was built to help devoted parents like hers find quality education for their children.

Born and raised in Saigon, Nhu was an exemplary student, thanks in part to the value her parents placed on education. She received a scholarship to attend Asia’s top university, the National University of Singapore. While there, she encountered a significant setback: her English communication skills were not good enough. Many students in Vietnam can excel in reading, writing, and grammar but lack the confidence, skills, and experience for public speaking. For Nhu, this meant her peers in Singapore refused to work with her on group assignments. On one occasion, a classmate even stole her idea, receiving a good grade when passing it off as her own. Nhu couldn’t effectively communicate to convince the teacher that it was, in fact, her idea.

Nhu fought the desire to drop out and instead dedicated herself to a multitude of extra-curricular activities that helped her improve her speaking skills. Upon graduation, she landed a job at Garena, where she helped launch games such as Thunder Strike, which attracted more than 10 million users in Vietnam alone. She then spent four years at Facebook consulting various Vietnamese companies on digital marketing, helping some of them become unicorns in the country.

 

Making an Unpopular Decision

Nhu’s decision to leave Facebook last year didn’t only affect her. Resigning from a prestigious and high-paying position had ramifications for her family as well. Her parents rely on her for financial assistance, and striking out on her own as an entrepreneur makes their future less certain. Yet she was determined to start Schola to help Vietnamese students overcome the same issues she faced. 

Nhu remembers vividly her encounter with a cleaning lady who works in her office building. Even though she had spent over US$1,000 sending her daughter to English classes, she still couldn’t communicate well. To this mother, it was a huge investment, and yet it had seemingly been for nothing. Stories like this devastated Nhu and further convinced her of the importance of Schola.

Schola, the Latin word for “school”, is the brainchild of Nhu and her co-founder Aditya Gupta, ex-Facebook product manager. It connects students with accredited native teachers around the world for live one-on-one and group classes that emphasize confidence in speaking via an immersive American common core curriculum. For six months, Nhu worked 10+ hours a day at Facebook and then stayed up until 2AM connecting with parents and sharing about Schola. She needed to be sure Schola had potential before committing herself to it fully.

After they delivered 10,000 classes, Nhu knew it was time. Despite the protests from her parents and cautions from her friends, Nhu left Facebook and relocated to Saigon to focus full-time on Schola. It’s been an arduous journey convincing families to part with their hard-earned money. It is especially challenging because when it comes to education, results are often long-term and difficult to quantify. But thankfully they now have numerous real success stories to serve as proof. More importantly, Nhu’s personal story — her family’s sacrifice for her education, her own struggle with English communications, and her effort to overcome such struggle — resonate among many of the parents she speaks to.

Nhu brainstorming with other founders in Saola

From Educators to “Students”

Prior to talking to 500 Startups, Nhu’s co-founder, Aditya, had participated in several other accelerators and had grown skeptical of them. That skepticism persisted when they were invited to join 500’s Saola program; however, it quickly went away. “People here really care, and that’s one of the defining factors. When that happens, we can derive a lot of value,” said Aditya about their time with Saola.

Among many lessons, for Schola, diligently setting and monitoring metrics and KPI’s serves as one of the most important. In the past, they had operated via bootstrapping and thus had a somewhat haphazard way of assessing their growth and accomplishments. For Nhu, she found values for Schola through the depth of experience of the Saola growth experts. They were able to not only show her why taking a more holistic approach was important but also how specifically to do it.

Despite many challenges faced as a female entrepreneur, Nhu’s desire to help Vietnamese children thrive compels her to continue dedicating her time, energy and effort. After all, it was the same dedication that her parents gave her, and this is her way to pay it forward.

Written by Paul Christiansen

NOTE: This article reflects the personal views of Paul Christiansen and not necessarily the views of 500 Startups. Nothing in this article should be construed as an offer, invitation or solicitation for investment, or be construed as investment advice. Data provided is as reported by portfolio companies, third-party sources, and/or internal estimates and may not have been independently verified.

