How We Went From Zero Users to Processing 1M+ API Calls Per Day

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Dedication, belief and sheer hard work really do pay off, especially with the right support. By Catheryne Nicholson (CEO, BlockCypher)

This post originally appeared on Medium.

My eyes scanned the cafeteria. I muttered, “There’s a f***ing lot of testosterone here.”

Matthieu, my co-founder, followed my gaze and joked, “Are you referring to yourself?” I chuckled, but I was shocked: the last time I had seen so many young white men was when I was a midshipman at the US Naval Academy.

It was now 20+ years later and we were at Y Combinator, about to interview for YC S14. We had answered their call-to-action for more female founder applications, but the sight that beheld me made me doubtful.

I grew more skeptical during our interview. Their staccato, interrogation-style questioning made it difficult to communicate: how does one explain building block chain infrastructure in a few seconds?

They asked about users: How many users will you have in two months? How will you get users? What are users doing now? How will you make money?

We had no users. We had no traction. We were nothing but two founders with a proof-of-concept.

We didn’t get into YC: Sam Altman told us they did not think we could ever inspire Bitcoin developers to build on top of us.

We Knew Sam was Wrong and So We Kept Going

We didn’t disappear into thin air. We landed, with a thud, in Boost Tribe4.

The weekend after our YC rejection, we pollinated all the teams at the Boost Bitcoin Hackathon with our first API. One of them called us at 10pm on Friday to tell us they were going to use us. By 4am Saturday, they had made over 120k requests. They won the hackathon. And we got our first user.

Unlike our YC interview, we had a civilized conversation with the Boost partners. There was no grilling or speed-dating. Adam Draper and Brayton Williams wanted to know us as founders.

My co-founder and I come from unusual backgrounds: I am a former US Naval Officer, one of the few female aerospace engineers, the mother of two kids and I have been a PM building enterprise software systems for a long time. I am also one of a handful of Bitcoin women CEOs.

Matthieu grew up in Normandy and immigrated to the US. From the age of 15, he has developed more software platforms in more programming languages than most. He is one of the most talented devs on the face of the planet.

Boost didn’t mind that we didn’t have any users. We are building block chain infrastructure on which the next-generation of Bitcoin applications are now being built. They believed in us and knew that traction wouldn’t happen overnight… or does it?

Boost introduced us to their network and Bitcoin companies. This was invaluable. We are grateful for the advice, help and candid feedback from these Boost companies: BitPagos, Volabit, CoinHako, Palarin, Pylon, Coinmotion, Hedgy, ZapChain, Snapcard, Orboros, Mirror and HashRabbit.

FollowTheCoin and CareerDean even made a video about our zero-confirmation confidence factor and Blossom included us in a rap! If you’re a Bitcoin startup, Boost is where you need to be (applications for Tribe5 are due Jan 2, 2015).

We are Now Processing an Average of Over 1 Million API Calls Per Day

We have grown from one user to hundreds, from a smattering of API calls per month to 1.5 million per hour at times. We have companies from all over the world using our web services to build Bitcoin POS, remittances, exchanges, lending, ATMs, merchant services, wallets, gaming, registries, analytics, etc.

Everything was hard-won. We hustled to get users by literally intercepting them, cold calling and pinging them constantly.

We begged and borrowed resources. We declined all investor meetings until after a set date. We scraped by on a shoestring budget. We ignored all naysayers. We worked harder than most think possible. We kept building.

As a Mom and CEO, I Multitask Everything

I’m writing this post at my kids’ swim meet. I negotiate contracts on soccer fields. I call users while making dinner and packing lunches. I quiz my kids for their spelling and math tests while practicing my investor pitch. I ask my co-founder to drop-off and pick-up my kids from school when I meet users and investors (great co-founders do this). I work after everyone has gone to bed and before they wake up.

We do not have the luxury of time. That is what makes BlockCypher tick: we focus on the important things and get shit done. We set objectives and meet them.

We successfully completed our multi-million seed round three weeks after Boost Demo Day. We made several VCs race for the last part of our round because we wanted to be done before Thanksgiving. In January this year, we announced our Seed raise at $3.1 million dollars.

We had no patience for investors who wasted our time. Every rejection makes us stronger. And that is what Adam saw that Sam didn’t:

We are Formidable Founders.

Photo credit: Kushch Dmitry via Shutterstock.


About the guest blogger: Catheryne Nicholson is CEO and Founder ofBlockCypher. BlockCypher’s web services enable block chain (Bitcoin) applications to be built easily. Catheryne is an engineer, entrepreneur, mother and former U.S. Naval Officer.