Since I was in sixth grade, I had this dream of working for Apple. Eventually it’d turned into “I’m going to be the next CEO of Apple,” and I wanted nothing more than to be the next Steve Jobs. Unfortunately, Tim Cook beat me to the position. I didn’t even get an interview. Despite the position being filled, I still held onto this dream of someday becoming a great innovator like Jobs, changing the world, putting a “ding” in the universe.
I began to follow other companies and trends more closely — not just Apple. I was introduced to the world of entrepreneurship. People like Jack Dorsey, Brian Chesky, Travis Kalanick, and others. They built something from nothing, and changed the world.
My senior year of high school, I started watching speech after speech, interview after interview, with an emphasis on those three entrepreneurs I looked up to. In fact, I’ve exhausted every one of them. I challenge you to find one I haven’t seen. It was like a TV series to me. I saw attributes of myself in each one of them that I admired, and hoped one day, I will have made enough of an impact, someone will look up to me.
Through all of this, I was introduced to something called Y Combinator. It’s a startup accelerator in the Bay Area that boasts a network of successful alumni and portfolio companies like Airbnb, Twitch, Reddit, Dropbox, Stripe, and many others. I’d sit in my room, trying to think of the next big thing. Tinkering with different ideas I could try and launch into something huge, but the quality of these ideas is reflective of the way I came up with them. They were small problems, they weren’t a pain point in society. They were equivalent to startups that claim to be the “Uber for X.”
In April, Alex Meza, Trevor Nguyen, and I, flew out to Atlanta to attend HackGSU, a 36-hour hackathon. We built something we called “Kite AI,” a tool that made browsing Twitter more enjoyable by tailoring your timeline to show you tweets you were comfortable with. No hate, no harassment, or no politics if you didn’t want it. We explored the idea of opening our tech up into an API so anyone could use it in our platform. We felt we could have a bigger impact if 1,000 companies were using it in their apps than if 1,000 people were using ours to browse Twitter. Alex and I were excited about the idea, and continued working on it following that weekend. It was a side project, and we treated it like one. We spent a few hours per week on it, hacked away on some ideas, but as we grew more passionate about Kite AI we said, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we did something with this?”
I spent my summer working full time on Kite AI, and we incorporated on August 8th. On August 15th, we launched to the public (we had been open about what we were working on, but it was a closed beta), and we enjoyed seeing users signing up for the platform, companies becoming interested, and the community getting behind our mission.
We had a product and we were proud of it, but we wanted to take our company to the next level. On September 25th, we applied to Y Combinator.
I took a step back and thought about where we were as a company, and myself as an entrepreneur. I was taking the same steps Brian Chesky took when he applied to YC in 2008. I knew that if we got in, we’d be going through the same program that helped shape him and Airbnb into who they are today.
On October 25th, we received an email inviting us to interview in California. I was ecstatic. Alex and I flew out in early November for a 10 minute interview. It went so well. In fact, it couldn’t have gone better. We answered all the questions, the partners seemed pleased, and we left feeling great. We worked for the rest of the day, grabbed some coffee with a VC, and told her about our experience. Alex and I joined up with a couple of friends in Palo Alto, and we waited anxiously through dinner to receive a notification. YC told us, “If you get a phone call, you’re in; email, you’re out.” Every vibration in my pocket caused my heart rate to skyrocket. Every minute without a vibration seemed to last a lifetime. On the Uber ride home, it buzzed once again:
“Unfortunately, we’ve decided not to fund Kite AI.”
It was crushing. We were among the 7% of applicants that got an interview. We were so close to getting accepted into the most prestigious startup accelerator in the world — the same program so many great companies and founders I look up to were a part of. And one email brought that chapter to a close.
A lot of founders will be writing similar posts tonight. A lot of founders will be upset, disappointed, and fearful for the future. But I’m excited, and I’ve never been more driven than this moment. Not getting into YC may be the best thing that’s ever happened us, because now we’re going to have to work even harder. We’re going to have to hustle. We’re going to have to learn everything ourselves. I’m confident however that the end result will be so much more impressive, educational, and impactful to us personally because often times the toughest journeys are the most rewarding. The best view is at the top of the mountain. I’m excited to learn the ins and outs of startups with the team, I’m excited to go through the process of meeting angels and networking with VCs, and I’m so excited to look back on this moment in a year, and see how far we’ve come.
If we can go from idea to prototype to customers to YC interview in just six months, imagine how far we can go in 12.
Despite not getting into YC, I am excited to announce I will be moving to San Francisco. This spring, I will be pursuing an amazing opportunity to attend Hult International Business School, learning from and working with leaders in entrepreneurship. Living, working, and learning, in San Francisco will be an amazing opportunity to not only grow a company, but grow myself, and be surrounded by some of the brightest minds the world has to offer.
I’m excited to move forward into the next chapter of my life, and join a community of brilliant individuals in the Bay Area. There is no better place to be in the world than San Francisco to learn about and work with startups, emerging technology, venture capital, and meet new people that share these common interests.
Thank you to all who have supported me thus far — my friends from home, the friends I’ve made at OU, the friends I’ve made in San Francisco, Matt Brandt (my longtime mentor and friend), Stefan Stokic, Mariano Avila, Marshall Miller, and most importantly, my parents, who listened as their son said “I’m moving to San Francisco and may be taking a semester off school to work on a startup,” and supported me through and through.
I look forward to sharing all the memories I make, lessons I learn, and moments I experience. If you’re in San Francisco, or ever visit, let’s hang out! I need to make friends :)