Kicking off with a snapshot of ... ourselves! And our YC story so far
This kicks off the first article for Startup Snapshot. We started this project because we are startup people and we are interested in the lives of other startup people. But we were sick of reading the TechCrunch versions of stories. We wanted to see what was really going on in the offices of other startups. And I mean really SEE. Then we realised, that as a photography startup we were perfectly positioned to make this happen! So here we are, kicking things off with some snapshots into our own journey from the last few months...
This story starts in early October 2016, when we submitted Snappr's details to YCombinator.
At this stage, we had only been operating for about four months, and were a team of five.
A few weeks later, we were all very excited to get an email asking us to schedule a video call with Sam Altman himself! We did our research (including reading this from the New Yorker) and got on top of all of our metrics in intricate detail.
The call was short and sweet. It went for all of six minutes, at which time Sam said:
"Thanks a lot guys, I think I've got everything I need."
We weren't sure if that was good or bad.
So turns out it was good. A few days later, we received word that YC would like us to fly to Mountain View for a proper interview. Outside the team, we kept this news quiet in our Sydney coworking space, Fishburners. We didn't want to raise expectations, as we knew that most companies who were interviewed by YC were ultimately rejected. So one day Ed and I mysteriorusly disappeared to board a flight.
We gave ourselves a few days in San Francisco ahead of the interview to get over our jetlag and practice our interview style on some VCs and angel investors in our network. We assembled a spreadsheet of hundreds of potential YC interview questions, and would stay up late each night in the lobby of our hotel in Japantown, polishing our responses.
Then it came time to head to Mountain View for the main event. YC's office, the location of which is unlisted on Google and everywhere else, can be summed up in one word: underwhelming. As our Uber pulled into a quiet industrial estate area in the less popular part of Mountain View, we wondered if we'd made a mistake with our directions. But then an inconspicious 'YCombinator' sign appeared ahead.
We went inside. The interior was much nicer. It consists of a giant orange-walled dining space with long tables, off which a series of offices come. During the YC program itself, these offices are used for 'office hours', that is, mentoring sessions between founders and YC partners. But on this particular day, November 3rd 2016, each one was a interview room with four YC partners in each.
A few minutes before the interview, Ed and I could have been spotted ducking around the carpark out the back of the YC building to do some pushups to 'psych ourselves up'...
The interview came and went in a flash. Four partners (Sam Altman, Kirsty Nathoo, Daniel Gross and Fred Benenson) peppered us with questions for around ten minutes. None of the questions came as a surprise, so our answers were very snappy. We had brought a few printed-out charts into the interview with us to help explain a few points. Sam asked us the longest and most complicated question of the interview, around how we would 'win' in this space. After I pulled out a price-sensitivity chart highlighting how we were opening up new markets for photography, he pulled us up and said "yep, you've answered my question".
With a few minutes to go, the partners exchanged glances to see if any of them had any last questions. Fred piped up:
"It says something about a 'photo analyzer' in your application - what's that?"
We'd hoped he would ask! We had a laptop with our AI Analyzer tool loaded up, ready for this scenario. We gave them a demo. They seemed to like it, and started cracking jokes, so the meeting finished on a high. Then as we said our goodbyes, there was an awkaward moment where it wasn't clear if we were all going to shake hands again. Ed was halfway out the door by the time I'd decided to give a (nervously sweaty) handshake to the partners. He came back in and did the same.
We wandered the streets of Mountain View to the nearest pub. YC had told us that they would give us an answer the same day. If it was good news it would be a phone call. For bad news, an email. The phone sat silent. Two beers down, we decided to get some food. Still silent. By this time it was dark, so we decided to get the train back to San Francisco. We decided to take some wine with us, for either celebration or commiseration.
At around 6:40pm the phone rang. This was a brand new mobile phone and nobody except YC had the number. So the sound of the ring tone had us very excited. It was Kristy with good news - we were in.
Champagne and some relaxation were in order that night back in SF.
The next day, we returned to YC for 'induction day'. We got to meet the other startups in our batch for the first time. Two startups we met during the day were Fiix (Uber for Mechanics) and Scaphold (GraphQL backends as a service). We went out to lunch with the founders.
