Female Founder Stories: Grace Garey, Founder of Watsi (YC W13)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Watsi is a non-profit that lets anyone directly fund life-changing healthcare for people who need it around the world.

Q: What did you do before starting Watsi?
We live in a world where potential is universal but opportunity is not. I’ve always wanted my life to be about changing that. Before I started working on Watsi, I studied global studies and political science in college, did refugee research in Ghana, and worked at a large humanitarian advocacy organization in DC. All trying to figure out what people were doing to create opportunity for those who were born without it, and how I could help. It was while working at Kiva (a San Francisco-based website that allows anyone to fund a micro-loan for an entrepreneur in a developing country) that I got excited about the idea that technology could connect people more directly and change the way we create opportunity in each other’s lives.

Q: How did Watsi get started?
Chase had the original idea for Watsi. While he was serving in the Peace Corps in Central America, a woman boarded the bus Chase was on and asked for donations to pay for her son’s medical care. She inspired him to start Watsi, and name it after the town he was traveling through at the time.

Q: How did you meet Chase?
I’d just graduated from college and was working at Kiva and super excited about the idea that technology could change the way we connect with and support each other. One day I heard from Chase’s younger brother that he’d just returned from the Peace Corps and had an idea for a “Kiva for healthcare.” I emailed him to say I wanted to get involved and convinced him over beers that I should run marketing at Watsi.

Q: What was it like being YC’s first non-profit?
Being the first non-profit to join YC was a huge honor. Honestly, it came as a shock to us that YC wanted to fund Watsi. Our experience in YC was incredible. I don’t think we’d have found such focus and motivation anywhere else. It makes me proud, now that YC accepts non-profits as a rule, to have been part of the beginning of the tech community scaling social good the way it scales for-profit ventures. YC is a progressive voice in that conversation now, and we’re thrilled to have been the guinea pig!

Q: What was YC like for you?
When I look back on Watsi’s time in YC, the memories fall into two categories. One category is the intensity– the passion, drive, and pressure we felt to succeed and grow. The early mornings on the phone with hospital partners on the other side of the world. The late nights writing marketing emails to hit our numbers for the week.

The other category is the sense that we were all in it together. Hanging out on picnic benches at YC and becoming friends with batchmates. Eating stew on Tuesday nights and listening to people I admired share insights and stories. Getting actionable advice and unwavering support from partners.

The whole experience is something I remember vividly and think back to often, many times searching those memories for guidance about how to tackle a new challenge. Luckily, the YC community is strong. We see batchmates and communicate with partners frequently– even though we’re now more than a year out of the program. PG told us on the first night that whether we realized it or not, we were in a room with people who would be in our weddings and meet our kids. I know now that he was right. The YC connection is one that lasts your entire life.

Q: Any advice for women who want to start a non-profit?
Don’t be afraid to start small. The world is full of huge problems. But I’d argue it’s actually better to zoom in and focus on designing for the individual rather than looking at people as part of a large statistic. Get to know the people you want to help create a solution for. As YC would say, “make something people want.”

Also, make something you want to make. You can only put in the hours and energy if you’re ridiculously excited about what you’re building.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
That the best paths are non-linear.


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