YC Digest - September 4-September 10

Top Stories from the YC World - September 4-September 10, 2015


YC Alum


Startup School Radio: Pigeonly's Frederick Hutson On The Importance Of Early Believers

In the latest episode of YC's Startup School Radio, podcast that features stories and practical advice about starting, funding, and scaling companies, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with his fellow YC partner Qasar Younis. In addition to being YC's newly-appointed COO, Qasar has also founded several companies, including TalkBin, the Winter 2011 alum that went on to be acquired by Google.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here.

In the second portion of the episode, Aaron interviewed Frederick Hutson, the co-founder and CEO of W15 alum Pigeonly, the company that provides affordable communication services for prison inmates to connect with their families. In one interesting part of Frederick's interview, he talked about the challenges of talking to Silicon Valley investors about inmate services, which is a problem many of them aren't well acquainted with:

Frederick: What I quickly learned as I was talking to folks [about investing in Pigeonly], there were some biases. One was that they just couldn't wrap their brains around the system, because the problem we were solving was so far removed from what they understood. There wasn't any prejudice or anything against me as an individual, but it was just, 'I literally can't wrap my brain around this problem to even know if it's real or not.' And that's the biggest thing when we talk to most people, is that I have to spend a lot of time educating them on the problem that we're solving, and then we can move forward to even talk about the business. That's how we were able to weed out and find out the people who were interested in it.

Our early group of believers, they really turned and set the stage for everyone else. So then when people saw our base, and they saw Erik [Moore from Base Ventures, one of the early investors in Zappos], and they saw [Mitch] Kapor, then we started getting a lot of the other people saying, 'Okay, maybe they know something and we trust them. So we'll go along with them.' 

Aaron: ...So it's been a couple months out of YC, and so just as a parting piece of wisdom, what did you take from YC back to the company that's driving you forward now? Like what's the thing that, for Pigeonly, is the core lesson that you need to keep pushing on that's going to drive your business?

Frederick: I think focus. I think focus is highly important, because there's so many things that you can be doing, and it's easy to get distracted. And, also, I think the second lesson for me that's really...we picked up from one of the speakers is focusing on what our driving metric is.

So for us it's constant, weekly communication. And we made that the core of our business. We made that the core of our meetings. And now everything we do our question is, 'Is this going to drive more consistent weekly communication for our user base?' And that's really helped us, and helped us make some hard decisions, to really do the right thing at the right time.

YC Digest August 28 - September 3

Top Stories from the YC World - August 28-September 3, 2015

YC News

Startup School Radio: Bannerman CEO Johnny Chin On Getting Into The Minds Of Your Users

Startup School Radio: Bellabeat's Urska Srsen On Not Overthinking It At The Beginning

Startup School Radio: YC's Geoff Ralston On Learning As You Go


Why it's Safe for Founders to Be Nice by Paul Graham

YC Alum

Julia Kurnia of Zidisha (YC W14): How Non-Profit Used Tech Startup Tactics to Build a Microlending Marketplace

Cofactor Genomics (YC S15) plans to analyze cRNA for consumer diagnostics

How Zapier (YC S12) Went From Zero to 600,000+ Users in Just Three Years

Former Visa CEO Joins Kash (YC S14)

Weave (S14) Named One of Business Insider's 25 Hottest Under-The-Radar Tech Startups in America

Startup School Radio: YC's Geoff Ralston On Learning As You Go

In Episode 9 of YC's Startup School Radio, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with YC partner Geoff Ralston to talk about his keen interest in funding education startups both at YC and through the Imagine K12 accelerator he founded. In the second portion of the episode, Aaron talked to David Bladow, the co-founder and CEO of BloomThat, the YC S13 company that's been dubbed the "Uber for flowers," delivering organic floral arrangements within 90 minutes.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here, and read the full transcript on Genius here.

In Geoff's interview, he talked about how the evolving nature of work has contributed to his focus on new education technologies -- and how the best founders are the ones who know how to learn new things:

Geoff: It is also true however that [in the past] the job security was much better. If you were a farmer, you stayed on your farm forever and it was very unlikely that you would do anything else in your career. The [current] realities of a lifetime where you will be forced to have multiple careers and multiple expertise, learn multiple things, sort of goes to the heart of why I am interested in education. ...You can't do that unless learning is something that becomes a part of how you do your job, and how you think about your life.

Aaron: I guess when you think about being a founder it isn't a single skill set. There is no thing that you go and say, 'Oh, you've learned this, therefore you can start a company.' It's actually an amalgamation of lots of different skills and I think a lot of it is a mindset, the determination that you're going to go do all of those things necessary to make your company succeed.

