Aaron Blumenthal: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Aaron Blumenthal

Aaron Blumenthal Q&A Session is happening on July 8th 2020 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST)

As head of 500 Startups’ flagship accelerator in San Francisco, I am most known for my unrelenting hustle, wide-but-in-many-places-deep subject-matter expertise, “oh-go-talk-to-Aaron-he-can-fix-it” reputation, compassionate mentorship, round-the-clock availability, warmheartedness, can-do attitude, infectious laugh, and ‘interesting’ wardrobe.

Two things describe 80% of what I do:

Oversee recruitment for 500’s top 3 in the world SF accelerator program
Screen 1,000s of investment applications
Approve/deny investments based on expertise in specific sectors (social impact, MarTech, AdTech, lead generation), business models (B2B, peer-to-peer, marketplace), growth stacks (SEO, SEM, ASO, Craigslist, Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, growth hacks, conversion rate optimization, UX/UI) and technology stacks (PostgreSQL, node.js, React, Python, MVC frameworks, LAMP)
Provide entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) support
Pitch coach, placing at least 1 company per batch in TechCrunch’s top 3 pitches since Batch 20 (2016)
Functional role: know-it-all + camp counselor for startups & staff

Design, deploy, and maintain global data infrastructure, including CRM (HubSpot), community (UNION+Slack), fund management (AltaReturn, Carta, Ironclad, CapLinked) and internally-developed investment data collection/evaluation technologies
Co-chair of “the data project”, wherein macro data points (startup round / raise results, founder demographics, startup characteristics, etc) and micro data points (founder behavior data, and … other stuff I can’t talk about) are collected, analyzed, and used to score current investments for follow-on opportunities (and) algorithmically evaluate potential investments for future success
Manage staff of 5 who maintain community success for over 10,000+ founders / founding team members across 2,300+ global investments
Functional roles: systems administrator, systems architect, head of platform, developer, chief technology officer (CTO)

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Aaron Blumenthal – Transcript

Q&A Session with Aaron Blumenthal @ 500 Startups

July 15th, 2020

What inspires you?

Hi everyone! Excited to join you here and answer as many questions as I can — let’s hope those typing lessons in high school pull through!Here are some factoids to get you started + areas where you might consider me to be a quote-unquote expert:Current j-o-b: Director of Global Portfolio at 500 Startups. Basically this means I run the teams that pick companies for any of our global accelerator programs and support our investments once they’re post-program (platform, community, solutions stack, and generally … therapy.) I’ve been doing this for 4 years.I was born in Wyoming but currently reside in San Francisco.I’ve mentored over 1,000+ startups, largely sector and stage agnostic (read: I’ve seen some shiiiiiiiit and have wide-but-sometimes-deep subject-matter expertise.)I consider myself a growth hacker, and I tend to SQUEEEE when I can find scalable growth hacks. I’m not particularly versed in cutting-edge big-budget growth because the startups I support are usually pre-A (aka poor.)I’m particularly good at helping startups identify the real issues that trouble them; they tend to gravitate toward solutions without thinking through the problem and often pick the wrong tools for the job at hand.I’ve co-founded or been on the founding team (first 5) of 7 companies and had one exit.I’m a gay male (and I share this because I’ve experienced discrimination in the fundraising space for this and have a passion for supporting queer founders as my not-so-subtle ‘fuck-you’ to the system.)500 is currently in the market for mentors with early-stage startup experience and/or experience mentoring startups on growth techniques, usually some combination of analytics+email+search+social fundamentals and performance optimization (this is more of a plug/FYI — DM me if this is you and I’ll give you more info.)Pre-COVID, the way I de-stressed was DJing at underground parties, and I’m lightly obsessed with building algorithms that can identify and organize similar tracks based on certain criteria in order to make music discovery and maintenance easier.You can find me at these places:

I’m very much an open book, soooo …. ASK ME ANYTHING!`

Are you a member of any LGBT-focused marketing groups that you recommend I join?

Not for marketing specifically, but I’m pretty active with StartOUT and I would say a disproportionately large number of folks I meet there are in the marketing or product space.

Wow what’s up  ! I’m leading crash.co’s marketing under Isaac Morehouse from your batch 26 (I think) What’s the most interesting part of your job?

