tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:/posts Y Combinator Posthaven 2015-02-28T22:17:21Z Y Combinator tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/816534 2015-02-27T19:21:12Z 2015-02-27T19:21:12Z Shift Messenger (YC W15) Makes It Easy For Workers To Swap Hours

"Anyone who has worked a retail job knows what a pain it is to take time off. You usually have to find someone to cover your shift and, unless you’ve managed to arrange your schedule in advance, that often entails panicked texts and phone calls to co-workers. A new startup called Shift Messenger wants to make the process less painful.

Backed by Y Combinator, Shift Messenger was founded by Austin Vedder and Matt Tognetti. Former Redbeacon employees, the two got a look at the scheduling problems faced by retail workers after the home services marketplace was acquired by Home Depot."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/816507 2015-02-27T18:03:56Z 2015-02-27T18:03:56Z YesGraph (YC W15) Raises A Million To Build A Better Referral System For Mobile Apps

"When launching a new consumer application, especially those in the social space, many developers today rely on an invite mechanism that has the app’s initial user base reaching out and recommending the app to their friends. But today, these invite systems are often fairly basic – they connect to a phone’s address book and then force the user to sift through their hundreds of contacts for those they think would be interested in joining the new app, too.

A Y Combinator-backed startup called YesGraph wants to make these invite and referral systems more intelligent, with a tool for developers that puts the best contacts – meaning those who are most likely to accept an invite – at the top of the list provided to users.

The company has also now raised a $1 million seed round led by Bloomberg Beta to fund the service’s further development."

Read the full story on TechCrunch
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/816413 2015-02-27T16:54:33Z 2015-02-27T17:00:13Z YC Digest - 2/20-2/26 Top Stories from the YC World - 2/20/15-2/26/15
Videos from the Female Founders Conference are now online

Startup Notes from the Female Founders Conference by Greg Koberger

SiriusXM is launching "Startup School Radio" with YC's Aaron Harris

Transcriptic (YC W15) and the array of free services for new YC startups

Launches
YC W15: Booktrope Rethinks Book Publishing

YC W15: Open Listings Enables Home Buyers To Purchase Houses Without Real Estate Agents

YC W15: 20n, A YC Synthetic Biology Startup, Uses Software To Engineer Microbes For Chemical-Making

YC W15: Y Combinator’s First Investment in Solar Is a PV Finance Platform for Emerging Economies (Bright)

YC W15: For Y Combinator-funded influencer startup Themidgame, it’s about more than money

YC W15: Answerbook Helps Retailers Automate Personalized Email Campaigns

YC W15: NexTravel Wants To Change The Way Corporate Travel Is Booked

YC W15: Perceptiv’s SHIFT Turns Drones Into Smart Dollies For Filmmakers

YC W15: Luka, The App That Replaces Your Foodie Friend, Goes Live In SF

YC W15: We've just reached the logical extreme of the 'Uber for X' economy (Magic)

YC W15: Rescue Forensics (YC W15) Aids Law Enforcement In Finding Victims

Essays
Startup advice, briefly by Sam Altman

Where to start a startup by Yuri Sagalov
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/816133 2015-02-26T19:58:30Z 2015-02-26T19:58:30Z Booktrope (YC W15) Rethinks Book Publishing

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard horror stories about the publishing industry — books that are rejected by publisher after publisher, books that sit in submission piles for years, books that are published but basically disappear without publisher support.

At the same time, self-publishing has its risks for authors, too. You could end up paying a lot of your own money to an editor and/or a designer, and if you don’t, you could end up with a poorly edited book and a lame cover that looks, well, self-published.

So Booktrope, part of the current class of startups at Y Combinator, is taking a different approach. On one level, Booktrope is a publisher itself, but one that allows authors to go around the gatekeepers of traditional publishing while still working with a professional team.

Read the full story on TechCrunch
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/816050 2015-02-26T17:22:24Z 2015-02-26T20:42:33Z Open Listings (YC W15) Enables Home Buyers To Purchase Houses Without Real Estate Agents

"Open Listings is a startup fresh out of the current Y Combinator batch that’s easing the home buying process by letting people move forward without real estate agents.

Because two-thirds of the overall residential market involves repeat buyers, some people may not want to rely on agents because they’re already familiar with what to do. So instead, Open Listings will refund the 3 percent agent commission, which can amount to tens of thousands of dollars here in California, and charge a flat fee instead. It’s basically a self-service platform with on-demand human experts.

