Y Combinator Review From Solo Startup Founder That Raised $4.5M

  • Kathryn Cross is the founder of Anja Health, a cord blood bank that freezes stem cells for future treatment of disease.
  • Cross joined Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s hottest startup accelerator, in January 2022.
  • After the three-month program, she raised $4.5 million from investors including Alexis Ohanian.

This narrated essay is based on a conversation with Kathryn Cross, the 23-year-old founder of Los Angeles-based Anja Health, about her experience in Y Combinator. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I first heard about startup accelerator Y Combinator when I was studying at Wellesley College and taking entrepreneurship courses at MIT. I discovered more after graduating in January 2021 when I moved into Launch housea co-living space for founders in Los Angeles.

I spent three months building the house Anja Health, a personalized cord blood bank that freezes stem cells from the umbilical cord and placenta for future disease treatment, while working as an experience designer for digital consulting firm Publicis Sapient. Many of the founders living in the house were at Y Combinator, and they told me how beneficial it was.

I didn’t get much exposure to the tech world at Wellesley, so I didn’t feel fully equipped with the network, resources, or knowledge to run a successful startup. I felt like I could find that in YC.

YC invests $125,000 in your business in exchange for 7%, then he invests an additional $375,000. I applied twice for YC and was accepted into batch W22, which ran from January to April 2022.

When I first applied in February 2021, Anja Health was literally just an idea and barely a website. I left my job at Publicis Sapient in June 2021 to start working full time for Anja Health. The second time I applied in the summer of 2021, I had revenue, customers, a working website, and a supply chain.

I completed an online form and added a short video in my application

The form included questions such as “What problem are you solving?” and “How big is your market?” I conveyed most of what I wanted to say about my startup in the application form. For the video part, I just wanted to show how confident I was as a person. I wore bright colors to help me stand out and tried to speak with confidence.

The next step was a 10 minute Zoom call with YC partners and entrepreneurs Jared Friedman, Nicolas Dessaigne and Surbhi Sarna, who I would have the opportunity to work with if accepted. They asked me questions about the science behind my company, what I thought of the market size, and what motivates me as a founder.

I had practiced quite a few of my answers with people who had been through YC, so I was prepared, but the interviews are notoriously very short, so I could have said more. When I received the call telling me that I had been accepted, I was delighted. Ninety percent of companies agreed to participate in YC have co-founders, but I was successful as a solo founder.

When I was in YC, I ran my business from home as usual

My YC experience was virtual, so I completed it while living in Los Angeles. Every week, I listened to online talks from successful founders of companies that came through YC like Airbnb and Stripe or experts in things like SEO. I also contacted YC alumni through Bookface, the YC version of Facebook. I not only had my mentors at YC, but I was also mentored by the peers I lived with.

You just have to dedicate a few hours a week in the YC program. It’s not about taking time off from your startup to take the course, because they want you to work on your business and accelerate it. Every morning I would get up around 8am, start work, then I would have calls with a partner, whether it was Nicholas, Jared or Surbhi.

The last part of the three-month course is Demo Day, when you present yourself to more than 1,000 potential investors. Many of them are former founders or partners of YC. It’s a lot less intimidating on Zoom than in person. I couldn’t even see everyone in the room. As I sat in my living room staring at my laptop, all I could see was my slides on a screen and me.

Presentations on Demo Day are so short, because every company comes one minute to talk, so it really doesn’t require a ton of preparation. What you really need to be prepared for is the fundraising that comes with Demo Day.

Above 3 months you spend at YC, you learn everything from finding clients to fundraising

While I had already raised $400,000 in a pre-screening round the summer before joining YC, the program, especially its coverage of the fundraising process, was still helpful to me.

The first time I fundraised, I felt hesitant because I had no process in place. The second time I raised funds was after completing my YC course, and not only was I very intentional about who I contacted, but I also set deadlines and tracked metrics. , such as the response rate. In the funding round, which ran from April to June 2022 and stemmed from Demo Day, I raised $4.5 millionand investors included Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.

My fundraising goal was to grow the business and increase membership. When I applied to YC, I was the only staff member at Anja Health. Now we are a team of five.

I still speak regularly to my YC partners. We have a group chat and I message them as needed. I probably could have achieved what I did without YC, but it would have been much harder. In the world of tech and startups, your network is your net worth, and YC is a truly valuable network.

Have you been through Y Combinator and have a story to tell? Email Lauryn Haas at [email protected].

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