Yup! Crash is one of ours. Tell Isaac I said what’s up! You should also join our 500strong.slack.com workspace if you haven’t already — I’m available to all of our startups at anytime. (DM me and I’ll add you today if you’re interested!)The most interesting: every goddamn day. It’s sort of like working in an emergency room for startups. Our companies barge in screaming and in all sorts of trouble and I get to step back, wonder what the fuck they did to get into their current type of trouble, and then help them get out of it. Never the same problem twice. Never a dull moment.

What do you consider some of the best marketing tactics for early stage startups?

I gave a talk on this just yesterday. Check this out: bit.ly/500-cor-hacks

What was your 5x-10x growth for 500 startups

As a founder in whom they invested (or) as an investment I made as a 500 staffer?

Thanks for joining. What sectors are you seeing withstanding the current turbulent times or have startups been focused on that may be less effected or stronger come post-covid times?

I’ve got a doc to share with you on this — let me find it!


500 Startups is known for being far more global than other similar organizations – are you seeing big differences in non US regions (good or bad)?

Generally or COVID-related?

Thanks for coming through you sound AWESOME! Can you please explain the process of someone joining the accelerator program? Any tips/advice to increase your chances or to stand out? Thanks!

The biggest misconception for accelerators in particular is you have to present perfect when you start. The most important part of my job — outside of picking good companies with good business models and a good founding team — is to provide support. If startups think they’re perfect when they join, their either liars or egomaniacs, and there’s not much I can do for either.I WANT to find and fund startups that know what their blindspots are and want the help to fix them. The longer you take to find a blindspot and tell me about it, the harder the problem is to solve. In practical terms, this means you’re burning the shit out of runway, which means you have to raise more money, and I get diluted. No good!Founders who are honest about their situation and engage investors as peers (“what would you do to help me solve X”) are what I look for, because I can actually do my friggin’ job of helping you accelerate. Apply early. Apply often. Build a relationship with someone “on the inside” who can help you understand why you were rejected so you can take the feedback and address the issue and apply again.I was in Batch 12 (2015) and I was rejected 3 times before getting in. Now I run the place. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you aren’t good enough, can’t do it, or won’t succeed. I’m living fucking proof that they’re all wrong.

What are some of the marketing strategies for an IT service based StartUp to get into international market which has been operating for 5 years with just above average track record in domestic market?

wheres most of your business coming from right now and which markets do you think are a natural fit from a use case + marketing perspective?

We mostly develop products on business processes. So basically, highly specific enterprise product. Major industries are Real Estate, Education, Finance, Legal & Compliance and EComm. Market: Indian

Early stage StartUp who need to develop their tech product for scaling the startup. Market: Majorly any english speaking country

We have had some success in 2 valley based StartUp but we are unable to replicate the story. These clients were inbound via our other client’s referral.


why do you want to leave the indian market?

Also do you have experience running an international expansion effort somewhere on your team?

Currently the marketing manager at a pre-A startup called Shef. We’re growing pretty rapidly, but am always looking for new & exciting ways to think about growth hacking, strategies, etc.

  1. Do you have strategies that you’ve seen be super successful and most startups should do
  2. How do you recommend going about coming up with those strategies/ideas to make a startup stand out against the crowd

Marketplaces are terrible / they’re mostly all I’ve built so I feel your pain and assume you’re also a crazy person.

  1. Would need to learn more about your target customer in order to come up with something, but generally you need to do it on the cheap. see my growth hacking presentationfor some inspo.
  2. Find a mentor. generally this is someone who has startup experience and might be middle management at a startup serving the same type of customer at a non-competing business. email them or message them on linked in looking for advice. see if you gel. build the relationship. offer them advisor shares (see “co/FAST”) if you think you can roll with them for a while. do this for many mentor types if you have to.

 What do you consider the most difficult thing startups need to do to make PLG the right way and how could they do this the right way?

Dafuq is PLG?

Product led growth

Ooooooh … i cant keep up with you kids and the acronyms these days. id need to know more about your internal growth culture to answer this. do you use the ICE framework or something like it?

Thanks for making the time. I’m running ops for Option Alpha (500 strong!) and I’d love to chat offline about our upcoming product launch and how we can hack our waitlist/pre-launch campaign

Are you in our 500strong.slack.com workspace? if not you should be. im available to all of our startups’ teams all the time there (and so is our entire mentor network)

Well hello there Mr Blumenthal!

