This week, our CEO Hendrik Roosna is celebrating a meaningful anniversary: 5 years since participating in Y Combinator (YC S16) which played a huge part in the inception of Fairown. He is often asked about the YC experience, particularly by other founders. That’s why we asked him to share this journey, the impact of YC, and where it has taken his start-up today.
What is your story of applying to Y Combinator?
After working for 10+ years in the fintech industry, I wanted to pull off an innovative product subscription solution, so I was seeking a channel to get attention and funds.
Y Combinator is the most influential start-up accelerator in the world and I was confident that it could be interested.
Me and my business partner flew to Denmark to meet the YC partner Aaron Harris at the Money2020 conference. We had a chat and he encouraged us to apply, even though the submission deadline had passed. As we went back to the hotel room, we decided to fill out the application, record an introductory video, and send it. Then we flew back home keeping our fingers crossed...
But nothing happened. The deadline, when YC had to let me know if we got in, had passed, and I thought that we did not make it. We still sent a follow-up e-mail to Aaron and surprisingly got an invitation to fly to San Francisco for an interview. The interview itself lasted for about five minutes and we had to answer an unexpectedly generic and elementary question of what is leasing. To explain it in a few words felt like a challenge, since it’s so fundamental and broad, and I was prepared for more specific topics.
In fact, there’s a rule in YC that you get in if they call you; if they send an e-mail, you don’t. We were lucky enough to get a call from Aaron :)
What is the impact of Y Combinator on the journey of Fairown?
I made it to YC with my previous company Upgraded. Today, its main client is Apple in Sweden and Upgraded is still doing well by serving over 100 000 customers.
However, both founders of Upgraded left the business due to power struggles. It was a tough time, but led all of us to new and better destinations.
I wanted to take a step further and expand the market reach by making subscription-based products available to a wider range of customers. That's what Fairown is doing today.
The learnings from the YC journey continuously inspire me, now enabling to build Fairown on a wider scale and empower a circular economy. Today, we help leading brands to design and launch financed subscription offerings, as well as ensure a smooth and sustainable renewal cycle.
My key takeaways from YC were to aim higher, have a meaningful story, and a sharp focus on growth and numbers.
What are the most valuable takeaways from Y Combinator?
I learnt a lot about venture capital. I understood how important it is to have the right kind of investors, who can add much more value beyond just money. Sounds like a quote any founder has read, but having had investors just because of money, and now building Fairown because of value is so different.
YC is all about a network of founders, not about companies they are currently running.
It's an extremely smart and hard-working mix of people from all over the world. This network of friends and business partners will stay with me and I am very grateful for that.
What do you suggest to other founders eager to bring their start-ups to the next level?
First, make sure you make a difference. I suggest to be honest with yourself and your business partners. To build a unicorn, then a decacorn, and change the industry patterns, you need to be different from all of the founders you're surrounded with.
YC is the coolest place to surround yourself with people who try to make a change on a global scale. Although I come from Estonia which is called the land of unicorns, 5 years ago, there was just one team to learn from. Luckily, today we have 7 unicorns per our tiny country and I feel very excited to build the next one.
I feel that it's hard to compare Y Combinator with other accelerator programs. Mainly because the definition of an accelerator program can mean a lot of different things in which I don’t have experience.
Regarding YC, it is tough to get in, but the rules of the game seem fair to me. Even if you don’t get in, you will learn a lot by just applying. Whatever happens, the experience you get can kick off the journey of your future business.