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San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

© 2010-2019 500 Startups

Tuan Trinh: Zen and the Art of E-Commerce Recommendation

Tuan Trinh: Zen and the Art of E-Commerce Recommendation

Plummeting three stories and suffering serious injuries to one’s leg, arm, and back could never be considered a positive event, but some people are able to bounce back from such an experience and emerge a better person. That’s what happened for Tuan Trinh. The Hanoi-native spent three months in the hospital and many arduous weeks afterward learning how to walk and return to normal life. The downtime allowed him ruminate on Buddhist texts as well as the lessons he’d learned while studying in Sweden. Simultaneously becoming more willing to take risks and to stop and soak in the “beauty of life,” Tuan recovered and not long after founded NextSmarty, a technology company that allows small- and medium-sized e-commerce companies to more effectively recommend products to customers.

 

Supercomputer, Buddhist philosophies, and European work ethos 

When the computer store staff installed Tuan’s new super-computer nearly a decade ago, they asked if they could take a photo of it. It was the most impressive setup they’d ever delivered and they wanted to show it off. The fact that he bought it with his wedding money that most people spend on a house or children’s education says as much about his commitment to technology as it does his wife’s support of his passion. The purchase wouldn’t have surprised anyone who’d known Tuan for long. He developed an interest in technology during high school when the internet was in its infancy in Vietnam. After first using the Internet to connect with and make friends across the country, he became fascinated by the fundamentals and theories that powered it. Such curiosity led him to study computer science at university.

Even before Tuan adopted a Buddhist perspective on the trappings of earthly desires, he placed limited value on amassing financial wealth. Upon graduation, he turned down more lucrative positions at outsourcing companies and joined the startup where he had interned during school. He enjoyed the freedom, flexibility, challenges, and opportunities to grow that the position offered. But Tuan was quick to admit what he did not know, and during his four years with the operation, he discovered he needed to obtain a more thorough mastery of computing fundamentals to really explore his interests. He thus decided to enroll in a master’s program.

Explaining his decision to enroll at Uppsala University in Sweden, Tuan says, “They are the best for innovations and well-known for their distributed systems.” While there, he observed a difference between his peers’ and professors’ mindsets compared to Vietnam’s more conservative mentality. They “work smarter, not harder,” he explains, “and they take risks.” He quickly embraced the philosophy.

While visiting his family in Hanoi and waiting for Ph.D. enrolment results in Sweden, Tuan suffered his accident. After recovering and with the support of his family, he returned to working remotely for companies based in Silicon Valley as his health forced him to abandon plans to return to Europe to pursue a doctorate. While he appreciated the work, it didn’t satisfy his natural curiosity, and in his free time, he tried to solve technical problems “just for fun.” So when a German jewelry company came to him looking to increase sales by improving their online recommendation system, he took on the task free of charge; he simply wanted to see if he could do it.

Tuan & his team at “500 Startups Demo Day: A Regional Startup Showcase”

Tuan asks this question when explaining the challenges inherent in designing an algorithm for small- and medium-sized online retailers. Visitors to these sites are less patient than Amazon shoppers, clicking an average of only two to three times before leaving the site. To yield more purchases, Tuan tried to use algorithms from larger marketplaces, but sales at the jewelry company didn’t increase, so he spent two weeks analyzing the data line-by-line to better understand customer behaviors.

The algorithm Tuan developed in response to the information he gleaned from such close study proved quite successful with the site’s conversion rates increasing 55% and return on investment rising 11.5%. Others quickly took notice. RecSys 2017, the recommender system industry’s premier conference, published his paper, 3D Convolutional Networks for Session-based Recommendation with Content Features,” which summarized his findings. The research was later added to a reading list for graduate students enrolled in a course at the University of California at San Diego.

