Navigating Rapid Startup Growth: Bootstrapped Beginnings to Y Combinator Success

Jamie Russell-Curtis

17 November 2023

In the realm of the modern software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup, data is the currency of choice. 

Yet, despite its value, the path from data to actionable insights is often fraught with complexity. 

Enter Vizzly, the entrepreneurial vision of Matt Williamson, a first-time founder with an extensive background in business development and product having worked at Skyscanner & Duffel. 

In Matt’s own words, Vizzly is “in the business of making data accessible and digestible through customer-facing dashboards. Our target users are B2B SaaS apps, and marketplaces that prioritize data transparency with their external stakeholders.”

Matt and his team had the experience to pull off this idea and had found a gap in the market that was ripe for a solution – a perfect storm for the potential of entrepreneurial success. 

Therefore, it’s not surprising that Y Combinator was keen to interview them.

Recently, I was lucky enough to sit down with Matt to explore his journey building Vizzly and Y Combinator’s pivotal role in increasing his chances of success. 

It’s clear from our conversation that his unique blend of seasoned industry insights and entrepreneurial drive has been instrumental in crafting Vizzly’s trajectory. 

Moreover, it underscores the Y Combinator experience as a crucible for innovative thinking and user-centric product development, showcasing how a founder’s background can be a driving force in redefining industry standards.

Contents

About Matt & Vizzly

Jamie: Matt, it’s a pleasure to have this conversation. Let’s dive in – could you introduce yourself and Vizzly for our readers?

Matt: Absolutely, Jamie. I’m Matt, co-founder and CEO at Vizzly. We’re in the business of making data accessible and digestible through customer-facing dashboards. Our target users are B2B SaaS apps, and marketplaces that prioritize data transparency with their external stakeholders.

J: How long has Vizzly been on the scene?

M: We officially started in March 2022, fully committing ourselves to the venture. The initial phase was bootstrapping, then we managed to secure angel investment, which gave us a good push. But it was our acceptance into Y Combinator that really set things into motion.

Why Join a Startup Accelerator?

J: After bootstrapping and angel investment, why turn to a startup accelerator?

M: Before we applied to a startup accelerator, it was critical to identify the type of company we aspired to build. It’s not always apt to pursue venture capital; sometimes, bootstrapping is the most suitable route, reflecting the company’s market and the scale of problems being tackled. 

As first-time founders, our primary pursuit was mentorship and a bit of structure. Moving from structured environments, such as my time at Skyscanner and Duffel, to starting from zero is incredibly daunting.

We applied to a number of accelerators and venture builders in search of guidance and a robust support network. Our decision was influenced by more than just funding. 

Despite Y Combinator increasing their investment offer, we had already secured a modest amount of angel investment and had potential term sheets in hand. We chose Y Combinator deliberately, prioritising their extensive mentorship and community over a quick capital boost.

J: Was YC a long-standing goal for you?

M: I had a list of incubators and accelerators I was keen to apply to, with Y Combinator (YC) always at the forefront.

Both my co-founder and I held YC in high regard, akin to many in the startup scene. 

I’ve always aspired to be part of YC. For example. watching videos of Sam Altman present at the YC headquarters in Mountain View had been profoundly inspiring. Being accepted into YC felt like a shared and personal milestone for my co-founder and I.

When the opportunity to join YC presented itself, it was an unequivocal decision. Other accelerators, such as Antler, offered us positions too and were exceptionally accommodating. However, the quality of mentorship and the community at YC, along with the chance to develop our company in the Bay Area’s thriving ecosystem, solidified our choice to join YC.

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The Application Process for Y Combinator

J: Can you share the timeline from applying to YC to getting accepted?

M: The process spanned several months. We were early applicants, and after submitting our application, we spent time refining our pitch, ensuring our vision and team dynamics were clear. We heard back for an update in April and were interviewed at the end of May. By June, we were relocating to San Francisco.

J: The application process sounds intense.

M: Indeed, it’s rigorous but valuable. It forces you to clarify your vision, demonstrate founder-market fit, and explain why your team is uniquely positioned to execute the business plan.

It’s something I’d recommend any founder does – even if they have no intention of actually going. It’s a fantastic learning exercise and helps you think about your startup in the right way. 

The Y Combinator Experience

J: Can you tell me about a typical week at YC? 

Let me start by saying that we were part of Y Combinator’s inaugural hybrid batch, a format adapted due to the COVID-19 pandemic which initially had us believe our entire experience would be remote. 

