John Milinovich, cofounder of URX, posted a story about their YC experience on his blog.
“On my first day as, “John Milinovich, Startup CEO” I was shell-shocked. I stared at an empty GMail inbox, unsure of where to start. The novelty quickly faded to the reality of the situation: I needed help. In the early days of a startup, you are battling inertia: how do you force something into existence that doesn’t exist yet?
I reached out to all of the mentors, friends and peers whose opinions I trusted to better understand how to get started. I was humbled by people’s response—people were so excited that I was going after my dreams and were willing to do whatever they could to help out. This led to several introductions, including to potential customers, investors and advisors.
At first, I was scared to share our idea with people. What if they didn’t like our product? What if they thought it wasn’t useful? What if they actually wanted to use it? I didn’t feel we were ready yet, but decided to put ourselves out there anyways.
This process taught me the most valuable lesson I learned early on: no matter what you’re building or “how early” you are in your development, it is never too early to start talking to potential customers. Customers (or users, in B2C companies) are the lifeblood of startups, and step 0 is to understand their problems and feel their pain. The more customers you speak with, the more perspective you gain—if you hear the same things multiple times, it’s probably something you should take into account.
In mid-April, I had the chance to meet Dave Fowler, the CEO of Chartio. Chartio was one of our neighbors in South Park, and had gone through YC a few years prior. It was a beautiful day outside, so we decide to walk around the Park. We ran into Max Mullen, one of the founders of Instacart (also YC) and we hit it off right away. I shared a bit about what we were working on at URX, and within 5 minutes Max said, “Yep, that sounds awesome – we would totally use this, sign us up.” Serendipity had played its hand again, and we had just landed our first customer. Our product wasn’t fully built yet, but Max was committed to working with us to fully help us understand Instacart’s needs.
By this point, we had been invited to interview for the Summer 2013 class of Y Combinator and decided to, “make our own luck” and talk to as many YC founders as possible to get a grasp on the interview process. Bruno introduced us to Sumon Sadhu, who founded Snaptalent out of YC’s S’08 class. Sumon is, single handedly, the most talented strategist and persuasive communicator that I’d ever met. He taught us how the Y Combinator interview process works and hammered it into our heads that, no matter what, we need to clearly articulate our 5 Main Points in our interview. We boiled down the entirety of “Why we should be in YC” to five bullet points and committed them to memory.
A few days later we interviewed with Geoff Ralston, Sam Altman, and Garry Tan and it was the most intense 10 minutes of our lives. The interviews are as difficult as they are made out to be, but we crushed it. We got our points across and walked out confident that we had made a good impression. (In retrospect, I’m proud that all of the YC partners we interviewed with ended up becoming investors in URX, along with Sumon).”