"You Can Do Anything You Want, Even If You Are Being Told Negative Things. Stay Strong And Find Motivation."
"So there's nothing more provocative than taking a genre that everybody who's cool hates - and then making it cool."
"Some people have this perception that when you become a parent, the other life you were living just stops. I never thought of it that way. I’ve always pictured life as a mother with the kids along for the whole adventure, so I’m stoked it’s working out."
"I feel very much that I am a human being, with human limitations, and I need to respect that."
"A lot of people are afraid to say what they want. That's why they don't get what they want."
"The utmost thing is the user experience, to have the most useful experience."
"Pursue science, math, writing, history—the 21st century demands a lot of cross-disciplinary thinking."
"Audiences are not important for me now and they never were."
Check out the original Huffington Post for my article on our experience going through two startup incubators and what we learned. LINK
Venture capitalists Sam Altman and Jason Calacanis both wrote posts recently (past couple of months) on the topic of startup incubator hopping. Altman says that participating in more than one startup incubator may actually decrease your chances of getting into Y Combinator, a goal many startups are vying for, whereas Calacanis says the question isn’t about Y Combinator — it’s about whether or not you should do an incubator at all. According to his article, acceptance into an incubator depends on a scale of “seemingly invincible” to “desperate,” and takes into account the reputation of founders, strength of business, and market competition. Dave McClure, of 500 Startups, also has given responses since on this very topic.
Our company, as GiftStarter.com that uses our shared purchasing platform for commerce, went through more than one incubator. We participated in 9Mile Labsin Seattle from August to November in 2014, and 500 Startups in San Francisco from July to October in 2015.
We are in a space that’s filled with many gravestones and companies in purgatory, but the opportunity to grow a business has been an obsession for over 10 years. We have formulated and rebuilt our hypothesis to arrive where we are. We believe this space is solvable, and that we will be the ones to solve it — and our experience in two different accelerators helped us get where we are now. Here’s why.
Our First Accelerator Experience: Moving Focus From B2B to Consumer
We first approached the partial payments of e-commerce products (focused on group gifting) from a B2B perspective, so 9Mile Labs was a good fit for us as it is focused on B2B/enterprise software and cloud technology. We joined in August of 2014, having just come out of a first-place win from a Startup Weekend and the pre-accelerator program NEXT. According to Calacanis, I’d grade GiftStarter as “weak” at that point. During the program, we launched our MVP solution, hustled to build over 27 partnerships with e-commerce businesses, and were off in time for the holidays. But when we examined the data after the holidays, it didn’t make sense. Our company wasn’t growing from the partnerships we were counting on. We were growing from the direct consumer business to our site as a destination.
From 9Mile Labs, we learned that hustling and passion will take you quite far as a startup founder. We have a shameless approach. We stick our neck out, put our name on it, and take risks. True passion is not a fleeting project or a hobby.
Those were dark times for the team. Listening to the marketplace is very important for a startup. We listened. We quickly decided to rebuild and redesign the business as more a destination for consumers with our relaunch in May 2015. From there, our platform grew 75 percent month-over-month across user, gift campaigns, and revenue KPIs.
Our Second Accelerator Experience: Growing Our Consumer Business
Next, we knew that we had to widen our access to perspective and expertise, and quickly. We were officially all in as a Consumer company. So we applied to 500 Startups in San Francisco as a way to accelerate as our B2C business. When we joined in July 2015, we had some good early traction, including over 420,000 dollars in angel investment, over 27 partnerships, a team of three employees and two founders, and a strong advisory board.
We decided to join 500 Startups — our second accelerator — for the following reasons:
As a result, we had more angel investors join the GiftStarter team and continued to have great traction. Based on what Calacanis wrote, I’d grade us as “strong” with the backing of 500 Startups at the end of 2015.
Doing What’s Right for the Company
It’s been almost two years since our birth from a hackathon and our focus has been to grow quickly and build a sustainable, scalable company. We are what you call “a cockroach”: Cockroaches don’t die easily. They pivot, they are scrappy, they hustle in all kinds of directions, they have talent, they have amazing work ethic and they’re passionate. While we believe in unicorns, being one of those one-hit wonders is like winning the PowerBall lottery. We believe in data and experimentation, and doing it as quickly as possible, and our journey through two incubators illustrates that.
I don’t think that everyone wants to get into YC, so Altman’s perspective doesn’t make sense for all startups. Our priority and focus has always been doing what’s right for the company (to survive and thrive) holistically, not just to haphazardly raise as much money as possible. Our journey through two incubators has allowed us to make timely pivots based on data, quickly grow our networks and access to resources, and ultimately upgrade the strength of our company — and in that sense, made “accelerator hopping” well worth it for our future.
Lentil had his first exit about 3 weeks ago.
Happy Lunar New Year!!!
Quick update is that we had our first baby boy, codename "Lentil" about three weeks ago. His codename has now become a nickname - we're trying to see if we can morph that nickname into "Lucky" because, boy oh boy, do we feel extremely lucky to have him.