Fearing conflict of interest and eager to act on the entrepreneurship that is “in my blood,” Tuan quit his Silicon Valley positions and founded NextSmarty with aims to do for other companies what he achieved with the jewelry company: increase sales through effective, algorithm-based recommendations that rely on data in different ways compared to the conventional methods used by larger companies.

Tuan’s plans didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped. He admits that his initial success may have resulted in some overconfidence, as attempts to expand his algorithms to other verticals such as music streaming and online dating took a lot of time and effort. The team later decided to focus solely on e-commerce. It didn’t discourage him, though. Rather, it reinforced with what he’d learned in Europe: one must take risks, which inevitably involves failure. Being humble enough to accept and learn from mistakes is the only path to success.

While Tuan scaled back his ambitious efforts to expand the business, he never lost his propensity for exploring technologies in his off hours out of curiosity. And while he meditates every morning for an hour before going into the office to attain a sense of balance, he says that when he gets overwhelmed, he takes a full week off to read about and tinker with a technology topic not directly relevant to NextSmarty.

 

MBA students are taught to swim on dry land, while entrepreneurs jump into the water before learning a single stroke

The company has grown steadily since its 2016 founding, eventually attracting interest from 500 Startups Vietnam. In addition to giving financial support and advice on a wide range of issues including HR, staffing and growth, they suggested he join their first-ever batch of the Saola acelerator. The timing was perfect. As NextSmarty expanded, Tuan increasingly had to manage day-to-day business operations that don’t come as naturally to him as technical matters. Saola taught him how to better interview customers and interpret their comments as well as get sales and technical teams to share a vision.

A variety of expert lecturers with different backgrounds meet with Saola participants to share tangible advice and theoretical knowledge about many of the business matters Tuan has never formally studied. MBA students are taught to swim on dry land, while entrepreneurs jump into the water before learning a single stroke, Tuan says of his time before Saola. He’s done a great job keeping his head above water up to this point, but the accelerator taught him critical skills to move forward.

After a more-than-one-year relationship together, NextSmarty recently hired its first CEO. For many, giving up key responsibilities may be seen as a loss of power, but Tuan is uniquely humble and realistic about his strengths and weaknesses. He believes a CEO will allow him to focus more on the pinpoint efforts he excels at. This, along with what he learned through Saola, should spur vertical expansion in Southeast Asian markets with the ultimate goal of being the premier recommendation tool for small- and medium-sized e-commerce companies in the region. 

In addition to gaining more clients, Tuan hopes to investigate the interplay between online and offline customer trends. He’s observed an interesting back and forth between the two and is eager to see how AI can facilitate better experiences in both areas. Mindful to supplement these business goals with mental and spiritual health, he says he hopes to go on a week-long meditation retreat sometime soon. Rather than distract from his goals, such moments for reflection helps him maintain perspective and remember “we only have one life.”

 

Written by Paul Christiansen

NOTE: This article reflects the personal views of Paul Christiansen and not necessarily the views of 500 Startups. Nothing in this article should be construed as an offer, invitation or solicitation for investment, or be construed as investment advice. Data provided is as reported by portfolio companies, third-party sources, and/or internal estimates and may not have been independently verified.

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814 Mission St., 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

© 2010-2019 500 Startups

Mike Villar wants to put romance back into advertising

Mike Villar wants to put romance back into advertising

A battle-hardened marketing veteran, Villar wants you to practice constraint. “Relationships escalate one step at a time. Selling without a story is like asking someone to marry you on a first date,” he told the dozen startup employees going through Saola, an accelerator program run by 500 Startups.

The entrepreneurs come from a handful of early-stage companies; their bios read any combination of data scientist, Silicon Valley veteran, Ivy League grad, competitive programmer, competitive gamer, mathematical physicist, computational biologist, 3x founder, defecting corporate lifer. To some of them, “sales” is a dirty word, an oil slick contaminating the purity of science. That’s why 500 summoned Villar: a high-functioning storyteller who’s obsessed with “putting narrative to data.” Villar said f*ck you to sales (as we know it) a long time ago. He levitates above the content scrap yard. He’s seen the matrix of advertising. He wants you not to flush that precious VC money down the toilet by buying tone-deaf Facebook ads. 

