Female Founder Stories: Urska Srsen, Founder of Bellabeat (YC W14)

by Y Combinator2/8/2015

Bellabeat is a company bringing quantified self to prenatal and neonatal care. Our aim is to bring nature and technology together and enable women to have a healthier and more engaging pregnancy.

Q: What did you do prior to starting BellaBeat?
I studied at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts.

Q: How did Bellabeat get started?
Before building Bellabeat we were working on a remote patient monitoring system for prenatal care with the help of my mom who is an OB/GYN and the head of the perinatology department at the University Clinical Center in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

We built a system that would let patients to do small routine examinations at home and send the data to their care providers. When we started to test our system we realized that first of all, something like this is very hard to implement into existing healthcare systems and secondly, patients had no idea how to do self tracking during pregnancy, so it was hard to get them to use it.

We decided to scale down the project and focus on a consumer product that would introduce patients to self tracking through an easy to understand and engaging experience.

Q: How did you meet your cofounder?
I met Sandro while working as a windsurf instructor at our friend’s windsurfing school in Croatia. We’re both passionate surfers and our story actually began evolving through sports and travel. Later on we started to work together on some projects where my role was as a designer and he was a developer.

Q: What was your YC experience like?
Once you overcome the initial shock at the level of people you’re surrounded by and start feeling like a proper part of the community, you feel that things that seemed so hard before have become much more possible.

Most of our batch mates were a lot more experienced. We were one of the younger teams, and non-US on top of it, so we did feel a lot of pressure to prove ourselves. I think we did manage to do that in those 3 months, mostly by just working hard but also by getting a lot of help from YC. Everybody– the partners, the staff, the alumni, our batch-mates– is really easy to reach out to. We feel that the most important thing we gained from YC is a strong network.

Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC with Demo Day approaching?
The atmosphere in YC is really friendly at all times. We were expecting that the atmosphere would intensify when Demo Day was approaching but it seemed like everybody knew what they were doing. That gives you a certain push and confidence that you can do it too, and besides it’s always easy to find help when you need it.

Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
I think that it is a wonderful thing that our company has both a female and a male founder. People often think that pregnancy is a woman’s thing and that’s why men usually feel a bit excluded from the prenatal care and the whole experience of pregnancy. Having both genders represented in the founding team makes it easier for our supporters and users to relate to our vision and philosophy.

Q: What was the hardest part about being a female founder?
It’s actually epic being a girl in startups. Everybody likes working with girls. Our team is almost 50/50 and that’s super important for the team dynamics.

It’s also pretty cool when sometimes you’re the only girl in the room at tech events. Everybody wants to talk to you. We are all drawn to people that are extraordinary and at the moment tech girls still pretty much stand out from the crowd.

In my experience the thing that’s really hard is being the non-technical founder. I’m soaking up all the knowledge I can about hacking software and hardware on my way but it’s still sometimes annoying not being able to build the little things that make your product work by yourself. On the other hand my cofounder’s and my skills compliment each other perfectly so that helps a lot in getting it all done.

Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
I was very lucky to have had a lot of very supportive and inspiring people in my life from the very beginning. I’ve been told and saw many things that made me not afraid of following my instincts and do things that made me happy. I think the most valuable was the guidance of my parents who taught me to seek new knowledge in everything. Nothing you do, nothing you learn is useless and everything you go through will help you realise who you want to be.

Q: What was it like moving from Europe to the US?
It wasn’t easy. It is hard competing against people that are native in everything you are not native in. Language, business, culture. The culture is quite different. In the US everything is about making a good business and sell, sell, sell. But it’s also a much more accepting environment. Europe is a pretty hard place to start a startup. The young tech community is small, the market is fragmented, full of people speaking different languages, different cultures, closed network circles. Once you find an entry point in the States, things become much easier. Building a good network is the most important thing.

Q: What is it like running a hardware company?
Running a hardware company is the most fun. I always enjoyed building “real” things. When you get things just right in hardware it’s like you’ve found the holy grail of tech.


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