Our interview with Yu-Kuan Lin Co-Founder of Everyday.me (a Y Combinator startup)

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GetEveryday-logoRecently we caught up with Yu-Kuan Lin, Co-Founder of an awesome startup called Everyday.me. During our interview, Yu-Kuan introduces us to Everyday.me while sharing some great advice abut the business plan process and applying to an accelerator program. Everyday.me is a graduate of the Y Combinator accelerator program.

What is Everyday.me all about?

Everyday.me is a life logging app that writes itself for those too busy to keep a journal. Like a private Dropbox, Everyday automatically aggregates your social network activities, and you can easily add private content, e.g. your moods and thoughts. We’re accessible across mobile, email, and web and offers full back-up online for free. You can export your journals via Evernote, Dropbox or email as well.

Everyday-screenshotI think what makes Everyday stand out is our focus on minimizing the effort to create content in your Everyday journal. Every design decision, from creating a text entry box on the homepage, similar to an SMS app, to importing your social feeds for you, is all targeted toward lowering the barrier to chronicling your life. We’ve got more ideas in this area, so stay tuned. We want to make Everyday.me something so easy that everyone will use, everyday.

How did you come up with the idea for Everyday.me?

I’ve kept a private blog for more than 10 years; I’ve always found writing for myself to be an incredibly rewarding activity. But this wasn’t the public-facing writing that Facebook and other social media made encourages today; it was just things I found useful. None of the journal apps I looked at had everything I was looking for – feed import, synch across devices, backup & export, etc. So we set out to re-imagine what a journal could be if it utilized all the capabilities of today’s phones & tablets.

Most of us have two, overlapping personas – a public one for the world, and a private one that only ourselves and maybe some loved ones know. Thanks to FB, Twitter, and others tools, we’re great at creating and maintaining our public personas now. But innovation for the private, personal use case hasn’t quite gotten the same attention, yet it’s still a common need. So that’s the need we wanted to address with Everyday.me – to provide you a safe place collect everything you cared about, and to curate, organize, and archive for yourself or other loved ones.

What were some of the challenges that you faced starting a company?

Here are some of our challenges and what I’d do differently if I had a time machine -

  • Spend a lot more time on user acquisition – I’ve found distribution and user acquisition just as challenging as building a great product. Raising awareness of our product, building a community of fans, growing active email lists and twitter followers are just as important as 5-star reviews in iTunes. Also engaging press early, getting to know influential writers, bloggers, etc. It’s much easier to build genuine relationships with people when you don’t have to ask them for anything. It’s a little late to try to get to know journalists or writers the night before your launch. So learning how to build these resources early on for your company is quite important.
  • Start building a network of advisors & potential investors a lot earlier – From talking to many people in the valley, I think finding advisors and investors is really a matter of meeting other like-minded people with resources who want to help you out. It’s much easier to get help, when they naturally buy into your crazy idea without your having to convince them in the first place. Despite all the advances in networking tools which we have today – Twitter, Linkedin, Angelist, etc, there’s still a fairly large element of serendipity and human networking involved, all of which take a lot of time. A lot.
  • Do the startup a lot earlier – nothing prepares you for founding a startup besides founding a startup. Being an early employee helps, but it’s still not the same. So just jump in.

Yu-Kuan LinYou took part in the Y Combinator accelerator program, what difference do you feel being part of an accelerator made to your company?

I think the biggest benefits we reaped from YC were:

  • The alumni network – YC alums are a tight-knit group, and they are incredibly helpful to each other, similar to alumni networks of top business schools or fraternities. Knowing there are thousands of other more experienced & successful founders whom you can call on for questions, advice, referrals, on anything from “how to I get framework X to work w/ service Y?” to “we need some office space in Soma, anyone know someone?” is an invaluable resource. You become pretty close with the people in your class as well, so knowing you have people to help you out as well is a great feeling.
  • Mentorship & education – The YC partners are deeply technical & experienced company builders, so we can get pretty specific about our problems in office hours and other 1:1 time. They’re very insightful in helping us focus on what’s currently most important to the company, and how to separate signal from noise with so much going on. The weekly speaker sessions they arrange are also great because founders tend to be more candid with other founders, so we definitely learned a lot from them as well.
  • Seed funding – It’s nice not to have to worry about paying for dinner or rent while you’re already stressed out with your company!

Overall I’d say YC was a great experience, and I’d definitely recommend anyone who’s interested to apply, it was definitely a worthwhile experience for us.

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into an accelerator program?

I’d say definitely talk to alumni who’ve gone through the program and get their honest feedback – the good, the bad, the whole deal. No program is perfect for everyone, so you really need to figure out whether program X is right for you. Also, alums will have more insights on 1) whether accelerator X really helped them, and 2) what accelerator X is really looking for. Most people are happy to talk about their accelerator experiences, so you just need to reach out and find them.

Aside from that, general advice would be – 1) have a working product, or prototype – nothing’s a stronger pitch than a live demo that make people go “Wow”. 2) build a great team – have cofounders that are strongly skilled in certain areas and complement each other. 3) show traction – traction is the trump card. if you have 10M users or XM revenue, everyone will want to talk to you.

What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?       

I’m not sure the traditional 100-pg business plans are as relevant now, especially if you want to start an software business. Since things change so fast when you start a business, whatever plan you write will be quickly outdated, and you’re better off spending the time to prepare yourself eventually scrapping the plan. I think it’s worth putting together a 4-5 pg executive summary on key questions on your competitors, core differentiation, monetization, user acquisition, etc (incidentally, I think the YC application is a great place to start, even if you don’t apply for the program. The questions are excellent forcing functions to cover these grounds news.ycombinator.com/apply). You can also use the executive summary as homework to prep for discussions with potential investors, advisors, and other entrepreneurs. Beyond that, just know whatever plan you write up, it’ll change, and just be ready for it.

Playing devil’s advocate - Aren’t you too smart to be working on a tiny consumer startup? What are your thoughts on the “Go big or go bust” mentality in SV? Shouldn’t we all be working on cancer research or something? ;-)

I certainly wouldn’t claim to be “too smart” for anything; there are lots of extremely smart people out there ;)

I do think self-tracking/chronicling the potential for significant impact in the world – the same way FB attempts to be an organizing anchor for your public life, we want to do the same for your private life. After all, most of our time are still spent “alone” – whether working, commuting, working out, etc. And given the trend of ever-increasing number of apps that chronicle what we do – from what I say (ex:twitter) to what I eat (ex:foodspotting) to what I like to buy/shop (ex:fab, fancy), I believe there is a need for a private, central place for people to gather all this data and activity, and make use of it to improve their lives. If Everyday.me can help even a fraction of people be more productive, reflect more easily, reminisce on happy moments, remember more things, I think we’d built something pretty cool.

And generally speaking, as cliche as it may sound, all industry behemoths today were a “tiny startup” at some point. Pinterest started out as “a way to pin things” online for Ben; Yahoo was a collection of David & Jerry’s bookmarks, really. And Google was a way for Larry & Sergey to search Stanford websites better. So many huge companies have had seemingly plebeian beginnings – at least, that’s how we encourage ourselves :)

A massive thank you to Yu-Kuan for taking the time out of his busy schedule to put down some awesome answers to our questions. We look forward to catching back up with Everyday.me next year to see how things have progressed. In the mean time check out their site you can also find them on Twitter!

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