Working on adjusting to our new chapter and life with Lucky. He's about to wake up again, newborns and stuffy nostrils do not make for restful sleep... so I'll leave this post at that.
Woot. We won.
So, GiftStarter won the pitch off and a meeting with Maveron, a venture capital firm based in Seattle, Washington, and their managing partner Dan Levitan.
Above are some photos from "behind the scenes" that my husband took during the taping of the show - and last week (December 13), we appeared in the Pitch-off on StartIt Seattle‘s new TV show, a show centered around educating and showcasing startup companies like ours. Along with the CEO of a great company called Korner, I had just one minute to pitch GiftStarter to the TV audience. From there, viewers went to Start It Seattle's Facebook page to vote for their favorite company or pitch.
Here, check it out (and scroll to about 1:30 to see my pitch.)
Start It Seattle, Launch Pad Session, Episode 1: Korner versus GiftStarter
Melissa also did a great blog post about this experience on our GiftStarter blog, too if you want to go check that out. :)
T- 6 weeks, 4 days!
Time sure does fly.
So it's been now about 1.5 weeks since I've been back in Seattle, after being away for about 5+ months living in San Francisco working out the the 500 Startups accelerator for GiftStarter. As a company, we're just not the hardcore city people - so San Francisco was great in so many ways, but just not who we are. We embraced the concrete and tall buildings for several months. We loved the weekly field trips to Palo Alto or Mountain View, just for a chance to breathe non-city air and see some green. Nonstop hustle pushed us along in the startup grind, some from the manic energy of the city, the push of energy of the startup community, and having to juggle working on a startup company and balance it with the accelerator commitments. From the time we wake up to the time we sleep, it was nonstop GiftStarter. To/from the office in SoMa. The Uber drivers that refused to take me on my trip made me so mad. SanFran has a major homeless challenge on its hands. The traffic is crazy, especially when there's a conference in town (which happens often). ... Then, there was Jin Mi, a gem of a Korean restaurant we went to at least 1-2 times a week (it's that good.)
We all left San Francisco a couple weeks ago and landed back in lives outside the hustle and bustle of the city. For me, it was like landing in a warm blanket of love --- Seattle, the green trees, the moisture in the air, the lake by our house, home cooking (!!!!!!!!), sleeping in my own bed, seeing my dog (!!!), seeing my husband, ... Having access to our printer, a desk to make handmade cards. Caught up on finances and accounting. Access to my own food that I prefer any time of the day. The team went heads down into product, growth, the business of taking care of our company. We experience a little bit of anxiety as we landed from being separated after being in the heightened sense of constant angst while in SF. Now it's getting used to being in a state of calm focus. Yes. Calm + focus.
Lentil continues to grow.
A big baby ball of love. Thank goodness for family and friends. Until last week, the only thing we had ready for Lentil was a pair of cute baby Converse shoes. Now, a BFF from LA is helping with the Baby Shower. There's a baby registry (GiftStarter!). We got tons of hand-me-down baby clothes. He's got a car seat and baby monitor already. Friends are reaching out with all kinds of advice. As a soon-to-be first time mom, there's SO MANY resources out there... AND at the same time, there's NO CENTRAL resource out there. I'm reading the Baby Center, What to Expect, the Bump, ... Google. I just learned about the CricketCircle. I have my friends that had babies a year ago.... questions about what laundry detergent, should I get a breast pump now or later, doula or not, what doula, hospital bag, to have a crib or not, ... there are so many decisions to make....
And Baby Lentil is doing great. Head is down already. He's got a steady heartbeat. He likes to kick over on my right side underneath my ribs - so sitting gets to be awkward. Our favorite positions are for me to be leaning back surrounded by pillows with laptop on my lap, or on my side. No other worries - we eat everything and are eating really well.
Little Lentil. Our baby boy. ... Now officially a baby ball of love shifting in my abdoment, day and night. At first, when he moved (was about 16-17 weeks when I first felt him), it felt like a little sparrow splashing in a puddle or like a little gold fish swimming around in there. Now.... Lentil feels like a... baby. It's weird. A real baby is in there!? His butt sticks out every once in awhile - he will shift from the left side to the right side and back. If I lay on my left side, he'll also adjust himself to a comfortable position in there. I roll onto my right side, and he shortly will adjust. He hates it when I sit up straight or slouch forward towards my computer. We both hate car rides and seat belts. ... I've learned quite a bit about pregnancy so far, though my perspective may be different than other pregnant moms... I don't know. With less than 8 weeks to go, we haven't done anything yet at home to get ready for Lentil (mostly because I've had my nose in the startup grind living away in temporary housing and hotels the past several months in San Francisco).
10 Bits I've Learned in my version of being a pregnant woman:
I'm down the the wire, 15 minutes left in the month of October to get the monthly blog post up!! So, a quick status on where everything is!
So.... there's more to come! Really hoping to make it back home before Thanksgiving - the running internal joke right now is that I'm not to head back to Seattle nor get any turkey on Thanksgiving Day unless we finish and close our raise successfully. Oy vey. So.... That's the laser tight focus for us right now.
