Be a F***ing Unicorn: Our Experience with 500 Startups’ Seed Program


At 500 startups, you have to be the unicorn.

If you’ve been following our trail on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (thank you, faithful social media followers), you probably were wondering about the intense excitement of companies after pitching at 500 Startups’ Demo Day on February 15th.

Scopio was lucky enough to graduate from 500 Startups’ seed program with the rest of Batch 19, a collective of 44 diverse startups solving a wealth of the world’s biggest problems. Startups included everything from the very serious Baloonr, a platform aiming to remove bias from group work, to the beloved UNICORN, a skincare brand marketed towards men  that touts the first ever male butt mask*.

The 4-month program was backed by a hefty investment and ended in Demo Day, where each startup pitched their ideas to a room of investors and founders. Houstonian rapper Chamillionaire was even there as an angel investor, as well as well-known venture capitalist Tim Draper.

Demo Day was an experience unlike any other — combining the formality of business and investment with 500’s experimental, unorthodox philosophy toward the startup world. Just take a look at Dave McClure’s outfit, or rewatch the “Bad Pitches” spoof of the A$AP Rocky classic.*

Here are a few of the important things we learned in our time at 500 Startups. Some lessons were expected, and others came as a total surprise.

*Not really safe for work.

 

Collaborate. Seriously.

 

 

Gotta love the 500 Startups bootcamp experience!
Our CEO, Christina Hawatmeh, pitched during 500 Startups’ Demo Day. This marked the end of a 4-month seed program with 500 Startups, a high-profile accelerator in Silicon Valley.

It sure feels good to find someone that understands you, and startup founders understand, well, the startup life.

A wise person once said that the definition of a startup is pain. Every day, you toil to solve problems that you never expected would happen. Fellow founders are often facing or have dealt with dilemmas particular to the startup world — issues such as rapid growth, roping in important clients under short timelines, panics with user experience, meeting client demands with limited resources and securing the funding to keep business afloat. Everyone wants to make it to the next milestone, but the journey can be grueling.

This also means that the rest of Batch 19 understands the importance of founder therapy and collaboration. At our goodbye, they gave us a solid piece of advice: The startup route can be a lonely path, and experiences like 500 show how people literally risk years of their lives solving the problems their companies address. And no — it’s not all about the f***ing money.

Throughout the program, we used each other’s services and products to make our products better, and we sure did learn a lot from it.

We implemented a video chat platform on our website via Tagove, saw who was visiting our website via Rocketbolt, monitored our spending via Cardlife. We also provided images for Mashvisor, a real estate startup that was able to run Facebook ads at a lower cost per click and garner more engagement just by using our images.

We were placed in a B2B SaaS track, which was basically a crash course on how to sell and grow platforms like ours. The whole thing was led by Rob Neivert, famous for taking an intense and quick-to-action approach. In the end, he changed many of our business models.

 

 

Some advice in the 500 Startups office
On the wall at 500 Startups. Profanity was obviously encouraged.

The entire process of pitch prep was also a huge comedy act. I always say the best entrepreneurs are introverted and reclusive, and that’s how they’re able to withstand working the entire day and night. However, speaking in front of hundreds of people is an absolute when you want your company to move forward. It was great to watch CEOs help and judge other CEOs, and this was a journey in and of itself in the safe space of 500 Startups.

We humbled ourselves by taking advantage of the skills and expertise around us to answer our most burning questions, and implemented newsolutions in a totally unique and challenging environment. That being said, our team also collaborated within itself to push everyone personally and professionally.

 

Have Fun and Get Cultured

 

 

500 Startups took things a step further with badminton games
Badminton in Sunnyvale!

 

Before moving from New York to California, we received two weeks notice that we had to move out to Mountain View to join the 500 Startups family. I distinctly remember playing ping pong in our Chinatown office with Nour, Scopio’s Creative Director.

One thing would be constant: There would be a ping pong table in any office we ended up in. Sure enough, the ping pong champs in our office would battle it out at after a tough early morning call or at 9pm following a long day of work. This gave the opportunity for people to bond more than just exchanging startup woes. For men — who are typically told to hide their emotion more than women — this outlet is especially important.

Our cohort took it one step further with a little bit of badminton in Sunnyvale, California. Perhaps the most rewarding part of the game was getting to know other founders on a personal level. We had fun laughing at all of the crazy things that occurred. It was hilarious to see what happened when our motor skills were applied to the “real world,” as hand-eye coordination away from the computer can sometimes be challenging.

All jokes aside, badminton was really funny for some reason or another. The tenacity and richness of every 500 founder’s life experiences — and the strange roads that took them to where they are — made us realize why we followed this path in the first place.

Not too many communities offer both great people and great companies, and I think this is where 500 Startups wins. They’ll continue to see growth in the people they choose to invest in.

 

Get Political

 

 

500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure
Dave McClure hit the stage in full Valentine’s Day regalia

It’s no secret that draconian immigration policies hurt the startup community, and 500 Startups founding partner Dave McClure will be the first person to tell you that. Dressed as the Queen of Hearts (it was just after Valentine’s Day, remember?), McClure took the stage in the middle of the event to make an impassioned political plea.

“Our founders come from multiple countries,” McClure projected toward the audience. “They cross borders and they need to be able to get here to help build jobs and businesses that employ U.S. citizens.”

He cited Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook as powerful companies that have earned a seat at the table with the Trump administration. McClure’s advice? Talk to more than just your elected officials about your views. Go forth and speak with investors and employers in Silicon Valley and the tech world. Protest and make your voice heard.

It’s these actions that spur people like Uber’s Travis Kalanick, McClure says, to leave Trump’s business advisory council. “Whether or not you think that was a good decision, Travis listened to the people who voted with their dollars and with their feet,” he added.

If you’re an entrepreneur or part of the 500 Startups family, submit your images to us. There’s a huge demand for real user-generated business photos, and we’ll make sure that you’re scoped out by companies looking to ditch glossy stock photography.

If your company is looking for more humanized images that speak to your audience, don’t hesitate to contact us for a demo. We’re waiting to hear from you.

Scopio is the industry’s premier search and licensing platform for images and videos on social media. We help companies find and use the photos and videos that matter to their audience, from capturing content to evaluating the performance of their new campaigns. Wondering about what we can do for your digital marketing strategies?  Just email info@scop.io for more information. We’d love to field your questions. 

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