How Y Combinator is Propelling More Female-Led Startups


Kirsty Nathoo, CFO and partner at Y Combinator has heard every possible excuse for why startup founders don’t apply to Y Combinator’s funding cycles. They all sing the tune of, “I’ve heard that Y Combinator accepts only x,” with x being anything from a demographic to the stage of a startup. Some startups don’t apply because they think they have too much funding to apply, and then others don’t apply because they don’t think they have enough. For every “too much” of something that prevents a startup from applying, there’s another startup who doesn’t apply for having “not enough” of the same thing. And to everyone who says or thinks this, Y Combinator wants you to know something: You’re wrong. Here’s the right statement: Y Combinator accepts only talented startups, regardless of the stage or any detail about the startup’s founders. There’s a misconception that YC accepts only twenty-something male Stanford graduates, but that’s all it is – a misconception.

Nathoo, herself, is the perfect example of how talent is all you need to get access to YC’s resources. She started as the in-house accountant when Y Combinator wasn’t even on the map. Having been accepted to the Winter program in 2008, Nathoo’s husband, Amir, had to move from the United Kingdom to Silicon Valley. After graduating from the accelerator, he felt that moving to Mountain View would be a smart move. At the time, YC was looking for an in-house accountant. Because Kirsty was working at PwC as the UK equivalent of a CPA, she already had a considerable amount of experience with tech and startups. It only made sense for YC founders Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston to ask Kirsty to join the team. She wasn’t being asked to be the in-house accountant for the largest and best startup accelerator in the world; she was asked to be the in-house accountant of a startup that wanted to help other startups.

YC felt like a small family business at the time – it wasn’t what it is today.

Today, Nathoo’s CFO and partner position matches YC’s high caliber in the startup industry.

Not only has YC come a long way in its applicants and programs in terms of diversity, but it has also grown from 4 initial partners to 17 partners – 4 of whom are women. That may seem like slim pickings, but check the numbers; it’s not. YC has always done events open to anyone interested in starting startups, but they wanted something that could speak to women who were in the field or thinking about joining.

Y Combinator started holding an annual Female Founders Conference in 2013 to dispel the myths that prevent women from living up to their entrepreneurial potential. There is so much negative press about the whole startup world – that it is a male-dominated industry, and that it’s too hard for women to get by. Naturally, this kind of talk is intimidating.

The Female Founders Conference gives attendees more information about why launching and running a startup is a definite possibility for anyone by bringing in female alumni of YC funding cycles.

To anyone who wants to go into the startup industry, here are the key points from Kirsty Nathoo and fellow YC Partner Carolynn Levy’s lecture on How to Start a Startup:

Always, always, incorporate your business in the state of Delaware. Incorporating your business in Delaware is a no-brainer, and not doing so could potentially cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Move on and keep focusing on what you need to do. Keep it simple. Keep it organized.

Kristy Nathoo, Partner at Y Combinator

Resist the urge to give a disproportionate amount of stock to early players. “If the expectation at your startup is that each Founder is in it one hundred percent, for the long haul, then everything that happened before the formation of the company shouldn’t matter.” At the same time, be mindful of equity allocation.

Value is more than the initial capital received or the basic idea of the company; “value is created when the whole Founder team works together to execute on an idea.”

Be on top of your legal game. “The main things here are sign the paperwork, sign the Stock Purchase Agreements, sign the 83(b) Election, and make sure that you actually have proof that you sent that in.”

Vest. Vesting prevents the founders, or founder if you’re solo, from bailing on the company and keeping full ownership. In other words, vesting is insurance to the other co-founders and investors that they won’t be screwed over down the road.

Don’t set the price of your company. YC will take in a company at any stage – whether the price or valuation of the company hasn’t been set (seed stage) or it has (Series A or Series B). Nathoo recommends not setting the price because it’s more efficient to getting money and moving forward.

Accredited investors – not your uncle or neighbor – know what they’re doing and the risks associated with it. Only add an investor to your board if you believe that will add value to your company.

You don’t have to end up like Eduardo Saverin. “Pro-rata rights are a way to avoid dilution.”

“Surprising as this may sound, one of the hallmarks of a really effective founder is how well he or she handles employee terminations.”

Even if you don’t go down the startup accelerator or VC path, know that a lot of running any startup relies on following the rules and taking it seriously.

