Week 8 in Y-Combinator: Why 376 people help Warmly regularly - The Power of a Weekly Mailing List

Posted by Alan Zhao


August 7, 2020

This week in Y-Combinator we were reminded of the power of our weekly mailing list because of the network of support it creates for our startup.

In this post I’ll explain:

1. What the Weekly Update is & what it entails
2. Who is on our Weekly Mailing List and how we grow it
3. How it was exceptionally useful for us this past week
4. Three example updates (#6, #13, #18)

What is a Weekly Update & what does it entail?

A weekly update is an opportunity for our company to share our progress on the business and what we need help with.

Why do a Weekly Update?

A few reasons:

  • It holds ourselves accountable for reporting (super critical!)
  • Unlocks an informal network of people who can help us on our journey. It also keeps folks passively engaged with our company so if we need to reach out for whatever reason, they have context on who we are and what we do
  • It’s a time to reflect and realize what we’re learning (also so fun to look at the evolution of our journey!)
  • It’s a resource for new hires/interns to get ramped up on the company and for current employees/interns to keep in the loop about the company as whole

When did we start the Weekly Update?

Too late! We started on Jan 22nd, 2020 but I wish we had started earlier. The moment we talked to anyone about the idea we should have been adding them to a mailing list. I didn’t want to start it earlier because I was embarrassed about the progress of the company - we didn’t know what we were going to build, we didn’t have it all figured out, the “numbers” weren’t up and to the right as fast I wanted... so I waited. If you’re thinking about starting a Weekly Update - do not be embarrassed! You will pivot, your numbers will be bad sometimes. But that is OK. Your supporters on your update are just excited to be along for the ride.

All the credit goes to Techstars who required us to start sending our updates. If it wasn’t for them making us do this we never would have! We’re so grateful they helped instill this behavior in us. Here’s our first one ever:

Moving from weekly -> biweekly: Now that our company is a bit further along we recently switched from weekly to biweekly. But the weekly format was fantastic for the first ~6 months.

So what goes into a mailing list? Ours contains at least:

  1. Catchy subject line (always include emojis!)
  2. Reminder on what Warmly does (people get a lot of emails and need reminders!)
  3. Asks (we make these super actionable and easy to do)
  4. TL;DR
  5. KPIs (3 maximum, add a graph of the primary one)
  6. Accomplishments/Wins
  7. Failures/Learnings
  8. Gratitudes (never forget to be thankful to those who help you! Many of them will be on the weekly mailing list)

But sometimes we add in other sections depending on what is important. For example right now we include a section to link to our weekly YC blogposts!

Who is on our Weekly Mailing List and how we grow it

Our list has many constituents:

  • Investors
  • Prospective investors
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Customers
  • Advisors / Mentors
  • People who were generous with their time to us
  • Fellow founders

Each of these flavors of humans add helpful spice to our company. Some respond often, some extremely rarely. And some unsubscribe, but that’s okay too :)

One question we get a lot is “aren’t you worried about being so transparent to so many people about the inner workings of your company?” And the answer is yes, at first we were worried. But then we realized that for an early stage company to succeed we had to be vulnerable about our problems and our accomplishments and our learnings so that we could get all the help we could get! We still need so much help and the mailing list is essential towards getting that help.

We grow our mailing list by just asking. All the time. If we think the person could help us on our journey or has offered to help us in the future we add them to the mailing list. Low cost way of allowing them to help us if they want.

What does YC recommend? We actually disagree with the YC recommendation. They say that you should email just your investors / closest mentors with an update. We have seen that it’s surprising who actually is helpful and so by expanding the list dramatically we have a larger base of knowledge to draw on.


How it was exceptionally useful for us this past week

Here was the beginning of this week’s update:

As always we keep the Asks near the top. We’re eager to get customer development interviews for a new product direction and need to start finding mid market design partners ASAP as we move upmarket. These two top priorities are mission critical and with so much going on in Y-Combinator we were struggling to find the bandwidth to make time for these. Within 24 hours we had 10 responses offering to help:

Supporters of Warmly!

