Week 2 in Y-Combinator: Left Google to start a startup — What it’s like in Y Combinator

Posted by Alan Zhao


June 26, 2020

Besides the 4 cofounders (Max, Val, Alan, and myself0, we have Zack crushing it on Eng and Amanda innovating on Growth. And we're lucky to have 6 incredible interns join us for the summer: Brandon, Carol, Grant, Natalie, Sanil, and Shahpar.

Hello! I’m Carina, Cofounder & Head of Product at Warmly. A few months ago, I left my beloved Google Maps family of 4 years to start a company with three amazing humans, Max, Alan, and Val. Since then, we’ve launched our first product PushPull, pivoted off that product (now available as a free platform 😊), launched our new product Warmly and got our first customers.

Two weeks ago we joined Y Combinator Summer 2020 batch (first remote batch because of COVID-19). For those who haven’t heard, Y Combinator (YC for short) is a 3-month startup accelerator program, which many companies in the Silicon Valley have gone through in their early days, e.g. Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, Coinbase, Instacart, Doordash, Segment, Docker. YC provides you with mentors and a network of alumni and other founders to accelerate your learning, growth, and traction — and hopefully prevent you from making similar mistakes as other first-time founders might.

What happened in Week 2 of Y Combinator?

YC is actually a lot less structured than you might expect. Generally, there’s 1.5 hour of sessions every Tuesday and Thursday. This week they covered finding product market fit and our YC partners/mentors Eric Migicovsky (ex-Founder of Pebble smartwatch) and Gustaf Alströmer (ex-Product Lead at Airbnb) shared their founder stories. They have pretty wild stories — we can’t share the actual talk, but here’s snippets public on YouTube we can share: Eric (YC 2011) talks about his Pebble Smartwatch Founder Story, and Gustaf (YC 2007) doesn’t have his founder story public, but he has an awesome How to Get Users & Grow talk, pulling from real examples from his Airbnb experience!

We also went through something they call Prototype Day, where each startup gets a few minutes to mock-pitch, in preparation for pitching to investors on Demo Day in August.

3 key points you want to get across in minutes:

  1. What do you do? In 1 line! Just enough for the listener to be able to picture what it is your product does and be hooked into wanting to know more.
  2. Why do users care? Show why the market size is huge. Show you have user traction.
  3. Why is your team the one to do this? Why is your team amazing? Do you have founder-market fit and the right skillset?

You want people to remember you and what you do. Note that there’s 200+ startups in each YC batch. Investors will be listening to these back to back!

For example, our ‘What do you do’ 1-liner is:

Warmly gives you weekly warm intros to warm leads for any B2B Company. When you sync your CRM with our software we monitor the job changes of all your users and let you know which companies they’ve gone to next so you can sell into new companies through people who already love your product.

We also started with a funky team bio to help us be memorable. 😛

“Hi I’m Max and my co-founders are awesome. In their free time Carina is a chicken farmer 🐓, Val is a circus aerialist ️🤸‍ ️& Alan is a wushu master 🥋. I’m just the guy who convinced them to leave Google with me to start Warmly.

Besides these sessions, there’s 2 office hours to discuss whatever you need help with. One with your group-mates (about 5 startups per group). One with just your team and a YC partner.

The rest of the week, it’s up to you to make the most out of it! Our team has been rapidly focusing on growth: getting more users, talking to users, improving new user experience, scaling the backend to support all the incoming new users, and hashing out clearer metrics to measure growth.

A realization: CEOs & founders are human too 💡

As I heard founder stories from Airbnb founders (YC 2009), from the Pebble founder, and other YC 2020 batchmates, I realized that all of them were in our shoes when they first started.

I remember when I was in college at UC Berkeley doing Computer Science. Getting a Software Engineering job at Google seemed like a far-off dream job. I remember I didn’t even apply to Google because I legitimately didn’t think I’d get in.

When I was at Google, every time I bumped into a VP or Exec, I definitely felt like they were levels above me — I wouldn’t even know what to say to them. And I remember reading news about the CEO of Facebook, the CEO of Uber, and seeing them as superhuman.

It wasn’t until we started fundraising that it really hit me. As part of reference checking our investors & VC firms, we chatted with some of the founders who those investors were funding. We met some famous CEOs. And they were just incredibly nice, humble, human beings. They also had struggles. They also had to go through rounds of failures and learnings. Same with the now-famous founders who came to YC to tell us their founder story and give us advice. The key things that made the difference was they made the leap to start a startup, and they constantly learned from others to get better, and they didn’t give up but instead pushed through all the challenges they faced.

You can do it too. :)

Bonus realization: I realized that all cofounders and first employees do a TON to get a startup to where it is today. Usually only the CEO is known (think Mark Zuckerberg, Travis Kalanick, Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs). But going through a startup now and talking to other founders, I have mad respect for all cofounders. And I’m super grateful to have an amazingly quirky, smart, caring, driven hustlers whom I call cofounders.

A few asks: Product Feedback, Intros, and Sales Advice 🙏

Feedback on Warmly: If you have experience working in B2B in the Sales, Customer Success, or Marketing realm, we’d love to show you our product and get feedback on whether it’s intuitive and get ideas on how we can improve it!

Intros to potential users: If you know anyone in a company who might want to use our product, let us know! Even if they can’t currently buy our product, just giving us feedback on our product idea or trialing our product is extremely helpful! Ideally if you know a Chief Revenue Officer (or someone in Sales or Customer Success), that would be great — these are our ideal users. But intros to a good friend in any role who works at a B2B/Enterprise company works! (We can reach out to them to see if they can intro us to someone in Sales or Customer Success. 😊)

Advice on sales: None of the 4 cofounders have sales backgrounds, although we’re pretty good at being sponges and learning from smart people and putting things to practice. We could use advice on how to source leads, prioritize and nurture them, close deals, etc. Thanks so much to Eric Davis, Scott Leese, and our talented Techstars and YC mentors who’ve helped us a ton so far!

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Team Warmly! We have some amazing people on the team! :) Besides the 4 cofounders (Max, Val, Alan, and myself0, we have Zack crushing it on Eng and Amanda innovating on Growth. And we're lucky to have 6 incredible interns join us for the summer: Brandon, Carol, Grant, Natalie, Sanil, and Shahpar. And special shoutout to Manish and Jack who helped us idea in the early days!

What happened in Week 1 of Y Combinator?

Check out my cofounder Max Greenwald’s post Week 1 in Y Combinator.

Want to get in touch or send thoughts about the post? Would love to hear them at carina@warmly.ai

Jun 26, 2020