Around a year ago, my co-founder Chase White and I were in one of the toughest places we’ve been since launching Localeur.
We’d struggled through nearly 2 whole years of constant fundraising here in Austin, often times getting by with less than a few weeks of runway and we’d tapped out all of our funds. We couldn’t pay ourselves, and the holidays are quite the time for that to be the case. It was damn near depressing.
I can show you an eviction notice from my apartment complex and a few maxed out credit cards to prove it not to mention nearly having my car repossessed last November and a series of text messages where I’d informed Chase that he may want to follow me to Buffalo Exchange to sell off some old clothes for cash.
Even worse than the financial position, we hadn’t yet found a sustainable path to user growth, and lacked the funds to hire a single full-time engineer.
I started meeting with investors in New York and LA and San Francisco about potentially moving our business to one of the more active cities for consumer startups, and we threw a Hail Mary to get into YCombinator.
Even though we applied late, we intrigued them enough to get a meeting in Silicon Valley and Chase and I ended up meeting with 6 of their partners there.
At the time, I’d borrowed something like $3,500 from my friend and then-head of enterprise sales for Bazaarvoice, Matt Curtin, and former Bazaarvoice COO Heather Brunner just so we could afford to make it through the end of 2014, and we used some of those funds to fly up to San Jose.
Chase and I drove to YCombinator’s office and sat patiently, nervously, believing this was our chance to finally get over the hump. There were dozens of other startup founders there equally anxious though some of the founders had the kind of tech swagger that comes from having an engineering degree or MBA from Stanford, and others — especially the women and minorities I could see — seemed a bit more nervous.
Chase and I were called into an interview room where three YCombinator partners awaited. It was Kirsty Nathoo, Paul Buchheit and I believe Trevor Blackwell. They peppered us with questions about why we started Localeur, what the goal was, how we’d planned to grow, what challenges we’d had, and nothing at all about monetization which was great since the first order of business was to find user growth. I thought we answered the questions very well. We exited the room and were told we’d hear if we needed to leave or stay in about 15 minutes. I went through so many Quora forums trying to learn more about YC’s process, anything to try and feel more comfortable.
I remember meeting Sara Rodell from Loop and Tie there and enjoying seeing another Austin founder in the room, and us sharing a little nervous commentary, and then running into Tony Gauda, which calmed me a bit since he’s one of the few Black tech founders who has secured venture capital.
Suddenly, we were told some other YC partners wanted to meet us. This was a good sign, we thought. Or maybe it was not. We went back and forth over the additional 15 minutes of waiting before they called us back into another interview room.
I remember walking in and immediately feeling at ease. It was Michael Seibel, the one Black partner at YC, Kat Manalac, possibly the youngest member of YCombinator’s team, and Garry Tan, who’d sold a company of his to Twitter and been an early employee at Palantir. Here were Millennials, here were minorities, here were people who understood consumers and big ideas. I was excited. We jumped all over their interview questions, answering confidently and concisely. I felt like this was our moment.
On the ride back to our airport hotel, Chase and I theorized about why they called us into the second interview which was not too customary based on what we’d seen, and we agreed it was because the first group of partners didn’t fully grasp what we were doing, but they thought the younger, consumer-oriented partners could maybe see something they didn’t. The line I kept replaying in my head was Michael Seibel saying, “so basically you’re a Yelp killer”…”so basically you’re a Yelp killer”…imagine that.
A couple hours later, we were emailed and told we’d not been accepted.
That’s the deathbed for a lot of founders and ideas, but we pushed on.
Our app was named one of the best new apps for 2015 by Forbes last December kicking off what has been a phenomenal uptick in our ability to reach our potential over the last 12 months.
We secured a major investment from three key executives in Facebook’s monetization and global expansion in Blake Chandlee (their first non-US employee), Mike Murphy (the early revenue chief for FB) and Tom Arrix (the early ad sales lead).
We established our board of directors to include one of those execs (Blake, VP of Global Partnerships for Facebook) and my mentor Heather Brunner (CEO of WP Engine).
We found a mega-talented founding engineer in Chase Moody and converted our contract content manager Cate to an employee to help us expand into 20 cities.
We’ve gone on to make significant improvements to our iOS app, launched our Android app, and racked up accolades from The Today Show, Time, MTV, Men’s Journal and countless other outlets.
Later this year, we landed additional investments from folks like Brett Hurt (founder of Bazaarvoice), Tyson Tuttle (CEO of Silicon Labs), Kevin Moore (one of the most successful angel investors in Texas) and Bridget Dunlap (owner of several Austin bars and restaurants) among others.
Most importantly, we’ve established a strong degree of product-market fit and found a sustainable path to grow our user base nearly 1,500% this year while continuing to operate with a lean budget and four-person team today.
A lot of people have helped us get to this point, but the key ingredient to our growth hasn’t been one investor or one product discovery or one press hit or getting accepted to the Harvard of startup accelerators.
Instead it’s been one key attribute that I always knew Localeur had in spades even when we were low on funds: grit.
What we lack in Ivy League degrees or Silicon Valley connections, we more than make up for in tenacity and determination.
Someone once said, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and for Localeur, our path forward is getting clearer by the day, and I know that to be true because I can still remember those days not too long ago when Chase and I walked several steps in the dark as founders with no employees, no funds and no growth without knowing for certain we were heading in the right direction.