Meet the Seattle-area startups that just graduated — remotely — from Y Combinator

Five Seattle-area startups just graduated from Y Combinator’s remote accelerator with new ideas on software containers, note-taking, reusable rockets and managing a hybrid workplace.

Silicon Valley-based YC accepted a record 350 new companies for its winter program, which participated in a virtual Demo Day March 23.

Though unable to attend in-person, Seattle participants said that a network of mentors, investors and thousands of alumni was still a powerful resource for growth.

Going remote helped those partners offer 50% more office hours than previous years, said YC Director of Communications Lindsay Amos, while also helping expand its reach. Half of the companies that took part in the winter 2021 cohort were based outside the U.S. across 41 countries.

Meanwhile, it didn’t deter investment. Investors have so far channeled $350 million into YC’s 2020 summer cohort, Amos said, showing they’re comfortable working with startups even without the face-to-face interaction.

Here’s a look at the Seattle-area participants (an additional company is in stealth mode):

Dendron

The product: There’s no shortage of note-taking apps, but Dendron aims to give those notes the kind of structure Excel gave to numbers. The software would provide a consistent framework to make note-taking more organized and searchable, even across thousands of files.

The secret sauce: The company aims to help its customers manage large collections of notes over time. “Managing information is something that really strikes a chord with people, especially in the COVID world, where in the past a lot of companies could rely on tribal knowledge,” said co-founder Kevin Lin. “When you take that away, when people are no longer face-to-face, what you start seeing is the actual deficiencies in our knowledge structure.”

What’s next: The company closed a $2 million funding round in April and is looking to bring on two full-time engineers. It is also working on optimizing the product for use across teams, Lin said, as demand emerged from new users on the platform.

What was it like going through the Y Combinator program virtually? “They put all the material in the first week, and the remainder of the program was focusing on exactly what your company needed. There wasn’t a mandatory check in all the time, with the understanding that everyone was busy building a business. In some ways it was easier to talk to people, because you could just ping them on Slack, but you definitely lose out on the presence of being there in person.”

What was the most important lesson you took away from the experience? “YC has one of the most comprehensive knowledge bases of what it’s like to go through a venture backed business — everything from compensation to dealing with investors to hitting Series A milestones. Either it’s in the knowledge base or you can talk to one of the partners about it.”

Kalm

The tech: Kalm helps software developers manage clusters of containers, including routing traffic, providing webhooks and configuring access.

The secret sauce: Co-founders Scott Winges and Tian Li decided to launch the startup after developing the open-source software as a workaround for Kubernetes at their previous company. Building features and support onto their open-source model is a big part of what differentiates them from their competitors, they said.

“The number of people on microservices used to be relatively low, but in a short period of time a lot of people are shifting to it,” Li said. “So this market has been neglected. The traditional players have not had new offerings for this segment.”

What’s next: As it exits the accelerator, Kalm is focusing on adding new customers and users, with an eye toward profitability.

“The thing we’re working on is pretty technical, so it’s going to be a multi-year road map, but YC is good at setting an opening pace,” Li said.

What was it like going through the Y Combinator program virtually? “It was a lot more convenient and feasible for us to do with families,” Winges said. “You can probably pack a lot more stuff into it because you don’t have to go do these meetings in person. You can go directly from a sales call to a YC meeting.”

What was the most important lesson you took away from the experience? “Just having their stamp of approval was helpful,” Li said. “It was a great university course to learn how to do B2B. They were actually very tactical. A startup is a pretty lonely journey … but having a bunch of other people who started at the same time and are on the same path, that was really helpful.”

Stoke Space Technologies

The tech: The team at Stoke Space Technologies wants rocket launches to look a lot more like air travel. It aims to build rockets that are completely reusable and designed to fly daily — bringing down cost and dramatically increasing availability for space missions.

The secret sauce: A viable, reusable second-stage rocket would “take us out of a production limited paradigm where you’re no longer producing big, expensive machinery brand new every time,” said co-founder and CEO Andy Lapsa. “That becomes very important when you think about the speed and cadence between missions.”

What’s next: Stoke has funding from a previous capital raise and is in the design and test phase for its device. It’s looking to add to its team of 12 with avionics and manufacturing engineers.

What was it like going through the Y Combinator program virtually? “We build hardware and it’s hard to relocate that. What everybody’s been discovering since we’ve gone remote is that it allows you to be more flexible with your time. In-person interaction itself is pretty valuable, but for a hardware company it would be pretty disruptive to pick up and go.”

What was the most important lesson you took away from the experience? “It was just relentless reinforcement to build something people want and talk to customers early. It was really amazing to hear so many different experiences and kind of hold our feet to the fire.”

Worksphere

(Worksphere Image)

The tech: As workers begin to return to the office, Worksphere’s software allows them to reserve space and coordinate in-person meetings.

The secret sauce: While it was designed to help companies balance safety and productivity during the pandemic, the startup is shifting its focus toward enabling a hybrid work environment for workplaces that want to capture both the efficiencies of working from home and the benefits of in-person collaboration.

“This is such a fundamental problem in the future of how we work,” said co-founder and CEO Aakhil Fardeen. “We feel like we had front row seats into this transformation that was happening. Bringing the right people together at the right time is where we add value.”

What’s next: Worksphere has seen organic traffic and growth, Aakhil said, and is working on building out the product for its early adopters.
“Especially in the last four weeks, it’s become very real for companies and customers to see what their plan is when they open their offices,” he said.

What was it like going through the Y Combinator program virtually? “It was an intense but really educational experience, because even in [the interview process], we learned things we needed to drill down on. They did a fantastic job of keeping everything organized, and making sure we feel like we’re part of the YC community.”

What was the most important lesson you took away from the experience? “They really push you to talk to customers. If you’re talking to customers two times a week, they push you to talk to them two times a day. That is something that resonated with me quite strongly. YC is really good at honing your message and communicating what you do in a really concise manner.”

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