@jsinkwitz is my homeboy and taught me many of the things i know — bow down

Hey Aaron! I think this is already shaping up to be AWESOME. Thanks for taking the time!

Real talk: would love feedback or context on how these usually go and how i can improve — growth never stops no matter how old you get!

Welcome! Which website(s) or database(s) would you recommend I look at to find a bunch of startups to research and see if there is something I can help them with?

whats your area(s) of expertise?why do you want to help them?put another way: what’s in it for you?

My expertise is in creating videos for marketing purposes, but I can also do other types of digital marketing. What’s in it for me? A job/paycheck and/or a feeling of having helped a startup that is solving a problem that I am passionate about.

so are you looking for a job, a side hustle, or a true mentorship type role? (or do you not know the difference? its ok to say no, i can take you through how theyre different)

I’m looking for a job or a side hustle.

got it! in this case i recommend angel.co. its also very easy to apply there (just a couple of clicks) so its good UX for you too!

Do you use any systems or software to help you manage deals, portfolio co’s, etc?

what aspects? deal flow comma inbound? dealflow comma prospecting? community? platform services? something else?

A fellow Sun Devil! I just graduated in May and currently have an internship at an M&A firm and also help set up remarketing for small businesses on the side. Any career advice on how to get into M&A, PE, VC? Right now at my internship I’m helping with marketing and they are teaching me M&A stuff, trying to use the marketing side to get my foot in the door! Any tips on providing them value so I can hopefully get hired full time at the end of summer?

Real question: what do you want your life to look like when you grow up? (i still dont know the answer for myself but i have a good idea of what i dont like — and im 37)context: PE sucks unless you’re a wolf of wall street type. thats not my flavor and id never get into it because its vicious. youre also going to spend a lot fo time “breaking in” so its kind of important that you understand what youre spending all the time on in order to get in, otherwise youve spent a not insignificant portion of your life training for something you hate, which is generally a bad idea.VC can be equally hard, but i like 500 / the early stage accelerator model because the subtext is your job is to help. i meet incredible founders every day and i love helping them … and if that helps me make a little bit of money in the process, then i call that personal product-market fit.generally speaking youll want to socialize your way in, which can be tricky, but a hack is to ask interns and entry level folks how they got in and build relationships with them over a common interest. theyll be more inclined to help you (and have more time) is only for the ego stroke: everyone likes to be asked for their help / expertise.these people will also be in a position to help you get in front of the more senior members of the team because they already work there. i am more likely to look at a resume from an internal referral (regardless the seniority) than i am from literally any other place.i grew up on a cattle ranch literally roping cattle. i thought hard work would get me everywhere i wanted to go in life. i was wrong. it is definitely about who you know to some extent, but never over optimize for one or the other … always do something to feed what you know and who you know in order to get ahead.

Oh. I was late to the party. I also have a couple of questions:
* What do you value/analyse the most when a startup comes to you with a pitch (idea, team, KPIs, location, etc)
* what is the biggest turn off/no no for a startup from your POV?
* what is your take on product strategy and app development agencies helping startups to build their MVP/scale-up?Thanks a million

1,000% team, but only because we focus on seed/pre-seed (this would be a lot different for an A-round investment). is there experience in the teams’ background that suggests they are connected to and will know how to solve this problem better than a rando off the street? do they seem like the type who “get it” and will figure it out? probably the most important question: if they offered me a job, would i want to work FOR these people? this is key in attracting good talent which is deeply linked to success.* what is the biggest turn off/no no for a startup from your POV?people who are jerks. again, our model is working with startups who want the help, so if im looking at a know-it-all or someone who doesnt take feedback well then its a hard pass no matter how attractive the business is.(also people who use buzzwords and claim that they’re the only startup solving X. i guarantee you’re not and all this tells me is that you havent done your research)* what is your take on product strategy and app development agencies helping startups to build their MVP/scale-up?do smoke tests, not product development. smoke tests help you identify customers who want a hypothetical feature set and can help you figure out what people are willing to pay for faster than building it and hoping they will come. you could eat breathe and sleep customer interviews — i can think of no startup ive worked with thats successful that jammed their product down someone elses throat and scaled rather than asking the customers to inform their product roadmap.


As it happens 500 startups is hosting a talk about smoke tests next week — feel free to join if youd like! here are the details:Product Smoke Testing & Growth Experiments
Thursday, July 169:00 – 10:00am (Pacific Time)

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