Female Founder Stories: Gillian Tee, Founder of Rocketrip (YC W14)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Rocketrip saves companies money by paying employees to find less expensive ways to travel. Rocketrip’s founders Gillian Tee and Daniel Ruch were inspired by the way Googlers get rewarded to save when they travel for work. They decided to build a more robust version for every other company to use. By allowing employees to earn half of the savings below a real-time budget, they’ve seen many innovative ways folks have reduced spend, including using Airbnb, booking a bundled travel deal and staying with friends.

Q: Tell us about your background prior to starting Rocketrip.
The day I first visited the United States was the day I moved to the country from Australia. I was born into a conservative Singaporean family, and starting a business was never a viable career path in that setting. I knew I wanted to be creative with software engineering and build impactful products, so I followed my gut and moved to the center of technology innovation and entrepreneurship. Now I’m hooked and I know I’ll be starting businesses for the remainder of my life.

Q: How did you meet your cofounder?
Dan and I were introduced by Gil Beyda, who runs Genacast Ventures, and Owen Davis, who runs NYCSeed. Owen and I met when I worked at NYCSeed. I’d helped him screen deals while completing my MBA.

Q: What was your YC experience like?
You’re thrust into a community of people who are not only relentlessly focused on proving out their businesses’ viability and achieving the fastest growth possible, but also committed to helping one another achieve that.

In three months you experience such a heightened intensity of support and learning that directly helps you improve your business. One of the best things about YC is that after the program you remain immersed in the talented community and knowledge exchange.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?
The goal was to get your business to a point that was optimal for investment on Demo Day. Everyone we knew in our batch was hyper-focused on achieving that. The atmosphere was quite intense. Paul Graham would say only 4 things matter during this period: sleep, exercise, time with family and talking to customers. Everything else came in second.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
I believe that women and women founders alike face challenges in the workplace and issues like gender pay gap and harassment need to be addressed. However, I don’t think women should attribute failures to gender stereotyping. There are many women who have shown us that it is possible to succeed. Quoting a female CEO I recently met, “If getting to that point is important to you, set your mind to it, power through and you’ll get there.” I get very inspired when female leaders defy the odds set by the majority.

Q: What was the hardest part about being a female founder?
Creating a business and being a founder is extremely hard. This question also prompted an evaluation of whether gender bias has had an adverse impact on Rocketrip as a business. I was recently asked by PG to postulate what effect gender bias among post-YC investors had on valuations. Would Rocketrip’s current post-money valuation be different if we had all male founders? I doubt a difference would exist, seeing as one of our key investors introduced me to Dan as part of the formation process of the company. Additionally, our lead investor Canaan Ventures has funded eight women-led ventures since May 2012, which make up one-third of the companies its latest $600m fund has invested in. That’s a much higher share than the VC industry as a whole.

But I’m a female technical cofounder leading product and technology. I’m interested to see whether things would be different if I were a technical female CEO, or even hypothetically if I was a non-technical female CEO. It’s definitely a conversation worth having in terms of deep diving into gender bias in startup investments.

Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
Speaking to technology startups, there are simply a lot less women educated in the field. Women earn about 57% of all undergraduate degrees, but only 18% of all undergraduate degrees in computer and information sciences. I was part of a women in technology panel recently and it’s telling that all the panelists, including myself, had early exposure to technology.

It’s also interesting to note that the U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be more than 1.4 million computing related job openings in the US between 2010-2020. To have more women in the space is surely one component to the solution towards filling the talent gap.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
If you get super good at coding and design, you have the power to combine technology and all sorts of domains like public affairs, music, art and so on to make a huge impact, no matter how young you are.

Q: What is it like running a startup in New York?
Tech startups and venture funds cluster in a few neighborhoods in the city. They are all a hop, skip and a jump away from each other, making it very conducive to connecting within the space.


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