6min read

What Sexual Abuse Survivors Want You to Know

In 2016, I finally found my voice. I always thought I had one, especially as a business owner and mother of two vocal toddlers, but I had been wrong.

For more than 30 years, I had been struggling with the fear of being my true self and speaking my truth. Then the repressed memories of my childhood sexual abuse unraveled before me while raising my 3-year-old daughter, and my life has not been the same since.

Believe it or not, I am happy about that.

The journey for a survivor like me to feel even slightly comfortable sharing these words, without fear of being shamed or looked down upon, is a long and often lonely one. For all of the people out there in the shadows who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I dedicate this to you. You might never come out to talk about it and that's okay, but I am going to do so here and I hope that in doing so, I will open people's eyes to the long-term effects of abuse. As a survivor who is now fully conscious of her abuse, I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, quite frankly, it may never go away.

It took me some time to accept that and I refuse to let it stop me from thriving in life; therefore, I strive to manage it (as do many others with PTSD) through various strategies I've learned and continue to learn through personal and group therapy. Over the years, various things have triggered my repressed memories and emotions of my abuse--from going to birthday parties and attending preschool tours to the Kavanaugh hearing and most recently, the"Leaving Neverland" documentary (I did not watch the latter, but read commentary about it).

These triggers often cause panic attacks. I was angry when I read Barbara Streisand's comments about the men who accused Michael Jackson of sexually abusing them, as detailed in the documentary. She was quoted as saying, "They both married and they both have children, so it didn't kill them." She later apologized for her comments. I was frustrated when one of the senators questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford (during the Kavanaugh hearing) responded snidely that Dr. Ford was still able to get her Ph.D. after her alleged assault--as if to imply she must be lying because she gained success in life.We survivors are screaming to the world, "You just don't get it!" So let me explain: It takes a great amount of resilience and fortitude to walk out into society every day knowing that at any moment an image, a sound, a color, a smell, or a child crying could ignite fear in us that brings us back to that moment of abuse, causing a chemical reaction that results in a panic attack.

So yes, despite enduring and repressing those awful moments in my early life during which I didn't understand what was happening to me or why, decades later I did get married; I did become a parent; I did start a business that I continue to run today; and I am still learning to navigate this "new normal." These milestones do not erase the trauma that I experienced. Society needs to open their eyes and realize that any triumph after something as ghastly as childhood abuse should be celebrated, not looked upon as evidence that perhaps the trauma "never happened" or "wasn't that bad. "When a survivor is speaking out about what happened to them, they are asking the world to join them on their journey to heal. We need love, we need to feel safe and we need society to learn the signs of abuse and how to prevent it so that we can protect the 1 out of 10 children who are being abused by the age of 18. When I state this statistic at events or in large groups, I often have at least one person come up to me after and confide that they too are a survivor and have kept it a secret. My vehicle for speaking out was through the novella The Survivors Club, which is the inspiration behind a TV pilot that my co-creator and I are pitching as a supernatural, mind-bending TV series. Acknowledging my abuse has empowered me to speak up on behalf of innocent children who do not have a voice and the adult survivors who are silent.

Remembering has helped me further understand my young adult challenges,past risky relationships, anger issues, buried fears, and my anxieties. I am determined to thrive and not hide behind these negative things as they have molded me into the strong person I am today.Here is my advice to those who wonder how to best support survivors of sexual abuse:Ask how we need support: Many survivors have a tough exterior, which means the people around them assume they never need help--we tend to be the caregivers for our friends and families. Learning to be vulnerable was new for me, so I realized I needed a check-off list of what loved ones should ask me afterI had a panic attack.

The list had questions like: "Do you need a hug," "How are you feeling," "Do you need time alone."Be patient with our PTSD". Family and close ones tend to ask when will the PTSD go away. It isn't a cold or a disease that requires a finite amount of drugs or treatment. There's no pill to make it miraculously disappear, but therapy helps manage it and some therapies have been known to help it go away. Mental Health America has a wealth of information on PTSD that can help you and survivors understand it better. Have compassion: When I was with friends at a preschool tour to learn more about its summer camp, I almost fainted because I couldn't stop worrying about my kids being around new teenagers and staff that might watch them go the bathroom or put on their bathing suit. After the tour, my friends said,"Nubia, you don't have to put your kids in this camp. They will be happy doing other things this summer."

In that moment, I realized how lucky I was to have friends who understood what I was going through and supported me. They showed me love and compassion, which made me feel safe and not judged.