This post was written on July 8, 2015.
Third time's the charm, right?
We found out we were pregnant. Having had 2 miscarriages now, I was very wary about the whole idea of being pregnant again. I procrastinated getting an appointment setup with the OBGYN. Finally, in the last week of the first trimester, did the appointment and HOLY MOLY! There was a real baby in there - big, and with a heart beat. I started crying... ... no actually, sobbing.
I'm happy. It's really happening! My husband and I have created a bridge of our genes, chromosomes, hearts, and souls in creating this baby. It's a miracle... Babies are a miracle.
I'm terrified. There's so much going on all at once. All together - at the same time. I'm thinking about moving, a new city, a baby in progress due in less than 6 months, my husband and marriage, my mother and brother, my team, fundraising, our partners, ... it's just so much.
I've got a startup. I've got a team. We need to raise more money. How in the world is this going to work? And it turns out... I'm moving to San Francisco in exactly 1 week (we just got accepted and a nice investment from 500 Startups). What about my dog, Mochi? What about my husband? What about this new life forming inside of me? ... How's this all going to work out? This startup life is a marathon, a grind.... and uphill battle.... and 1 year in, the hill is getting very steep and my load has just tripled in size.
What am I doing about it?
Our world is about to get way bigger.
T-7 days til we fly to San Francisco.... anxious, excited, terrified, ...
Hello everyone! I've founded a community forum called Mommy Founders with Christie. It'll be a place totally dedicated to being a woman founder and mother. My first post was announcing our pregnancy with our first child - and well, with the timing of it all (being a CEO of a startup, being half way through a prestigious accelerator program, ...), I wrote about that. READ MORE HERE.
Timing is key for open dialogue.
The topic is luckily very timely. While in start-up land, our brains and hearts are completely in the trenches of warfare fighting for our startup company. It's not very often we get to peek up and see what else is going on in the world. I do scan Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook for my bit of news with the world - my husband is also a really great filter for what I should know about. What I do know from my light scanning of the news is that women, women in technology and startups, mothers in the workplace and mothers in tech companies is a topic that is on the top of many minds today. So, that is why I say this topic is serendipitously timely, too.
Why are we doing this?
We feel that by sharing our journey in starting a company from scratch, as 2 women, who work in startups and tech, who are mothers (or soon-to-be mothers), we have a very big opportunity to share our journey. By being transparent and having a conversation with others about the journey, we know that we con find some great solutions to creating a productive and supportive environment. Not just for certain women, but all women. Not just for the women, but all employees. Not just for employees, but for business too. Through conversation and through community, that is what we are here to do as @MommyFounders.
Criticisms of the name @MommyFounders:
Speaking of which, I've had a few women already approach me and say, "Why the word Mommy? Aren't you a woman first? Weren't you an entrepreneur and founder first? Why does the word Mommy in first position?" The first time someone asked, I walked away with question marks floating around my head. Hmm. Interesting. Perhaps it'd be better as @FounderMommy? To us, the word "Mommy" is the adjective that goes with "Founder", the noun. Maybe you can look at it to mean we're the "Mommy" to both a human child and a fledgling startup company. It certainly feels that way. Many mothers have more than one child, many fathers and parents do too. Maybe we believe that the word "Mommy" has appeal to all people - it has a non-threatening feel to it. "Mommy" is endearing, warm, comfortable, embracing, loving, supportive, strong, and the place where life starts in so many ways, for so many people. She's universal. "Mommy" is human in every way. As much of a pro-woman feminist I am, I think that maybe it's time women also feel comfortable to embrace the traditional. "Mommy" is a beautiful, strong, universal name. Why not? Why not embrace "Mommy"?
... I wrote this post... twice... and it for some reason has had trouble saving. [So to be honest, I'm writing again a third time, but now am just going to upload whatever comes to mind instead of trying to rewrite the post.] Sometimes, the world is telling you that is was not meant to be.
Along those lines, what is meant to be anyways? Sometimes, despite ourselves, things have a magical way of finding their path into existence. You mess up, you try and will it away, it doesn't seem like it would be, but it is.
Now about 6 weeks into the 500 Startups program, it's been an emotional roller coaster. What startup journey isn't? Now about a year after we incorporated, we're taking the time to reframe and rebuild pieces of the business in terms of culture, processes, all the fundamentals that'll help us move faster in the long run. We've had to make some really tough decisions. I mostly feel like my body isn't my own and I'm the "ass" on behalf of the company. The deliverer of tough news and feedback. The one to punch the wall down with my bare fists sometimes so we can go through. Having so many of those uncomfortable conversations a normal human would go shrinking into the corner at... here we are, taking them on, head on. Each week, we're getting better and stronger. This week, I think we actually broke through the darkness and I see the glimmer of light ahead.
Into the light we go. Appreciate that you are cheering us on.
PS, try out GiftStarter. Feedback always welcome. Use the promocode "GiftMe!" to try the GIft Concierge service for free.