Founding a Y Combinator Startup 🔮

Conversation w/ Helena Merk, founder of Glimpse (YC W20, startup accelerator that spun out Airbnb, DoorDash, etc.), new opportunity drop 👀, & more!

Hi everyone!

I just had a quick reality check: 25% of 2021 is over already ⏳… wow. Don’t know where January and February went, but it reminded me of my goals I had for 2021 and why just getting started is so important. I’ll be working on lowering the activation energy for my goals and holding myself accountable, starting from this newsletter 💥

I also want to apologize for the brief hiatus since my last newsletter 😶; I’ve been thinking a lot more about how I can provide the most value to you through my podcast and newsletter (I’d love to talk with some of you to brainstorm ideas/directions!) — regardless, this newsletter will always serve the purpose of breaking down topics you don’t commonly learn in school: from startups 🚀 to emerging technology 🤖 to investment 💸 & the future and beyond.

Today’s newsletter is all about paradigm shifts on taking risks, founding a YC startup, avoiding vanity metrics, & more (stick to the end for a special opportunity! 🤫)

This Week’s Podcast

It’s hard to make leaps of faith — but sometimes not taking a risk is the biggest risk 🤔

If you never took any risks, you’re probably not doing much to distinguish yourself or push yourself to your full potential, which can be a greater risk because success often comes to those who challenge the status quo. 📦 Easier said than done, right?

Helena is someone who I admire a lot because she’s willing to take leaps of faith 🕊, which opened up many doors for her including getting into Y Combinator (one of most prestigious startup incubators 🚀) and leading up to founding her startup, Glimpse. 😮

“Call me crazy, but I believed not leaving school was a larger risk. My option to return to school was always on the table. My option to leave felt ephemeral.” ~ Helena, here

Helena has a different perspective on risk and taking unconventional routes in her journey, which she reflects on as resulting in some of the best decisions she’s ever made 🛣

Listen along to Helena’s journey from dropping out of Duke to pivoting days before pitching in front of investors on Demo Day - you won’t want to miss this ;) 🎙


One thing I was really interested in learning about going into this podcast was an insider perspective on YC (Y Combinator) 👀 I’d heard a lot about YC from the startup space and the legacy it has created with startups that came out of it, and wanted to know if it really lived up to its hype 🔥 (Spoiler Alert: It’s a bit overhyped but still was an incredible experience — listen to the podcast to hear the full story)

Some insights from Helena’s experience at YC:

  • YC actually didn’t like their original idea of meeting people offline, so they most likely got in because they believed in them as founders 👨🏼‍🤝‍👨🏼

    Goes to show that the founders are just as important, if not more, than the idea itself! 💡

  • Super helpful for first time founders 1️⃣; gives credibility and stamp of approval 👏, initial funding 💸 and getting in front of people

    The content itself can most likely be learned elsewhere, ex. online resources, podcasts (like this one!), books, etc.

  • Really dope dinners 🥗🍴 — yes, eating food AND getting to meet incredible founders and startup legends 🤩

Perhaps even more so of a learning experience than going through YC was actually building her startup 🏗🔮. One key point that came up during the podcast was vanity metrics, which can fool founders into wishful thinking when measuring metrics that don’t really matter. ❌

Helena delves into the challenge of measuring and quantifying authentic relationships, and how Glimpse tries to track progress with its metrics 📈📊 (too much to say here, so I’ll leave it to you to listen along to the podcast — Helena talks about metrics to building feedback in workflows to MVPs! ⬆)

If you're looking at the investor lens again... you don't want to invest in vanity metrics like how many users, you want to invest in things like good retention. 🔍

Finally, Helena talks about risk as a founder and in her personal life. Few takeaways:

  1. Take the riskier option; usually, when you strip away the social pressure / funnel, many things that you may consider risky aren’t actually risky at all. 🔦

  2. If you can take risks, you should 🤠. Being in a position to take risk is an opportunity you shouldn’t pass off, i.e. if you are young and still have many opportunities ahead of you in the long run whether or not you make a certain decision.

  3. You learn more when you take risks 🧠. If learning and growing is your goal, then risk-taking is an inevitable part of that.


Like I mentioned in the beginning of this newsletter, there’s something big that I’ve been working on recently and an opportunity for some student readers of this newsletter 👀

I’ll cut straight to the point — I’m leading with my team at Elevate the Future SD a free virtual cybersecurity program for girls funded by the Department of Defense, National Center for Women in Technology, & more. 🔥 It’s going to including a 4-part series of workshops taught by CyberPatriot National Champions (world's largest cybersecurity competition 🌎💻), speakers from the US Air Force, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, and Microsoft 🎤, and a Capture the Flag competition with cash prizes 🚩💰!

Spots are mostly filled up — learn more about it and register here (open to girls 7-12th grade; students of military families especially encouraged to apply)!

Fun Fact: Helena was also a Cyber Security Engineer before she founded Glimpse :)

Feel free to share this event to anyone you think would be interested! 🙌 Look out for more opportunities coming up in future newsletters as well 😉

Until next time,

Ellen ☁

Thanks for reading!

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