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.

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Working Moms Open Up About Their Greatest Struggles

Motherhood, no matter how you slice or dice it, is never easy. Running after small children, feeding them, tending to their physical and emotional wounds, and just taking the time to shower them with love— that's a lifetime of internal resources. Now add a job on top of all of that? Geez. We spoke to 14 working mothers to get an open, honest look at the biggest day-to-day challenges they face, because despite what Instagram portrays, it's not all dresses on swingsets, heels, and flawless makeup.

1. “Motherhood in general is hard," shares Rachel Costello. “It's a complete upheaval of life as you once knew it. I have a 22-month-old due any minute and a baby. The hardest part is being pregnant with a toddler — chasing, wrangling, etc., all while tired, nauseous, and achey. Then the guilt sets in. The emotional roller coaster punctuated by hormones when you look at your baby, the first born, knowing that their life is about to be changed."

2. “I'm a work-from-home mom," shares Jene Luciano of TheGetItMom.com. “I have two children and two stepchildren. The hardest part about parenting for me is being the best mom I can be to someone else's children."

3. “I joined the Air Force at 18 and had my first child at 20," tells female power house Robyn Schenker Ruffo. “I had my second baby at 23. Working everyday, pumping at work and breastfeeding at lunch time at the base, home day care was rough. Being away from my babies during the day took a toll on me— especially the single mom days when they were toddlers. I had a great support system of friends and military camaraderie. The worst was being deployed when they were 6 months old, yes both, and I was gone for 90 days. Not seeing them every night was so depressing."

4. “Physically, the hardest part of the parenting experience (and so far, I'm only six months in with twins) was adjusting to the lack of sleep in the very beginning," shares Lauren Carasso. “Emotionally, the hardest part is going to work everyday with anxiety that I'm going to miss one of the twins' firsts or other milestones. I know they are in good care but potentially missing those special moments weighs heavy on my heart when I walk out the door each morning," she continues.

5. “The hardest part of being a parent is social media, actually," says Marina Levin. “Shutting out the judgmental sanctimommy noise and just doing what works best for you and your family in a given moment."

6. “Trying to raise a healthy, happy, confident and self-respecting girl, when I'm not a consistent example of those qualities is the hardest for me," explains Adrienne Wright. “Before motherhood I was a pretty secure woman, and I thought passing that onto my daughter would be a piece of cake. But in the age of social media where women are constantly ripping each other to shreds for the way they raise their kids, it's nearly impossible to feel confident all of the time. Nursing vs. formula, working vs. stay at home, vax vs. anti-vax, to circumcise vs. not, nanny vs. daycare— the list goes on and on. We're all doing the best we can with the resources we have. We should empower each other to feel confident in the decisions we make for our families."

7. “The hardest part is the sense of responsibility and worrying that comes along with it," says Orly Kagan. “Am I feeding my kids properly? Are they getting too much screen time? Are they getting enough attention and love? Are they developing as they should be? It goes on and on and on."

8. “For me, by far the hardest part of motherhood has been managing my own guilt. As many triumphant moments as there may be, the moments when I feel like I did badly or could have done better always stick out," confesses Julie Burke.

9. “Balancing work and doing all the mom things and all the home things and all the husband things are not the hardest part of motherhood (for me, anyway)," shares Zlata Faerman. “The hardest part of motherhood is trying to figure out just how to deal with the amount of love I have for my son. It can be super overwhelming and I'm either alone in this sentiment, or not enough moms talk about it."

10. “The hardest part for me is giving things up," shares Stacey Feintuch. “I have two boys, an almost 3-year-old and almost 7-year-old. I have to miss my older one's sports so I can watch the little guy while he naps or watch him at home since he will just run on the field. I hate that other parents can go to games and I can't. I also really miss going out to dinner. My older one can eat out but we rarely eat out since my younger one is a runner!"

11. “I think if I'm going to be completely real, the hardest part to date has been realIzing that I chose this life," shares Lora Jackle, a now married but formerly single mom to a special needs child. “I chose to foster and then adopt special needs, as opposed to many parents who find out about the special needs after their child is born. It's still okay to grieve it sometimes. It's still okay to hate it sometimes and 'escape' to work."

12. “I'm a work-at-home mother doing proofreading and teaching 10-20 hours a week. The hardest part for me is not yelling. I took the 30-Day No Yelling Challenge and kept having to restart. I love my kids, don't get me wrong," says Michelle Sydney, exemplifying the difficulty of balancing work with family.

13. “I'm a full-time working mom of a 2.5-year-old," shares Anna Spiewak. “I bring home equal pay, keep the apartment clean and take care of dinner. Still my male partner gets all the praise for being a good dad and basically sticking around. It's mainly from his side of the family, of course. What I do is taken for granted, even though I'm the one who still changes the diapers, bathes her and wakes up in the middle of the night on a work night when she cries. I wish all moms got credit for staying on top of things."

14. “I am a stay-at-home-mother and currently working full-time from home on my start-up clothing brand, Kindred Bravely," says Deeanne Akerson, founder of Kindred Bravely, a fashion line devoted to nursing, working mothers. “The hardest part of my parenting experience is the constant feeling of never doing quite enough. There is always more to do, meals to make, laundry to fold, kids that want my full attention, errands to run, or work in my business. And since there really always are more things to do it's easy to feel like you're failing on nearly every aspect of life!"

This piece was originally published July 18, 2018.