Why we are #500 Proud

2 years ago, I interviewed with 500 Startups as a single founder. I wasn’t accepted at the time, I was running an on-demand delivery startup right when there were so many popping up. I was disappointed, but I learned a lot from my first experience and I also discovered the problem I’m now dedicating all my time to solving.

My first time interviewing with 500 startups in 2015

Fast forward two years, MailHaven had completed the Highway1 Hardware accelerator. During the accelerator, we focused on building our two products: the MailHaven iOS app and the Haven (Our flagship hardware). I felt our iOS app had reached the point where we could introduce it to the world and acquire users. I knew the time had come to get our name out there. In anticipation of our launch, we wanted to get users excited about the Haven hardware and build a community around it. Our head of Engineering, Ed Hatfield, had just joined the team full-time after working with us part-time for 10 months. We had more experience, products that were ready for additional users and a better understanding of the product we’re building. We decided it was time to accelerate growth, so I applied to 500 Startups

MailHaven had applied once before and we were not accepted. So, waiting on a decision was a bit nerve wracking, but we were ready for any result. We had the resolve to keep building regardless of what we heard back from them. Fortunately, we had a screening call with 500 Startups and were invited to have an in-person interview in San Francisco. We had less than two weeks notice to book our travel, but as luck would have it, we had already booked tickets to San Francisco. We were headed there to ship our prototypes back to Louisville and to pitch at the second episode of The Syndicate, another program by jason of This Week in Startups. You can watch the episode here.

Mailhaven V.4 prototypes ready to be shipped back to Louisville.

We arrived in San Francisco to interview couple days after our screening call. Ed and I felt pretty good after the interview. Then, the second waiting game began. A week or two later, we got the email: We got it. We had just closed additional angel funding, so the timing was right. We were able to take care of our travel and accommodations immediately.

Head of Engineering, Ed Hatfield with Founder Kela Ivonye

Elephant in the Room

In the past 500 Startups has always been in the news for their bold and laudable track record of investing in diverse founders, breaking the “I’ll only invest if you are in San Francisco” stereotype of seed investing. However, lately they have been in the news over the actions of their, now, resigned co-founder. His actions are not excusable and his victims deserve much better. I believe we all have to stand strong with people who have the courage to come out about issues like this. I also believe we should create an environment where less privileged individuals who have been victims can step forward and feel safe regardless of race or gender.

This made us deliberate on whether or not we should accept this huge opportunity. MailHaven does not condone harassment and we have a diverse team of two full-time and six part-time employees/contractors, with three being women and two, including myself, being people of color. At the end of the day, our conclusion was that no other seed investor or accelerator in the world invests and supports more diverse founders than 500 Startups. No other seed investors or accelerators have helped hundreds of founders who look like me. The alumni founders of 500 Startups have been highly accessible to me and have given me valuable advice in the past. I strongly believe the actions of a single individual should not tarnish the good work and image of 500 Startups or its diverse founders, founders who have been overlooked by others because they don’t match a certain profile.

Our decision was to say YES! to this opportunity and carry our tradition of equality and a safe working space to San Francisco, as well as learn from the awesome and diverse mentors in the 500 Startups family.

Our goal is not only to grow our customers and improve our product, but to instill a culture of diversity from the start, something clearly evident in the values of 500 Startups. We are happy to announce that we are #500Strong and proud. Our journey to build infrastructure for the future of delivery is accelerating and we are thrilled to welcome 500 Startups to our family of wonderful partners and investors.

BATCH 22

Our first mixer event with fellow batch mates