Villar dropping truth bombs about paid advertising

Before choosing a career in business, Villar spent five years in pre-med: “I thought I wanted to be a doctor. After taking comparative anatomy and slicing people open, I realized that this was not working out for me.” Wired for science, he follows a data-driven approach to marketing religiously. Villar peppers his talks with acronyms from ARPU to CAC to UGC SEO, using metaphors culled from poker, casino and slot machines (if you start to see a theme here, “Paid marketing success is just controlled gambling,” he confirms.) The guy has digital marketing down to a hard science. Back home in the Philippines—also known as ‘America junior’—Villar runs an agency called Growth Rocket for e-commerce clients, most of them based in America. In his former life, he failed miserably at starting up (twice) and lead marketing for a few companies including ZipMatch, a real-estate marketplace, also a portfolio company of 500 Startups. In 2016, ZipMatch sent Villar to Distro Dojo, another startup program under the brand of 500. “500 Distro Dojo is growth marketing accelerator that invests and trains startups around the world,” reads a message on the official website. Villar still fondly remembers the intensive program: “The beauty of programs like these is that you gain access to experts. Apart from Saalim (Chowdhury) there were a couple of other experts who flew in and just looked at the products and rapid-fired ideas to improve.” 

When Saalim Chowdhury, director of the Saola program, put out a feeler on his LinkedIn to see whether anyone was interested in coming to Vietnam to mentor startups, Villar was among the first to answer. “When you transition into an established industry or a cushy job, you kinda miss feeling alive. You miss that urgency where everyone is on the same page and not just kicking back and becoming complacent. Startups bring that out, and you don’t see that a lot anymore. This week has been really invigorating for me,” he talks of working with the Saola startups. He continues: “I miss the pace. I miss the problem-solving. The problem-solving in startups is unparalleled, something you’ll hardly see in a traditional, established enterprise. Every day you’re solving a new problem. That makes you feel alive.” 

While pushing the startup founders to conduct growth experiment at the same high speed, Villar also wants them to reflect on the core of their stories. Amid a whirlwind of a week in Vietnam, Villar sits down with 500 Startups to talk paid marketing, founder support, and modern customer courtship:

 

Have the 10K-foot view

“To a man with only a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” Villar cites the law of the instrument as the main reason marketers are wasting resources. “But once you see the whole picture, you don’t become defensive if one channel doesn’t work. You typically see that with specialists, people who say, ‘We’re gonna make everything happen with SEO.’ No you’re not. Because that just doesn’t work. You have to take a step back and look at everything and form a holistic understanding of it,” he adds. Villar encourages sharing this vision with the whole team: “People need to be able to correlate the work that they do for the company with the bigger picture, and not a lot of companies do that. Again, you need to be able to zoom out and have the 10K-foot view, as opposed to be myopic.” 

 

Jab, jab, jab, right hook

Back in 2017, Cision anticipated that “the biggest change [to paid media] will be a pivot to storytelling and relationship building.” Villar echoes other marketing professionals in this emphasis on story: “There’s no sale without the story; no knockout without the setup. Remember jab, jab, jab, right hook. If all you do is throw right hooks, you will get KTFO’d.”

Naturally drawn to narratives, Villar enjoys graphic novels and worldbuilding with his son. “My personal mission is to read my kid a bedtime story every night until he’s not interested in bedtime story anymore. What we both enjoy is the choose-your-own-adventure kind of story. And those don’t have books. I’d lay down a scenario for him and basically ask him to choose what he’s going to do as a character in the story. For example, I’d tell my kid a story, ‘You are an intergalactic astronaut who fights evil. You see a spaceship in the horizon, what are you going to do? Are you going to approach it, or are you going to run away?’ That kind of story.”