Before we applied we thought it would still be fully remote. 

The revelation that it would be a hybrid model came around our interview period, allowing us the opportunity to work from the Bay Area. Needless to say, we packed our bags to head out there, to get the best experience possible. 

During the program, we regularly participated in office hours, either weekly or biweekly, collaborating with our cohort of founders. 

Despite the prevalence of Zoom meetings, the program facilitated weekly social events for those physically present—opportunities to share a meal, discuss weekly challenges, and strategise on overcoming them.

These events, alongside the informal gatherings and awareness nights, significantly expanded our network within the YC community. 

To be honest, most days during the accelerator were rather unsexy; they were filled with continuous work, starting from around half-past seven in the morning and often not wrapping up until around ten at night. 

It was far from glamorous. Living with my co-founder, which is fairly common for international founders relocating to San Francisco, added to the intensity. 

We were immersed in our business, in a new city, facing the challenges head-on – truly an all-consuming experience.

The experience, though demanding, was a pivotal period of growth, embodying the accelerator’s ethos to expedite our entrepreneurial journey.

J: If you could distil it, what would you say was the best aspect of participating in Y Combinator?

M: There were several key aspects, but the standout for me was the community. 

Initially, we anticipated gaining mentorship and guidance, perhaps from successful YC alumni like Brad Flora or Tom Blomfield

Yet, the profound impact of being surrounded by fellow founders, all committed to building and willing to support one another, was something we hadn’t fully anticipated. 

The sense of unity within this dense community, where everyone is striving towards common goals and offering help along the way, was invaluable. Maintaining those connections and continuing the dialogue with other founders has been, undoubtedly, the best part of the experience.

J: Were there any aspects of YC that you found challenging?

M: The relentless pace can be a double-edged sword. 

In all accelerators, there’s a perpetual rush to build, ship, and validate—or invalidate—your startup idea within a very narrow time frame. 

This urgency leaves little room for contemplation, which can be restrictive. 

However, working within such tight constraints also spurs creativity. The approach towards Demo Day, in particular, necessitates hard, crucial discussions, spurred by the time limitations, fostering unique solutions and growth. 

It’s a nuanced experience that can be viewed from different perspectives, but the influence of this pressure is undeniably significant.

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J: How has the YC network continued to support you post-program?

M: We continue to benefit from Y Combinator’s ongoing support through office hours, which are available as needed. 

Last week, we had two sessions, although there are times when we don’t use this resource for an entire month. 

YC’s support is non-invasive but always accessible. 

Additionally, we use various Slack and WhatsApp groups for networking and support among founders. 

As a B2B SaaS company, many of our customers are from within the YC community, allowing us to build early traction and receive feedback from tech-forward startups. 

However, it’s crucial to engage with customers beyond the YC bubble to ensure we’re addressing a broader market.

Entrepreneurial Advice on Startup Accelerators

J: Finally, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs about to apply to accelerators?

M: Before considering an accelerator for your business, it’s crucial to ask whether a venture-backed approach aligns with your long-term vision. Is your business model built for a five to fifteen-year plan, or is it more suited to bootstrapping or angel investments? These foundational questions are essential before embarking on the accelerator application process.

When selecting accelerators, it’s also important to evaluate where you stand with your business idea. If you’re non-technical or without a co-founder, platforms like Entrepreneur First can help you build your concept or MVP. Accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars, along with others like AngelPad, offer varied challenges and opportunities.

In the application itself, the focus on traction versus validation is critical. It’s about demonstrating what you’ve actively done to test and refine your business idea—evidence of your commitment and practical approach. A strong application conveys grit, authenticity, and a clear sense of purpose.

Finally, addressing the ‘why now’ can be challenging but is incredibly significant. It’s about conveying the timeliness and relevance of your business, which can make a compelling case for why your company stands out.

Thank you, Matt… 

…For taking the time to sit down with me and share your journey. 

Matt’s journey from a seasoned business development professional to a tech entrepreneur, bolstered by Y Combinator’s support, is a vivid reminder of the transformative impact of vision fused with experience.

Thanks for reading.

Jamie Russell-Curtis
Head of Content
Jamie is the Head of Content at Altar.io. With a background in Theatre and Marketing for the Arts, he’s now turned his attention to the Startup World, committing to creating valuable content for entrepreneurs with the help of industry leaders.

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