Their belief is that the Internet is diminishing the role of the real estate agent by making it a lot easier to find homes, but commissions are getting out of control as they rise with the overall (insane) cost of real estate. (I’m mostly referring to California, which is Open Listings’ first market and makes up about 15 percent of national home sales.)"

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/816016 2015-02-26T16:27:13Z 2015-02-26T16:32:50Z 20n (YC W15), A YC Synthetic Biology Startup, Uses Software To Engineer Microbes For Chemical-Making

"20n, one of a wave of biotech-related startups that Y Combinator is starting to fund, is the brainchild of a UC Berkeley professor and a post-doc.

Saurabh Srivastava and J. Christopher Anderson have worked together for several years developing software that can design genetically engineered microbes to make specific chemicals. While at their DARPA-backed lab at UC Berkeley, they created bacteria that could produce acetaminophen or Tylenol.

Their special sauce is their software platform. While there are companies that do license out ways to create bacteria that produce specialty chemicals, the process of identifying how to create these microbes is tedious. 20n says its data mining technology can get to 100 times more chemicals than were previously thought possible."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/815712 2015-02-25T22:42:46Z 2015-02-28T19:47:13Z Bright (YC W15) Aims To Bring Solar Power To Mexico

"Jonah Greenberger envisions Mexico’s rooftops covered in cost-effective, environmentally friendly, dark blue solar panels. The 28-year-old founder of Y Combinator-backed solar power startup Bright left his job working in fossil fuels at Chevron to work on lowering exorbitant energy costs for the people of Mexico.

“The third world pays the most for electricity. Mexico has the most potential to be disrupted because it’s really sunny there,” he told me over the phone.

The electric system in Mexico is both expensive and complicated. The government subsidizes the poorest people, and the wealthier citizens end up paying the most. Fees can get up to over $4,000 USD in the hot month of August when not subsidized, according to the Mexican Federal Electric Commission."

Read the full story on TechCrunch
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/815636 2015-02-25T22:07:08Z 2015-02-25T22:54:19Z Answerbook (YC W15) Helps Retailers Automate Personalized Email Campaigns

"A team of e-commerce vets is today launching a new service aimed at online retailers called Answerbook which allows companies to better target shoppers with highly personalized emails based on those customers’ website and email interactions as well as their purchase history. The solution today is largely aimed at smaller retailers, like those hosting their sites on e-commerce platforms like Shopify, where they have somewhere between half a million to a million in sales.

However, the company is already talking to larger businesses in an effort to develop an enterprise tier to its service, we’re told.

Answerbook was founded last year by Chris Nguyen and Lee Liu, both of whom have backgrounds in e-commerce and using data for targeting purposes. The two had previously built and sold their recruiting site JobLoft to onTargetjobs in 2007, and then sold dating site Cupid.com to EasyDate. They also founded a social commerce site called TeamSave in 2010."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/815549 2015-02-25T19:32:51Z 2015-02-26T13:43:06Z For Y Combinator-funded influencer startup Themidgame (YC W15), it’s about more than money

"This story is not just about a startup that wants to redefine its category. 

This story is about a startup that wants to redefine its category — and become a model to spark the startup scene in the home country of its cofounders, Colombians Andrés Felipe Diaz and Carlos Saavedra.

The company, Themidgame, has just scored $120,000 from famed seed accelerator Y Combinator — and gained access to the accompanying ecosystem of contacts — so it can add human interaction to the management of influencers. Next month, it presents at the accelerator’s Demo Day."

Read the full story on VentureBeat
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/815541 2015-02-25T17:55:41Z 2015-02-25T17:55:41Z NexTravel (YC W14) Wants To Change The Way Corporate Travel Is Booked

"Booking travel is never easy, but booking travel for work is even worse. NexTravel wants to provide a better way for employees to search flights and hotels, while giving employers the ability to track and manage costs.

Even as consumers have gotten used to using simple online platforms for booking their own travel, the corporate travel world has failed to catch up. Employees are asked to navigate archaic travel booking websites or talking to travel agents for hours trying to get the right hotels or flights confirmed.

Meanwhile, many small- and medium-sized businesses don’t have a good travel-booking platform. That means employees usually end up booking their own work travel, but managers have few tools to track, approve or control travel expense costs.

NexTravel hopes to offer the same sort of ease and convenience users have grown to love from consumer platforms, while giving employers ways to track and lower the cost of corporate travel. It provides a way for businesses to centralize their booking process in a fast, cost-effective way."

