Female Founder Stories: Mathilde Collin, Founder of Front (YC S14)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Front is a desktop application that empowers shared inboxes (e.g. contact@company.com, support@company.com, press@company.com) by introducing collaboration features. Front also works with Twitter accounts and shared SMS numbers. Front is the front desk of your company, helping your team interact with the outside world in the easiest way.

Q: What was your background prior to starting a startup?
I graduated in 2012 from a French school, then joined a SaaS company as a product manager, then quit one year later to start building Front.

Q: Tell us about your experiences coming from France. What challenges have you faced bringing your startup to the US?
I think bringing your team to the US during the period of YC is very easy and an awesome experience. After YC though, things get more complicated: your team will have to go back to France for visa reasons and you’ll probably need to grow the US team at the same time. If there is a common goal to have everybody in the US, it makes things far easier.

Q: Tell us about your experience at Y Combinator.
Soon after your interview, you find out if you’ll be part of the next batch. When we learned that we got accepted, the whole team (5 of us) booked plane tickets and moved into a house in Mountain View.

During the three months of YC, we got two partners to help us out along the way: Justin Kan, the cofounder of Justin.tv, and Garry Tan, the cofounder of Posterous. We turned to them every time we had doubts, questions, or just wanted to talk. They also helped us work our way through the busy weeks and the intense weekly schedule that goes like this:

One weekly dinner with the entire batch, where a guest host from the startup world comes to talk with us. We saw people like Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Thiel!

One group session every other week, with six other companies to share what we’ve accomplished and what we’re struggling with amongst people that are living exactly the same thing.

Unlimited office hours with partners and other great people like Andrew Chen, Ben Chestnut (Mailchimp) or Hiten Shah (KISSmetrics) who give a bit of their free time to help us out.

We didn’t spend that much time inside the actual Y Combinator building. We were more often behind our computers at home. But these weekly get-togethers were here to remind us that we’re all in this together– at least until Demo Day in mid-August, and that we have one goal and one goal only: Make. Things. Happen.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?
Y Combinator is really inspiring. You meet all these people that now manage really successful businesses but that were sitting exactly where you are now just a few years ago. They probably screwed up a few things and they didn’t do everything right but they are now the founders of Stripe, Airbnb, Dropbox. It makes you want to get up and work in the morning.

Y Combinator is definitely team-building times a hundred. Living and working together 24/7 helped us to focus on the things that mattered and give it all we got.

It’s pretty darn stimulating. It felt like we made more progress in just one month of being here than ever before. Weekly progress is mandatory– at least a 10 percent growth in our case.

Q: What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned so far?
Everyone started as small as we did. Even the most successful founders had feelings of doubts, fear or even of throwing everything out the window. They weren’t born successful entrepreneurs, they worked their butts off to get where they are today. And we/you can too.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
I think there are a few drawbacks of being a female CEO: when you’re a woman in charge, you do have to work a bit more to get credibility and have people listen to you; it might be harder to recruit developers and make them trust you; and you will end up going to a few sales meetings where the other person is more interested in you than in your product.

There are also some pretty good advantages: it’s sometimes easier to get press coverage, and sales can happen faster. People will usually be keener on lending a hand. And I’m not even talking about all the help I got from fellow female entrepreneurs, especially when I was trying to get things off the ground.

But those pros and cons are just minor details. The hard part is to ship a product people love, meet growth goals and get money in the bank. We each get our own advantages and drawbacks, and we should all try to play the best out of the cards we’ve been dealt.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
Be prepared to go the Valley if you want to build a tech startup.


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