Its been about nine months since we got into YC and we took the “Don’t mention YC until you launch” rule to heart. Which means for the last nine months we have been more than a little secretive about what we were doing in Silicon Valley, how we were raising our seed round, and what’s next for us. Since we’ve gotten back to Toronto we have been the only YC company here (we’re hiring too!) and I can only imagine my luck is going to change now that I can tell the girls that I did YC…
Let me start by saying that YC was absolutely life-and-business changing for us. It was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had. For us, it started in late November. I had long since quit my job and been working from my parents’ basement, in small-town Ontario. Steve had just finished at Xobni and I headed down to San Francisco both to help him move back to Canada, and to start doing some networking in the Valley. While we were there we met with Adam Smith (our first investor), who both hired Steve and had done YC himself. We talked about our idea, and about YC, and, in the end, he convinced us to apply for late acceptance. So we did… but then nothing. A month went by, working away in my parents’ basement and assuming it was just a lost opportunity. Then, at all but the last minute, we got an email from Harj inviting us to come for a last minute interview on the 29th of December.
Stomach enter throat.
We flew down on the 28th and spent the day making last minute changes to the prototype and mostly just pacing around our AirBnB trying to figure out what we were going to say. This would be the second interview for both Steve and Mike, but the very first time I had ever met PG, PB, Harj or Jessica, and I was more than a little nervous. I had been reading PG’s essays since we started talking start-ups back in second year university. I knew how badly Steve wanted this experience. And how incredible it would be for Upverter.
Sweat like a pig.
It was a rainy day, and cold for Mountain View. But it was a hell of a lot warmer than back home so we were doing fine. We spent the night tossing and turning. Me on the floor beside Steve’s bed, and Mike in the living room. We each got up, a lot. I’m pretty sure we each spent most of the night thinking, and dreaming, and wondering what if. By 6am we had all but assembled, and we made our way to the car. We were way ahead of schedule and took our time driving down. We found Mountain View and got some breakfast. And then, too soon, it was time. We headed over to Pioneer Drive to try our hand at getting in to the best accelerator program on earth. So began the strangest and most unique interview I have ever been a part of. I think Joey Flores of EarBits (our class) said it best – you know it’s going well if you are constantly bombarded by six questions a minute, basically brainstorming your idea and what to work on next. It was awesome. It was fun. It was uplifting. And I walked out thinking we had at least done everything we could.
At PG’s recommendation we headed across the hall after the interview to try and sell AnyBots on Upverter. We explored a bit, met with some engineers, talked about our idea, got a little more validation, and then just as we were heading out PG came up and grabbed us. He wanted to save us the phone call and offered to fund us right then and there.
Knees begin to shake.
Then started the whirlwind and absolutely insane logistics nightmare of moving both Steve and I down to Mountain View that inevitably led to some serious misunderstanding at US Immigration (see
this, this, and this). But we all made it down in the end. We had a great little two bedroom townhouse (I slept in the living room) just a block from YC and run by the sleaziest landlords we have ever had (if it wasn’t such a good location I’d tell you to avoid it at all costs). We hacked like mad. We learned a ton. I met the smartest people I have ever known. Listened to some incredible speakers. And felt more than our share of pressure to, among other things, launch yesterday. We soft launched twice, both times going back to the drawing board. We ate frozen lasagna, and 29 cent burritos. We hacked like mad. And at the end of it all we demoed.
Focus like a Jedi.
It was whirlwind experience, unlike anything I have done before my life. It was intense, and painful, paired with incredible emotion and camaraderie. We all felt our limits tested, but somehow still made it all work, but not least of all was building product. Of my countless moments together with my class, my co-founders, and our mentors perhaps my most memorable were the times I spent with Sam Altman. He helped me understand how to better work with Mike and Steve, what it means to be a leader, and the incredible value of an external deadline. I wouldn’t be half as good at what I do today without those talks, and I don’t think I could thank him enough.
After three months of YC, Steve and Mike headed back to Toronto to find us a space, hire our first employees, and get back to work while I stayed in the Valley for a couple of months and raised our first bit of money. Fundraising is probably worthy of its own post, and was in a lot of ways another transformative experience. But come May we reunited as founders and did our last soft-launch at the Bay Area Maker Faire before heading home together.
Today we are a team seven strong and we are incredibly proud of, and grateful for, what YC has helped us to do. We have recently launched (for real this time), and we are just getting started on our path to changing the way electronics get designed.