 

Extract the ‘why’ from the data

A story, by definition, needs a point. As Villar puts it, “there’s always a story behind the data. I always tell my analytics team that everyone can put a report together. With digital marketing, there are so many data points that sometimes people are obsessed with very shallow metrics: email open rate, email click rate, post engagements, etc. The question you should be asking is how that influences your brand, and how that drives the bottom line. How does that translate into value for your client? Piece that story together and put things into narratives.”

 

Take care of your engine before burning more fuel

When asked about a daily habit, Villar cites meditation as the most nourishing. As with many startup founders, a lot of what he does is self-imposed suffering. Villar recommends meditation for startup founders who’re dealing with anxiety: “At the end of the day, you take a step back and you feel like everything is okay. If you zoom into the everyday chaos of your life, everything feels hopeless and f*cked and there’s no end in sight. But if you could excuse yourself from that battle, climb up the mountain top and feel like ‘okay, I just need to do this and this,’ then it’s not that bad.” 

Villar knows too well that founders don’t have the luxury of work-life balance, but agrees that a part of VC funding should go into making sure founders don’t crash and burn. Sitting in 500 Startups office with a coffee in his hand at 6PM, he shares: “I don’t buy into this hustle-until-you-die culture. At the end of the day, you should still care for your health. Hug your kids. Do whatever makes you happy.” He then returns to taking evening calls with his team based in Los Angeles and Manila.

 

Written by Lace Nguyen

NOTE: This article reflects the personal views of Lace Nguyen and not necessarily the views of 500 Startups. Nothing in this article should be construed as an offer, invitation or solicitation for investment, or be construed as investment advice. Data provided is as reported by portfolio companies, third-party sources, and/or internal estimates and may not have been independently verified.

San Francisco
814 Mission St., 6th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103, USA

© 2010-2019 500 Startups

5 things you’ll learn in the 500 Startups’ accelerator program

5 things you’ll learn in the 500 Startups’ accelerator program

Written by Poornima Vijayashanker

As a founder you might be thinking, “Is a startup accelerator program worth my time? What could I possibly learn from a startup accelerator program that I couldn’t just learn on my own?”

I’d say if you have a network filled with prospective investors, employees, customers, and attorneys who have years of expertise on the ins and outs of your the particular market and industry your company is serving, and of course, the time to share all of it, you’re all set ?

Don’t have it all? Here are 5 things you’ll learn, specifically from the 500 Startups’ accelerator!

PreMoney 2018

1. The startup accelerator program keeps up-to-date on what is going on in the fundraising market.

The fundraising market is continuously in flux.

One area of flux is the amount of investment. In a span of 15 years, the private investment market has gone from contracting to expanding to contracting again. Many factors contribute to this caterpillar effect, here are a couple:

Fundraising typically expands during a period where companies have exited by either going public or have gotten acquired. As a result, founders decide to put their new funds to use by becoming an angel investor or contributing to private investment funds in hopes of receiving better returns than what public markets are providing at the time. Venture capitalists operate the same but manage other people’s money and receive it from limited partners.

Contraction soon follows an expansionary period, and how much depends on if there was a glut of companies that received funding, who couldn’t raise additional capital, were not able to successfully exit, or if limited partners and angel investors start pulling back and scrutinizing investment practices and areas. Usually, they go into a holding period until one of their investments has successfully exited.

As a busy startup founder, do you think you’ll have time to keep up with the flux?

In the 500 Startups’ Accelerator, our staff is dedicated to keeping up with these trends. You’ll have an opportunity to meet with them, and learn what matters to the success of your company, such as:

  • how to grow your company to attract investment
  • how much capital you need to raise
  • which investors are actively looking at companies like yours and writing check
  • what are acceptable or unacceptable deal terms, for you and your investors

PreMoney 2018

2. The startup accelerator program knows how investors think and will prep you for meetings.

Another area of flux is how investors evaluate companies for the various stages of funding, e.g., Seed, Series A, B, C and so on. Here are a couple of examples of this flux:

10-15 years ago, a first-time founder who had built a prototype (irrespective of the industry they were disrupting) could probably get meetings with investors and raise around $250K of seed capital to get going. Fast forward, and today, first-time founders better have traction, traction, traction, and know what that means concerning their industry and business model. Not to mention having answers to questions like why now, why them, why they chose specific distribution channels, and how their product is defensible?

