YC Digest -12/10-12/17

Top Stories from the YC World - 12/10-12/17

Amazon Not As Unstoppable As It May Appear - Instacart (YC S12) in the NYT 

> "How You Knowby Paul Graham: "Your mind is like a compiled program you've lost the source of. It works, but you don't know why." 



Hiptic Games (YC S11) Launches Its GameThrive Push Notification Service

Congrats to Hiptic Games on the launch of GameThrive

Hiptic Games, a Y Combinator alum that’s been operating in stealth since the summer 2011 batch, has launched GameThrive, a push notification service that aims to help developers engage players when they’re least likely to be annoyed.

Originally built for the team’s own needs, the service combines push-notification delivery automation with analytics tools to avoid overwhelming users to the point where they delete an app. Looking at things like playing habits and response rates to different notifications, the service schedules messages for in-game deals or events at times when players will be mostly likely to engage with them and come back to the game.

Read the full story on TechCrunch

Bettir (YC W15) Wants To Chat With You About Your Blood Pressure

Meet Bettir, the first YC Winter 2015 company to launch. Bettir is an app that lets you record your blood pressure and get daily feedback from experts. 

Chances are you only get your blood pressure checked maybe once or twice a year at the doctor’s office. You sit down in a relaxed setting near the waiting room while a nurse wraps a black velcro unit around your upper arm and pumps away. Perhaps the reading comes out a little high, but nothing to worry about. At least until you find yourself in a high stress situation, your blood pressure spikes and you end up having a stroke.

Going to your doctor twice a year isn’t the ideal way to get an accurate reading, says Bettir CEO Mike Chen. He and his four other co-founders, David Merriman, Ben Godlove, Nic Novak and Michael Rubin, were all friends at Oberlin when they started discussing the idea of going the startup route together. The band formed and through some health research, Bettir was born. It’s now Y Combinator-backed and ready to ship.

Flow (YC S13), an intuitive and precise wireless controller, launches today

Flow, a low cost, high precision wireless controller, launched on Indiegogo today. 

According to the team behind Flow (Senic YC S13), "We work on graphic design, video editing or CAD on a daily basis. Keyboard and mouse are great but they are far from giving you the same sensitivity and abilities as your hand. 

The same applies for music, browsing or presentations. We need a tool that gives us flexible shortcuts and perfect control, a tool that makes the things we love fast, precise, intuitive and fun." 

Flow has developed controls for more than 30 applications, including YouTube, Spotify and Photoshop, and early backers will get access to their developer platform in March 2015.

Learn more: 

Pre-order on Indiegogo

Humble Bundle (YC W11) is going truly multiplatform

The Humble Bundles offer a variety of interesting games at low prices, with the idea that selling in volume will make up for the lower per-game price.

So far they've been correct, with the bundles raising large amounts of money for both the developers involved in the bundle and a rotating selection of charities. Players are also offered a bonus if they pay over the average price, and that bonus usually includes more games or soundtracks.

The latest bundle offers something different, however. The games have been ported to a platform-agnostic Humble wrapper that will allow you to play each of the games inside your browser, no matter if you're using a Linux, Mac or Windows-based system. This is a new frontier for Humble, and they're excited about what it means for the future.

Startup School 2014 Recap and Videos

If you missed Startup School 2014, the videos are now on YouTube.


Notes from the 10th anniversary of Startup School: 

Ron Conway, SVAngel

Are entrepreneurs made or born? According to Ron Conway, who has invested in over 700 companies with SVAngel, good entrepreneurs are born with certain traits:

1.     Strong work ethic
2.     Ambition
3.     Aggressiveness
4.     Toughness
5.     Curiosity
6.     Intelligence

In Ron’s words, being a founder is a vocation. Your company becomes your religion, and it always ends up coming first. So before you start a startup you need to ask yourself “Am I willing to work 24/7?” “Am I willing to sacrifice?”

On cofounders: Starting a company is so hard that there are very few successful startups with solo founders. As an investor, it’s important to know how founders interact with each other. The cofounder relationship cannot be forced. Most founding teams were collaborating, came up with an idea and decided to build it together. Paul Graham summed up the conversation saying: “You don’t just want to work on interesting problems, you want to work on interesting problems with people.”

What do the best founders do? They have to be rifle-focused on the product and nothing else. “Focus on the product and business follows.”

Danae Ringelmann, Indiegogo

During her time as an investment banker on Wall Street, Danae Ringelmann found her inspiration for Indiegogo when she produced a play for famous playwright Arthur Miller and couldn’t successfully help him raise money for it from investors.

Feeling rejected by the “gatekeepers of capital,” Danae sought to democratize access to capital and founded what eventually became Indiegogo.

Danae looked back at her six years at Indiegogo and gave founders three important things to consider as you grow a company:

Know your WHY. Understand WHY you do what you do. Dig into what is driving you to solve the problem you’ve set out to solve. Indiegogo’s mission was to democratize access to capital because its founders believed the world should be more fair. Being driven by a clear WHY helps get you through tough times, guides strategy, makes hiring easier and attracts passionate users.

