From Homeless to YC Interview in less than a year
I was hesitant to write this story as it’s very personal but I felt it may help others that are going though the struggle of the entrepreneurial journey.
We were just recently invited to interview at YC with ScienceVest but it was an interesting journey getting there. To some, entrepreneurial success comes easy, but talk to most entrepreneurs and they will tell stories of hardship and tribulation.
My particular story is rather interesting, at least I think so. A little over a year ago I quit a job in sales as a technical recruiter to pursue software development full-time. I had built basic websites in college for fun and had been self-teaching more advanced concepts for some time. I also had done some freelance work in the previous months and felt I was ready to give it a real shot. My long-term goal was always to be able to build out my own ideas with my new skills but I knew it would be wise to get some professional experience before going solo in the tech startup world.
So there I was, quit my job with ~3 months of runway. Naively thinking in my mind that I would easily get a job in that time-frame as a first time developer without a CS degree. In retrospect, I likely would have achieved my goal if it weren’t for a series of unfortunate circumstances that happened soon thereafter.
About 2 weeks into my hard-core studying and applying to software jobs I injured my arms. At the time I thought it was carpel-tunnel due to the symptoms but it may have been a weightlifting injury, it’s hard to tell in retrospect. Regardless, it left me severely incapacitated. I was unable to grasp any item weighing more than a few pounds and typing on a keyboard made my arms swell and cramp up. It was extremely painful and I had to stop basically all of my computer related tasks. It was basically a full three months before I was able to use a keyboard pain free. I had squeezed my budget as much as I could but I knew that my remaining budget would not give me enough time to make it through an application cycle. So I did the only thing I thought I could do. I bummed from house to house in the Bay Area crashing with friends, my girlfriend at the time(until her roommates grew tired of my presence) and basically whatever I could find.
After a few weeks of this I got an offer to join SAP in Palo Alto, which was a godsend as I had no money in the bank by that time. My health was definitely suffering from eating significantly less and the stress I put myself under. Regardless, I took the SAP gig, my first day would be June 15th, YAY me right?!
Well, my next order of business was to figure out how I was going to live in Palo Alto with no money until I could save up from my first paychecks to get my own place. The commute from the East Bay(where I would be crashing at) to Palo Alto was just too long and by that point I was really feeling the pressure to stop free riding and crashing by those hosting me.
So I ended up doing the only thing I could think of at the time, I slept on couches around the SAP campus for a couple weeks. I did this until I had the money to pay some friends back for some money they had lent me the couple of weeks previous and then I got myself a bed at a hacker house nearby. Thankfully most people leave really early and the campus is huge(15–20 minute walk across). I would stay working at my desk through the afternoon and then proceed to walk across campus once it got really late. By that time, the campus was basically deserted. I would take a quick shower at the gym and then would push a few rolling couches together somewhere the cameras in the building could not see me and sleep for a few hours. Sometimes the cleaning ladies that make the rounds late at night would spot me. They looked confused at times, but usually would just shrug it off and continue their labor. Once dawn hit I would walk across campus back to my desk. My teammates were probably amazed at my work ethic. In their minds I was always the first one there and the last one to leave. Little did they know… Perhaps some suspected it, I had a large sports bag underneath my desk with my belongings (they never asked what it was though so I doubt it).
Eventually I managed to stop this routine and got myself a bed at a hacker house. It took me a while to save up to be able to get my own room since most places in the Bay Area ask for tons of employment requirements and a deposit + first month + last month rent upfront. Regardless by the time I got to the hacker house the worst was behind me and I was able to start eating well again. The hardest part for me was not actually my living arrangements(I am very low maintenance) but instead it was my health as I didn’t feel particularly healthy during that time as well as the feeling of deceit, having to conceal my situation to those around me for the stigma it would carry.
This all happened mostly through mid/late June of last year. Fast-forward 10 months and I am preparing to interview at YC tomorrow.
I ended up leaving my job in the new year. My family and friends all thought I was crazy, why would I leave a good paying software job that I worked so hard to get? But I felt the timing was right, once again I had a couple of months of runway saved up and I really just wanted to work on ScienceVest. To some extent I almost felt a moral duty to do so. I just couldn’t believe more people weren’t trying to solve the problem of translational science funding — in my mind it’s clearly the biggest and most impactful problem anyone could be working on. Similarly, I felt that due to the nature of the business I had to leave my job to be able to get it off the ground. I had built an early MVP and was close to launching. It seemed that launching while only working on it nights and weekends would simply not cut-it. So I proceeded to leave SAP and we launched in late January.
It’s now April, we have learned tons through launching, talking to users and building what traction we have. We applied to YCombinator without really expecting a reply. After a few inquiring messages from Sam on our application, they decided to invite us for an interview. You can imagine how excited our team was. Wish us luck!
While an interview isn’t really indicative of much, it does put us just a step away from something many in the startup world consider a huge milestone — getting accepted to YC. More importantly we have a growing user base and have had 25K in investor(our main customers) transactions go through our platform in just the few weeks since launching. However it’s clear we are still early and have lots of work ahead of us.
I hope this catches another entrepreneur in a dire situation just like the one I found myself 10 months ago. Sometimes knowing that others have gone through difficult times and have managed to come out stronger on the other side gives others strength. To you I tell you, keep grinding, in just a few months everything can change! And remember to enjoy the process no matter how difficult, I always try to remind myself that “there is beauty in the struggle”. One day we will look back at these adventures and other similar ones and laugh at them knowing that at the very least we took big risks and always went for it. Whatever “it” may be for you.