The investors who previously wrote $25-$50K checks to 10-20 founders are now deploying larger checks to fewer founders.

Plus, it’s hard to tell how an investor is evaluating your company.

  • Did they say no because they have 10 other similar investments?
  • Did they say no because they have seen 10 other similar investments fail?
  • Did they say no because have talked to 10 founders like yourself, and they don’t think you and your team are the ones to execute?
  • Did they say no because they think the market you are going after is contracting?
  • Did they say no because they don’t understand how the market you are going after is expanding?

Hard to say, and you probably won’t get a ton of detailed feedback even if you ask! However, having invested in 2000+ companies, you can count on 500 Startups to teach you what will and won’t resonate with other investors.

500 Blockchain Track

3. The startup accelerator program connects you to other founders. You can learn how other founders run their companies.

Everyone has their style of leadership, but entrepreneurship can get pretty lonesome without a trusted peer group to lean on.

The 500 Startups’ Accelerator provides co-working as part of its 3-month startup accelerator making the daily grind a lot more manageable and friendly.

Here’s why other founders found it invaluable:

“At the low-point of my startup, I had a serious founder issue that I could only chat with my fellow 500 Startup founders. Thanks to 500 Startups’ accelerator for the great friends and family, who provided me solid advice and support when I was down.” — Aaron Blumenthal

500 Batch 24 Demo Day

4. The startup accelerator program stays up-to-date on the legal landscape.

If you’ve launched a product and are making money, do you need to worry about legal?

You have probably received advice like: “You don’t need an attorney to start a company!”

It’s when there’s a “people problem” staring right at you, such as a disgruntled employee, co-founder issue, or customer complaint that you think about getting legal counsel.

Even waiting until things go well is too late. Founders who start looking for counsel when they need an LOI, convertible note, or some other legal document drawn up become THE bottleneck to closing deals!

Not to mention that business law is also in flux.

Do you know what general solicitation means?

Case in point, as a founder you need to know what the boundaries of doing business are in the US and abroad. 500 Startups brings in attorneys to give talks and share best practices around building a company. They also showcase what to look for and how to work with legal counsel.

This alone ends up saving you $$$$.

500 Batch 20 Demo Day

5. The startup accelerator program provides access to growth marketers and growth marketing techniques

“There are many marketing channels. I’ll try them all till I find the one that works!”

However, do you have the budget, time, and energy?

You might think of hiring an agency or a growth hacker, but finding, vetting, and hiring them can be challenging!

The challenge with going with an agency is that they typically require a 6–12-month retainer and usually a minimum of $3K-$5K per month, not including ad spend. In case you’re curious ad spend, depending on your market, could be a minimum of $2K to $10K+ per month.

Hiring a growth hacker is similar to the agency, you’d need to hire someone on an ongoing contract and set aside funds for the ad spend.

The other BIG issue is that if you hire a growth hacker-slash-agency when you aren’t sure which channels your customers are on, you will blow through a fair amount of money running experiments. Of course, growth hackers and agencies don’t mind. They are getting paid to run experiments regardless.

Moreover, while they do their best, they cannot guarantee results immediately, which is why they ask for the retainer.

At the 500 Startups’ Accelerator, we’ll walk you through experiments, and help you optimize the results.

The 500 Startups’ Accelerator assigns each company an advisor focused on distribution. Their sole role is to help you grow, grow, grow.

These are experts who know what is and isn’t going to work and why, which saves you time, money, and energy!