Think about how much more difficult it would be to wait until we had an ask and then have to go out and find people one at a time willing to stop those asks. Instead we have 376 people able to jump in if they can help!

Three example updates (#6, #11, #17)

Example #1: Update 6:

Subject:  [Update #6]  🏦🤜🤛 Warmly: a focus on enterprise customer communities

Hey {{First | fallback: Warmly Friend}},

🤔What do we do again? For B2B SAAS customer success managers who want to reduce churn, Warmly’s customer community platform builds engagement and retention through peer-to-peer customer interaction.

💡Our first ask: Could you please introduce max@warmlycomma.com to 1 customer success VP or manager in your network for a 20 min customer interview to understand how they think about their customer community?

>Want easy-mode? Just email me a 👍 and we’ll find someone for you in your LinkedIn network to intro to us with a fwd’able blurb.

>Have someone in mind? Here’s a fwd’able blurb if helpful.

TL;DR: Did customer research with 23 customer success managers, customer support & sales managers and starting gaining conviction on our top clear enterprise pain point (from 5) that we plan to investigate further. Halted feature development to focus on building conviction.

🎉 Accomplishments/Wins:

> Interviewed 23 people: customer success managers, customer support & sales managers enterprise pain points building the most conviction on customer success networks

> Wrote 5 Lean Canvas business plans* for our top enterprise pain points. These were backed by confirmed customer data and held to strong decision making by killing off the 3 least viable & personally unexciting businesses.

> We killed PushPull for consumer communities. Killing what is kind-of working is sometimes incredibly hard but the right thing to do. At Warmly we celebrate quick decision-making and moving on.

> Became master of guerilla tactics. Manisha & Carina went undercover in person at Ben & Jerry’s, Lush, Northface, Trader Joe’s & Coles to talk to managers about their employee community-building efforts. Alan and I went undercover at the Boulder Customer Success Meetup and landed 7 new user research interviews and validated many of the pain points we had heard:


> Top Pain Point: After our 23 more nuanced discovery calls, we think we can build a business around: customer success communities (communities that pay!). Second place was: smart enterprise directories. Next week the goal is to build conviction on this.

> People don’t love the tool, they love the topic: Why would a Hubspot customer want to participate in a community of other buyers? Because they love discussing the latest tips & tricks in marketing, not Hubspot. We really like Alex Iskold’s thesis on this.

> Some pain, software doesn’t need to solve: we learned that community is super important for frontline service workers at large franchise companies (one of our top discovered pain points). But only community within their franchise, not across all of the corporate workforce. They don’t need a new app for this - they mostly love their face-to-face time and WhatsApp group chats. Learning is to make sure that software is actually need for what you’re solving!

🙏Gratitudes & Awesome Pushes Pulled:

> Thank you to all the 23 amazing humans who graciously offered to give us their time to talk about the interesting world of customer success and keeping customers happy.

> Thank you to fellow Techstars batch company Charmed who hosted our team for beer pong this week 🍻

> Ani (PushPull) for pushing Frank’s (PushPull) pull for intros to young people interested in the intersection of tech and policy

> Robert (PushPull) for pushing Alisa’s (PushPull) pull to for healthy recipes

📊KPIs: Irrelevant for now while we’re all hands on deck evaluating customer communities

On Killing PushPull for consumer communities: “Entrepreneurial judgment is the ability to tell the difference between a situation that’s not working but persistence and iteration will ultimately prove it out versus a situation that’s not working and additional effort is a destructive waste of time and radical change is necessary.” - Marc Andreessen … It's so hard to know for sure, but I believe in our enterprise pivot over persisting and iterating on the consumer product. Onwards and upwards.



Ways I'd love to help you: My PushPull

*Want to see an insider scoop on our process? We rated each potential business across a variety of factors including: pain point severity, 10 year vision, TAM, top tailwinds in our favor and of course, personal interest. Looked like this:

Example 2: Update 11:

Subject Line:  [Update #11] 💺📣 Warmly: onboarding first customers, investor suggestions and some COVID19 memes

Hey {{First | fallback: Warmly Friend}},

What do we do again? Warmly turns your best customers into your best salespeople. Our tools for customer success teams automatically generate incremental sales by leveraging the power of your customers and their networks. Our first tool TrackAdvocates tracks the job changes of your customers to generate great warm leads and reduce churn.

