Week 4 in Y-Combinator: You’re not moving fast enough if things aren’t breaking

Posted by Alan Zhao


July 10, 2020

For a small team like ours, up against well-funded startups and entrenched incumbents, speed is our only advantage.

Hey all! I’m Alan, co-founder & VP of Engineering at Warmly.

My co-founder Val mentioned in our last post “Three Things YC has changed our minds on”, that moving too slowly can lead to startup death. Another way to think about it is that you aren’t moving fast enough if things aren’t breaking. See, if a startup had 100 days of runway to make something happen, shipping features every 10 days means it only has 10 bets to make on the market. But the truth is nobody knows the odds of success for each bet. The only thing we can control is the number of bets we take. For a small team like ours, up against well-funded startups and entrenched incumbents, speed is our only advantage.

During our most recent YC office hours, YC’s advice to us was very simple: aggressively pursue growth. As a team we’ve always tried to move fast. But this week we dialed it up a bit.

We launched Warmly across YC’s internal network and its “B2B Preview Day” and saw an 11x spike in inbound interest from customers in 2 days. It was kind of a shock to the system. On the business side we were underwater with customer calls, sales-demos, and follow-ups, in addition to managing existing users. Our engineering backend system limits were tested when multiple customers simultaneously integrated with our platform. The result?

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Some of our customers weren’t able to integrate. Cue: sinking feeling.

The product roadmap we had agreed to for the week was thrown out the window, and all hands were on deck to fix critical system issues, while delivering value to our new customers. At the same time that this was happening, we received feedback from a few existing large trial customers that we needed to tighten up the product and improve our offerings, ASAP, for them to convert.

I remember thinking back to something one of our mentors once said.

“In startups, it doesn’t get easier, it only gets faster.”

But just like personal growth, startup growth also happens in moments of discomfort. This growth doesn’t materialize in the traditional sense i.e., more customers, more employees, or more money in the bank. Instead, the discomfort forced us to identify new areas of improvement across the company — from business, to engineering, to team communication. The thought crossed my mind that the environment we all operated in suddenly shifted and that our company would need to level up to survive because the startup clock doesn’t wind back.

Warmly’s growth also necessitated personal growth. It’s at the point of breakage, when I’m scrapping and struggling against a deadline, that I can see clearly where the biggest and most important pains (and gains) are. And that’s when we can go back to the YC community, who are all going through the same thing, to commiserate and ask for advice. In this way, the team grows, the product grows, and so our company grows. YC’s advice is simple, but wise. Pursue growth.

It’s a never-ending, virtuous, innovative cycle of things breaking and fixing, all the time.

And yet, through all the insanity, we still make sure to find time to laugh, gently tease, and connect with each other through fun little team bonding activities, like Wikipedia races or Draw My Life.

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What happened in Week 3 of Y Combinator?

Check out my cofounder Val Yermakova’s post Week 3 in Y Combinator.

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

Jul 10, 2020