Chandini Ammineni who runs 500 Startups’ growth program says:

“Startup founders tend to do what’s the next coolest thing in marketing, instead of what is right for them. Part of that is lacking focus and not knowing how to prioritize. The 500 Startups growth program, helps startup founders figure out next steps for the stage of their company. We have people on staff who have worked with hundreds of early-stage startups and have amassed a wealth of knowledge. They know what does and doesn’t work based on the size of a company, customer segment, product type, pricing, and other factors.”

 

NOTE: This post first appeared on 500.co under the title “5 Things You’ll Learn In The 500 Startups’ Accelerator Program

 

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You have been accepted into 500 Startups. Now what?

You have been accepted into 500 Startups. Now what?

Author – Eugene Vyborov, CTO, YayPay (A 500 Startups Batch 20 Company)

Among the 180+ independent accelerators around the world, American programs hold sway and considerable appeal. Getting into a US-based accelerator is a dream for many startups, especially ones that are based outside the United States. It’s easy to see the attraction: accelerators offer access to the American ecosystem of innovation, collective wisdom of successful entrepreneurs, visibility to prominent VCs, and a trip to the US, all in one package.

From reading cover stories in magazines, one might buy into the idea that once a company is accepted into a prestigious accelerator program, its path to success is clear. The reality is far from it. As I have previously mentioned in “5 Things International Startups Should Know Before Joining a U.S. Accelerator,” acceptance into a top program is just the beginning. My earlier article was based on my experience at Techstars Boston. Now that I have completed Batch 20 at 500 Startups, I am ready to share my thoughts on what it takes to maximize the opportunities and deal with the challenges that come with joining the 500 Startups family.

Let me begin by saying that accelerator programs like 500 Startups are highly competitive. Thousands apply, 30-50 get in. In fact, you have a better chance of getting into Harvard than joining a new 500 Startups batch. If you have been accepted, you definitely have a reason to celebrate. Now, the real work begins.

Purple Go at 500 Startups Batch 23 Demo Day

Here is the thing. Accelerator “freshmen” tend to overlook the need to build a solid foundation in terms of logistics, mental shifts, and financial reserves. By accepting the invitation to join 500 Startups they have signed up for a marathon – and the sooner they begin training the better. Participants must trust the process that is built by experienced investors and entrepreneurs, but they must also come prepared. From having been a part of both Techstars and 500 Startups, I can tell you that the accelerator process is powerful, but it has no magic. All any accelerator can do is accelerate the path the company is on, for better or worse. There are things founders can to make sure they are on the right path – before they pick up the speed.

What does that look like? I have interviewed 3 fellow founders and Marvin Liao himself as they prepared to wrap up their journey with 500 Startups’ Batch 20. Here is their advice:

1. Focus on bringing a great product.

An idea, no matter how brilliant, does not cut it. Some programs (like the Y Combinator) will consider applicants in early stages of development, but both Techstars and 500 Startups require that you have a functional product that’s ready for the market. There are some exceptions (a highly innovative idea, or a proven team with strong credentials and a solid track record) but they only confirm the basic rule.

The “functional product” requirement means that you must have a product and it must be good. The accelerator process will fuel evolution and improvements, but your starting point must be sufficiently strong to allow the product to morph without crumbling. Invest your pre-accelerator time and money into making a product that people love. Resist falling in love with the technical aspects of your product, and get the market to fall in love with the way it solves their problem – before you go any further.

YayPay at 500 Startups Batch 20 Demo Day

2. Have a plan for integrating what you learn with the team at home.

The three international startup founders we spoke with all brought several co-workers with them. In the words of Ragnar Sass, the founder of Clanbeat out of Estonia, the ability to include teammates was a “deal breaker” that helped him choose 500 Startups above other accelerators. If your company hopes to break into the US market, it is critical that everyone on the team understands the Silicon Valley, he said.

