WTF is a Dojo?

Going on the assumption that the definition is not immediately obvious, I’d like to tell you a bit about the Distro Dojo, and what we’ll be doing in London.

Distro = Growth – In classic Startup theory, you need four things: Talented founder, big market, good product, great distribution (Distro). In fact, I’d argue that Distro is actually more important than product quality.

The history of innovation is full of great products that fail because of poor distribution (such as Sony’s decision not to license Betamax to other hardware companies).

Most founding teams have product and engineering in their DNA. Most have no shortage of hustle. But very few co-founders have growth in their DNA.

A dojo is not a classroom, and it’s not for noobs. It’s a martial arts studio where experienced devotees go to study under a master and learn through practice.


The Distro Dojo is hands-on, and teams will spend most of their time working on their businesses side-by-side with leading growth marketing experts. We emphasize action and experimentation against the key performance indicators that matter most to each individual company.

Who may enter the Dojo?

First, getting into the Dojo requires that you’d  qualify for an investment from 500 Startups. We’ve blogged about our investment selection previously  here, here, and here. However, because the Dojo is more operationally intensive, we only admit a small number of companies, and the bar for entry is substantially higher.

The Distro Dojo has two additional qualifications:

  1. Traction: It’s a post-seed investment, so you should have funding to a point where you have some measurable traction – a decent sized group of active loyal customers.
  2. Founder Commitment: A committed founder is willing to spend money to drive growth, including ad spend and hiring; and they will give access to their coders to implement growth programs on the core codebase. Finally, like an actual Dojo, students are humble and genuinely eager to learn.

Who are the sensei?


Yes, the plural of sensei is sensei, I looked it up. We have assembled masters of each of the subdisciplines of growth (e.g. paid channels, UX and conversion optimization, sales lead generation and nurture, email marketing, social media, two-sided network API hacking).


The London faculty will represent a mix of tenured members of the 500 Startups growth marketing team from overseas, plus accomplished London-based growth marketers such as Andrew Young. This mix allows us to impart 500’s core Distro DNA, but also learn from experts in the local market.

My name is Matt Lerner, I lead the Dojo, and I have been driving growth and building growth teams in software and SAAS companies for 15 years. I specialize in conversion optimisation and UX, engagement and retention, hiring and managing, and analytics.

Structure of the Dojo

Distro Dojo London is a  three-month program with one month on-site at WeWork Moorgate. That first month is quite intensive and hands-on. For the subsequent months, you’ll return to your home office, with twice weekly check-ins with the 500 team.

The Dojo culminates in an invitation-only showcase event for London’s top VCs.

Week 1

Each company in the Dojo gets a dedicated point of contact (POC) who will work hands-on with them throughout the program.  In the first week, you work closely with your POC to document your hypotheses about how the business works. This includes such things as your product market fit (who are your most loyal customers and why do they love your service?) and your growth equation. You’ll identify your critical KPI and make sure you’re instrumented to track it.  Next, you’ll list your hypotheses and decide where to focus your first tests. Finally, you’ll define your weekly KPI targets for the duration of the 12-week program.

Week 2

In addition to running your first experiment, you’ll begin to lay the foundations for your growth engine. You’ll develop customer personas, and draft and post a job description for your next growth hire.  Together we’ll do a UX audit of your funnel, tighten up your messaging, and identify your “aha moment.”

Also, on Friday, you’ll have your first KPI Review. At that point, you’ll present your dashboard to the Sensei, and talk about where you’re ahead or behind and why, and what you’re going to do about it. This rhythm of weekly accountability conversations forms the backbone of the rest of the program.

Weeks 3 & 4

You’ll remain in the Dojo working closely with your POC and mentors on optimizing your funnel and traffic generation via experimentation.

Weeks 5 – 10

At this point, you’ll return to your own offices and continue the iteration. Early in the week (e.g. Tuesday) you’ll have an extended check-in with your POC where you can review progress and work on tough problems. You’ll also consult with mentors during that time. And every Friday you’ll have the two-hour KPI check-in with the Sensei.

Weeks 11 – 12

In addition to the normal rhythm, you’ll come back to the Dojo for pitch prep. At this point, you’ve probably raised money before, so you should have a decent pitch. Our focus will be learning how to present your marketing KPIs so they can be easily understood, even by a VC.

The Big Day

Finally, at the end of the program, you’ll get a chance to meet key potential investors in a more intimate setting.

Faculty, mentors and guest speakers

In addition to the staff, we are lucky to have a team of world-class mentors – growth marketers and successful entrepreneurs – with expertise on a wide range of subjects.

While the overall focus is on action, we will have up to four lectures per week on foundational topics such as:

  • Growth Hacking 101 – Mindset, Process & Case Studies
  • Data-driven mentality, essential KPIs, tracking tools overview
  • Referral marketing and retargeting
  • Content marketing and SEO
  • Facebook ads, Google AdWords, Twitter, and emerging channels
  • UX & Conversion Optimisation
  • Design and copywriting principles
  • Positioning, category creation, and pricing
  • Legal for Marketers (e.g. trademarks and IP)
  • PR and Buzz
  • Pitch Prep with a focus on how to present growth KPIs to investors.

But, does it work?

The success or failure of any startup depends mainly on its founders and team and their execution.

The rest is a combination of luck, timing, and DISTRO.

Here are a few success stories from the 500 Distro Team’s work over the previous year:

How to ‘apply’ for the Dojo

There are only five team spots  available for our London cohort, so acceptance is very limited. We’re not accepting applications, and participation is by invitation only. 500 Startups will be sourcing companies via referrals from our network of 3,000+ founders, mentors and investors.

If you have already launched a product, established solid product-market fit, raised a round, and are interested in the Distro Dojo program, we recommend you tap your current investor and advisor network for an introduction. We look forward to hearing about you!

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