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/814946 2015-02-24T19:28:52Z 2015-02-25T01:14:20Z Perceptiv’s SHIFT (YC W15) Turns Drones Into Smart Dollies For Filmmakers
Drone tech is exciting and full of potential, but few companies are focusing on tech that provides benefits drone users can enjoy now, without spending a fortune or managing an architectural firm or large-scale agricultural concern. Perceptiv Labs, a YC Winter 2015 cohort startup with a founding team out of Waterloo’s top-flight robotics engineering department, is offering high-flying drone hobbyists, filmmakers and journalists a relatively affordable, yet advanced way to introduce some highly intelligent automation into their high-flying video antics right now.

Perceptiv, which also has funding from Version One Ventures, is launching SHIFT today via pre-order campaign, a $600 accessory (which will retail post-campaign for $800) that works with the DJI Phantom and 3D Robotics Iris, providing a vision sensor, processor and autopilot program for capturing amazing aerial shots via subject tracking. Essentially, it turns these hobbyist drones into robotic flying dollies for capturing great pans, zooms and fly-by shots, with computer vision tech making sure to keep a user-defined subject exactly where it needs to be in the frame along the way.

Read the full story on TechCrunch]]>
Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/814922 2015-02-24T19:22:51Z 2015-02-24T19:35:55Z Luka (YC W15), The App That Replaces Your Foodie Friend, Goes Live In SF

"IO, the company that launched on stage at Disrupt Europe and is looking to replace Yelp with a natural language recommendation engine, is today launching its service publicly in the Bay Area.

The app, re-branded from IO to Luka, is going live with more than 2,000 restaurants signed on in the Bay Area. But how does it all work?

Luka is an app that looks a lot like an SMS conversation. Users can message Luka with questions like “Anything fun to do tonight?” or “I have a date tonight. Where should we go?”

Luka then processes those requests and sends back recommendations that are based not only on the request itself but your history and preferences. Luka learns that you are a vegetarian or that you’re addicted to cheese or that a good fried fish taco is your reason for living. Knowing these things, Luka transforms what is usually a tedious browsing experience on Yelp into a relaxed experience in which Luka is doing the work."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/814515 2015-02-23T17:32:01Z 2015-02-23T17:32:59Z Videos from Female Founders Conference 2015 are online

If you missed YC's 2015 Female Founders Conference, you can now watch the talks on YouTube

See photos from the event here


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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/813896 2015-02-21T00:35:41Z 2015-02-22T09:27:11Z Rescue Forensics (YC W15) Aids Law Enforcement In Finding Victims

Rescue Forensics, a web intelligence company dedicated to helping the government fight crime, has joined the Winter 2015 batch of YC. Read more about what they're building: 

“Human trafficking is no longer on the streets where police can observe and monitor it,” he said. “It’s gone to the Internet.”

After finishing law school, Ryan Dalton and co-founder Brandon Hamric started working part-time on tools that could filter, track and record escort listings for potentially suspicious behavior involving minors. They applied for Y Combinator and vowed that if they got in, they would quit their jobs and do this full-time as a company, calling it Rescue Forensics.

Basically, Rescue Forensics builds search software that helps law enforcement officials collect and document online evidence that could be used to prosecute traffickers in court. The company itself doesn’t make any judgments about what might constitute illegal trafficking behavior. That’s up to investigators to determine, as there are adult women who want to do sex work and aren’t being trafficked.

But Rescue Forensics does provide a way to document and manage listings that can quickly pop up and disappear on Craigslist or other listing sites across an entire region. Dalton said that so far, nine victims have been rescued.

Read the full story on TechCrunch]]>
Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/813751 2015-02-20T17:00:06Z 2015-02-20T17:00:06Z YC Digest 2/13-2/19 Top Stories from the YC World - 2/13/15-2/19/15

YC's Female Founder's Conference is tomorrow (2/21)! Watch the livestream at femalefoundersconference.org.

How, and Why, Y Combinator Got Serious About Diversity by Fast Company

Applying for the next batch of YC? Here's what goes into a good application video.

YC is hosting office hours at Stanford on 3/5. Sign up for a slot here

Launches





YC W15: Transitmix Cuts The Paper Out Of Bus Route Planning

YC W15: Kuhcoon Promises To Automate Facebook Ad Campaigns For Small Businesses


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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/813421 2015-02-19T17:31:50Z 2015-02-21T15:50:04Z Kuhcoon (YC W15) Promises To Automate Facebook Ad Campaigns For Small Businesses

"A lot of ad tech companies like to talk about automation, but Andrew Torba, co-founder and CEO of Kuhcoon, seems particularly enthusiastic: “Our grand plan is to automate all of paid media spending on the Internet.”

