Y Combinator is an American seed accelerator, founded in March 2005, and has since consistently ranked at the top of U.S. accelerators. Twice a year, Y Combinator interviews and selects two batches of companies that receive seed money, advice, and connections in exchange for 7% equity. As of 2017, Y Combinator has invested in more than 1,450 companies, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Reddit, and the combined valuation of YC companies was more than $80B.
On Saturday, September 15, Y Combinator hosted the fifth Female Founders Conference in Silicon Valley. Rather than hosting one conference, Y Combinator organized three events across the United States: one in Seattle in the winter, one in New York over the summer, and one in the Bay Area in the fall. Venopi was invited to attend the third session in Silicon Valley and at the conference, we had the opportunity to meet YC partners, YC alumni, investors, and other female entrepreneurs.
The conference began with a speech delivered by Kirsty Nathoo, CFO of Y Combinator, who we were fortunate to have a meeting with during office hours a day prior. Throughout the day, talks and panels took place, followed by a reception.
The first speaker was Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, cofounder and CEO of Promise, a company that went through the 2018 winter batch of the YC program and seeks to help government agencies meet the needs of those in the criminal justice system. We found her story particularly inspiring because she and her co-founder thought they didn’t stand a chance of making it to YC, but Phaedra said: “I was confident and I didn’t apologize.” A message that resonated with us was that Phaedra wanted to be sure people understood her and what she was trying to do before she tried to understand them.
It was exciting to be in a room full of women who have already or plan to start their own company. The energy was palpable and the chance to speak to women who are facing similar challenges with their start ups was an invaluable experience.
Later on, Alexandra Zatarain, cofounder and CMO of Eight, a company that makes smart mattresses, delivered four key points at the end of her presentation that we would like to share with you:
- Build something people want
- Hire A Players
- Focus on what matters most
- Find your tribe
She emphasized the importance of feedback and having direct conversations with your users and learning what they want from your product. We believe what she says: you will never waste time speaking to your customers. That is a mindset that we want to cultivate at Venopi.
She said focusing on what matters most was another important skill learned at YC. Social media following doesn’t matter if you can’t get sustainable growth with good margins. Find the metrics that are going to help you build a scalable business. Implement those metrics to track your progress, and then focus on the strategies that will move those metrics in the right direction.
Find your tribe. As you build a company you will face a lot of challenges. Find people who are smarter than you and find people who are willing to help. Consult them. Do not be afraid to ask for help. When you are in a position to help someone else, pay it forward. This part, Alex said, was critical for learning from YC.
Overall, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and connect with other female founders as well as YC alumni and partners. We were honored to have the chance to attend.