Founder Stories: Walker Williams of Teespring (YC W13)

Teespring, a crowdfunding site for custom apparel, has created a new way for people to express themselvespromote causes and even celebrate their favorite 90s TV principal. When they applied to YC, Teespring had already built a significant amount of traction organically — in fact, they were profitable. Since going through the Winter 2013 batch, they’ve celebrated a few big milestones, and are currently shipping well over 100,000 orders a month. We sat down with cofounder Walker Williams and asked what inspired them to apply to YC, how the process helped shape Teespring along the way, and what advice he’d give to new applicants.

A quick origin story
Teespring was born when two friends at Brown University decided to design and sell a t-shirt to commemorate the closing of a beloved Providence bar. After realizing the tee selling process involved thousands of dollars in upfront costs, and a number of logistical nightmares, they figured they could build a better solution.

In under 12 hours, they hacked together a site that sold hundreds of shirts and grabbed the attention of student groups and nonprofits all over campus. Soon, requests poured in for Williams and Stites-Clayton to replicate their model for other groups. Thus the idea for Teespring, a crowdfunding site for apparel, was born.


YC: Tell us how you decided to apply to YC.

Walker: I got really interested in YC about six months into running Teespring. We were doing well, but we knew we hadn’t figured out some important pieces of the business. We didn’t feel like we had the mentorship structure to take us to the next level in Providence. It was a choice between staying where we were and grinding away, or joining the YC community where we could be a part of a network of thousands of entrepreneurs and mentors who we could learn from. Actually being able to hear from and talk to founders who’ve built billion dollar companies, who went through the same struggles you're dealing with today, that's invaluable.

YC: What about the YC program has surprised you most?

Walker: The community. I went through an incubator in college -- one local to the Brown area. It was fun and I learned a lot, but as soon as the program was over the founders all went their own ways. There was no ongoing communication.

We still talk to so many people in the YC community. We get invites to events, we meet with a lot of the mentors, especially PG and Sam. There’s something more lasting about the way YC sets things up, the way they build community.

YC: What is the most useful piece of advice you heard from a Tuesday night dinner speaker?

Walker: The most useful piece of advice I got was from John Collison, the cofounder of Stripe. He stressed the importance of doing things that don’t scale -- of doing things you’re able to do now that big competitors can’t keep up with. I was building from the standpoint of efficiency and scalability. But I took this advice to heart, and it’s been one of the biggest competitive advantages we’ve had.

YC: What’s one thing you’ve done that doesn’t scale?

Walker: We have close relationships with most of the sellers on our platform. We'll teach them what we know about how to sell, what converts. I still get late night calls from some of our sellers looking for help or advice. We listen, gather feedback, and adapt quickly to their needs. It's that constant communication which allows us to build the platform the users need, rather than what we think they need.

YC: What's been the hardest part of doing a startup so far?

Walker: Even though it seemed like we were growing from the start, there were months and months where we’d ask “Do people really need this? Am I doing something wrong?” There were points when we were almost out of money, or when business was stagnant. It’s hard being able to recognize when to persevere and when to give up.  But we made a decision to keep going. Once we joined YC we realized that every startup has these growing pains. They all go through the “Trough of Despair.”

YC: What do you wish you'd known when you first started?

Walker: Suck it up and get on the phone. I’m the worst sales guy in the world, but I had to get out there and sell. When you’re a builder and you love to build things, it’s easy to bury your head in that comfort zone. You say, “I’ll just program my way out of the fact that no one’s using the product. I’ll just add new features.” I was stuck in that zone for months.  But if you’re not out there making a pitch for why people should use your product, they won’t come.

YC: What advice would you give to founders applying for the next batch?

Walker:  Be straightforward. Don’t try to put a marketing spin on your presentation. Just be very very honest. Be brutally honest about where you are, what your numbers are, what your challenges are, who loves it today, and who is going to love it tomorrow.