The startup isn’t quite there yet, but it says it’s already working with more than 6,000 advertisers in 90+ countries. (Those advertisers include a number of startups at Y Combinator, where Kuhcoon is part of the winter class.) It’s currently limited to Facebook advertising, but Torba said Kuhcoon’s Google Adwords launch is imminent, and there are plans for Twitter and Pinterest as well.

Torba and his co-founder/CTO Charles Szymanski acknowledged that there are other Facebook ad automation products out there. However, Szymanski suggested that the ones that offer “full automation,” like Nanigans and Kenshoo, are focused on huge advertisers. When it comes to small and medium businesses (Torba said Kuhcoon serves advertisers who spend between $20,000 and $1 million a month, with a focus on those who spend less than $100,000), the available tools are more manual." 

Read the full story on TechCrunch]]>
Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/813082 2015-02-18T20:23:16Z 2015-02-18T20:23:16Z Transitmix (YC W15) Cuts The Paper Out Of Bus Route Planning

'YC-backed Transitmix, which is in the middle of the three-month accelerator program, is building a business out of helping city planners make smarter choices when configuring bus routes. The fix? An online mapping tool to speed up the process of devising and comparing bus routes.

It’s a simple sounding problem with some complex implications — given the various socio-economic factors in play. So anything that makes it easier for route planners to weigh and weight different considerations — such as the cost of operation; how many people a bus route might serve; and how many jobs are in the commuter vicinity — has axiomatic utility.

Frankly it’s hard to believe that something like this doesn’t exist already. But, says Transitmix co-founder Sam Hashemi, the tool’s ‘competition’ is mostly paper-based maps and spreadsheets “containing hundreds of tabs”, coupled with manual cross-referencing of Google Earth. In short: a legacy process nightmare desperately in need of data-rich digital optimization."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/813027 2015-02-18T17:18:15Z 2015-02-25T03:55:48Z Level Frames (YC W15) Launches Because All Art Deserves Its Frame

Welcome to YC, Level Frames!

"Wall art is relatively easy to acquire. You buy posters at concerts, prints from random stores, or even buy the street art that is sold on the curb. Most times, the art itself is pretty cheap and you end up with stacks of rolling tubes piled in a corner. Why? Because finding a nice frame for your art is a total pain.

Local frame shops can be overwhelming, and even then the prices are exorbitant. Plus, you never know what it will actually look like. But YC-backed Level Frames is launching to solve that mess through tech.

Level is an online platform that allows anyone to find the right frame, at the right size, and even get an idea of how the art will look in different frames. Level then handles packaging and shipping and can, in some circumstances, get your frame to you within two business days."

Read the full story on TechCrunch
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/812787 2015-02-18T00:45:04Z 2015-02-18T01:36:29Z Seed (YC W15) Wants To Reinvent Business Banking

"Seed thinks that business banking is opaque, expensive, and behind the times. The company, which is part of the Winter 2015 Y Combinator class, wants to shake up banking, bring it into the API era, and rip out unnecessary fees to make it, according to its CEO Brian Merritt, as “easy as possible to start and manage a business.”

Merritt and his co-founder Ryan Hildebrand are both former Simple denizens, a consumer-facing banking tech firm that sold in 2014 for more than $100 million.

The company has operated in stealth for some time, but is walking out of the shadows today to launch a banking API that will allow its early beta customers — its service is currently only available in the United States — to integrate Seed’s financial services into their own set of apps and tools."

Read the full story on TechCrunch]]>
Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/812785 2015-02-18T00:28:43Z 2015-02-20T07:38:08Z CloudMedx (YC W15) Helps Doctors Spot Patients Who Will Need Expensive Treatment

"Despite incentives provided by the Affordable Care Act and the prevalence of the cloud in most of our lives, the software used by the health care industry continues to lag behind what you find in the consumer space or most big enterprises.

When was the last time you went to a doctor? To check, you’d probably check one of your calendar apps for an appointment. How were you doing — was it a regular scheduled trip, or an impromptu visit because of a persistent cold? Do you remember how the doctor or nurse practitioner treated your issues?

The fact that those questions aren’t easy to answer for most people is an opportunity for startups like Y Combinator-backed CloudMedx, who’s building a suite of physician- and patient-facing apps that together lead to better, cheaper outcomes."

Read the full story on TechCrunch
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/812339 2015-02-16T17:00:02Z 2015-02-18T17:44:01Z Managing Your Restaurant Deliveries With Trackin (YC W15) Is Like Playing SimCity

"Meet Trackin, a complete software solution for restaurant managers to control your fleet of delivery persons in real time and easily accept online orders. Trackin provides a dashboard for your restaurants, a mobile app for your drivers and an online order widget for your customers. Thanks to this startup attending Y Combinator’s current batch, you will know when your driver is back and when to start cooking.

