Blog: YEI fellow Q&A

Jul
12
2012

As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q & A is with Communificiency - a crowdfunding platform that allows businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations to raise money from their communities to finance investments in the energy efficiency of their buildings, cofounded by Max Webster (YC '12) and Sherwin Yu (YC '12).

1. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

Chris Devore was excellent. He gave honest and concrete advice about what investors are looking for from the accelerator stage (e.g. getting accepted to TechStars) to later series rounds. We also really enjoyed hearing his thoughts on how communities can successfully build strong startup ecosystems.   

2. What strategy or hypothesis about your venture have you changed since you started the summer fellowship?

We came into YEI knowing that we wanted to focus on crowdfunding for sustainaibility. Over the course of customer discovery and development during the summer, we have focused on providing financing and awareness for energy efficiency retrofits of small and medium sized businesses. 

3. What did you take away from the YEI Fellowship’s tour of more established startups like HubSpot and (2010 YEI fellowship company) Hadapt?

Hard work, good hiring, and genuine passion can lead to a large impact in the world in a relatively short amount of time. 

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Jul
12
2012

As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q&A is Neil St. Clair (GSAS '13), cofounder of UnBuyThat, a secondary marketplace for the reselling of services, such as hotel and restaurant reservations and daily deal coupons.

1. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

While we have experienced many wonderful speakers, Marc Cenedella, founder of TheLadders.com, was by far and away the most inspiring for us. He brought a bit of reality to an entrepreneurial success story. Showed us clearly and intelligently how he found success and failure in different areas--marketing, product development, etc. His initial thoughts on customer acquisition strategies and customer engagement through his newsletter gave us a lot to think about as a company going forward.

 2. What strategy or hypothesis about your venture have you changed since you started the summer fellowship.

Coming into the program, I thought that "strategic partnerships" would be unnecessary as part of our customer acquisition strategy. As we moved deeper into our entrepreneurial education, it became apparent that this would be necessary to increase our legitimacy and bring customers to our site. Our YEI mentors pointed this out to us, and we have begun outreach to a variety of potential organic partners that will help drive traffic to our site.

3. What did you take away from the YEI Fellowship’s tour of more established startups like HubSpot and (2010 YEI fellowship company) Hadapt.

These tours gave us a lot of confidence in what our business could become and a pathway on how to get there. We looked to Hubspot as a great example of creating "buzz" around your company through inbound marketing. However, it was also a reality check that even the best laid businesses will run into issues and that we must be ready for the challenges ahead. 

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Jul
12
2012

As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q&A is with YEI venture Mental Canvas, a software that enables designers to explore unfinished ideas built from sketches and photographs arranged in a coherent, lightweight 3D environment. The fellowship team comprises of Paul Christensen (SOM '13), Patrick Paczkwoski (GSAS '13) and Smita Venkat (SOM '13)

1. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

I really enjoyed the visit by Caren of Nestio. It’s always powerful to see entrepreneurs who have been really engaged in the nuts and bolts of starting up a venture, and can speak clearly about the experience. For ventures like ours, which are working through the day to day challenges of launching a new enterprise, it’s incredibly useful to be able to speak with people who understand what we are going through. 

2. What strategy or hypothesis about your venture have you changed since you started the summer fellowship?

Since starting the summer fellowship, we’ve realized that our business could have much wider applications that we previously thought. We’ve widened our thinking to consider how we could approach not only a specific industry niche, but also how Mental Canvas could be applied to broader consumer markets.

3. How have your mentors helped you advance your business?

Our mentors are a critical element in developing our business. We have a group of mentors who understand the software industry and the process of transferring technology out of a university. A number of successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists have told us that one of the most important qualities of an entrepreneur is having “good ears.” We’ve taken that to heart, and listening to our mentors has been one of the most important ways for thinking through how to structure our business model and pitch.

 4. What did you take away from the YEI Fellowship’s tour of more established startups like HubSpot and (2010 YEI fellowship company) Hadapt?

Success is possible!

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Jun
27
2012

As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q&A is with YEI venture Project Optix, a dynamic daily deals website for discounted movie tickets. The fellowship team is comprised of Vela-Susan Park (YC '13) and Derrick Gomez.

1. What is the most important learning experience you've gained so far while working in the incubator space at YEI?

We are amazed by the amount of resource and nurturing environment that YEI creates for its student ventures. We have learned that it’s okay to fail, but what is more important is to take lessons from our failure and make our venture even better. We have also learned to think critically about the problems or inefficiencies in the market, and come up with viable solutions to meet that demand.

2. What obstacles have you overcome within your business model that has made your new venture gain momentum?

So far, being persistent and reaching out to our mentors for advice have been extremely helpful. We have been engaging in an active discussion with the moviegoers and movie managers to make sure that we are addressing their problem or need. For instance, we have created surveys and contacted 12 movie theaters in NY and CT to gain their feedbacks. Next, we are planning to do a pilot test to prove our hypothesis.

3. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

Our favorite speakers were Ka Mo Lau from PaperG and Chris DeVore. We felt that Mo provided crisp and to-the-point insight on how to develop a successful business as a student entrepreneur. We also found Chris DeVore’s talk very helpful because we were able to gain viewpoint from VCs and investors, and learned how to prepare and approach them in the future. 

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Jun
22
2012

As an ongoing series this summer on the YEI Blog, we asked the  summer fellowship teams to answer a few questions about their experiences starting their ventures. This Q&A is with YEI venture Cronote, a web technology to allow users to schedule an email or text message reminder about an upcoming product. The founders of Cronote are Aaron Abajian (MED' 15) and Ann Nguyen.

1. What has been your biggest challenge so far at YEI?

By far, it has been to define the problem that our business really solves. We started YEI with several assumptions about customer needs, but we soon learned that those assumptions weren't entirely correct. We had essentially created a solution for a problem before truly understanding if there was a demand. Now, we are spending more time on customer discovery and customer validation in order to find the right niche for our product.

2. Who was your favorite guest speaker and why?

Victor Wong from PaperG was memorable for many reasons. It was inspiring to have a former YEI fellow as a speaker. PaperG's success is further proof that incredible companies come out of YEI every year. His stories resonated with us, even more so than usual, because he's also in the advertising space. We appreciated Victor's perspective on building customer relationships and admired his tenacity. He took a lot of big risks -- and even put his degree on hold -- to pursue leads that were viable but certainly never guaranteed.

3. What is the most important learning experience you've gained so far while working in the incubator space at YEI?

YEI showed us that entrepreneurship has structure. It's not just about having a great idea, perseverance, and some space in your parents' garage. Successful entrepreneurs oftentimes follow a recipe, which is artfully described in "The Startup Owner's Manual." There are ways to de-risk your business and increase your chances of having a product that people will actually give you money to make. Entrepreneurs also come in all shapes and sizes. Rob Glaser worked at Microsoft for 10 years before starting RealNetworks. Michael Inwald, on the other hand, started Cheeseboy with zero years in the food industry. While there are always exceptions to the rule, most of these success stories began with a constant feedback loop between customer discovery and customer validation.

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