Read more about Teespring:
Origin Story: “Our Path to $1 Million in Sales”

Kippt (YC S12) goes enterprise with its newest team collab tool, in use at top design agencies like teehan+lax

They’re a talented team of two from Finland that got Y Combinator’s stamp of approval and built a promising product for storing and sharing content from across the web.

But consumer-facing browser extensions can prove difficult for growing a large user base, so this startup, Kippt, did a little pivot.

After launching more than a year ago, they refocused on the enterprise market with a new version of their product called Inc.

While Kippt’s earlier product was like a latter-day version of the social bookmarking service Delicious, their new product Inc is more competitive with Yammer or Convo.

They found that many startups were using their consumer-facing product Kippt for sharing links. Co-founder Karri Saarinen says creating a separate brand would make the product easier to market.

“There were quite many companies or teams using it for sharing, organizing and discussing content,” Saarinen said.

Read the full article in TechCrunch

Michael Arrington Unveils Stealth Y Combinator Startup URX (YC S13)

Twice a year Y Combinator shows off its most recent batch of startups at a packed-house demo day in Mountain View. The goal of these startups is to attract investor and press attention. Sometimes, though, a particular startup wants neither, and stays in stealth mode until some later date.

URX, from the last Y Combinator batch, is one of those companies. There has been no press about URX at all, until right now.

URX is a mobile advertising platform. But it’s not about pushing app installs (~$300 million/year just for Facebook, around $1.2 billion/year industry-wide). It’s about getting users who already have apps installed on their devices to actually use and make purchases in them via product advertisements in other apps and websites.

URX helps app developers showcase all of the products in their apps with targeted ads. The desktop equivalent of this is Google’s Product Listing Ads, which have greatly simplified ad management for e-commerce operators on the web. Deeplinks are particularly compelling for mobile commerce companies (Retail, Travel, Local, Food, Deals, etc.) that want to jump in and offer a product to one of their users in real-time.
Read more on Uncrunched

Coin (YC W13) launches Arduino Bluetooth Low Energy module for $22, makes BLE integration easy

San Francisco-based startup Coin may not have launched yet, but it has created a hardware platform that others can use to build their own products in the process of developing its own. Today, Coin announced that it will offer up an Arduino Bluetooth Low Energy module that’s designed to be small and easy to integrate into hardware hacks and products of all kinds.

The $22 kit includes an Arduino-BLE board and 6-pin header that should be fairly broadly applicable for building Arduino-based hardware that can communicate with iOS devices. That means you’ll be able to talk to Apple’s new iBeacons service, which uses BLE to perform a number of functions, including ones that people normally associate with NFC like tap-based payments, in theory.

In developing its own product, Coin found that it was very challenging to find an easy way to integrate BLE into products in terms of figuring out wiring schematics, board layout, bulk manufacturing and coding to connect the chip to the Arduino processor to the iOS app itself. The Coin Arduino-BLE kit is designed to simply that by offering a pre-rolled solution, completely with open-source software that will go up on Github in December, which is when the boards should ship.

Read in TechCrunch

Twitch in Fortune Magazine: Gamer video viewing surpass the Super Bowl's online numbers

The odds are that if you're under 30 and play video games, you're already aware of Twitch. If you're older and don't play games, then you're not one of the 45 million unique visitors per month that flock to the social live streaming site. Over 600,000 everyday gamers -- as well as game developers, publishers, and even professional gamers -- use the site to broadcast to the world every month. The site's growth helped it secure $20 million in funding this week.

Studios showcase exclusive gameplay demos of new games like Activision's (ATVICall of Duty: Ghosts through Twitch. Professional video game players can chat and connect with fans directly through live streamed practice sessions, all the while making money from the advertisers that are lining up to be part of this newfound phenomenon. As the exclusive streaming partner of ReedPOP, the largest producer of pop culture events in the world, Twitch broadcasts games and other content from events like New York Comic Con and Chicago Comic Con and indie video game shows PAX East and PAX Prime.