💡An ask: Do you know 1 awesome B2B SAAS investor you’d vouch for that would add value to Team Warmly? We’re in the early stages of collecting names of great humans to invest in our first round. Preference for folks who love GTM strategy or sales/marketing. Please reply back with their name and we may ask you for an intro!

TL;DR: Closed 3 more sales, made sales collateral, onboarded first customers, iterated on drafts of our demo day pitch script and tested our limits by overloading ourselves with too many sales calls, new trial customers and product building.


> Customers: 16 (6 paying (+3 this week) and 10 trials (+4 this week)). Average MRPU (Monthly Revenue per User): $116

> Customer interviews: 21

🎉 Accomplishments/Wins:

> Amazing quote from a prospective customer: “I do a lot of these demo calls, mostly because I feel bad for people. But I’ve never seen something until today that actually shows value that would augment our existing workflow and get us new deals and reduce churn. This is awesome and I know I can make a case for us to buy it”

> Onboarded first customers: Got customer data from first customers and sent them back an enriched version of their customer data plus all tracked job changes. This was the first time we delivered actual customer value and it felt great

> Launched our sales deck & demo sandbox:  As we refine our sales process we’ve created a sales deck, sales demo video (check it out!) and ability to run a demo of the product where we (on a sales call) change our job on LinkedIn and we’ll detect the change!

Sales Paradise (left) and Scraper’s Dungeon (right) is where our team spends most of their time. Me with my makeshift standing desk and attempt at a “fun” background, and Alan & Carina staying up late, coding in their twin beds.


>: Being an honest salesperson: As a company we decided that if we don’t think our product is a good fit on a sales call that we wouldn’t push the person we’re selling to believing it to be true and buying something we don’t believe will drive them value. Instead we want to put good karma out there by being explicit about the lack of fit on the call and spending the remaining time figuring out how to help the other person the most with their goals.

> Legal Stuff #2 NDA, DPA, DPIA: More interesting legal stuff as we learn more about data processing under GPDR and how customers are concerned about how their data is kept, stored and processed. We needed to create a standard Warmly NDA, understand what is needed for a DPA (data processing agreement) and make an internal DPIA (data privacy impact assessment)

> Ramble less: Did some mock investor meetings and got the feedback that I ramble too much. The goal is to focus on impact per unit word - to make the point and shut up.


> Thank you to the 21 incredible customer interviewees who took time out of their day (mainly Techstars companies!) to help tell us about their day-to-day and hear our pitch. And thank you to our customers trusting us to deliver them value!

> Thank you to the pizza guy who wasn’t afraid to drop off some delicious XL pizzas to us in Boulder. So tasty to get some food we didn’t make ourselves

> Thank you to Kelly Dwyer who gave excellent advice on how to make a fun, inviting video meeting background

> Thank you to a new investor & advisor who committed to join our pre-seed round - we’re so excited to have you on board :)

Overloaded, overstressed & the end of Techstars: This week I felt very overwhelmed and suffered from an extreme lack of sleep trying to balance sales calls, Techstars Demo Day pitch practice, and investor deck & pipeline creation. It was too much. I looked at the rest of my team and saw something very similar - too much work too fast too many new customers too many sales calls. A startup is a marathon not a sprint but because we pivoted during Techstars to get to where we are, we feel that we have to sprint to have a top notch demo day. On top of all of this we only have 3 (!) weeks left in the Techstars program. The time has FLOWN by and we’ve learned SO much. With everything going on, with being remote, it’s been hard for me the last few weeks though to cherish and really love all that the program has to offer and that makes me sad. I hope for a more balanced week next week.

