Danielle Morrill on the year she suspended disbelief long enough to find a frighteningly ambitious startup idea.
Tag Archive: Paul Graham
“Silicon Valley isn’t made up of heroes and villains. It’s led by complex people, who are doing a whole lot of good and also making mistakes along the way.”
One female technologist’s response to the brouhaha over Paul Graham’s recent comments.
The sharing economy has gained some high-profile backers recently. A female UX expert offers tips on how to design for it.
I was initially unsure whether an accelerator was right for my startup, MommaZoo. Here are five reasons I’m happy we took the plunge and are now participating in ImagineK12.
By Catheryne Nicholson (Co-Founder & CEO, MommaZoo)
It all started with a tweet from Paul Graham
Imagine K12 is a startup accelerator for education technology companies. Modeled after Y Combinator, it’s an intense four-month program featuring weekly partner reviews, sessions with high-profile education entrepreneurs, and pitches to educators and investors.
Since MommaZoo is an education technology company, Imagine K12 seemed right up our alley. But before Paul Graham’s tweet, I never considered participating in an accelerator. I hardly fit the profile of the newly graduated college hacker that accelerator programs are designed for: I’m the mother of two, I’m way out of college, and I’m not male.
My co-founder, Matthieu, and I applied to Imagine K12 as a long shot. When we got the call offering us a spot in their winter class, we were too stunned to say anything other than “can we get back to you tomorrow?” For the next 24 hours, we debated whether an accelerator could really help us. A final gut check made us go for it.
We are now halfway through Imagine K12’s program. We’re happy to report that our decision was one of the best we’ve made. Here’s what’s been invaluable for us:
Your Baby Is Ugly
Honest, brutal feedback from very knowledgeable, dedicated people is precious. In education, teachers are often too nice to tell you your product is terrible. They just won’t use it and you’ll never know why. Parents will give you feedback but it’s rarely tractable (we simply have too many problems) and scheduling time with them requires rotating the earth backwards. The continuous feedback Imagine K12 gives us has made MommaZoo immeasurably better.
Imagine K12 includes events (like demo days) that act as forcing functions to improve your product faster than you thought possible. Schools have rhythms that you must be mindful of. If you don’t iterate fast and time your product changes appropriately, you may miss those windows of opportunity.
When you’re a startup, it’s almost impossible to get the attention of educators. Imagine K12 brings them to you, makes the introductions and validates your purpose. You meet luminaries and influencers in the field and learn from their mistakes and successes.
In the Same Boat
In education, a unique blend of consumer and enterprise models is necessary. This makes the startup road even more challenging: EdTech is carving a new path. Having other entrepreneurs in the same boat to help, inspire and boost you up when you’re at your low makes a big difference.
Teachers and educators are mostly women and so it makes all the sense in the world for women to start EdTech companies. And yet, look at the number of women founders: it’s dismal (ladies, check out Edukwest and tell me what you see on their homepage. Can you believe it was started by a woman blogger?!) Now look at the number of women founders in Imagine K12’s portfolio: it’s a breath of fresh air.
What Imagine K12 cannot do (or any accelerator, for that matter) is give you the magic recipe to make your startup succeed. You still need to find it yourself by working harder than you ever have and incrementing relentlessly.
Most startups fail. However, we have no doubt MommaZoo’s chances got better with Imagine K12 at our backs.
Between now and April 2, 2013, MommaZoo is running a Teacher Raffle. To enter:
- Register. Register on www.mommazoo.com.
- Invite. Invite your class parents and use MommaZoo with them.
- Feedback. Send us feedback and we’ll enter you in the raffle!
- Increase your odds. Refer other teachers/room parents and tell us by emailing [email protected] As soon as your referral registers on MommaZoo, you get an additional raffle. The more people you refer, the greater your chances of winning!
Winner will be notified by email.
About the guest blogger: Catheryne Nicholson is Co-Founder and CEO at MommaZoo. Between her multiple jobs and motherhood, she’s always multi-tasking. Back when she had the luxury to concentrate on single tasks, she built energy and emissions management, CRM, and defense software for C3, Siebel Systems, and Northrop-Grumman. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, a Master of Science in Environmental Engineering, an MBA and is a registered Professional Engineer in Mechanical Engineering.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Nathan E. Photography.
I recently left my job as a technical consulting manager and joined my best friends and my fiancé, Kyle, at Keen.io (I wrote about that here). This is the story of how I negotiated my compensation.
Maker culture started out as a DIY movement…
By Renee DiResta (Associate, O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures)
Paul Graham wrote an interesting post today about the emergence of hardware companies in the Silicon Valley startup scene. It’s great to see an increasing number of investors get excited about physical products. I want to take a moment to talk about the people who’ve been driving that renaissance: the Maker community.
Building a hardware business is feasible today in
“Start with a high-level problem space that you’re passionate about, then narrow it down from there.”
By Jessica Mah (Co-Founder & CEO, InDinero)
inDinero specifically attacks idea #21:
21. Finance software for individuals and small businesses. Intuit seems ripe for picking off. The difficulty is that they’ve got data connections with all the banks. That’s hard for a small startup to match. But if you can start in a neighboring area
By Kapil Kale (Co-Founder, GiftRocket)
I first came across Paul Graham’s article, Startup Ideas We’d Like To Fund, in a Google search in mid-2010.