Read the full article in Fortune

Loom (YC W12) raises $1.4M for its photo library service, launches RAW photo support

A startup called Loom, which begin its life as the Y Combinator-backed photo-sharing startup Popset, is working to build a better iCloud for both consumers and developers. Currently, the company offers a cloud storage and syncing service, in the form of a mobile application for iOS and desktop app for Mac. And today, Loom is also announcing $1.4 million in seed funding to continue to build on its vision.

The round included participation from Google Ventures (MG Siegler, disclosure: previously a TechCrunch employee and current contributor); Tencent, Great Oaks VC, Overbrook Entertainment (Will Smith), Damon Way (founder, DC Shoes), and a few other angel investors.

The company first announced its follow-up to Popset in May, and then entered into beta this June. At the time, co-founder Jan Senderek explained the team had realized that they were trying to solve the wrong problem with Popset – people weren’t lacking tools for group photo-sharing, but they did need a better way to organize and manage their photo libraries. Thus, Loom was born.

Read the full article at TechCrunch

YourMechanic (YC W12) launches pre-purchase car inspections everywhere in San Francisco

Before you buy a used vehicle, it’s always a good idea to take the car to a mechanic. Knowing what’s wrong with a car before you buy it could save you a lot of headaches down the line, and it could help you negotiate down the price of the vehicle. Disrupt Battlefield winnerYourMechanic now wants to make it easier for used car purchasers to get vehicles checked out, with the launch of Pre-Purchase Car Inspections.

For those who might have forgotten, YourMechanic runs a marketplace that connects car owners with on-demand mechanics who come to them. All mechanics are certified to check out and repair vehicles at the users home, meaning no more taking your car to the shop and waiting days for a fix to be made. YourMechanic also does all the work of figuring out which parts need to be ordered and installed. It’s like Uber, for car repair.

Since last year, the company has been growing steadily — about 25 percent per month — and attracting a number of return customers along the way. It’s also been expanding over time: YourMechanic started out just offering service in the San Jose area but has grown to service pretty much the entire San Francisco Bay Area.

Read more at TechCrunch

Listia (YC S09) raises $9M from General Catalyst for its used and free goods marketplace—mobile use up 2X in 3 months

Listia, the marketplace for used and free goods, has closed a $9 million Series A led by General Catalyst, with partner Neil Sequeira joining the startup’s board. As mobile growth takes off for the startup, the team will be using that financing to build out their iPhone and Android apps. It’s also looking to expand internationally, although that won’t happen until 2014 at the earliest.

The round brings the YC graduate to $11.17 million in funding, after it last raised a $1.75 venture round in 2011.

About one-third of buying and 20% of listing activity currently takes place on mobile, Listia co-founder and CEO Gee Chuang said. Although their iPhone app launched a solid two years ago with the Android version following in early 2012, mobile use is up 100% in the last three months.

“When we launched [the apps] they were these companion utilities,” Chuang said. “Our users, when they were away from the computer, used apps. In the last few months we’ve launched different updates to the apps to get them to be very standalone.”

Read more in TechCrunch

Flutter (YC W12) acquired by Google for its gesture recognition technology

Google’s Glass, Android and other products may soon be picking up more Kinect-style gesture features: the company has bought Flutter, a Y Combinator-backed startup that focuses on gesture recognition technology. Its first and only product — an app that provides gesture detection and recognition from standard webcam devices — will remain live and operational, the company says.

SimplyInsured (YC W13) raises $750K to simplify health insurance

The government may be shutdown as a result of the Affordable Care Act, but that isn’t stopping health-insurance exchanges from kicking into gear, or startups from capitalizing on them.

SimplyInsured has closed $750,000 to help small businesses navigate the changing landscape of costs, taxes, fines, and regulations surrounding health insurance.

“There are 400,000 health insurance brokers in the US who sell insurance the same way, via paper, phone, and fax,” said cofounder and CEO Vivek Shah to VentureBeat. “This is a trillion dollar industry that sells like it’s in the 1950’s. We can’t imagine a world where in 5 years, a small business will be purchasing insurance offline.”

Read the full article at VentureBeat