April 20, 2015
There was big news coming out of 500 Startups recently that Elizabeth Yin would be joining the 500 Investment team to run the Mountain View accelerator. That’s the very accelerator she herself went through as part of 500 Startups Batch 2.
During her time in 500 Startups, Yin and her teammate Jennifer Chin conceived of the idea for LaunchBit, an ad tech company that she ultimately sold last year to BuySellAds. It was a huge success for both Yin and her company, but after the sale she decided it was time to move on to bigger and better things.
500 Startups, now on Batch 13, kicked off their program today with Yin at the wheel, steering the entrepreneurs and startups affiliated towards success. We had an opportunity to speak with Yin about her new role at 500 Startups and what her road to get there was like.
Tech Cocktail: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey here?
Elizabeth Yin: It’s absolutely come full circle. Jennifer and I joined 500 Startups quite early, and when we joined we didn’t have an idea for a company. In fact, the idea for LaunchBit came about during the program itself. And Demo Day was tough for us because between the time we came up with the idea and the actual Demo Day we were trying to pre-sell as many ads as we could.
We were able to raise about $1 million in the few years following our graduation, but as you can imagine raising the money was difficult. It was a rough, uphill battle from the beginning but we kept hustling for three years.
At the time of the program it was just me and Jennifer. After some work though we were able to add a few more people to the team, raise money from the VegasTechFund, and move to Las Vegas. Running an ad tech company has a lot of business operations involved, everything from handling ads to marketing, and sales. We thought Las Vegas would offer cheaper operational costs and a better talent pool to tap for this market niche.
We also started partnering with ad companies. One of the companies, BuySellAds, ended up making quite a bit of money and they approached us about acquiring LaunchBit. Initially we weren’t keen on that, but we realized it might make more sense to talk with them and see what plays out. Eventually we decided it’d be better to take the offer and LaunchBit was officially acquired.
500 startups knew I was thinking of leaving, and frankly my passion wasn’t in ads. They asked me to come and coach some of their companies in the next accelerator batch. As time passed and I continued mentoring then, I realized that the 500 model is pretty different from a lot of other places, as is the company culture. As I was thinking it might be interesting to stay at 500, the opportunity to run the Mountain View accelerator came up and I took it: full circle.
Tech Cocktail: What does 500 Startups do to emphasize diversity in tech?
Yin: There are two things we do at 500 Startups: first, we spend a lot of time recruiting for our accelerator. That is, we go up to particular groups and encourage people to apply who might normally not apply.
Second, there are a lot of people who come through our office and say they don’t fit the accelerator’s mold. We really try to emphasize the 500 Startups culture. We don’t want people to think we’re young, male, and bro: that’s not the culture we promote here. And that generally doesn’t happen in out batches because of our diversity efforts.
We had a company that joined our current batch, and this was their exact reservation. They’re all male, but quite a bit older. They thought 500 Startups was for really young people, so we spent a lot of time showing them that’s not the case. We work really hard to set the story right on what our accelerator is versus what it’s perceived to be.
Tech Cocktail: How will your experience with LaunchBit inform your current position at 500 Startups?
Yin: Two things I learned are that startups need help with customer acquisition and help with fundraising. Every company that stays in the program gets matched with two coaches: one of them is customer acquisition focused and the other is focused on fundraising. There isn’t any other accelerator that has a hands-on model in this manner where you meet with your coaches weekly, sometimes more often.
You go through things like the details of your deck, getting stories right, and mock interviews – it’s not just about demo day. There are lots of things I learned going through fundraising that I didn’t realize before that I can now teach companies.
For example, what’s the right strategy to arrange all of your funding meetings? Having all your meetings back to back might not seem great, but it is because it creates a sense of urgency. Also, when you get to the meetings, how do you end them? During a lot of my first meeting I had no idea what to do, I’d go through my pitch, and they’d end awkwardly – there was no call to action. How do you ask a VC for money?
Most of these entrepreneurs are first timers, so for many of them they don’t have the marketing background or haven’t worked at a startup. We have somebody in house on our team that can really help with whatever their specific issue might be.
Tech Cocktail: Can you talk about the SV ecosystem and how it relates to other cities?
Yin: There are two things Silicon Valley has that makes it so successful for other ecosystems to look at. One, they’ve had several hits, companies that have gotten big, like IPO big. That makes their employees rich and they can then give back and invest and mentor and become entrepreneurs in the next wave of entrepreneurship.
Two, the giving back part. If we compare it to an ecosystem like Boston, you’ll see hits but you’ll see a bit less on the investor and mentor side. But I think that’s where Silicon Valley sets itself apart, and as long as you have those two things it doesn’t matter where you’re located.
Did you like this article?
Get more delivered to your inbox just like it!