Aidi's — Y Combinator GuideReturn
7:45 am on a weekday in October 2019, I had just completed a new funding round with Microtraction and was trying to prepare my team for the last quarter of the year when i received a Whatsapp message from Dayo of Microtraction asking if I had applied for Y Combinator Winter batch 2020, I said no, next thing I read was ‘guy do it now, I mean now!’
Pre YC Experience…
The truth is, unlike most Nigerian founders, I had no ambition for Y Combinator. I sincerely didn’t believe it was for me, I was content with what I had been given. Coming from where I’d been, you too would settle after a long investment round and taking numerous investor meetings.
I’d thought to myself, common, Silicon Valley? That’s a show I watch on HBO, so how can I, possibly from Yaba Lagos Nigeria, be thinking of having a business there without knowing someone or having a pile of cash in my bank account.
I usually just dismissed that thought and told myself to simply focus on building my company and be the best at what I did here in Nigeria. Little did I know that I was in for a shock.
I decided to apply but I knew nothing about Y Combinator’s process so I reached out to Dayo of Microtraction, he shared Iyinoluwa Aboyeji’s (YC Alumnus) Future Africa Posts on Applying to Y Combinator.
Guys! I read that post like a textbook. listened to all the videos, studied all the sample companies and previous applications then crafted my own version (attached below my application). Iyin’s post was really helpful — could never have made YC without it, it was timely and God sent!
5:31 a.m October 17th, 2019, I got a mail from Y Combinator accepting our application and telling me and my co-founder to come for an in-person interview at their Mountain View Office, California. I was overjoyed! My team and I instantly knew that this would be a new chapter and we were grateful for this but now another ‘wahala‘ — cost of travelling for an in-person interview with YC partners.
I am sure you would ask, how about Microtraction’s investment? Well, as a founder you have to manage cash flow and ensure you don’t run out of money.
I knew I had to get support for Y Combinator because to be sincere with you (my own opinion) you need money to attend Y Combinator Bootcamp, Silicon Valley is a whole new ball game.
Future Hub by Transsion…
Taking a picture with my support team and Laura Li of Future Hub
Previously i had taken meetings with Laura and Vincent of Future Hub, so I reached out again and told them about our progress and vision for the company. In a matter of weeks, they wrote us a cheque right on time for the Y Combinator trip and I was set to travel for our interview with my Cofounder Ayomide Awe.
Immigration & Visa…
I seldom complain about many things in life but seriously, as a Nigerian wanting to export your talent and seek foreign aid, the hurdles to climb are so many.
I started processing my visa with so much confidence, only for me to get a mail that I’d been rejected. Now I knew my villagers were after me but actually, I believe it was because we attended our interview with the embassy individually (this is very important — Go as a team and prepare a company document that shows your worth within your company).
We re-applied again, this time My wife and I started a 40 days prayer and fasting session (just kidding 😂 — but we prayed though).
I went back to Yele and Dayo (awesome guys) for advice — they reached out to a couple of their contacts and without asking for a penny, helped I and my Cofounder submit some official documents to the embassy which resolved our visa issues (It’s a long story).
YC In-Person Interview…
Off we went for the Y Combinator in-person interview. We got an Airbnb apartment with an awesome host and stayed for just one week. Someone had said to me then, “Are you guys serious? One week in the US? If I was in your shoes, I would stay a little longer”
I, on the other hand, knew better not to think that way. I have a company with an amazing staff, a wife that loves me, and investors that believe in me. How then can I just disappear for a long period because of ‘greener pastures’? Africa for me is my ‘greener pasture’ 🤟🏻 and I have a business to run here.
The interview was intense — back-to-back questions. What saw us through was grace, honesty and sincerity. No amount of reading and preparation helped except simply knowing our industry, business and being sincere (Y Combinator partners can detect when you are telling a lie because they are former alumni’s and have lied too at one point😂)
After the interview, we had another 2 hours of back-to-back email from a YC partner and after that, we waited another one hour, then he called my US line (ensure you have a U.S line setup before the interview) to make us an offer.
I said Yes without listening to anything else he was saying. You won’t blame me, after all the hurdles I had gone through, who thinking help? 😂.
Gbolade Emmanuel (ME) at Y Combinator, Mountain View, CA
December 31st, 2019, I and my Cofounder returned to the U.S. Now I needed help navigating my way at Y Combinator, so I built another relationship that has proven to be one of my best decisions. I reached out to Henry Chibuzo of Schoolable (baba shares a brother’s pain). He helped me with a few tips but the rest I had to come up with on my own.
To prepare and go through YC successfully, I did the following:
1. Got an Airbnb apartment for between $1,000 — $1,800 per month in San Jose, California (the apartment served as both work and living space). Apartments are more expensive in San Fransisco, Mountain View and Palo Alto but towards Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose it gets cheaper and bigger 😁.
2. Planned a $20 — $40 trip to Y Combinator’s mountain view office two times a week (You can spend less or more if you don’t manage yourself — had to use train some days though).
3. Was determined not to eat burgers and fries for 4months in the US, so I planed between $50 — $100 every two weeks shopping for foodstuff at African Caribbean Food Store and cooked my own meals (mum thought me well) — most times, spent less.
I try small 😅 — Alternative to KFC & Subway
4. Spent between $1000 — $6000 to handle incorporation, bank setup, virtual office, legal fees, and other things I will leave unnamed. I was told I would spend around $25,000 but that can be avoided if you work with the right partners.
Some people use other companies for incorporating their ventures in the US for less or even more. For me, I wanted a Nigerian and someone I could trust, which is why I hired LakinBerg LLC — awesome guys, they also needed some push at times — to fast track my incorporation process.
A month to the end of my YC experience, too many things hit us all at once.
First, we woke up to find cranes outside our apartment. The landlord was about to demolish the apartment we lived in and we got the notice that morning. This came as a shock but after much ranting, I and my Cofounder decided to leave and the host paid for our hotel fees.
Rubbles in Front Of My Apartment
We got in touch with our YC Partners and soon got another place to stay with the help of the Airbnb team, then the COVID-19 crisis hit.
Apartment Airbnb team helped secure
This was devastating because it affected our settling down, Y Combinator demo day preparations and many other uncertainties which we had to adapt to.
We got support from Brex before our Y Combinator money came in. Brex was helpful to get us settled during the Bootcamp and before the demo day.
Now it’s time to focus on my company and change the way businesses communicate with their customers in Africa.
Some members of my team
End of Story…
It has been an awesome experience so far and like always, full of ups and downs, but in all I am grateful. I speak for my entire team when I say thank you to everyone who has supported us this far.
I believe in being resilient. I believe in Africa. I believe in grace and I believe that 3months really is enough time to put your business in good shape!
More to come…
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Termii YC Application — View Document here
NB: To get more thoughts on growth from me. Visit my blog on medium @gbolademmanuel or follow me on twitter @gbolademmanuel