Though published two years earlier, I thought the article was the most thorough compilation of problem spaces for startups to tackle anywhere on the web.
Before coming up with the idea for GiftRocket, we (the founders) treated it like a problem set. We’d methodically work through the list and have late night discussions about
By Eric Ries (Contributing Writer, TechCrunch)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have missed the recent dust-up over race and Silicon Valley. Like almost every discussion of diversity and meritocracy in this town, it turned ugly fast. One side says: “All I see is white men. Therefore, people like Michael Arrington must be racist.” The other responds, “Silicon Valley is a colorblind meritocracy. If there were qualified women or minority candidates, we’d welcome them.”
I’d like to say a few words about this, but I want to do so under special ground rules.
By Swathy Prithivi (Head of Corporate Development, Sonim Technologies)
In “Who Will Be the Next Steve Jobs?” in the Wall Street Journal, Vinod Khosla, entrepreneur and venture capitalist extraordinaire, lists two key characteristics of “would-be revolutionaries” — unbridled confidence and arrogance.
A recent tweet by Silicon Valley scholar Vivek Wadhwa says: “More than 50% of Silicon Valley is foreign born. Less than 5% women… A lot needs to be fixed.”
To me, these things are the two sides of the same coin.
By Rachel Sklar (Founder, Change The Ratio)
The time is once again upon us: Y Combinator applications are due tomorrow. From there, Paul Graham and company will choose the next crop of Y Combinator startups, which will converge on Silicon Valley in January 2012 to innovate, iterate, develop, learn and build — and take a sweet check from Ron Conway and Yuri Milner while they’re at it.
The money isn’t why, if you’re an early-stage startup, you should find Y Combinator appealing. (If you’re the real deal, I’m pretty sure it’s not.) It’s because that program pulls together
By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)
A few weeks ago, Sue Khim (Founder & CEO of Alltuition) quipped in an interview with Women 2.0:
My recommendation if you are to read any startup literature, Paul Graham influenced me the most and I liked to read what he had to say about startups. Action first. And if you have to read anyone, read Paul Graham.
By Angie Chang (Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief, Women 2.0)
Sue Khim is founder and CEO of Alltuition, a startup that empowers students and their families to navigate the financial aid process. She developed the concept for Alltuiton when she was a junior at the University of Chicago with $50,000 of undergraduate debt. With her co-founders Sam Solomon and Silas Hundt, together they have built out a powerful platform of college finance tools.
Alltuition brings every step of financial aid into one easy interface, like a TurboTax for college. Students, parents, and grads can fill out forms, manage deadlines, compare loans, and more.
By Swathy Prithivi (Head of Corporate Development, Sonim Technologies)
Rockstar career trajectories aren’t about playing it safe. Luckily if you’re in school, starting a business might be the smartest risk-free career move you could make.
While in graduate school at Northwestern last year, I was a student by day and the co-founder of a social gift recommendation startup, Present Bee by night.
Drawing from my experiences, here are the top 7 reasons for starting a company while you’re still in school:
By Helen Belogolova (Co-Founder & CEO, Venuetastic)
I know a lot of people liken the founder bond to a relationship and nothing could be closer to the truth.
It’s strange to think how little encounters and introductions can change your life so drastically, but our friendship and working relationship started almost on a whim.
Christine and I both moved to San Francisco around the same time — in the summer of 2009 — and met through the MIT community. We both had technical mindsets and worked in industries that were male-dominated (finance and technology) and as a result, gravitated towards each other. I think we felt a sort of unspoken bond and that proved to be a bigger deal than either of us imagined. I maintain a list of people that I have a good sense about and would like to get to know better. Christine was on that list and I decided to invite her to my birthday dinner. Though she was surprised to get an invite, she decided to attend.
That night, I brought up working together for the first time, but Christine didn’t take me seriously at the time. I didn’t push but as we began to both want a change at work more and more, Christine approached me about applying to Y Combinator, and we decided to take a chance on each other.
By Zuhairah Scott Washington (Contributing Writer, Forbes Woman)
Two years ago, I left a successful career as the youngest regional vice president at a private equity firm with $20B in AUM, to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. At the time, I didn’t have a “killer idea” so I joined a startup as a way to cut my teeth in the industry. In the ensuing months, I met with everyone and read everything that I could get my hands on about how to be successful as a startup tech entrepreneur.
During this process I came across a blog post by Paul Graham, prominent investor and co-founder of Y Combinator, which gave advice to “would be” entrepreneurs like myself. The ingredients for success? 1) A great idea, 2) great people, and 3) a product that customers actually want. When I got to the bottom of the post I found the following footnote that read:
 One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses. For example, I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. [emphasis added] But you’re not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon…Whereas when you’re starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with.
While its common knowledge among career savvy women that we often have to prove that we are “in it to win it,” so to speak, I was surprised to see this advice given so matter-of-factly without noting any further mitigating factors a “reluctant” founder might consider when contemplating starting a company with a woman who was, or desired to become, a mother. Especially since Graham himself did successfully start a startup (Y Combinator) with a woman who was of child bearing age and who subsequently became a mother, albeit a few years later.