YC Alumni Who Paid It Forward

by Michael Seibel12/20/2017

As the YC community grows we have to continually make the choice to help one another. I know that as your company progresses, it becomes harder and harder to respond to that quick question or favor from another YC founder. This holiday season I wanted to give shoutouts to founders in the YC community who went above and beyond to help out their fellow alum.

And before the rest of the stories, I’d like share one of my own. I’d like to thank Gustaf Alstromer (Heysan W07, now a YC Partner). At Socialcam Ammon, Guillaume, and I wanted to learn how to grow our little video app. We knew we needed to be data driven, a/b test, and iterate quickly but to be honest these practices were not part of our culture at Justin.tv. We met with Gustaf in the fall of 2011 and he basically taught us what to measure, when to test, and how to grow a social startup. I really stretch to remember another time when 1 hour of advice has been so impactful.

Below is a collection of stories from YC alum.

Happy holidays!

Tristan Tao (Leada S15) basically stepped in when my company was in need and acted as our CTO. He did code reviews, built features, and worked with me on spec-ing out parts of the product. He gave me feedback as both a manager and a product owner. He didn’t ask for anything in return, other than that one day, I help out other YC companies and pay it forward. I will be eternally grateful to Tristan. He totally saved us, was super generous with his time, resources and spirit.

Alanna Gregory of Vive (S15)

Will Olsen and Storm Stillman, founders of Luminist (W16), have gone above and beyond for me. It wasn’t really one single action, more a collection of small things that has resulted in big impact. They were the ones to encourage me to apply for YC, and when I did apply, they provided very nice recommendations. However, their assistance didn’t stop there. Since last summer, they each independently continually reach out to check in on how I’m doing and offer any help they can give. I have taken them up on this in the form of many extended phone calls where they help me problem-solve, prioritize, and step back from the proverbial ledge at particularly hectic times. In addition, they offered lab space and even to purchase lab equipment to get me started when I first started out, although I didn’t have to take them up on that. I recently brought on a co-founder, but while I was still a solo founder, Will and Storm were often the first people I turned to, and they helped me work through some of the most difficult early challenges for my company. ZBiotics would not be where it is today without their support.

Zack Abbott of ZBiotics (F3 + W18)

Cecilia Corral of CareMessage (W14) for being an insanely supportive human being and helping us prepare for our YC interview!

Vineet Singal of CareMessage (W14) for giving me super practical tools and tips that I can use for fundraising and really taking me behind the curtain to understand what it takes to be successful in the nonprofit/tech space.

Ankush Grover and the Innov8 (S16) team for kindly donating some desk space to me and my team while we are in Delhi.

Karam Lakshman of Wifi Dabba (W17) for letting our Bangalore staff member crash your office space without any questions asked.

Chase Adam of Watsi (W13) for answering any and all of my dumb questions about the admin side of starting an organization when I first incorporated and continuing to be an incredible source of advice. (Oh and Chase also helped us get a discount from our lawyer on some fees!)

Sneha Sheth of Dost Education (W17)

Justin Kan getting up on stage during our demo day pitch and saying “Justin.tv integrated this API in like 5 minutes and it’s something we’ll definitely pay lots of money for.”

Things were a little more unstructured back then (S11), but it was still not common to bring a guest with a live testimonial up on stage. It got a huge reaction from the crowd and was the highlight of our pitch. PG came up with the idea and Justin agreed to do it basically on the spot the day of.

Nick Alexander of Freshplum (S11) and Yoshi (S16)

We bought a lot of heavy materials for our demo day prototype last summer. Unfortunately we didn’t finish it on time and ended up with a 400 pounds pallet full of copper and molybdenum plates that we had no idea how to ship back to France quickly. After reaching out to the YC hardware group, Jonathan Friedman from Assembly (S15) offered us to store our pallet in his warehouse while Paul Gerhardt from Lockitron (S09) let us use his Fedex account with amazing rates (1/4 of the price we were quoted by Fedex !). They also put us in touch with a compliance expert to make sure we would be able to export the molybdenum without issues.

It took everyone a LOT of efforts to coordinate everything but the pallet finally arrived on Monday. We are extremely grateful for their help!

Franck Lahaye of Airthium (S17)

Matt Robinson from GoCardless (S11) is unreal with this. I worked for him as an intern, and he’s mentored and advised us since day 1 of Permutive. Cumulatively he’s easily spent >50 hours teaching us how to build a business and has never asked for a thing in return.

He helped us write our first sales deck, write our YC application, ran mock interviews for us, guided us through our first fundraise, had the hard conversation with us to tell us our initial product wasn’t working, taught us how to listen to customers, checked-in on us, helped us hire our first employee, gave us the blueprint for letting our first employee go, role played this with us, shared job specs, benchmarked our KPIs, introduced us to investors, guided us through our second fundraise, worked out our VP Sales compensation, helped us set cultural values.

