What We Learned From 40 Female YC Founders

We’re excited to launch Female Founder Stories, a collection of interviews with 40 of Y Combinator’s female alumnae.  We asked them about things like how they got started, their experience at Y Combinator, their experience as female founders, and what they wish they'd known when they were younger.  As you'll see, their answers are fascinating, both individually and in their variety.

This is the biggest collection of interviews with female startup founders I've seen in one place, and as a result we have an unprecedented opportunity to notice patterns in their experiences (and just as interesting, where there aren't patterns).

One of the most consistent patterns is how many founders wished they'd learned to program when they were younger. Some wished they'd even known it was an option, and many others knew it was an option but were either intimidated or felt they’d somehow missed the window. "Don't opt out of computer science because you think you are behind," one founder said. "You probably aren’t."

We got an interesting variety of responses when we asked the women whether being a female was advantageous or disadvantageous in their roles as founders. Some felt they had been harmed but as many felt it was an advantage. Interestingly, many said it got them attention for being unusual, and that they'd used this to their advantage. Others felt that being female did impose some barriers, but didn't let it get them down.  "Given how hard it is to be a founder (male or female)," one said, "gender disadvantages are probably just a rounding error."

One surprise was how varied the founders’ backgrounds were. I know all these women and even I was surprised how varied their paths to Y Combinator were.  If you wanted evidence contradicting the myth that YC only funds one type of founder, you could not do better than read these interviews.

Not surprisingly, most of the women were domain experts solving a problem they themselves had.  That's something that tends to be true of successful founders regardless of gender.

When I started Y Combinator back in 2005, I was one of a tiny minority of women in the venture business, and from the start I've made sure YC had an environment that is supportive of women.  It wasn't even a conscious decision.  To the extent there was one partner in charge of YC's environment, it was me, and as a woman myself I would not have tolerated anything else.  And as YC has grown, so has the number of female partners. Now there are four of us and we are not tokens, or a female minority in a male-dominated firm. At the risk of offending my male colleagues, who will nevertheless understand what I mean, some would claim it's closer to the truth to say that that we run the place. As YC funds more and more startups, Kirsty, Carolynn, Kat, and I are dedicated to maintaining an environment where women feel welcome and can succeed.

The number of startups we've funded with a female founder has grown from a trickle when we first started to about 19% in 2014. In the most recent batch (W15), we asked about gender on the application form for the first time. The percentage of startups we accepted with female founders was identical to the percentage who applied. (And this happened organically; we didn't check the numbers until after.)  Which implies the percentage of female founders we fund will increase in proportion to the percentage of female applicants.

There are two ways I think YC can have the most impact in increasing the number of female founders. First, we need to continue to do what we’ve always done: to help individual female founders’ startups succeed.  Those women will then become role models who inspire other women to make the leap and start startups too.  To serve as role models they need to be visible, so we're also focusing on showcasing YC’s female alumni through interviews like these and events like our Female Founders Conference.

I said at the first Female Founders Conference last March that I thought 2014 would be the tipping point for female founders. I still think I’m right, and our hope is that these interviews will be part of what makes things tip-- that they will both inspire more women to start startups (and please apply to YC!) and also inspire some who already have started to keep going.

Startups are hard. They are not the right thing for everyone. But what makes them the right thing for you is whether you are driven enough, not what gender you are, and that's one of the clearest patterns in these interviews.

Save the date: Y Combinator's second annual Female Founders Conference will be held in San Francisco on February 21, 2015.

A Reminder to Investors

Sam wrote about this in his recent blog post, but I've found that important and seemingly obvious things often bear repeating. So with Demo Day approaching, I'd like to make the following point explicit:

Y Combinator has a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate sexual or romantic behavior from investors toward founders.

Don't even think about doing it. I will find out. Y Combinator will not continue to work with you.

News also travels fast around the YC community. Past and future YC alumni will likely find out about your actions and find them equally unacceptable.

Nearly all the investors we know are completely upstanding and professional, but even one inappropriate incident is too many.

How 7 Cups of Tea (YC S13) Accidentally Grew a Community of 17,000 Listeners

Most people would much rather donate money to help others than they would donate their time and energy. Getting people to volunteer can be one of the most difficult challenges a community builder can face. How about getting 17,000 people to volunteer? Think you can take that on?

That’s exactly what 7 Cups of Tea did. And as a community of “active listeners,” they did much more than get people to volunteer. Every volunteer listener completes a training program and then actually chat with and listen to other members of the community. And they did it all in one year.

“We call it the emotional support system for the Internet” explains CEO and clinical psychologist Glen Moriarty. “We just celebrated our one-year anniversary and are thrilled with the way the community is growing.The community gave back to 7 Cups of Tea on their birthday by making a thank you video to the entire team and joining them in an all-day chat party.

Read the full story on cmxhub.com

Announcing the Female Founders Conference

I'm delighted to announce that Kat Manalac, Kirsty Nathoo, Carolynn Levy and I are hosting Y Combinator's first Female Founders Conference on Saturday, March 1. We're going to gather together female founders at all stages to share stories, give advice, and make connections.

The original idea was to make this an event where female YC alumni shared their experiences.  But once we started planning the event we thought it would be exciting to invite Julia Hartz and Diane Greene to speak as well, so that we'd have speakers who could talk about what happens at even later stages.

As well as the speakers, many female YC alumni will be attending the event, so this will be an opportunity to get to know them and ask questions.

The best source of information about startups is the stories of people who've started them.  Our goal with this conference is to inspire women to start (or hang in there with!) a startup through the insights and experiences of those who have done it already.  If you're a woman interested in learning more about startups, I encourage you to apply.