Be intentional with culture. Define your values at the very beginning so everyone is aligned with the company’s mission. When hiring, seek to bring together people who have a variety of backgrounds, ideas, experiences and perspectives. But they should all align on values. Just as you track other metrics (users, revenue), you should keep track of your company culture metrics. Some ways to measure this are eNPS (happiness) and OKR (productivity) scores.

Technology is a means, not an end. Define a problem and use technology to build something the world really needs.

Kevin Systrom, Instagram

If there’s one thing to know about life strategy, it’s that there is no perfect next move. From working on side projects at Stanford to working at Google and eventually founding Instagram, Kevin Systrom urged the Startup School audience to “have a bias toward action.” Keep moving, learning and making progress.

In terms of technical skill, you don’t have to be the best – you just need to know enough to be dangerous. When working on a startup, entrepreneurs learn the leadership, teamwork and engineering skills they need to run a company. You can’t expect to have the best idea or know everything going into the process.

When founding a social media company, Kevin stressed that Instagram’s #1 value was “community first.”  Instagram’s first hire was a community manager, and the users of the photo-sharing app are what made it so successful.

Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn

Despite founding the Facebook for professionals (or the “Friendster for professionals” as investors called it back in the day), Reid Hoffman advises entrepreneurs to stay away from starting a derivative business (Airbnb for Dogs, Uber for X).  Instead of seeking direct competition, do something contrarian and enter a space with little to no noise. Reid founded LinkedIn in 2003 when there wasn’t much social media.

Now an investor at Greylock Partners, Reid divulged several questions he asks startups looking to raise funds. Can it scale to hundreds of millions of people? Is this a capable team? Reid asks, “Is this how the world should be? Is the initial plan a good shot at changing how it works?”

An important lesson to entrepreneurs fundraising is to only raise as much money as you need. Founders are tempted to raise the largest Series A round, but forget they might be sacrificing quantity over quality. Even if it means taking funding from an investor who gives the lowest valuation, choose your investors for the guidance they will provide.

Jim Goetz, Sequoia Capital & Jan Koum, WhatsApp

On stage with Jim Goetz from Sequoia Capital, Jan Koum talked about the early days of WhatsApp. “I don’t think I ever decided to start a company,” said Jan. He built a product he wanted to use himself and realized other people wanted it too and were willing to pay for it.

For a long time, the WhatsApp team stayed under the radar intentionally so they could focus on product. They ignored press and countless emails from top tier Sand Hill Road investors before accepting Sequoia’s term sheet.

In fact, WhatsApp was not pressured to fundraise at all. “We were able to choose our partners because we had revenue.” WhatsApp charged users $0.99/month, and was self-funded.

An “unconventional background”: If you think you have an “unconventional background” for a startup founder, you’re probably wrong.  After dropping out of San Jose State University to work at Yahoo in 1998, Jan probably didn’t fit the bill of the typical Silicon Valley entrepreneur. By spending over 9 years as an engineer at Yahoo in its growth stages, Jan developed the chops to build WhatsApp.

Eric Migicovsky, Pebble

Even if all you have are some parts to put together a makeshift prototype, it’s worth taking that first step towards making your vision a reality. The first version of the Pebble smartwatch was a cell phone screen and Arduino.

With a team of engineers and industrial designers, a 3D printed watch with working electronics became a branded smartwatch called the inPulse.  

With a working prototype and limited access to funding as college students at the University of Waterloo, Eric and his team participated in numerous pitch competitions. When you don’t have VC money to fund your project, be scrappy and creative. When Pebble couldn’t get VC funding after their YC demo day, they turned to Kickstarter and became one of the largest funded projects on the crowdfunding platform ever. In 30 days, Pebble got over $10 million and 70,000 customers through Kickstarter.

Andrew Mason, Detour and Groupon

In his first public interview post-Groupon, Andrew Mason talked about his path from The Point to Groupon to Detour. Groupon started as a side project at Andrew’s first company The Point, but almost immediately after launching, Groupon started growing exponentially and the team decided it was time to shift their focus to the group buying “coupon” site. Groupon became the fastest growing company in history.

While Groupon was the first mover in group deals, it was an easily replicable business. Rapid feedback loops were essential to the growing the business – the team was pushing out new versions as quickly as possible. To enter new markets, Groupon was receptive to making acquisitions.

On both acquiring and getting acquired, Andrew had a lot of lessons to share. When acquiring companies, it is essential that the acquihires have the same values as the CEO. In the face of rapid growth, it is unsurprising that tech giants approached Groupon to acquire them. But if you think your company will keep growing exponentially, keep growing and don’t sell.

On exiting to the public markets, Andrew thinks that going public is awful and Groupon would have been better off if it hadn’t done so. A lot of time is wasted on financial reporting and the incentive to think short term is incredibly strong. Releasing performance on your company every quarter wastes time and forces your company to think in the short term.