“With Trackin, you can track your drivers like in Uber’s app, and your clients can do the same as well,” founder and CEO Bruno Didier told me in a phone interview. “We can tell you what are your best delivery zones, and we’re a white label service.”

The dashboard centralizes all your orders, including on third-party websites. People can order on your website using Trackin’s online order widget, GrubHubEat24 and other online ordering platforms, and every order will end up in Trackin. And of course, if someone calls you, you can manually add an order to your dashboard." 

Read the full story on TechCrunch


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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/812342 2015-02-16T16:44:03Z 2015-02-20T19:49:47Z Direct Match (YC W15) Aims To Make Bond Trading As Easy As Stock Trading

"Jim Greco sat in front of his computer at Jeffries Investment Bank headquarters in New York and thought about the futility of his bond trading job. He was about to pull up a file on his PC and then make a physical phone call to another institution to place an order for a bond transaction. Something needed to be done.

Unlike the stock market, the bond market doesn’t have a centralized system where traders can plainly see the fees involved in the trade. This means traders have to ask each bank, one by one, either by phone or electronically, what they are willing to sell a Treasury bond for.

It seems pretty archaic, but it’s the way the bond market operates for the most part right now.

This gave Greco an idea that might seem rather simple: put the bond market online. Greco and his co-founder Galen Simmons created the Y Combinator-backed Direct Match, an online bond trading platform that centralizes that information so it can be as easy to trade bonds as it is to trade stocks."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/811321 2015-02-13T17:00:00Z 2015-02-13T17:00:05Z YC Digest 2/6-2/12 Top Stories from the YC World - 2/6/15-2/12/15
Applications for YC's Summer 2015 batch are now open! 

$500k of Azure credit for YC startups

YC Open-Source Sales Agreement

"Guys, Let's Grow The Hell Out Of This Company": How Y Combinator Startups Go Big by Fast Company

Congrats to Stripe, E La Carte and Anyperk for being named to Fast Company's "50 Most Innovative Companies" list

Instacart named one of the "10 Most Innovative Companies in Retail" by Fast Company

Launches
YC W15: Yhat Gives Data Science Teams A Head Start

YC W15: Standard Cyborg, A Startup Building Affordable Artificial Limbs

YC W15: Giveffect Has Built A Shopify-Meets-Salesforce For Non-Profits

YC W15: SigOpt Helps Customers Optimize Everything From Online Ads To Shaving Cream

Essays + Advice
Startup Priorities by Geoff Ralston

Advice for Early Stage Hardware Startups by Luke Iseman and Jeff Chang

FarmLogs by Sam Altman
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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/811079 2015-02-13T00:28:51Z 2015-02-13T00:35:29Z SigOpt (YC W15) Helps Customers Optimize Everything From Online Ads To Shaving Cream

SigOpt, a startup incubated by Y Combinator, has a big vision — co-founder and CEO Scott Clark told me that he aims to “optimize anything that has tunable parameters.”

Some of that might sound familiar, especially since there’s a well-known tech company with “optimize” in its name, but Clark said that SigOpt goes beyond A/B testing. Put (relatively) simply, it doesn’t just let you test different variations, but instead examines the data and recommends “what experiments to run next,” so you can continuously make something better.

To use one of Clark’s examples, if you work for a company that wants to test different versions of an ad, you might normally set up tests for each version, then choose the most effective variant at the end of the test. With SigOpt, you can provide the creative assets and guidelines, then SigOpt creates the different versions, tests them, creates new versions based on those tests, and so on, to automatically maximize revenue or clicks.

Even more intriguingly, SigOpt helps you optimize physical experiments. For example, Clark said one of his initial customers is using SigOpt to test different chemical combinations in creating shaving creams.

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/810358 2015-02-11T19:49:28Z 2015-02-22T12:39:26Z YC Open-Source Sales Agreement We've just open-sourced a sales agreement any company can use.

Though obviously you should use this at your own risk, we've had a lot of experience with what makes good and bad sales agreements.

Special thanks to Tyler Bosmeny, James Riley, and Carolynn and Jon Levy for all their work on this!  We hope it helps.

