500 Startups may be known for investing in hundreds of early stage companies every year, but it’s not one to walk away from those that need extra help.The firm piloted a program dedicated to helping startups manage growth and marketing in three cities around the world this year. Based on the results of this pilot, 500 Startups has opted to expand the program to more locations in 2016.

The program, called the Distro Dojo, allows selected startups to participate in a three-month program with mentors and industry experts who can help them move to the next level. Starting in February, 500 Startups will host sessions in 10 different locations around the world, including once in Toronto, Istanbul, Los Angeles, Stockholm, Berlin, and Miami, and twice in London and Kuala Lumpur.

It’s one thing to get money to help flush out an idea, but by the time you’re looking for additional funds for your Series A round, investors are going to want to see traction and a focus on product. Some startups may not know how best to prepare for that stage, which is where Distro Dojo comes in — it’s a program for companies that have some traction and now want to operationalize the marketing function.

Up to 10 companies participate in each Dojo session, and they don’t have to be part of the 500 Startups portfolio. The firm will work closely with each company, mentoring them on how to do things like hire an executive, handle content marketing, engage a search marketing agency, and more. The “curriculum” for the three months at Distro Dojo is tailored to each company’s needs.

IMG_3516 (1)

“Companies need specific help, not generic startup advice,” said Mat Johnson, one of the 500 Startups partners running the Distro Dojo program.

About 18 months ago, 500 Startups began its Distro Dojo program in London, Miami, and Malaysia. It was initially run by Johnson and the firm’s growth hacker-in-residence, Mike Greenfield, and was built into the startup accelerator. This year it ran three intensive Dojo programs, with participation from companies like GrabTaxi, Next Academy, and Shoppr.

Each Dojo session location has been strategically selected to take advantage of the resources 500 Startups has in the area. “It’s related to where we have partners, microfunds on the ground,” Johnson told VentureBeat. “It’s not irrational…500 Startups has a ton of expertise in growth and company building,while the local partners know the startups the best in their region.” Half of each Dojo’s staff will be pulled from the firm’s global distribution team and high-level practitioners while the remaining half will come from local mentors with specific expertise in the region.

“What 500 Startups does have, outside of early stage capital formation, is a long-standing commitment to marketing and distribution,” Johnson explained. “We realized that although we had a program for companies in Silicon Valley, every company around the world wants growth marketing and more money.” This is one of the main reasons most of the Dojos are outside the U.S.

Companies that apply can select which Dojo they wish to attend, and those selected will receive $100,000 to $250,000 in funding from 500 Startups for their participation, although in the past some of that has been allocated specifically to growth spending.

Here’s the schedule of Distro Dojos taking place in 2016:

  • London: starts February 1
  • Kuala Lumpur: starts February 15
  • Toronto: starts February 16
  • Istanbul: starts March 15
  • Los Angeles: starts May 1
  • Stockhold: starts May 9
  • London: starts May 9
  • Kuala Lumpur: starts May 30
  • Berlin: starts September 1
  • Miami: starts October 1

If you’re not interested in spending three months in a program like this, 500 Startups also has a one-week “Distrocamp” workshop that’s focused on massive startup ecosystems, like those in Greater China, India, and Korea.


“Company building is hard because there’s more ideas that can attract seed funding and those that people want,” said Johnson. “It’s less common for those teams to be a team that can scale a business to a notable size to something people want versus early adopters. Usually seed companies have a ticking clock to prove something scalable or attract enough attention for a business that doesn’t need more money. [500 Startups] helps them learn these things faster. There are a lot of companies that might take 18 months to hit that thing to work, but have 12 months of cash left — 500 Startups can help them hit that in six.”

The bottom line here is that if you’re a startup still figuring out how to grow your company, 500 Startups would like to help. If you’re interested, the firm invites you to fill out this online application today. Remember that only 10 companies will be accepted into each of the Dojos. Johnson and his team will cull through the applications as they come in, and once they’ve accepted 10 candidates into each respective Dojo, that session will be closed.