Female Founder Stories: Lona Alia, Founder of Style Lend (YC W14)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Style Lend is Peer to Peer Fashion Rentals.

Q: What did you do before starting Style Lend?
I was a full time entrepreneur for 2.5 years trying out different ideas before being accepted to YC. I started my career as a model but my education is in Business Management, both undergrad and MBA.

Q: Tell us about your background.
I grew up in communist Albania for the first 10 years of my life, which taught me hard work, dedication, and enormous empathy for others. I started negotiating at age 10 when I began doing all the grocery shopping for my family. And at age 11 I was involved in many aspects of my parents’ businesses. But I had very big dreams for myself, dreams that only America could realize so I set off and immigrated to the US as a 15 year old.

At first America was the biggest shock and disappointment but as I started to find myself in this new culture and country I began to realize all of my dreams one by one including working on my own VC backed startup. I consider myself so lucky to have had such a colorful life, to have lived in different political situations, have worked, studied, or traveled to 60 countries and learned 7 languages during my lifetime.

Because of my frequent travels I found the need to borrow someone else’s closet when I landed in a city instead of dragging my luggage through numerous airports and TSA security check points. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I landed in Paris and got to wear a stylish Parisian woman’s closet and experience culture through local fashion?”

Q: What is it like being a solo founder?
It’s extremely difficult. I want to say that this was not by choice. I did not have the good fortune to find an amazing technical co-founder because I had not worked previously or gone to school with technical individuals. I know that the best way to find a technical co-founder is through people you have worked with before or gone to school with. I had to do the speed dating thing instead and that never works.

The benefit of being a solo founder has been that I put my vision to work and my company is not at the mercy of a cofounder leaving due to any disagreements or disputes. Founder disagreements happen all the time and they are the number one reason for company dissolutions. I can say that in this respect I do not have any headaches.

However, by being a solo founder you have double or triple the responsibilities that you would otherwise had if you had one or two cofounders.

Having said that I would whole-heartily recommend to get anywhere from 1-3 cofounders because as the company grows you need more hands on deck, and what better people suited to be in charge of different areas than cofounders?

Q: What was your YC experience like?
YC for me was life changing. It gave me the resources that I needed in order to bring my idea to the market. Without YC I do not think I would have gotten this far as I would have run out of money before having real numbers to show for it.

The best part about YC is the friends that I have made. The batch-mates that I am in daily contact with and the help that we give each other at any given point. My office is next door to another YC founder and we are in constant communication with each other.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?
I won’t lie, it is pretty nerve-wracking. Because YC is such an institution you want to do everything in your power to make them proud, so you work extra extra hard to get the metrics that are needed in order to present on Demo Day.

It’s quite a male-dominated environment just from sheer numbers but that did not scare me one bit. The guys are all super friendly and more than happy to help.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
Definitely an advantage working on my startup because I’m solving a problem that I have and women have in general. If I was male it would be hard to relate to my demographic and build a product that women would use.

A disadvantage was fundraising I would say. I won’t go into detail but the short answer is that it is still hard for women to raise money. Especially as a solo founder.

Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
In terms of technology startups, the simplest answer is that there are fewer women in general that are interested in coding when compared to their male counterparts.

If you take into consideration all businesses in general it has to do with the fact that many women chose to go the traditional route which is a home-maker. Most of my friends are raising kids at the moment and are busy being moms and wives, which are very very hard jobs. Having a startup simultaneously would be a big challenge. It takes enormous dedication and sacrifice to work on a startup. The startup is your baby so as a woman you can either chose to have a human baby or a startup as your baby. I’ve made my choice and I’m very happy with it.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
To follow your heart, do what you want and only what you want and love, do not compromise.

Q: Any other thoughts?
It’s just as hard to work on a startup that is solving a problem in a small market as it is to work on a startup that is solving a problem in a big market. Do your homework and make sure you are working on a problem in a big market as this will be your life for 10-20 years if you are lucky.


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