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Sam Altman
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/809741 2015-02-10T18:24:54Z 2015-02-11T05:10:59Z Giveffect (YC W15) Has Built A Shopify-Meets-Salesforce For Non-Profits

The Giveffect team joins the Winter 2015 batch of YC: 

"Non-profit startups have come into focus at Y Combinator in the last couple of years. And in an extension of that, the incubator is also backing companies that offer services to the wider non-profit sector. Giveffect, part of its current cohort, has built a suite of cloud-based software that focuses specifically on the needs of non-profit businesses, covering services like accounting and CRM (including donor tracking), through to fundraising and crowdfunding platforms, all built from the ground up with its target customers in mind.

It’s also noteworthy that Giveffect, unlike many others that pass through YC, is not actually a very young startup. It was founded in 2012 and already has more than 300 customers.

The non-profit sector, despite the sound of its name, is big business. In the U.S. alone non-profits process more than $300 billion each year, with a growing portion of charitable donations coming through online platforms, especially among younger consumers."

Read the full story on TechCrunch

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/809739 2015-02-10T18:11:10Z 2015-02-28T22:17:21Z Advice for Early-Stage Hardware Startups This is a guest post from Luke Iseman and Jeff Chang.

Hardware Is Easy

As we slog away at our soldering irons, it’s become de rigueur in the early-stage hardware startup world for us to wearily mutter: “Hardware is hard.” Our software-centric compatriots are understandably worried that we might weld their MacBooks shut if they mention their fifth multivariate test of the day.

But compared to any other time in history, hardware is easy.  Finding product-market fit remains as tricky as ever, but prototyping new physical things is faster and cheaper than ever before. Here are some guidelines we’ve picked up so far:

1.     Form A Posse.  Hardware is the Wild West: we’re just getting started in the quest to make smarter things faster, now that every material (and everybody) is at most a mouse click away.  Nobody yet knows the full potential of this exponentially growing community.  But you’ve got to take advantage: Join or start a Hackerspace, work from Techshop, contact makers who post interesting projects: find people working on hardware like yours and ask how they dealt with challenges you’re facing.  These conversations have led to me discovering faster and cheaper ways to make SMD stencils, casting aluminum parts from 3D prints, sourcing cheap components direct from China at in-country prices, and taught me everything I know about making things.

2.     Interview Your Industry.  After 5+ years of working on smarter gardens, I finally met with a giant gardening supply company. I learned more about what customers will actually buy (aka what I should build) in half a day than in half a decade. Figuring out what real people actually purchase at quantity is infinitely more useful than another coffee with another potential investor.

3.     Fast Over Fancy.  The speed at which new components are released, hardware devkits kickstarted, and novel 3D printer filaments formulated is gradually nearing the speed of software.  Just like with programming languages & frameworks, there will always be newer faster better tinkering toys, and you can spend forever researching them.  Instead, find things that work and use them to build a functioning prototype.  Nobody cares if you’re using an Intel Edison or a 555 to blink the LED in the prototype you show them: people care about whether you’ve made something that they want.

4.     Separate Prototypes.  I’ve used too many glue sticks and hours stuffing components into decent-looking half-functional prototypes.  Instead, make these 2 different objects.  Make an ugly black box ‘works like’ prototype, and create an entirely non-functional ‘looks like.’  Add a reasonable story for how you’ll get the black box shrunken down to fit in a manufacturable version of the sexy enclosure, and start selling.

5.     Finite Iteration.  Break down the elements of your separate prototypes further, and iterate on the most discrete units of functionality that you can.  Do a majority of the people you ask to play with your prototype tell you that the button is awkward?  Getting buttons with the right click-feel is one discrete element to iterate on, button placement is another.  Well-designed products don’t just pop from Steve Jobs’ brain into mass production: they’re iterated into existence through many rounds of fast experimentation on each element that matters.

6.     Selective Inattention.  Pre-selling an impossible product will get your project pulled and company sued, if anybody even bothers pledging towards it.  Having a million units ready to ship prior to telling anybody what you’ve built will make you bankrupt just as fast.  I think you’re ready to start to scale (meaning raising $ to fund production, from investors or crowdfunding) when many people who see your prototype want to buy one.  If you’ve got a data-driven story about why you should raise money or begin production at a different point in time, try and convince your team that it makes sense. If they’re sold on the idea, then go for it.  Just be ready to defend your variance.

7.     Achievably Exceptional.  I can make a reasonable argument about why I will be the first to make something new, maybe even spinning a sound story about why people will buy this new thing.  If I’m particularly lucky, I can find others to spend time/money on this vision.  This can add up to a believable pitch about why I’m going to be the exception, the startup that doesn’t go to 0 within a year.  However, it’s absurd to imbue myself with magical powers that defy the realities of global supply chains.  Look at the hardware kickstarters you’ve backed, and add a buffer.

