Vango (500 Startups Batch 12) is a platform that connects artists creating original works with buyers looking for something beyond your tired old CB2 (or let’s be honest, Ikea…) home decor.

Vango Dave Mcclure

Today we unveil Vango’s recent wins in email remarketing and growth, under the guidance of Distro Partner Tammy Camp.

Why Vango?

We decided to feature Vango in today’s case study for a couple of reasons. Notably, the company has a distinctive competitive edge, distro-wise, no matter what market they decided to tackle.

This is their edge:

It’s something that I like to call a “Silicon Valley Tripod”.  A tripod is a stable foundation that consists of three legs that supports equipment attached to the top of it.  A Silicon Valley Tripod is a team of founders that includes the backgrounds of (1) Business, (2) Technical, and (3) Design.

1. Ethan is the business, design thinking and relationship oriented CEO. His charisma and passion for anything he does is like no other.  I’m sure anything he does would be a success.  Not to mention, he has nerves of steel as he jumps out of airplanes in his spare time.

2. Win is the technical co-founder I dream about at night.  He’s methodical in his coding practices, yet creative in his approach.  Many a software developer  I know are itching at the chance to get to work with him, so recruiting engineers will never be a problem for Vango.  Plus, Win can break dance better than Justin Timberlake.  Since when is a developer so versatile?

3. Brandon is a true craftsman when it comes to the design experience he wants to create for the world.  Every shape, color or interactive experience on Vango or anything in his life for that matter is thought through will careful detail so he can share the delight in what he’s created with everyone.  It’s rare to find such a soulful designer.

Ethan @ Vango:

The 500 Accelerator was game-changing. We walked away from the experience with growth and distro insights that were incomparable, so good that we felt we had to pay it forward. So we decided to share a few key points here today…

“Email is king in ecommerce”

We had no email drip campaign before 500, you helped us get one up that made sense for our product and user behavior, and constantly test to drive opens up.  This helped open rates move from 20-40+ and drive more engagement in emails and the app itself.

Tammy says:

Focusing on incremental 2 to 5% week over week improvements is key when focusing on drip email campaigns.  We did many small tweaks which resulted in big wins for Vango’s email campaigns.  Here are a few:

1. Email Subject A/B testing

We changed the subject of the emails to include more “curiosity gaps” rather than being just declarative statements. Giving it all away in the subject line is not fun because it leaves very little to the imagination.  Sparking a customer’s imagination can go along way for open rates.


If your emails don’t see the light of day, how do you expect them to be effective?  Vango, much like most startups had deliverability issues because their domain keys identified mail wasn’t configured.

We found this out by running their email through a service called which gave us a report of how to improve their overall deliverability. It would have been months before we discovered that issue if we had not used this tool.

3. A/B testing order / sequence of campaigns

Susan recommended to change the order of some of the emails which resulted in higher open rates and engagement.  

“Get people to engage consistently…then they’ll buy”

Given that we’re selling art and our users don’t generally buy immediately after download, you helped us retroactively find the path to buying and optimize for it (engage, favorite art, follow artist, add to cart, buy, share).  Optimizing in this way lead to 1.5x favoriting and 2x following.  


The biggest misconception startups make is that they assume someone will buy the first interaction they have with their product or service.  

In reality, the conversation rate for first time interactions hover around 2%. Because of this, I always try and let our startups know that most sales happen on the backend.  The backend meaning that it will be the 5th to 10th time a potential customer interacts with your product.

To keep them engaged and coming back pre-purchase, I recommended Vango do a 30 day drip sequence that included evergreen content about art.  

This consisted of education content about art as self expression, art as an investment, up and coming artists and their personal stories and so forth. The more a customer understand what your company persona is, the more likely they can align with your values and inspire them to purchase.

“The boring shit works”

500 Distro helped us get tracking, back end data/attribution set up and running, including setting up segment.  


Over the past year I’ve worked with hundreds of companies and literally ONLY ONE has had their analytics dialed in correctly.  

It’s something so critical that very few get right. Why??? We needed to change that first thing. This shit stops now.

Vango had a very basic analytics setup so I did an audit and then called a meeting to get everyone in the organization in one room to discuss what mattered most to them.  

We defined their funnel, then worked backwards to understand what events made up their funnel. We do this with our internal “event tracking plan.”  After the meeting we executed the event tracking plan in their code and it gave us worlds of information about who their customers were and how they behaved.  

Understanding exactly who your customers are — quantitatively speaking — is the first step to finding more people like them.

“How are you growing this week?”


This question (that 500 Distro asked us every week) helped us create a culture of testing. Every week we should be trying something new, analyzing, learning, then adopting, editing, or trashing.  

Some worked, some didn’t, but in the end we were looking at growth on a weekly level (and even daily) to make sure we had an impact that week.  

It seems subtle but really thinking how we can move the needle this week versus something that takes us a few weeks is a great mindset.

Post-500, we’re now the ones asking ourselves “how can we grow this week?” Growth has become a defining part of our culture.


Few things I want to highlight…

1. GROWTH is a process

Most startups I meet with automatically assume there is one silver bullet for their business, when in fact I don’t know anything about their business and frankly never will.  Let’s face it, no one will ever care or know more about your business than you.  Because of this reason, we encourage our founders to run through process for growth that allows them to rapidly conduct experiments to gain data on their business to understand what works and what doesn’t.

2. Run experiments to gather data

The truth is the more experiments you run, the faster you will find what works for you and your business.

It’s very important, then to go broad first then QUICKLY narrow and double down.

For example… did you know that  99% of all science experiments fail?  But the 1% of the successes have dramatically improved our lives and are forever commemorated in history?

Expect the same for your company.  Let’s face the hard truth, most of your experiments will fail much like science projects — It’s time to put on your big boy britches and be okay with it.   However when you find the levers that work, it can be your rocket ship.

3. Optimize your levers

Once you establish a growth lever that does work, it’s time to dig deep and understand every attribute that is making it work.  Once you’ve defined what those attributes are, it’s time to scale it up as far as you can go and build a process and even perhaps a team around this.

4. Automate what’s working

Automate as much of this optimized growth lever as possible because as a startup you are bascially racing against large Fortune 500 incumbents that most likely have the same idea as you, but due to large organization roadblocks like legal and politcs, what you can build in 6 months will take them 3 years.

Write a playbook for this and scale your team.


Repeat the experiment process so you can find the next growth lever that works for you.

A great person who defines this well is Brian Balfour. I encourage all of you to watch Brian’s WMD talk on YouTube.

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