I have two co-founders. Here’s Kyle:
We’ve known each other since high school (we’re still good friends with the dude on the left. hi Nate!):
And now we’re keen.io.
We’re a new startup (and I want to heavily emphasize NEW). We’ve been kicking around ideas for a while but finally came across one that appeals to our passions AND seems monetizable. This was about midway through 2011. One of us will probably write a whole post about the inception of the idea, but that’s not what I want to focus on now.
I’d like to focus on the transition from kicking around Wouldn’t It Be Cools™ into getting our ass in gear and actually starting a company.
Okay, so let’s jump back to September or October, 2011. The idea’s been formed, and we think it’s worth pursuing. We all make commitments to dedicate a reasonable chunk of time to the company outside of our full-time jobs (hooray moonlighting!). We’ve got a little code and some big dreams. We’re also three product and design focused engineers, so that’s where we spend our attention…
… until we realize that we’re sort of coasting and if we want the company to actually succeed, we need to wake ourselves up, quit our real jobs, and focus on the company. To be honest, two of us have golden handcuffs and jobs we actually enjoy. We’re young, have no kids, nothing really holding us back, but still — the I Make Really Good Money Do I Want To Give It Up? precipice is a scary ass one to look down.
But wait! There’s an easy solution! Let’s apply to a startup accelerator. We’ll get a little bit of money and a LOT of validation our idea is worth pursuing from people who’ve done this before. Pretty obvious in hindsight, right?
We’ve all been living in San Francisco for five and a half years. We decide to apply to Y Combinator (pretty original, right?). We start that process. For those of you who don’t know, it’s reasonably involved. The first step is to fill out an online application that is honestly great. It asks the normal questions you’d expect, but also some rather pointed ones about the founder commitments, both to the company and each other. My feeling is that going through the application together with my co-founders not only honed our product idea but also deepened our desire to build this company.
Oh, if you want an example of the yc app, check this out: https://github.com/substack/stackvm/wiki/YC-Application (maybe we’ll post our application at some point)
So we submit that. And just wait for a bit and hang out in the calm before the storm.
At one point two of us go to pariSoma, a hacker space beer social meet-up (if it somehow involved facial hair it would have been a Platonic Ideal of San Francisco tech culture). After drinking a little, my co-founder and I are talking and decide we should apply to more accelerators. The easiest one to pick is TechStars. They’re nationally known, fund awesome companies, and generally seem like pretty cool people.
Their application process is very similar to Y Combinator’s (hereafter referred to as yc), so we take a lot of what we’ve learned and written from the yc app and dump it into the TS app, right there at the meet-up, where we’re all tweeting our votes about how good or bad the beer we’re drinking is (I know, get a bunch of nerds in a room and we’ll A. tweet about it and B. start ranking things). Honestly, I think we did a relatively sloppy job with that application. But, whatever, we send it in.
Both applications are in. We wait. And sweat a lot. Then it’s Halloween and we hear that yc wants to interview us (it makes celebrating a lot easier). Hooray! And TS invites us to TechStars For A Day (TS4AD) in San Antonio on November 5th. Damn, apparently we kick ass.
Ryan and Kyle hop on a plane to go talk to Jason Seats (managing director of TechStars Cloud, co-founder of Slicehost, acquired by Rackspace) and the rest of the TechStars community. It’s sufficient to say that it goes terribly. Kyle and Ryan (and me too, but I wasn’t there) suck at explaining what we want to build, and nobody knows how to pronounce our stupid name (it wasn’t keen before). They call me to commiserate, then go get drunk on the San Antonio River Walk.
We think we blew our chance to get into TechStars. Well, there’s still yc, right? We console ourselves with that thought. A week or so goes by and we start thinking concretely about the yc interview.
But wait! Kyle gets an email from Jason saying that we’re somehow, magically, incomprehensibly in the top 25 (they say they’ll whittle that down to 10). That makes no sense, but we’re all psyched as the yc interview approaches…
… well, honestly, psyched and completely freaked out at the same time. yc doesn’t fuck around when it comes to the interview process. You go in for your 10 minute (yes, only 10 minutes) interview, then wait until the evening, when you’ll either get a call telling you they want you, or an email telling you you’re out and why. If you get the call, you have to accept on the phone (aka the most explodiest of exploding offers). If you get the email, you go weep into your beer.
We (greedily) don’t want to have to make a decision about yc without knowing if we’re in the top 10 for TechStars. Luckily, Jason from TechStars is super cool about it and tells us we’ll know if we’re guaranteed a spot in TechStars before our interview with yc.
We huddle up in the few days before the yc interview to work on our messaging and to build a completely fake demo that hopefully shows what we’re thinking of. The day before the yc interview, Jason calls Kyle to let him know that we’re in and to expect a call from Brad Feld (yes, that Brad Feld). Our nerdgasm can probably be seen from space.
We’re nervous but psyched on our drive down to Palo Alto, where yc is located. My stomach is in knots as we walk into the yc office. We get called in to interview with Harj Taggar, Gary Tan, and Paul Buchheit. It’s a blur, but at the end we’re feeling good about our chances.
We get home and start the waiting process. It’s, to put it mildly, awful. We crack open a bottle of scotch to take the edge off. The call is supposed to come at some point between 7 and 8 pm. 7 rolls around and we hear nothing. Kyle’s call with Brad Feld starts and I begin to compulsively and repeatedly check email on Kyle’s laptop. 7:17 pm hits and an email from Harj pops up in our inbox. Shit. We didn’t get in. We write the news down on a piece of paper and wave it in front of Kyle’s face to make sure he doesn’t say something to fuck up the TechStars deal.
When he comes out of his room, we look at each other. We’re all exhausted, exhilarated, disappointed, scared, and eager. We’re all determined to kick ass at TechStars.
Stay tuned for the next post, where I’ll talk about what it was like to get incorporated, quit our jobs, move to Texas, and actually start working.
If you read this far, thanks! Please leave a comment here, get in touch with us at email@example.com, or email me personally at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or hit us up on twitter at @keen_io or @dkador. I’d love to hear what parts of this you thought you were interesting, what parts you thought were stupid, and if you’d like me to go into more detail about anything.
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