It started with an email. This is an email I have read about on the internet for the last 5 years of getting. It was an email that I always wanted, but was never in a position to get. I am talking about the Y Combinator interview email. I am used to seeing it in other blog posts. But on Monday, it was in my inbox.
For additional context
I applied with a different idea months before the deadline. About a week before the deadline, I emailed them this.
I don’t know if I got accepted for the original app or the original email. So I honestly have no idea what they were expecting when they interview me tomorrow (Today is a day before my interview as of this writing, April 28th)
So you might be wondering, what did I do once I knew I was supposed to interview at YC in a week? Well, I needed to make my idea an actual company. I needed to build out the product, talk to users, and get to revenue before the interview. So, what did I do? I got to work.
What do I work on? I let the business model guide my thinking
So I knew I wanted to build something that was in the creator world. With that said, there were a million directions I could have gone in. What is key about this moment is I pick a direction and just stick with it, even if I change that path based on new data. For me, I really wanted to innovate on the business model. I think the freemium model is not for me. And I didn’t want to make an expensive course. And I didn’t want to do ISAs, I don’t think the unit economics work for me at the pre-seed stage.
So I decided I would build a product that is in the range of $15-$50/mo. With that, I can:
Short circuit my reward system
Get feedback from consumers on it
See if it’s valuable on day one
So I picked $15/mo to start. It was approachable enough to try as a stranger, but not enough to make you sweat. Perfect for testing. The next task I had to do is think about the market and what is available for different prices. The gap for me was the paid, but low touch model. I think I immediately went to AMAs when I started going down this path. AMAs are good because they allow members to ask questions that are relevant to them today, not what might be relevant to them tomorrow. I also think if I get some real stars, there will be some capacity of a cameo effect. “I get to talk to X tomorrow, so excited”.
And this was the first idea. I decided this on April 22nd in the evening, and I pitched it to my finance and she thought it sounded weak. I also knew it wasn’t strong. My idea needed software but I didn’t know what. I put the software on hold. So, that night, I DMd a ton of my smart friends asking if they’d be open to doing an AMA this weekend. I got a few too.
I was set on it. It was going to be an AMA focused community, and I was going to get people to do AMAs this weekend, and I was going to get people to pay for it. So I send an iteration of this message out, then went to bed.
Getting the green light
The next day, I still had work for my job at Prenda. Prenda was also a YC company, so if I told them what was going on, I thought they would understand. So I told my boss about the opportunity, and she just told me to take the week off and work on this company and try to get into YC. How fucking cool is that? I will never forget how she reacted. But since I had the opening, I took it. I put on my vacation emoji on Slack and decided for the next week, I am building a company.
This ultimately allows me to not feel guilty about not working on Prenda during this time. It allowed me to go all-in in this AMA idea, whatever it is.
Emailing potential AMA guests
One thing I did was email as many bigtime AMA guests as I could. From big names in startups to successful but unknown creators, I emailed them all. Garyvee, Anthony Pompliano, Paul Jarvis, Mehak Vohra, and dozens more were on my list. I got 10+ to verbally commit too, which is really exciting. So, the AMA side was working and I will be able to drop great names to YC, and more importantly, my users will get so much value from them. Amazing. The AMAs would happen in our Slack community
Giving it Some SaaS
I started talking to tons of people about this and just got the feeling that there needed to be more than just AMAs. For someone to get $15/mo worth of value every month, there needed to be a product. So when thinking about it, I realized that I once built software for startup founders to track their progress. Why coudnt’t I do the same thing for newsletter writers? That realization wasn’t clear to me at first. The first iteration I did for software was building analytics for newsletters writers.
I wanted people with a newsletter to know when the right time to monetize their newsletter was, and how much they could make if they did that. So I build this basic formula into Adalo, my no-code building, and it got me this.
The metrics were cool. I think this is nifty and helpful, but I feel like this is more of a free tool you build to generate leads, NOT a tool that is worth $15/mo. Also, what’s to stop Substack to adding something like this in and me getting cut out? It’s not enough.
After doing some thinking, I did realize that I build built software that helped foster community, which is much harder to build than the software itself. Once I had that thought, THAT’s when I realized that I should be building a progress tracking for creators. So I built it in Adalo, and now anyone signing up can update their progress and their data is stored.
The plan for the data
With this data, I want to group together creators who are on similar execution levels. What if I grouped creators with a CTR of 15%-16% to chat about their challenges and wins. This creates peer feedback which I do think is fairly valuable. We’ll also be able to help someone when they are struggling or even invest in an ISA in the ones who are rocketing if we want them to get to 500K in a year. The idea here is that the core of Quad is a growthmeter. It’s the line you draw every time you create a dot of your execution.
Once I was clear that my value prop was going to track your progress and get matched up with people who “get it” + have AMAs with creators who can give you tactical advice, I knew my product vision for the YC interview was done. This is the iteration as of today, the day before the interview.
Ok, so I told the story of building the product. Now here is how I got users. I wasn’t going to build a platform just to build a platform. I was going to get to revenue. My first paid 2 users came from the network I already had, I just convinced them to try it and they did. But that wasn’t going to cut it. I needed strangers to use this. So I decided to launch it on Product Hunt on Sunday, the 26th. I launched with a landing page and an email sign up form, but it was pretty minimal. Here it is.
It was vague enough AND interesting enough to get people to put their email in the form. So I launched on Product Hunt on Sunday night aaaand it didn’t get featured on Sunday. It got 20 upvotes or so. This was a bit disappointing but I understood. Until I woke up to this email So, I wake up the next day to this email!
Game time! I started DMing everyone. I emailed my email list. I emailed my podcasts guests. I spammed twitter. I hustled my face off. And it worked! I got top 15 on Product Hunt and got over 280 upvotes for a product I built 3 days ago at this point.
But the goal wasn’t to get upvotes. It was to get email subscribers. And I did! I got over 200 people to fill out that form.
Regardless of what happens, I’m lucky
So two things happen in this situation. I get into YC and swing the bat one more time to build a big company on the VC route. Or, I don’t and I get to work on this thing I blitz built in a week that’s already making money in the side of my amazing job at Prenda. I win either way. Y Combinator forced me to take action, and getting in isn’t even as important to having a company again, especially one that doesn’t require hands-on teaching from myself and client work. In some capacity, I get to be the user too. I’m still building my Forward Thinking empire, and Quad will help me.