Founder Stories: Michelle Crosby, Wevorce (YC W13)

Ending a marriage has always been messy and complicated, but according to Wevorce, it doesn’t have to be. Founder Michelle Crosby, a family lawyer by trade, left her job at a large firm and started working in alternative dispute resolution. As a child of divorce, Michelle had seen firsthand how destructive the proceedings could be, and sought to change the system.

Michelle architected a six-step process that combined ”neuroscience, behavioral science, pattern recognition, tools and technology to predictively and proactively manage the emotional, financial and legal issues inherent in ending a marriage.” [1] She wanted to establish an affordable system that focused on the well-being of the kids and kept families out of court. 

Michelle realized she was on to something exciting when she mapped out her vision on the back of a napkin, and Jeff Reynolds (now her co-founder) exclaimed, "This is going to change the world." The two began building Wevorce, and applied to Y Combinator a year later.

We sat down with Michelle to talk about making a dent in the universe, managing intangibles, and advice for the next batch of YC applicants.

YC: How did you decide to apply to YC? 

Michelle: A year after we started working on Wevorce, Jeff and I sat down for breakfast. We had just finished reading a biography of Steve Jobs and were talking about how we wanted to grow a really big company. Jeff had said, “I want to make a dent in the universe.”

My brother was an early YC grad. He and his cofounder started Zenter back in 2007, which was acquired by Google right after Demo Day. He had a YC success story, but because I had a background as a lawyer, I always thought his world was very different from mine. When I decided to apply to YC, I didn’t think there was a chance in hell we’d get in. But my brother said we had to try.

YC: What was the most surprising part of the program?

Michelle: You become somewhat fearless. Building something new is nerve racking, but Y Combinator gives you the audacity to fail fast. They completely reframe failure. Failure isn’t failure, it’s an opportunity to learn. When you start thinking about it that way, you start moving faster.

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

Michelle: The line that sticks with me is from Brian Chesky of Airbnb. The week he spoke, he was on the cover of Forbes and they’d just pulled a billion dollar valuation. He talked about the discrepancy between how people see you as you gain traction, versus how you view the experience as a founder. He said, "Everyone sees us as this overnight success, but really it’s 1000 nights of misery."

That’s helped me so many times. You have days where you think you’re going to be the next Google and the next day you think it’s coming off the wheels. Tuesday dinners were our medicine for getting through the week. After interacting with the other founders, we came out feeling motivated, normalized. We realized we weren’t going crazy—it’s all just part of the process.

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

Michelle: Managing intangibles. As a founder you get great at measuring tangible things, like metrics. It's harder to measure intangibles like: What’s the morale of the team when you’re driving them hard? Is everyone clear on the benchmarks? When you’re in YC, you get 3 months of undivided focus and it’s awesome. Then you’re off, and you still have to build a company and life happens.

I believe the ability to move through those intangibles is what makes great companies. It’s not robotic. The real art of running a company comes down to managing those intangibles for yourself and for your team.

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

Michelle: I had no idea how much my perspective would change—in a good way. In YC, you walk through this process of getting things done and building a company, and when you come out of it, the world looks different. Everything feels a little more like “Why not try?” You have more optimism, you learn to fail fast, you learn to reframe failure. There’s nothing you can’t try.

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

Michelle: Swing for the fences. It’s an amazing opportunity, and you have to give it all you’ve got. You will be surrounded by people who are smarter than you—take advantage of that—and you have this opportunity to learn at a rate that most people can’t even fathom. Have the audacity to try and the humility to learn, and enjoy it. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s a daily dance between self confidence and humility, and between those two you end up becoming a leader—a leader of a vision, and a leader of a company.






Notes

[1] A line from Wevorce’s original application. More excerpts from Wevorce’s application below.

Excerpts from Wevorce’s application:

What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don't get?
The democratization of information means the horrors of the adversarial system (“Divorce Machine”) are now common knowledge—and couples are hungry for an alternative. But they don’t just want a different method, they want a different ethos. This means you can’t put lipstick on the pig. You must replace the pig with a lamb. Or even better, an iPad. The Family Blueprint is built on the the predictable patterns of divorcing families so we can replicate it by combining technology with humanity which is far outside of the existing adversarial divorce system.

How far along are you? Do you have a beta yet? If not, when will you? Are you launched? If so, how many users do you have? Do you have revenue? If so, how much? If you're launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?
We’ve been in beta for a year, growing revenue 500% over that period. We have run over 100 families through the Family Blueprint. We’ll book approximately $130k in revenue in 2012. Our focus over the last year was proving that the system was replicable. We have removed founders from day-to-day operations and are operating at break even with negligible investment in customer acquisition.

If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we've been waiting for. Often when we fund people it's to do something they list here and not in the main application.
Mint for divorced families—help them manage schedules, holiday kid swaps, finances, etc.

Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered. (The answer need not be related to your project.)
That by starting Family Architects we are working on our own version of world peace. We believe that peace starts within the walls of our homes and have created a way to keep peace in families during the second most stressful event of their lives.