Manufacturing guys smarter than me say it’s at least a year from locked-down, working prototype to delivery to customers at any significant scale.  Unless you’re doing under 1,000 units, you should have a really compelling argument for why you’re better at manufacturing than the 50+ kickstarters I’ve backed and waited too long to receive. If you’re making less than 1,000 units and they are not nuclear reactors, ask yourself if it’s worth your time.

Hardware is easy, and hardware is a complicated minefield of company-killing disasters.  This has led to most of your entrepreneurial competition staying in the purely digital world.  Meanwhile, many talented engineers had their desire to make physical things scared out of them by an education insisting everything they build be as reliable as a bridge.

It’s wide-open here in hardware startup country, full of opportunities to do things worth failing at.  The Nests and Teslas of the world are just starting to skim the surface of what we can make in our connected, sensor-filled, AI-enhanced meatspace.  Set aside your keyboard, and get to work remaking the real world as dramatically as we’ve reinvented the digital one.

- Luke Iseman (ex-Edyn, W14) makes smarter gardens and tiny homes



Hardware is Easy … Except For the Hard Stuff

Alright, you’ve got your production-ready prototype built, you’ve got some investor or Kickstarter money in the bank, and after talking with a few hundred customers, you’ve got a good idea of how to make ‘em really happy.  Now you’re looking to build, test & ship 1,000, 10,000 or 100,000 pieces of your product.

This is where Fitbit and many others almost died -- for Fitbit, the 15 months of turmoil in the manufacturing & QA abyss, the lots of times they were “pretty close to being dead.”  But in the past seven years, these hardware startups have paved the way -- they’ve made it much easier for the rest of us to scale hardware.

1.     Don’t do it from scratch.  Hundreds of resources, extensive manufacturing & fulfillment infrastructure, & consultancies already exist.  Don’t jump in with the first solution you find, no matter how easy they may make it seem.  If you don’t know enough to question them & keep on top of things at every turn, they’ll often take you for a ride or get you bogged down in an endless series of delays and bottlenecks.  Before you begin, talk with as many hardware startup founders, consultancies & manufacturers as possible.  After you start, talk with as many founders, consultancies & manufacturers as possible.  Learn enough to get a sense of the many things you don’t know and need to find out.

2.     Don’t forget the certifications -- they each cost at least a couple thousand bucks, and some of them require bunches of pre-testing & carrier testing.  Make sure to get started on necessary certifications early, and skip the nice-to-haves.  Especially when cash is short & you need a shippable product yesterday, use easy-to-substitute off-the-shelf and pre-certified components wherever possible.  Extra certification costs don’t help you build a better product, and you need every dollar working to make your startup a success.

3.     Always think about bringing your capabilities in-house, if still outsourced -- EE, ME, firmware, ID, apps, frontend & backend dev.  Search for, or wait for, the right person -- put out your feelers (Angel.co, job postings, HN if you’re part of YC, friends of friends & friends of first employees), and whenever you can afford it, put candidates through trial projects and start hiring the best.

4.     Realize it’s not cheaper to hire people (unless you’re comparing with high-end design firm pricing), but things move a lot faster in-house, especially for fast prototyping & debugging.  Once you’ve been through the “our firmware designer’s in Europe, and build testing’s in Shenzhen” mess, you realize that a single email a day from each consultant can’t cut it -- it’s delaying your progress by months.  And a successful company is always prototyping & debugging -- once the first iteration’s out the door, you’ve got to start revising the next production run & prototyping future iterations.  While you’re head-down blinders-on busy preparing production runs & iterations, don’t forget to anticipate & create where the market’s headed – it can easily leave you behind, if you don’t imagine & build new awesome products when the time is right.

5.     Trial projects for candidates will help you understand your own business better too -- just like with a rubber ducky, the act of explaining your hardware or firmware to someone will help you understand it better.  Not to mention, your candidate should hopefully know a whole host of things about their field that you don’t.  Versus a consultant (especially for firmware), where you often only know that it’s done once it’s done, and learn almost nothing about how it works.

6.     Hardware costs are very spiky -- and with each revision, mistake, or market shift, those costs will rise.  This will be particularly distressing to those of us accustomed to software startups, since your burn rate may swing wildly month to month.

