My Technical Co-Founder Quit 2 Days Before I Got My Y-Combinator Interview
An 18 day play by play of how I saved my startup, and moved it from Houston, Texas to San Francisco
TL;DR Everyday is a roller coaster, and even if you’re not a traditional founder, you can make it work. I did, and I’m here building a dream.
I’m Emmie, CEO and founder of Camperoo, and Roo YC W14. Camperoo is a marketplace for kids camps. We help parents discover, plan, and book summer camps and help camp providers reach more kids to make a bigger impact.
In mid 2013, I created Camperoo in Houston, Texas with a good friend of mine of 3+ years. I started a technology camp for kids in 2002 and understood camp providers and the business side of things. He was a software engineer and local Houston startup leader with kids. Together, we balanced each other. After a few months, we had over 200 camp providers partners, 1000 parent users, and real dollar transactions!
Atypical Founder Profiles
Neither of us fit the typical startup founder profile. We were both in our 30's, married, and living in Houston, TX. We both missed out on the first tech rush. He’s a little older than me, married to a beautiful attorney with 5 kids to support. I was a newlywed with a new house who had a successful small business, and an M.B.A.
We were living the American dream — house, family, cars, retirement savings, and our business was cash flowing.
Why uproot it all to take a huge risk? Well, after a 7 trips to the SF Bay Area in 3 months, pushing ourselves into a community in which we didn’t know anyone, something special happened. We started to understand how our little project, if given the right resources and people, could be bigger than ourselves. Then, it started to happen—I just didn’t think it was going to happen so fast, but it did. Re-live those days with me below!
San Francisco : Early November Days 1–3 First Investment In!
Thursday: 6 months after launch, An SF based investor I met in July finally agrees to fund Camperoo after going dark for 3 months, with some unorthodox terms. Luckily, I have an attorney who knows how to negotiate, because I sure as heck had no idea what I was doing.
Friday: I agreed to his conditions because he promises cash by Monday. We need the cash to stay alive. It’s Camperoo’s first money in from an institutional investor and we’re FINALLY going to take a swing at this thing. It also means I can move to CA and eat / sleep again.
Saturday: I call my co-founder to tell him the news. He’s nowhere to be found. I text and leave a message. I wait to tell him in person and then hop on a plane to finally go back to Houston.
Houston: Day 4: Happiness Never Lasts Too Long
Sunday: I leave another round of texts and voicemails for my co-founder; he’s still unresponsive. I’m starting to get nervous but remain positive because I remember he’s moving this weekend.
Right before heading to bed, I check my emails, and there it was: “Parting Ways”. Who sends an e-mail to end a co-founder relationship? Apparently this one. I’m shocked. “Due to financial concerns (oh yeah, he didn’t know we raised) and general uncertainty, I think it’s best we part ways.”
Palms sweaty, tears welling in my eyes, I felt like my heart stopped. Then I couldn’t breathe.
Startups are hard as it is, now I had it even harder. Now, I was a solo, non-technical female founder working on a problem in an unsexy market (parents) from Houston, TX. This could be the end of Camperoo, and my dream.
Houston: Days 4–5: Snap Out Of It and Keep on Moving
Sunday, 20 Min Later: In comes my husband. “What are you doing on the floor like that?” he laughingly proclaims in an endearing way. “Uh, um…well,” I stammer, while trying to keep the tears away, “My technical co-founder just quit.” “Well, you just got $100k right? Now you can find someone better! Get up and stop being ridiculous.”
After reflecting for a moment, I snap out of it. Wow, you’re right, I don’t need him. That’s when I remember, I applied to Y-Combinator a couple weeks ago, and the interview invitations were coming out soon. I go to bed, Monday’s a new day.
Monday: I wake up to $100k in my account, nice. Besides the other engineer that was working with us and my husband, nobody knew our technical co-founder quit. Not even our new investor. We still had a product to build and customers to service. I call up a friend who runs a contracting business to talk about providing me a temporary dedicated technical resource. I send an e-mail to my attorney without too many details setting up a call to figure out what to do next
Monday Night- YC announces on Hacker News that interview invites will be sent out at midnight. I can’t stay up until 2AM Central time so I go to bed.