Then it was back to SF, back to Sydney, and back to work as usual at our office in Sydney.
Nothing had really changed. We kept the news relatively quiet, as YC had told us to 'keep our powder dry' for a media announcement during the program. That didn't stop us getting emails from a couple of NewCorp journalists who had heard about the YC news 'on the grapevine' a few days after our return.
For the full team though, the news called for some celebration. Everyone had put in a huge amount of work to help get us to the YC interview. We took a day off, did some gocarting, and went to sunny Maroubra beach.
As it dawned on us that we'd soon be leaving Australia for quite a while, we organised a Christmas and farewell party in one, with the team, photographers, investors, and our Sydney startup friends invited.
It wasn't long until the end of the year came around and it was time to relocate to Mountain View for the YC program. One of the larger startup teams at Fishburners, Premonition, with whom we'd been in a 'prank war' of sorts for many months, took the liberty of cling-wrapping our entire office for us the day before we were due to move out!
Visas ready and 'startup house' booked in, Ed and I headed off a few days before the others to set everything up.
On arriving in Mountain View, we were greeted with a nice note, a bottle of wine, and many keys from our new landlord.
After a trip to Ikea, we turned the house's formal dining room into a kitted-out startup office. Starting with the important things, like a wall of world clocks...
So at this point, its worth pointing out that we have comitted a greavous sin with this first Startup Snapshot article. As you may be able to tell, most of the above photos were taken with a camera phone. Not good form for a photography company. The reason being, Ed our resident pro photographer, was too preoccupied with all of the craziness of startup life to have time to pull out his DSLR and take nice photos.
But there were some exceptions. Like this rainy day, when we headed into downtown SF to meet up with the folks from AusTrade, who had kindly invited us to join their Landing Pad program:
After a few days of settling into Mountain View, a mysterious package arrived in the mail.
It was a lawnsign we'd ordered. That's right America, we're here to 'Make Photography Great Again'.
Sadly the neighbours didn't take too kindly to our tongue-in-cheek sign, and we were asked by the landlord to put it in a less conspicuous place a few days later.
As a symbol of the sacrifices that both founders and early employees of startups make, all of us spent Chistmas together in Mountain View, away from our families and loved ones. There were presents.
From there, things settled into routine.
The first big milestone after landing in the US was the launch of our Photo Analyzer. We launched it on January 11 on Product Hunt. Sam Altman had agreed to be our 'hunter' (the power-user who posts it there on your behalf). Because Sam was on a red-eye flight that night, he'd logged into his Twitter/ProductHunt accounts on my laptop so I could post it up myself at a few minutes past midnight (the recommended time for maximum exposure). Was very kind of him and gave us an early insight into the level of trust and support in the YC community. I almost accidentally made a tweet while logged in as Sam which may have caused a stir...
We were #1 globally that day on ProductHunt, which was a huge morale boost for the team. At the time of writing, we'd had over 60,000 users of the tool.
Probably the funniest moment around the analyzer launch was when The Next Web tried it out on Harambe and wrote an article about it...
Our next big milestone was our US launch, which we'd decided would coincide with the launch of our new software platform, which had the very original codename of "v2".
That came around in early February. We headed out the day before launch to take some team shots for the press.
Each day brings more growth, more features, more long hours, and increasingly more complicated whiteboard meetings!
But we've managed to find time for a little bit of fun too. Like Karaoke on Mission Street in SF, at Sam Altman's instigation...
...or a fancy penthouse party in Russian Hill organised by the awesome fellow-YC cofounders of art investment startup Arthena.
Before we knew it, YC Demo Day was upon us! Months of preparation came down to just three minutes of pitching to a packed room of the Silicon Valley's finest. Here's the opening seconds of our pitch...
The pitch went well and we were even ranked by Mattermark as the fastest growing company in the batch.
At the time of writing, we just celebrated our one-year anniversary as a company. We're now in the final stages of a seed fundraising round and have been very fortunate to bring on some well-known and much-admired investor names for the next stage of the Snappr journey.
YC was quite a ride for us, with a lot of highs and a lot of lows, but Ed and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to any entrepreneur in the early stages (particularly international startups). Not just for your company, but for your own personal development, network and friendships.
You can read more about the YC W17 batch and see what YC life looks like here.