Geoff: I've always been so impressed with people, you see them around you in life and in the workplace, where something comes up that's necessary to do, you would say okay, someone's got to do it, and they say, 'Okay, I'll do it' and then it gets done. They figure out how to make things happen. How to pull together the different threads of creation or whatever they're doing and make it so and that's what a startup is. If you're an engineer when you start a startup you might actually have to be the head communications officer where they have to do radio shows like this, even if you're kind of a geeky guy like I am, or you know, I hesitate to say it, but like you are. And here we are, talking on the radio.

You better be able to learn how to do things. But one of the things we've noticed at Y Combinator is that some of the very best enterprise companies that are created by kind of really super smart, super competent, kind of geeky guys who understand how to build software is when they actually learn how to do enterprise sales all on their own.

Aaron: Right, which isn't a skill that you think they'd have. The classic idea here is someone who doesn't want to talk to people.

Geoff: Exactly, they seldom have it. But the best ones gain it. It's really impressive. And once they do that, they make for the very very best founders.

YC Startup School Radio: Bellabeat's Urska Srsen On Not Overthinking It At The Beginning

In the eighth episode of YC's Startup School Radio, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with YC partner Kat Mañalac to talk about her work heading up Y Combinator's outreach efforts, and how she goes about seeking out great founders and companies all over the world. In the second portion of the episode, both Kat and Aaron talked to Urska Srsen, the co-founder and CEO of Bellabeat, the YC W14 company that has built a hardware and software platform delivering quantified self for pregnancy and women's health.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here, and read the full transcript on Genius here.

One interesting part of Urska's interview was when she was describing the inception of Bellabeat, and how she and her co-founder Sandro Mur thought of it as more of an idea and a project than a company -- and how that helped a lot in setting it up for success:

Urska: So the idea basically just came very spontaneously. I studied fine art and sculpture before, so I was in no way thinking that I'm going to start a business or work anything related to probably tech... so it just came as a coincidence. We started to work on this project of remote patient monitoring system back in Europe, in Croatia.

Aaron: Sorry, I've got to interrupt. How did you happen to be working on the problem of remote patient monitoring?

Urska: It just happened over a family lunch. So my mom is a gynecologist and obstetrician and Sandro, my co-founder is a software engineer. So they started talking about these problems in healthcare systems in Europe, and how remote patient monitoring has been a subject that has been talked about a lot but nothing has been done. So we were like, 'Yeah, maybe we can just do it.' It was very naïve. And basically, I got involved as a designer for interfaces and medical data visualizations, and then we just kicked it out. We started working on this project and we didn't even know what direction this was going.

We didn't even think of it, that this is going to develop into a company. It was just like, 'We want to do this thing that is going to solve problems in healthcare, that is going to start reducing costs.' We just didn't think that this was going to turn into a business eventually.

Aaron: Right. It's funny, I think a lot of the best companies, or certainly a lot of great companies, started out as, 'We don't know if this is a business,' right? And then the business grows out of it.

Kat: You're just solving a problem for a lot of people.

Aaron: Right.

Urska: Exactly. Then you're not very burdened with it, you're not thinking so much about, 'How are we going to make money out of it' or 'How are we going to position ourselves on the market?' You're just focused on the product. And I think that's very good, especially in the start, when you can easily get just freaked out by everything if you start overthinking things.

Startup School Radio: Bannerman CEO Johnny Chin On Getting Into The Minds Of Your Users

In Episode 7 of YC's Startup School Radio, our host Aaron Harris first sat down with Kevin Hale, the YC partner and co-founder of Wufoo (W06), the online form building platform that was acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2011. In the second half, he talked to Johnny Chin, the co-founder and CEO of Bannerman, the company that provides on-demand security staff and bouncers.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here, and read the full transcript on Genius here.

One piece of startup advice we often give at Y Combinator is to build something that people want and that solves a problem -- ideally, one that you personally have. One interesting part of Chin's interview is when he talked about building Bannerman, even though he personally did not have experience with hiring security services. So get into the minds of his potential users, Chin tried to meet in person with as many of them as he could, knocking on the doors of bars and restaurants and talking to the owners about their needs:

Aaron: So on the one hand, it sounds like you followed this core precept, which is so important, of talking to your users and finding out what they need. On the other hand, you weren't really building something for yourself anymore. Was that hard to reconcile or hard to get around? Or did it just make so much sense that, okay, of course that's what we go and do?

Johnny: That's a great question. I tried to, I guess I would consider myself a "method actor." I really wanted to get into the mind of the user. I used to go, it's a funny story actually, friends of mine who knew me before Bannerman called me Jonathan. And then I started going by Johnny. And I took on this sort of pseudo name of Johnny: He's the general manager of the bar, he's too busy to sit down at his computer, he's always on the go, he doesn't have time to book security. And so I tried to really get into this mindset, of Johnny, Johnny, Johnny. What does Johnny need, where does Johnny want that call to action button? And so that, I guess that kinda...