“I believe that this area is the best environment for developing your business. 500 Startups is also friendly for the non-founders. It is very important that everyone on the team actually understands the Silicon Valley.”

-Ragnar Sass, Clanbeat (Estonia)

That brings us to an important point: few startups can afford to re-locate their entire team to the US for the duration of the accelerator program. You will need a plan for sharing what you learn with your home-base team to bring them along. “Translating” the Silicon Valley culture and conveying the less technical ideas and changes can be difficult. You must have a way of “converting” the knowledge and bringing everyone together, even while you are separated by geography.

PreMoney by 500 Startups

3. Get comfortable with networking.

Participants repeatedly state that networking opportunities are some of the key benefits of participating in 500 Startups. And yet, that networking won’t happen by osmosis. You must have a plan for reaching your mentors, building relationships, and establishing connections that will be strong enough to persevere after graduation.

“It’s all about the people. You can meet your new friends and a lot of very smart people. 500 gives you access to strong mentors who help you understand your real market, give you feedback and advice on how to work with your clients.”

-Alex Zenovich, Friendly Data (Belarus)

The good news is that the 500 Startups program is custom-built to encourage collaboration. Because participants share a co-working space, they get to see each other’s victories and defeats. Don’t under-estimate the power of random conversations over lunch!

4. Remember that “sales” is not a dirty word.

500 Startups is strongly focused on customer acquisition. Whether or not you’re a technical founder, you must understand that just building a great product is not enough.

“Openness to learning sales and marketing is really important. You need to have a mindset for it.”

-Marvin Liao, Founder, 500 Startups

Distribution is the name of the game, and organizers structure the content around helping each batch of companies get to their customers fast. Every startup gets a distribution mentor, but you won’t experience traction until you absorb the idea that “selling” is key to your company’s success.

500 Startups Batch 23 Demo Day

Bonus advice: beef up your English skills!

If you don’t have a high degree of comfort with the English language, there is a limit to how much you will get out of the program. Marvin Liao shared that he would love to see more foreign companies go through the 500 Startups, but the language barrier prevents many great companies from applying. When international teams are present, their conversational facility with English makes an enormous difference on their ability to build the network and maximize their progress.

“Two-thirds of this batch are from the US and a third are from overseas. I do not have a quota. We like international companies, some of our best teams are from overseas. The biggest part is whether they speak English. If you don’t speak English, you won’t do well here.”

-Marvin Liao, Founder, 500 Startups

500 Startups: Lessons learned

Don’t think of joining a US-based accelerator as a binary “yes/no” proposition. The answer may well be “not right now”. Timing matters, as does the degree to which your product is ready for the market. Your team must be open and ready to absorb the volume of sales and distribution learning that has been described as drinking out of a firehose. The application process is highly competitive, and if your team and product have known gaps you may be at a disadvantage compared to companies that are further along in their development.

Lastly, think about what happens after the program. Many participants aim to maintain at least some presence in the US after graduation. Mark Masongson, the CEO and Co-Founder of Canada-based UrbanLogiq, said it best:

“Now that we have access to this network, we cannot close the door on that.”

-Mark Masongson, UrbanLogiq

Marvin Liao has seen companies have success with maintaining an overseas development team and a US-based sales and marketing team.

“The best companies are the ones that keep the engineering team home, but double down on the sales and marketing front in the US.”

Marvin Liao, Founder, 500 Startups

“I won’t say that it’s easy, but we have seen enough examples,” Marvin said, citing the success story of TalkDesk that has a development team in Portugal and a sales and marketing team in San Francisco. The badge of “500 Startups portfolio company” does not come without sacrifice, but it is well worth it!

NOTE: This article first appeared on 500’s website under the title “You have been accepted into 500 Startups. Now what?”

Eugene Vyborov is technology entrepreneur, geek, Co-founder and CTO of YayPay – Batch 20 company that uses AI and machine learning to accelerate cash flow and automate accounts receivables.

500 Startups Batch 20 Demo Day

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