Female Founder Stories: Erica Brescia, Founder of Bitnami (YC W13)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Bitnami is the app store for server software. We provide close to 100 web applications that can deployed locally or in the cloud with click, free of charge. We have over one million deployments per month of the software we package and are the top provider of applications on Amazon, Azure, and in the VMware marketplace.

Q: Tell us about your background prior to starting your startup.
I earned my first management role (at T-Mobile) before my 21st birthday. I believe I was the youngest manager in the company’s US history at that time.

Q: How did Bitnami get started?
We started out with a company called BitRock, which developed installation and packaging tools. In building that business, we developed powerful tools that allowed us to very efficiently package software for virtually any server or desktop OS and platform in existence. We also learned a lot about how software vendors and platform providers operate. The technology, relationships and deep understanding of the market gave us the vision for Bitnami– to build a platform that would enable people to acquire, deploy and manage any server software, anywhere.

Q: How did you meet your cofounder?
Daniel and I were introduced by a mutual friend. I was really interested in open source– which was just starting to get a little more mainstream– and Daniel had a technical background but no experience with sales, operations or business. We’re very complementary to each other in terms of our skill sets.

Q: Tell us about your experience at YC.
Although the meaning might be a little diluted now, YC really is a true accelerator. It provides the ideal environment for staying motivated and productive while giving you access to (and support from) some of the brightest minds out there. I liked the collaborative nature of the group meetings, where we’d all talk about our successes and failures and try to help each other out with advice, connections and so on.

It was also great to hear from successful founders about the challenges they had to overcome before getting to where they are now. When you’re struggling, it’s very reassuring to hear that most other entrepreneurs experienced similar (or worse) issues when they were building their businesses. Being an entrepreneur can be lonely at times and YC helps you to realize that you’re not alone and that there’s a lot of help out there.

YC also helped us to pick a couple of things and focus relentlessly on them. No one wants to go to their next group meeting and have to report that they didn’t achieve their goals for the past week.

Another thing that I really appreciated from the YC partners was how brutally honest they are. They don’t beat around the bush– there’s no time for that– and they tell you things that others may be too polite to say. That kind of feedback is extremely valuable and you know they’re giving it to you because they want you to succeed.

After going through the initial 3-month program, the YC network is really helpful, especially the email list. I’ve learned so much by following various discussions, gotten great vendor referrals, and there’s a regular stream of good candidates referred on the list who want to work for a YC-backed startup.

The experience was great for our team, too. We were further along than many other YC companies and already had a team in Europe. I remember how hard everybody worked to make YC a success, especially given the time difference, which made it more difficult to coordinate. Even though they weren’t in Mountain View with us, going through YC was definitely a team effort.

I was skeptical at first, but going through YC was one of the best decisions we have made.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC with Demo Day approaching?
The pressure was definitely on! It was pressure we were putting on ourselves, though. You get one shot at Demo Day and we wanted to do our absolute best. Even though the team was working like crazy, they have since told us that it was one of their favorite times in our team’s history because everyone was so focused on achieving particular milestones for that one day. Having a firm date in front of us kept us extremely focused, which helped us to take Bitnami to the next level of growth.

Q: How did it feel interviewing at YC with a 2-week-old baby? Do you have any advice for moms who want to start a startup?
Those days were all a bit of a blur. The story of the interview day was pretty crazy. It ended up being 8 hours round-trip between our place in Walnut Creek and YC’s office. I had to get my son, Jack, in the car, pick up Daniel, then my mom and finally head to Mountain View. With most babies, it may not have been a big deal, but Jack hated the car and being in his car seat. He screamed bloody murder almost the entire time.

As for moms who want to start a startup, I say, “Go for it,” but spend a lot of time thinking in advance about how you are going to split up your time. Starting a new company is usually an all-in effort, in which you do very little but work on your startup. It’s hard enough when you’re not trying to balance being a present and involved parent (and possibly wife/partner) as well. Also, if you are in a relationship, make sure that you truly have your partner’s support. I definitely could not do what I do without the unwavering support of my husband. Have an honest talk about how you’re going to manage parenting, the household, etc. and what hours you expect to need to work so that you both go into it with an understanding of how it’s going to impact both of your lives, as well as your child(ren)’s.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
I’ve never felt like I was at a disadvantage because I’m a woman, and the space we’re in, server software, is especially male-dominated compared to consumer-facing startups. I’ve been the only woman at events more times than I can count. But that hasn’t happened for several years now, so things seem to definitely be moving in the right direction.

There may actually be a slight advantage to being a woman in a male-dominated industry, provided you know your stuff. People tend to remember you, and, because you’re an anomaly, want to get to know you, hear your story, etc. It’s difficult to know if I’m just good at building relationships or if being a woman gave me an advantage in that area.

Q: What was the hardest part about being a female founder?
I don’t think there’s anything harder about being a female founder than a male founder, but being a mom definitely makes things more difficult. Before I had Jack, and especially before I got married, the company was my only focus. While I love Bitnami, I also love my husband and son and want to be a good mother and wife as well as building a successful startup. It is incredibly difficult to balance everything. You just don’t have as much time as you’d like to give to everyone, including the company.

Since I can’t work 80-hour weeks like I used to, I try to be as effective as possible. During the weekend, I try to spend as much time as I can with my family, though I still end up spending some of it working. It’s tough, but totally worth it. On the flip side, having a family has helped me to focus on what’s really important for our business and not take unnecessary meetings or spend time on things that aren’t absolutely critical. I think that’s made me a better executive and leader.

Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
I really don’t know. My father was an entrepreneur and taught me about various corporate structures when I was about 12, though he and my mom both started encouraging my entrepreneurial spirit as a young child. I went way beyond lemonade stands. I even tried selling tadpoles once. (It’s one way to learn about the laws of supply and demand.) I’m not sure I would be where I am without my parents encouraging my entrepreneurial drive from a young age, but because I had that experience, I’m not sure what holds others back.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
My parents were always incredibly supportive and I grew up with the “You can achieve anything you can put your mind to” mentality. But I don’t think I realized just how much you can achieve, even while still in high school. I think the Internet is really changing things in that regard. We didn’t have the Internet when I was in high school, which surfaces (among many other things, of course) incredible stories of youth achievement. I was already very determined and ambitious as a teenager, but I think I would have thought much bigger than I did if I had realized how capable people can be at that age.


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