We put together a list of the top YC companies by valuation as of October 2018. You can see that list at https://ycombinator.com/topcompanies.
Here’s a Q&A with Victor Ho and Matthew Doka, Cofounders of FiveStars, one of the companies featured on the list.
What does FiveStars make/do?
Our mission is to help local businesses turn transactions with their customers into relationships.
We are doing that by building “login” for the offline world. Today, that includes a rewards program, personalized messages, targeted promotions, and soon, payments. Tomorrow, it will include ordering ahead, item-level reviews, recommendations, and much more.
Over 40 million people use Fivestars to get rewarded at 13,000 local businesses. Local businesses use Fivestars to bring more customers into their stores. In 2017, Fivestars drove $2 billion in local commerce across its network.
How many employees does FiveStars have?
250 full time.
How many founders?
What is your most impressive recent product milestone?
Consumers will soon be able to pay via Fivestars as well.
What is the larger impact / societal impact of your product in the space you work within?
Local businesses are a core part of our economy and culture, but they are being pressured into shutting down at record rates. We believe their competitive advantage is in creating unique experiences and having people on the other side of the counter that genuinely care. However, they desperately need technology to help them do that, and that’s where Fivestars comes in.
What’s an interesting element of FiveStars’s company culture?
Our company values are Shared Humility, Authentic Relationships, Warrior Spirit, and Joy Every Day.
We do things like take a day off every quarter to volunteer at local non-profits, so that we don’t forget why our company exists (hint: it’s not just because we want TechCrunch to deem us a unicorn).
Looking back, what motivated you to start FiveStars?
We were building these programs for Fortune 50 brands at McKinsey, and wanted to instead bring these tools to empower local businesses. More importantly, we thought that a business focused on social impact could be a powerful force for good, and after exploring volunteer and non-profit work decided to start a company focused beyond profit as the bottom line.
Is what you’re working on now the original idea or did you pivot?
Were there moments where you thought the company might die? Describe one of those and anything you learned from it.
There have been a few.
One such situation happened early in the company’s life when a certain serial-entrepreneur billionaire stated that if we would not allow them to invest in us or acquire a significant share of the business, they would replicate our product and crush us. We did not want to work with them because it was clear they were enamored by the opportunity, but not aligned with our mission.
They then proceeded to start a competing company for which they raised significant capital, but after a few years of intense competition we ultimately prevailed.
I’m incredibly grateful that we had the courage to stand our ground, and for the resulting privilege of being able to continue wholeheartedly pursuing our mission with a team of amazing people.
What was a particularly important insight you had about your market that made your product work?
When you log in to a website, every aspect of it becomes personalized.
You used to walk into a local business and be recognized by the owner, and then treated in an individualized way (think Cheers).
With no technology to aid them, this has now devolved into a situation where you can visit a business 50 times, and have the experience be unimproved from the first (they don’t recognize you, know your order, you’re still pulling out your credit card, etc.)
This is incredibly inefficient, and furthermore local businesses are going out of business without that competitive differentiation.
We can fix this.
What’s one piece of advice you’d share with a young founder?
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
Also, meaningful success requires you to stay steady as the startup roller-coaster attempts to take you to soaring highs and depressing lows. In order to do this well, you must disambiguate your identity and self-worth from the success of your company.