From talking with founders of many hardware startups, there’s no hard & fast rule on hardware vs. people costs.  You’ll spend more on hardware, if you’ve got a remarkably innovative and complex product, if your tooling goes south, if your first couple manufacturers screw you over, or if you decide to go the high-end design firm route.  You’ll spend much more on people, if you have the capital to bring your team in-house, if you share equipment for prototyping, if you need to spend several years iterating prior to launch, or if you find an efficient & responsive manufacturer right off the bat for production and QA.

7.     With every startup, the people are key. No matter how much your hardware costs, the hardware isn't more important.  An awesome team can do wonders with a run-of-the-mill concept, while an average team will tend to pull failure from even the most brilliant idea.  Your hardware’s being designed and built, app bugs are being caught and fixed, marketing copy’s being created and fine-tuned -- all by the people on your team.  No matter how complex your hardware is or how many patents you might have, a dozen other teams are probably building something similar.  Your team is what makes the difference.

Of course, don’t forget QA, distribution & fulfillment, custom packaging, the right kind of sales team for your product, and customer relationships.  Nice thing about being a part of YC – there’s a YC startup for each of these things.  If you’re a YC startup that provides services for other startups, you can rustle up dozens of interested new customers with an email.  Building a company that makes hardware creation better?  Consider applying to YC.

Finally, standard rules of building a company never expire.  If you want to become a good CEO or CTO, read awesome books & blogs, go implement & see which ideas work in your startup, read some more, learn from an executive coach, ask everyone you meet lots of questions, and listen more than you speak.  Not to get too Zen, but the mind can be either a full or empty cup, and full cups don’t do too well.  Only someone who always keeps a bit of the newbie mindset can continually adapt and build an incredible organization.

Always remember, you’re not building this organization, or even your own product – that’s up to the people you hire.  The lone inventor model almost never works.  Yes, you’re building a product, but the company is all about the people, not the hardware.  Eventually, you probably won’t even be deciding the vision -- just hiring the best people in the world to hash out the details for you.  So really focus on perfecting your hiring processes, spend the time to create & live out your culture, do your best to keep everyone on the same page, and just keep the boat moving forward.  And don’t forget -- the Pareto principle applies to everything.  So do what matters, and ignore the rest.

Our world is made of physical objects, stuff you can touch & manipulate.  Bytes are awesome, but many of the world’s biggest ideas need a tight weave of both hardware & software.  All of the largest Internet-based companies are now building hardware – this is where the next Google, Facebook or Amazon will arise.  How will your team help create our future?

  • Jeff Chang (Doblet, S14) is building a network of portable batteries for your phone

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Sam Altman
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/809339 2015-02-09T23:06:57Z 2015-02-20T01:28:32Z Fast Company's Most Innovative Companies of 2015: Stripe, E La Carte, Anyperk

Congratulations to Stripe (YC S09), E La Carte (YC S10) and Anyperk (YC W12) for being named to Fast Company's list of "Most Innovative Companies". 

Stripe - For becoming the go-to payments provider

E La Carte - For selling restaurants on an upselling machine

Anyperk - For bringing Facebook style benefits to the masses

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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/809324 2015-02-09T22:12:12Z 2015-02-10T17:01:52Z YC Backs Standard Cyborg (YC W15), A Startup Building Affordable Prosthetics

"An artificial limb can cost more than a car. And there are an estimated 2 million amputees in the United States alone.

So for Jeff Huber, an entrepreneur who had dabbled in education and advertising who happens to also an amputee, this market was close to heart.

While an undergraduate at North Carolina State University, he had long thought about how to make prosthetics at a fraction of their current costs in emerging markets. But he wound up dropping out to do an online education startup called Knowit and then working on data-driven marketing at MightyHive.

After leaving last year, he returned to tinkering on his old ideas around affordable artificial limbs. Now Huber’s work has become a startup called Standard Cyborg that’s backed by Y Combinator. He’s still the sole founder and employee." 

Read the full story on TechCrunch


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Y Combinator
tag:blog.ycombinator.com,2013:Post/809281 2015-02-09T20:43:51Z 2015-02-20T17:14:13Z $500k of Azure credit for YC startups Over the last month, we’ve announced special deals to help YC biotech and hardware companies.

But we don’t want to leave YC software companies out. 

We are happy to announce the Microsoft will be giving $500,000 of free Azure hosting credit to YC startups in our Winter 2015 batch and future batches.  This is a big deal for many startups—it’s common for hosting to be the second largest expense after salaries.  Microsoft is also giving YC startups three years of Office 365, access to Microsoft developer staff, and one year of free CloudFlare enterprise services and DataStax software.

This brings the total value of special offers extended to each YC company to well over $1,000,000.  The relentless nagging from partners to grow faster we throw in for free.

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Sam Altman