Female Founder Stories: Divya Bhat, Founder of Rickshaw (YC W14)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Rickshaw is local delivery platform that gives any business access to an efficient, shared fleet of vans and drivers. We power the new generation of online/offline businesses (as well as more traditional merchants and retailers) that want to provide same-day delivery to their customers. We allow businesses to schedule pick-ups at their store/warehouse and drop-offs to their customers via API, spreadsheet, or webapp.

Q: What did you do before starting Rickshaw?
I’ve had many wide and varied roles in the past decade, including PhD student in Genomics, founder of a hip-hop startup, Director at a company that was going through an IPO, and now Rickshaw. In the middle, I married my cofounder, moved across the country 3 times, and had 2 children. An eventful decade, but it barely prepared us for the insanity of running a logistics startup.

Q: Why did you start Rickshaw?
After taking a 2-year break after my first startup to replenish my reserves– physical, mental, and financial– I was getting anxious to go back to being a founder. To solve my ever-present dinner-on-the-table problem, I was toying with the idea of “Airbnb for food” where people could order home-cooked meals from neighbors and even strangers. As I started thinking about the distribution logistics, I thought about reaching out to the many new startups who were building delivery networks to see if I could rent space on their delivery fleets. It made me realize that they were all reinventing the wheel and solving a problem that would greatly benefit from aggregation and scale. That’s how Rickshaw was born– the idea was to build this shared infrastructure so that anyone could build my beloved food app (and more), and immediately enjoy the benefits of delivering at scale.

Q: How did you meet your cofounders?
We met in college in 1998. We started our first startup, Jamglue, in 2006 along with a few other close friends. We worked well together, so after a short break from being founders, we started Rickshaw together in 2013.

Q: What was your YC experience like?
I’ll have to answer this separately for the two separate YC experiences because they were so different. Our first time through, we started YC with just an idea. The summer was consumed with frantically writing code, and we didn’t even tell our friends what we were building until post Demo Day. We knew what we needed to to build, we thought we knew who was going to use it, and we just executed (and by “we” I mean my cofounders– I was actually remote for much of the summer and finishing my grad degree, and didn’t contribute nearly as much during this phase as the other 3 members of the team). YC was a small, tight-knit group. We knew everyone in our batch, as well as most of the folks from the previous two batches. Almost nobody had any prior startup experience, and everyone was learning lessons for the first time, generally the hard way.

YC W14 was totally different. The group was 72 companies and the founders had all kinds of backgrounds and experience. Most products were post-launch, and many founders were second or third-time founders. Rather than prototyping, the focus was solely on growth. The types of problems we were all solving and sharing were much more nuanced, and much more sophisticated. I don’t know if this is because I was looking at it from a more experienced lens, or because the group was in fact far more savvy, or because of the wealth of information available to people on Hacker News, etc. For any challenge we were facing, there were at least 2-3 other groups facing something similar. We were able to talk it out and push forward quickly. The flip side is that I didn’t know everyone in our batch by name or by company.

One thing that really struck me: during our first time through YC, I was 26. I felt like one of the old ones; many batchmates were still in college, or very recent grads. This time through, I was 34, but oddly, I felt like there were plenty of other founders my age (and life stage) and older. The demographics have changed, and the YC definition of what a founder looks like has expanded tremendously.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?
Intense! There was this amazing sense of urgency, and founders were laser focused on growth. It felt like finals week at MIT, where people were helping each other cram, but rushing back to their own startups in every spare moment. There was definitely some amount of unhealthy benchmarking against other companies’ metrics, but I felt that the general atmosphere was about having our whole group excel rather than competing with one another.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
I don’t think it’s an advantage or disadvantage per se, just different. Sometimes you have to work harder to be taken seriously (among engineers and investors in particular), but there are also positives that balance these out. Given how hard it is to be a founder (male or female), gender disadvantages are probably just a rounding error.

Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
Fewer role models! People have a very strong, innate tendency to choose role models of their same gender. It’s much harder for people to picture themselves doing something if they haven’t seen others “like them” accomplish this before.

I think this is especially the case for women seeing other successful women founders with children. People generally have a lot of questions about how I manage when they find out that I am a founder with 2 young children. In particular, I get this line of questioning from younger women who seem like they are in disbelief that this is possible. In contrast, my husband/cofounder is rarely asked questions like, “What do your children do during the day while you’re at work?” If young women somehow feel that being a serial entrepreneur is incompatible with having children, this will give them pause in embarking on this path. I don’t think men feel this dichotomy as strongly.

Q: What was the toughest thing you went through as a founder?
Decision fatigue. All day, every day, there are a thousand decisions to be made based on imperfect information– many little decisions, some big decisions. It can get in the way of doing bigger, more important things, and can also be an emotional and mental drain. Finding team members who you can trust so you can delegate some of these decisions is critical.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
There are so many paths to success, most of which you haven’t even been exposed to yet. There are so many jobs and ideas and lifestyles and places that might suit you, and you’ll continue to learn about them for the rest of your life. Keep an open mind about what success looks like, and constantly adjust your course as you learn more about yourself and your options.


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