Week 9 in Y Combinator: How warmth & authenticity guides everything we do at Warmly

Posted by Alan Zhao


August 24, 2020

This week I wanted to share why warmth and authenticity matters so much to Warmly, and how it impacts everything we do—from our team culture, to our company mission, and how we interact with our users and investors.

Hello! I’m Carina, Co-founder & Head of Product at Warmly. Last month, I shared in Left Google to start a startup — What it’s like in Y Combinator that I left my beloved Google Maps family of 4 years to start a company with Alan, Max, and Val.

This week I wanted to share why warmth and authenticity matters so much to Warmly, and how it impacts everything we do—from our team culture, to our company mission, and how we interact with our users and investors.

Quick updates

Before I dive in, just wanted to catch you up on some exciting news this month!

🎉 We've raised $2.1M in seed funding as announced in the Forbes article. Our seed is led by James Currier from NFX with participation from Natty Zola of MatchstickVC, the Xoogler Angel Syndicate, Elizabeth Weil, Mike Vernal and Harry Stebbings.

Last month of  Y Combinator! Side note: Warmly decided to opt out of presenting at this year’s YC Demo Day, as we’re not looking to raise additional funds right now.

Last week, we began Sequoia’s Company Design Program. It’s headed by Jess Lee and James Buckhouse. They’ve been really inspiring and immensely helpful with our user and product story. (Check out their YouTube videos: Jess speaks about Founding Polyvore and Becoming a Sequoia Partner, and James shares key lessons on Story-Driven Design.)

😊 Our team is growing! Zack Zeyu is officially joining Warmly! Zack became friends with Alan back in HackReactor, and had been so incredible helping us out during our early startup days. He’s an amazingly talented self-taught engineer coming from finance. He’s super smart, driven, humble, humorous, and also talented in so many ways beyond engineering. We’re so grateful he’s part of the Warmly family.

👋 Interns last week & goodbyes. I’m incredibly proud of everything they’ve accomplished and how much they’ve grown personally and professionally. Amanda, Brandon, Emily, Grant, Hernán, Natalie, Sanil—you’ve influenced our hearts and our company forever, thank you so much for being a part of Warmly’s journey!

⛰ I completed a life goal I’ve had for the past 2 years!—Finished a 200-mile backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail ending at the top of Mt Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous U.S at 14,508 ft. Thank you so much Warmly team for keeping everything accelerating while I was on this journey!

Forester Pass at 13,200 ft — last pass before Mt. Whitney!

🏝 Warmly relocated to Hawaii for the next 2 months to be able to work in person! It’s nice to be able to collaborate and hang out with everyone after being apart during COVID lockdown.

How warmth & authenticity guides everything we do at Warmly

When students ask for advice on which company to join, I tell them that for me, the people (your manager, your teammates) is the number one most important thing. Even more important than the product, your projects, salary. Why? People who you surround yourself with have a huge influence on your mindset, happiness, aspirations, and growth.

Why I stayed over 4 years on Google Maps was because of the people. Why I made the hard decision to leave Google—to leave an amazing team, an incredible manager, getting to influence and shape the culture and infra for over 200 engineers—was again because of the people, my cofounders Alan, Max, and Val.

What’s so special about these people?

“When you meet them, you can't help but feel the warmth of the team...” says our angel investor and ex-COO of Gainsight Allison Pickens in her blog post Why Every CRO Should Know Warmly. That’s how I felt when I worked with Max on Google Maps Where’s Waldo April Fools. And how I felt when I met Val and Alan. We each came from very different backgrounds and have such a spectrum of personalities and skills. But what we had in common was our warmth and authenticity, how incredibly driven we each were, and how we strived to do things differently than the norm.

Warmth and authenticity is ingrained in so much of our everyday, from our culture to our company mission.

Warmth in our Culture

The first month we started the company, we crazily enough decided to all live in a house together in Boulder. At the time I knew Max well and had only worked with Val and Alan for a week. Yep, a week. We intentionally spent a lot time to get to know each other those first months. In the evenings, we’d cook together, play games like Big Talk and Askhole, and share our favorite hobbies like wushu (from Alan) and free-style rapping (from Max) during weekly team bondings. We made mental health a priority—openly sharing how we felt, including if we were feeling down or stressed. We had weekly gratitudes to appreciate each other. As we grew closer, we opened up more and more of our true selves to each other. We shared our quirks, fears, aspirations, backstories, and even parts of ourselves we don’t love. And yes, we cried more than once together. By the end of the time in Boulder with them, they felt like family. These were people who understood me, who’d support me through both the good and bad times, who want to see me win in life.

When we brought on new hires and interns, we wanted to keep this culture. For example in your first week, every person on the team would meet with you to introduce themselves and get to know you. And our earliest traditions have stuck: weekly mental health check-ins, gratitudes, team bondings. What’s also really cool are our weekly team learnings, where we each share what we each learned. I love our focus on constant personal growth. Even if you’re not a founder, you get to hear about fundraising and product direction. You get to hear about engineering learnings, sales learnings, user research learnings.

And it’s been felt. In our intern exit interviews, we had overwhelmingly positive feedback about our team culture. Interns loved that everyone at Warmly felt so warm, they felt comfortable reaching out to any person or any founder, and they got to work on really impactful projects that they would have never imagined doing as an intern.

Warmth towards our Users

We try to bring this same warmth and love to our users. Instead of making them email support, we gave them a direct line to our CEO’s cellphone, and we created a shared Slack channel with our users so they can directly message the founders. On our weekly warm leads email, we add jokes to make them laugh and updates on Warmly so they can be a part of our startup journey. We also open meetings with a fun virtual ice-breaker to try to get to know each other more.

Warmth with our Mentors

Just as we surround ourselves with amazing people within the company, the people we have chosen as investors were not those who just gave us the highest valuation. We chose people we truly believed were good-hearted, smart people, who we want to form lifelong friendships with. To all our mentors and investors—we are incredibly grateful to you for sharing your experience and wisdom with us, helping guide us through difficult decisions, always rooting for our success, and believing in us as individuals.

Sharing Warmth with our Community

We’ve received so much care and help from our mentors and peer founders to get us to this point. We want to make sure to give back to our community. We block out time each week to help out other founders in Techstars, Y Combinator, and Sequoia. We also built the PushPull community platform to facilitate people helping each other, and we try to personally push people’s pulls each week.

Spreading Warmth with our Company Mission

Lastly, our mission. At the highest level, Warmly aims to spread a cycle of warmth to the world. We want to create a world where normal people can innovate and create products to solve real-world pains. And where the users can have a warm close relationship with the founders/company to help make the product even better, and be the champion to help spread the product so others can have their lives transformed as well.

Our first product makes a step towards this by enabling customer champions to partner with the sales team of a B2B product they love to get it adopted at their new company.

We hope the founders of these companies adopt practices to create a warm authentic culture for their employees, and we hope they spread the warmth back to their community as well. :)

What happened in Week 8 of Y Combinator?

Check out my cofounder Max Greenwald’s post Week 8 in Y-Combinator: Why 376 people help Warmly regularly - The Power of a Weekly Mailing List.

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

Aug 24, 2020