If you’ve made it this far…. A few of our favorite coronavirus memes & videos:

Hilarious YouTube parody “Hello from the inside - Adele

Example #3: Update 17:

Subject Line:  [Update #17] Warmly Bi-weekly: Y-Combinator S20, new KPIs, Hello World blogpost

Hey {{First Name | fallback: Warmly Friend}},

What do we do again? Warmly builds products that leverage your existing customers to find new ones. Our TrackAdvocates product tracks the job changes of your customer contacts like decision makers or customer advocates by easily syncing with your CRM. This lets you know when they change jobs so you can resell them on the software they already love.

TL;DR: We are doing Y-Combinator this summer (yes, we love accelerators), we’re improving our key KPIs to focus on what moves the needle for the business, and are gearing up to take on interns (priority for those affected by COVID).

📊 *new* KPIs:

Time to switch to big kid metrics. No more cumulative customer counts. No more trialing customers. Aiming for 10% w/w growth through the summer.

> Primary we will report: MRR (as measured by customers with invoice completed)

> Secondary we will report: B2B decision makers identified (as measured by potential software buyers with whom we have a persistent identifier, eg. we can add them to our growing customer network

> Tertiary we will report: WAU (as measured by users who logged in to their Warmly dashboard)

🎉 Accomplishments/Wins:

> Accepted to Y-Combinator: Our team was accepted to Y-Combinator (

> We can pay ourselves/team now: Apparently real companies offer salary. The co-founders and I have never taken a salary before and now that we’re starting to think about making our first hires it’s time to get our backend in order. We went with Gusto!

> Warmly Intern Szn: with the summer approaching and so much to get done, the team has decided to take on some interns to help across the board with software engineering, growth, sales ops and data science. We’re aiming to hire those affected by COVID. We’ll be introducing them to everyone throughout the summer!

> Launched our first blogpost: Dear World, Hello… Warmly, Us! … as we begin to explore the world of content marketing to drive inbound, I’m excited to share the beginning of Warmly via our first blogpost!

Virtual game time! The team and team +1s play a game of Skribbl.io, a drawing guessing game. Val was usually the highest scorer and I won the least improved award for sucking at drawing.


> Teaser customers: a few times now, a prospect has either (a) agreed to be a customer verbally or (b) promised to “start next month” but then abruptly goes silent. These teaser customers are frustrating because they get really excited about what we’re doing, we seem to make a connection with them, and they may even email us saying “what are the steps to get started” but then ghost! This baffles me (but apparently is normal) and I struggle to understand what the delta was. Perhaps their quarterly priorities changed? Perhaps we weren’t talking to the right stakeholders? Perhaps they were being nice?

> The difficulty of the sales to CSM handoff: Once a sales person (typically me or Val) complete a sale, they need to hand that relationship over to the customer success manager (typically Val or Alan) who can help onboard and get that customer set up. The salesperson needs to take meticulous notes and make sure the CSM understands the context for that customer, otherwise the hand off can be messy


> Thank you to Natty Zola our Techstars Boulder managing director for being super attentive and available as we navigate our first ever fundraise. His duties ended a few weeks ago but yet he continues to be our rock each and every day

> Thank you to David Brown our counsel for helping us understand the technical nuances of the term sheet and what the common gotcha’s are for legal language

> Thank you to our YC interviewers who took a chance on us to let us into the Bay Area’s best accelerator program. We hope to show you all that our team can accomplish

> Thank you to my cofounders Val, Carina & Alan for holding down the fort this past week to allow me a few days vacation (road trip through Yellowstone!) to celebrate the end of this fundraise. It allowed me to recharge my batteries before we head into YC!



Ways we can help each other

Team Warmly! We have some amazing people on the team! 😊 Besides the 4 cofounders (me, Max, Alan, and Carina), we have Zack crushing it on Eng, Amanda innovating on Growth, and Emily scaling our QA team. And we’re lucky to have 7 incredible interns join us for the summer:  Carol, Sanil, Grant, Natalie, Brandon, Shahpar, and Sushanth.

What happened in Week 7 of Y Combinator?

Check out my cofounder Alan Zhao’s post Week 7 in Y Combinator.

. . .

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

Aug 07, 2020