I really can’t overstate how kind he is too us. He couldn’t embody paying it forward anymore.

Joe Root of Permutive (S14)

Ravi Parikh from Heap Analytics (S13) has helped us quite a bit during the early stages of our launch from pricing, shared order forms and agreement templates, provided insights into go-to-market, made intros, etc.

He spent many hours spending time with me over multiple sessions. Was really nice of him and I owe it to the community.

John Kim of SendBird (W16)

Our story is about Paul Sawaya of Captain401 (S15). If anything speaks louder than actions, it’s probably results: our understanding is that Paul’s SUS17 group yielded more companies continuing into YC than all the other groups combined! This is entirely due to the focus and thoughtfulness Paul showed throughout SUS and beyond. In our case, we needed to course correct and get some momentum; Paul pointed this out immediately and helped us reset through a series of ambitious and well-directed goals. We were continually surprised that he provided the same level of clarity to every group, every week! Paul’s support continued on as we left our jobs and applied to YC: he gave us advice on getting off the ground, comments on the application, and a mock interview. We can’t thank him enough!

– Jeffrey Warren & Gopal Ramachandran of DeepMed (W18)

Wanted to share how Cyrus Lohrasbpour helped us acquire Markhor.com domain. It was over a two month long process and he advised us through every step of the way. We scheduled multiple calls and he did some research around the domain and its history. All without expecting anything in return. At the end of the process we successfully bid and got the domain for ~$1600. Boom!

Waqas Ali of Markhor (S15)

Mike Miller of Cloudant (S08) basically brought me to Silicon Valley from France by sending my resume on the YC founders mailing list in 2013. I got 25 interview offers in 24 hours from that one blurb. One was with Bo Lu at FutureAdvisor (S10), where I worked for almost two years as head of comms and recruiting.

In 2015, Adam Gibson and I raised our first money for Skymind, and I left FutureAdvisor, which was acquired by BlackRock a few months later.

At that point, Mike encouraged us to apply to YC. We got lucky, and were admitted to the W16 batch. His firm, Liquid2, invested in us in 2015, and again at the end of YC, introducing us to SV Angel and some other important investors in our seed round.

Both Mike and Bo have provided a lot of support and reality checks, a long trickle of small and large favors that helped us grow the business and navigate the fog of startup life. Everything from introductions to speaking events to strategic advice on fund-raising and product.

Chris Nicholson of Skymind (W16)

There are two YC alums that I can think of in particular that went out of their way to be helpful to us:

Bo Lu from FutureAdvisor (S10). Bo took several phone calls from me as we were exploring adding investment capabilities to our HSA offering. He was so intrigued by what he was doing that he made several calls on our behalf and eventually connected us with TD Ameritrade. They ended up being the partner we integrated with and as a result, the industry feedback of our offering has been fantastic! I honestly don’t know where we would be if we didn’t get that intro from Bo.

Paul Sawaya from Captain401k (S15). Paul not only helped prep for our YC interview but post-YC, Paul was really helpful in helping us navigate the world of scraping payroll systems and various techniques to automate the payroll syncing process. He shared lessons learned, best practices, etc. It was incredibly helpful and saved us a ton of cycles so we could concentrate on the things that mattered!

Shobin Uralil of Lively (W17)

Smarking has been struggling for a long time to get the smarking.com domain name since the beginning of the company, as the original owner was not accessible and held it for more than 7 years. On Mar 16 2016, Cyrus Lohrasbpour of LeanMarket (S12) reached out to me via founders@smarking.net cold after seeing the domain name open for bid on “dropcatch.com” and offered free help to acquire it for us. I almost missed the opportunity suspecting this a phishing message. I checked bookface immediately, and decided to chat with Cyrus on phone.

Cyrus turned out to be our hero. He not only provided his own bidding portal for us, but also shared with me tremendous amount of knowledge and strategic tactics, and finalized the bidding strategy together with me. Four days later, Cyrus operated the bidding process, with a cap we set at $12,500, Cyrus won the domain name for Smarking at $4,250, while my original thought on the threshold was at $40,000. What a win!

We will never be able to get the .com domain without Cyrus’ generous help. Cyrus reached out to me without knowing me, and he then helped us all the way through the entire process, offering all kinds of advice and hands on help, without charging us a dime, or asking for anything as a return. This probably would only happen in the YC community.

Wen Sang of Smarking (W15)


  • Michael Seibel

    Michael Seibel is a Group Partner and Managing Director, Early Stage at YC. He was the cofounder and CEO Justin.tv and Socialcam. Socialcam sold to Autodesk in 2012 and Justin.tv became Twitch.