Y Combinator + Being a Mom

Susan Johnson
Oct 14, 2014 · 6 min read

This is my story of applying, getting in, and being a mom in Y Combinator.

There are dozens of posts on why you should apply to YC, how to optimize the application process, and how to prepare for the interviews. You can find some good ones: here, here, and here.

My story is for anyone who has dreamed about running their own startup but feel like they don’t fit the archetype. Guess what? You do. You are the modern day startup founder.

Here’s my story:

I left my role at Facebook 2 years ago to build women.com. With wide eyes and beginners confidence, I struck out on my own. I crafted my vision, wore a hoodie, and tried to raise a seed round on a dream and a deck. After 3 months of fund raising, I received term sheets (pre-product and pre-tech team), but success was fleeting. My partner and I hit the skids, split up, and ended our partnership.

However, this was my dream and a couple of speed bumps weren’t going to crush it. I decided to bootstrap and get a working MVP into the hands of users.

Also, I was pregnant.

I hired a full stack developer to build the initial product and timed it so I could pass over assets at the same time I was giving birth. Literally. I started working with my developer on Jan 1st and gave birth January 11th to my second daughter.

Two months and a functioning MVP later, YC’s summer ’14 batch deadline was approaching. A couple of friends started sending me links to apply but I didn’t take them seriously. Of course I knew what YC was — I read Hacker News everyday. However, I didn’t think I was a candidate for this world class accelerator. I didn’t think I looked like a “YC founder”.

I spoke with a good friend who had gone through YC twice and decided that it would be a “good business exercise” to apply. There is massive value in the application process alone. It would be good for the company, so we made a one-minute video, filled out the online application, and kept working on women.com.

Then we got the email.

“Your application looks promising and we’d like to meet you in person”.

We vigilantly prepared for the interview. I researched, I read, I compared women.com to every possible competitor out there. I became the expert.

Then on the day of our interview, I left my 3-month old and my 3-year old at home and flew to Mountain View. The best advice I received before going into the 10 minute interview was — go in on the offense – basically starting pitching before you sit down. I did and the 10-minute flew by in a blur. It was an exhilarating experience but I still didn’t think we’d get in.

I was flying back to LA when YC called to tell us that we got in.

I was hit with a ton of mixed emotions. “OMG, I am so happy I could cry” was the first. Then quickly followed by, “How am I going to do this? I have 2 children and now I have to move to Mountain View?” The last reaction was, “It’s impossible”.

“I’ll just turn it down”

I got home and told my husband that we’d been accepted to YC’s summer 2014 batch. He gave me a huge hug, but before he let go, I told him that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t separate our girls from him for 3 months (he couldn’t move because his company is in LA) and it was going to put too much stress on our family.

We called our friend who’d been through YC and over a 2 hour call, we worked through all the pros of YC, cons of relocating, and all alternatives. We finally came to a solution that would allow me to get the most out of this amazing program.

I would do YC and my experience would look a bit different. But then again, I am a founder who looks a bit different- I’m a mom.

My cofounder would move to Mountain View … but unbeknownst to YC, my plan was to fly up (LAX→SJC) every week to attend the events and work with my cofounder. It would cost our family a lot of money but I decided it was necessary to do this for the company. I would rent an airbnb and transport my life during the week.

Each week, I either flew or drove to Mountain View. Burning the candles at both ends, this commuting & scheduling hell allowed me to maintain a stable life for my young daughters and make the most of YC.

I do not recommend this approach and in fact, it’s 100% against YC. You are required to move and you should. It’s exhausting and it takes your focus off of the most important things: talking to users, shipping code, and exercising. Nowhere in that list is commuting.

I couldn’t be happier that I decided to apply to Y Combinator. The application process alone was extremely valuable. But getting in and forcing myself to be a better entrepreneur was an experience I will carry with me forever.

I am a better entrepreneur and Women.com is a better company because of YC.

YC was – hands down – the best decision I’ve made as an entrepreneur.

  1. Smart People: You really do get access to the best minds in the business. These are people who are thinking about your business and helping you launch it. Um...hello. We should all be so lucky.
  2. Pressure and focus: These make you prioritize. You have one goal and that is to grow users /revenue. This is YC’s mantra.
  3. Access to venture capitalists: Raising money is incredibly hard and incredibly distracting. The faster you can get it done, the faster you can get back to building something people want. YC is the perfect forcing function to help you raise capital.
  4. Network: Being an entrepreneur is a lonely path. There are few people who truly understand what you’re going through and even if your friends (or parents) are well meaning, they still don’t get it. YC is the ultimate network and you will be surrounding by people who do get it.

For all of those people who are afraid they don’t look like a YC startup founder — looks don’t matter.

Grit. Perserverence. Passion.

Those matter. Apply today.

TheLi.st @ Medium

Worth your time.

Susan Johnson

Written by

TheLi.st @ Medium

Worth your time.

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