Michelle Zatlyn & Matthew Prince, CloudFlare

The founders of CloudFlare had insights on finding cofounders and hiring. Instead of thinking about who should be your CEO, COO and CTO, think of it like you’re hiring the best salesperson, organizational manager and top-notch engineer. "If you’re cofounders and you’re fighting about who does what, you’re probably in the wrong founding team,” said Matthew Prince. “We asked, ‘Do we cover a lot of surface area? Do we have complementary skill sets? Do we trust each other,” said Michelle Zatlyn.

In terms of what to look for in your employees, hire people with great adjacent experiences over someone who has done exactly what the role is set up for.  If someone has deep experience in the role they are looking for, they may not be as open minded to thinking creatively and may forget to check their assumptions.

Hosain Rahman, Jawbone

Even in a terrible market, don’t give up. Since it’s founding, Jawbone has had a number of near death experiences that could have closed its doors for good. After the market crash in 2001, funding was extremely limited and building a hardware company was capital intensive. Founder Hosain Rahman kept the lights on with DARPA funding in Jawbone’s early days.

The first Jawbone headset was built in 2003, and thanks to brutal feedback from a panel of design experts (including Steve Jobs), Hosain and the team realized they could no longer compromise the product to meet an aggressive product release timetable. They focused on the product’s problem areas and went from $0-70M revenue in one year. “When you focus ruthlessly...you can transform your business overnight,” urged Hosain.

A critical time for Jawbone was the transition to the Internet of Things, on top of being an electronics company. Jawbone’s team had translated what they learned in headsets and sensors to health, creating what would become the top selling Jawbone Up.

Emmett Shear, Twitch

You can’t learn how to be an entrepreneur until you try it, and don’t give up. Before Justin.tv and Twitch, Emmett Shear and Justin Kan built six different startup ideas in one and a half years. "ADD prevents you from succeeding, but we learned a lot about coding,” said Emmett. Though none of those initial ideas took off, the team gained programming and prototyping skills and learned what it would take to eventually run and scale Twitch.

Emmett highlighted the skills founders themselves should have:

Know the product and engineering behind it. Have the technical skills to understand how your product is built and know how to communicate effectively with your engineering team.

Know how to scale. The first step is building a great product, but the next step is to keep growing your user base. A great product is nothing without its customers.

Know how to hire and manage. Once you find the right employees for your company who are talented and committed, it’s important to know how to motivate them and cultivate company culture.

And last but not least, know how to talk to your customers. One of Twitch’s greatest strengths was figuring out customer needs and cycling through feedback to constantly improve the product.

- Kat Mañalac and Natalie Luu 


Making Event Data The Language Of Business Intelligence, Interana (YC W13) Emerges From Stealth

Interana, the stealthy startup founded by a who’s-who of programmers behind the new architecture of today’s brightest tech businesses, is taking the covers off its technology to turn event data into the lingua franca of business intelligence.

Founded by the dynamic husband and wife duo of Ann Johnson, a former Intel executive, and Bobby Johnson, who literally was the man behind Facebook’s adoption of Hadoop, development of Hive and the author of Scribe and Haystack; and Lior Abraham, who invented Facebook’s SCUBA interface for its staff; Interana is the enterprise company that was down from day one.

Learn about Startups with YC at Carnegie Mellon University (Thur, Oct 9)

How do you come up with an idea?
How do you raise money from investors?
What’s it really like to start a startup?

Join us at Carnegie Mellon University (Doherty Hall 2315) on Thursday, October 9 from 5:30pm-7:30pm for a short talk and Q&A with:

Qasar Younis
Partner, Y Combinator
YC Winter 2011 Alum

Rick Morrison
Founder, Comprehend
YC Winter 2011 and CMU Alum

Qasar and Rick will be doing one-on-one office hours before the talk. You can sign up for office hours here.

Food & drink will be provided. We're looking forward to meeting you! 

Gobble (YC W14) Promises To Help Customers Make Delicious Meals In 10 Minutes Or Less

If you like the idea of cooking, but not, y’know, the actual work (or the fact that the food might turn out pretty badly), then Gobble may be the startup for you. And I don’t mean that in a condescending way. When I try to cook, I do a decent job of frying an egg or boiling spaghetti, but anything more than that and I start to nervous. So I feel like I’m on Gobble’s wavelength.

In some ways, the Gobble model sounds similar to services like Blue Apron and Plated— it takes the pain of meal-planning and shopping out of the cooking process by delivering the ingredients and recipes for a set number of meals each week.

However, there’s a difference between Gobble and what founder Ooshma Garg called the “ingredient boxes.” Basically, Garg’s team takes care of a lot more of the prep work, cleaning and cutting the vegetables, as well as marinating the meat, to give you a “dinner kit” that can be prepared in 10 minutes or less, with just one pan. 

Read the full story on TechCrunch