The last weekend has been hell. On Friday I raised my first $100k, By Sunday, my co-founder quit, and on Monday, I tried to pick up pieces with a new technical resource. I’m emotionally spent. The longest weekend ever. It’s a long shot as it is, 3500 applications and less than 300 interviews.
Houston: Days 6–8: Life can change instantly
Tuesday: Subject: Your application looks promising, we’d like to meet you in person. Y-Combinator wants to talk to us! I’m relieved and excited. But now, there is no us. YC doesn’t like funding solo founders. I don’t want them to think I ‘gamed’ the system. We had applied two weeks ago as a team. Two weeks ago, we were fine. What do I do now?
Wednesday: A funny thing happens when you’re under extreme duress. When all odds are stacked against you, the only thing to do is to change your mindset. This is when I knew I was going to claim my spot in the Winter 2014 Y-Combinator class. I, a solo, female, non-technical founder in an unconventional market from Texas with a thread of a team and a big dream was going to make my mark in Silicon Valley.
But, first, I had a co-founder to take off of my cap table and an interview to master.
Thursday: 4 days ago, my life was ending. Now, it was as if my co-founder never existed, at least on paper. Now, it was time to tell my first investor.
“Hey, my technical co-founder just quit,” (silence and disbelief). “But, I just got invited to interview at YC!” Silence, followed by laughter in the form of joy. “Emmie, you’re ridiculous. Only you could pull something like this off,” he remarked.
Houston: Days 9–17 : You’re Never Going to Get In, Well, Maybe…
I get connected to two YC founders. After explaining my situation, they both suggested I just throw in the towel and relinquish my interview spot to someone who had a chance. YC would never let me in given my circumstance. I just told them, thanks (nicely) and moved on.
I ignored them. I was on a mission. I use the available resources on the Internet and strategize a plan with my attorney on how to explain my situation. I prep, prep, and prep more.
On the day before I flew in, one of the YC alums I talked to emailed me this article with a quick note. “Maybe you’ll surprise them” I’ve never met Brandon, but his article gave me confidence that someone else had done it before me and his situation was way worse. I at least, had a week to prepare. I had a spot to claim. I knew I had a chance, but now I had validation it could really happen.
Mountain View / Napa Day 18 — The Beginning of the Rest of My life
Saturday: I hop on a flight from Houston in the morning and arrive at YC that afternoon prepared to change my life.
Don’t You have a Co-Founder? Yeah…let’s talk about that. That’s how my interview started. It was the most exhilirating and nerve-wracking 10 minutes of my life. Except, I had just gone through a crazy 2 weeks. This was nothing. I walked out with a 90% certainty that I got in, but being nervous and not-wanting to jinx it, I didn’t say anything. You never know with these things.
Saturday Evening: I needed a little R & R after the last two weeks. Right after the interview, we drove up to Napa. Because we travelled all day, my husband napped and I pretended to read my kindle anxiously awaiting the news. Then, there it was, at 6:05pm.
“Hello, (in a normal voice)”
“This is Paul Bucheit, Is this Emmie”? “Hi, How are you?” We’ve decided to fund you.” Wow, Thanks!, Yes, I’ll take it!.
As soon as I hung up, I just screamed! This was my saving grace, 2 weeks ago, my life was ending, and now my new life was just beginning.
This was my ticket to play in the world that I’ve watched from afar. I was finally invited in and given a chance to bat. In 2 weeks, I received my $100k in first funding, had my co-founder quit, found a new technical resource, cleared my cap table and legal documentation, notified my first investor of a great potential debacle, and got into Y-Combinator. 2 months later, I packed up everything I knew and moved to the SF / Bay Area.
All great stories have great beginnings, and this was mine. What’s crazy is that my life has gotten even more ‘crazy’, but in a great way. This is the first post of many to come, documenting my first year here and my personal evolution. Along the way, Camperoo has evolved too; and we’re lucky enough to still be doing it (notice the we, I’m no longer alone).
Camperoo is about helping parents find and register for summer camps, but that’s just the beginning. We’re expanding our vision to help all parents, nationwide be better at being a parent. We call it inspired parenting, made easier and we’re launching a new product called Roo. Check it out and get on the early access list. www.dailyroo.com