Aaron: Did you start dressing differently, talking differently, you know, all that?

Johnny: Oh no, I very much dress like a techie. I'm in a hoodie every single day of the week.

Aaron: So you kind of inhabit this mindset of someone who will need to hire a security professional, and you start talking to them all the time. What were these features that you started adding, that you realized that people really needed?

Johnny: Surprisingly, it's actually taking away features. That is really the most important thing. To take away features, and when a user doesn't complain, then you're on to something. Earlier on, with my four failed companies, it was always about adding more, adding more, adding more. 'Let's add this social hook' or 'Let's add this button here.' But it turns out with Bannerman, we did the exact opposite. And that proved to be quite interesting.

Applications For YC W16 Are Now Open

We are now accepting applications for the Winter 2016 batch, which will take place from January through March 2016 in Mountain View, CA. You can apply as a startup or as a non-profit.

To apply, submit your application here by 8pm PT on October 13, 2015.

For more information on the process, read:

YC Digest - August 21-August 27

Top Stories from the YC World - August 21-August 27, 2015

YC News
Applications for YC W16 are now open

YC stats

Financial Misstatements by Sam Altman


YC Alum

Lugg (YC S15) Is Like Uber But For Moving Stuff, Not People, Around Town

When you decide to buy a larger item such as a couch or a table, you also have to think about how you're going to get it back home. Unless you personally own a truck or van (and have the muscles to load and unload it), you have to track down a friend who does -- or search for a local mover or specialized delivery service to help out. The whole process can add just enough complexity and extra cost to make the entire experience a drag.

Lugg is a company that launched this month out of our Summer 2015 class that wants to take away that pain, with an on-demand platform for easily moving larger items, such as furniture, around town. As Drew Prindle at Digital Trends wrote, it's like Uber, but for moving stuff.

This week, Sarah Perez wrote about Lugg and its new $3.8 million seed funding round in an article published in TechCrunch:

"First launched in the San Francisco Bay Area in early 2015, the idea for Lugg came from Jordan Brown, who previously worked at a healthcare startup, but found himself facing the problem Lugg aims to solve first-hand. Many of us, both with and without cars, can also relate. We often have to make special, and sometimes expensive, delivery arrangements for our bigger purchases that don’t fit in standard-sized vehicles, or we have to hunt down someone who has a truck and convince them to help us.

Other times, we simply miss out on deals – such as in the case of larger, secondhand items like those you find at garage sales or in classified ads, for example.

Lugg offers an alternative by connecting you with local movers who will meet you at a pick-up site in around 20 minutes with their own vehicle equipped to handle your item. To use Lugg, consumers simply snap a photo of the item with the Lugg mobile app, enter their location and the destination. Similar to Uber, payment is handled in the app itself."

Read the full story here.

YC Startup School Radio: Thumbtack's Marco Zappacosta On The Always-Changing Job Of A CEO

In the sixth episode of YC's Startup School Radio, YC partner Aaron Harris sat down with Marco Zappacosta, the co-founder and CEO of services marketplace Thumbtack, and Sanjay Dastoor, the co-founder and CEO of electric skateboard company and YC W12 alum Boosted Boards.

You can listen to the full hour-long episode on SoundCloud here or on iTunes here, and read the full transcript on Genius here.

In one salient bit of Zappacosta's interview, he talked about how his job as CEO has continually changed as Thumbtack has grown since it was founded in 2009 to have hundreds of staff around the world:

Aaron: Has your job shifted from being focused on the supply and demand to being CEO of how many people you have working for you now?

Marco: So in the U.S., we have 300 people and...

Aaron: That's wild.

Marco: And so, I think my job has always been to focus on whatever is existential, whatever risk or problem is existential to us. And in the early days, it was absolutely building the network. If we couldn't do that, nothing else mattered. Then, there came a day where we had to really refine the product experience to make sure that we were the best way to hire, and that took us a while to us to figure out and that was my focus. And then, we had to think about and figure out how to make money. And so I was very focused, and worked with the team to sort of put the business model in place that we now have.

And today, the biggest challenge is scaling the organization. We have a ton of tactical and strategic sort of issues to solve, but the way that we're going to solve those is hiring more great people and organizing and empowering them, and so that takes the bulk of my time today.

Aaron: I don't think I've ever heard it framed quite that way: The CEO's job is to focus on the existential threat right to the business. I think the way most people have sort of framed the CEO's job is, to hire, set vision, and make sure there's money in the bank, or something like that. And that's kind of true, but it's an approximation. And really, what that's saying is, it's [to focus on] the thing that could kill your company at each stage.

Marco: I think that's what deserves your attention. That's what scares me in the morning when I wake up. So it's naturally what I'm sort of thinking about, and trying to help with and work on.