A Female Founder at Y Combinator: My Experience

When Fast Company published an article that described the challenges I faced caring for a toddler during Y Combinator's startup incubator program, hordes of armchair critics seized on it as evidence that YC is not "supportive" of female founders with kids.

Nothing could be further from the truth. During the three months I spent in Silicon Valley, I never once felt unwelcome in the Y Combinator community. Not one of the YC partners or other founders discriminated against me for being a parent or woman. On the contrary, the occasions where YC folks went out of their way to help me and Zidisha, the microlending nonprofit I started, are too many to list. Here are just a few examples:

  • The housing advisor who worked with YC dropped everything to help me review child-friendly lodging options during the brief time I was in the Bay Area for interviews.
  • YC partners Kate Courteau and Paul Buchheit exceptionally carved out a block of time from their insanely busy schedule during interview week to help me brainstorm ways to implement automated fraud protection at Zidisha.
  • At a time when Zidisha lacked a competent engineer, YC founder Paul Graham offered dinner at his home to any of my fellow founders who volunteered to help with programming our website.
  • YC partner and expert designer Kevin Hale spent a weekend personally designing and coding a beautiful new aesthetic layout for our website.
  • Paul Buchheit volunteered to spearhead Zidisha's first publicity campaign, donating $10 to a microloan fund for every tweet and Facebook share of our website.
  • Several of the other founders volunteered their own startups' scarce programming resources to help us make much-needed upgrades to the Zidisha website.
  • Everyone was extraordinarily patient with my rambunctious two-year-old, even helping to supervise him during YC advising sessions and pitch practices.

All this was in addition to a generous unrestricted grant to cover the costs of participating in Y Combinator, countless hours of advising, incredible speakers, invaluable introductions to potential donors, and all the other benefits Y Combinator extends at no cost to its nonprofit participants.

Those who say YC should somehow "do more" for female founders seem to mean that YC should get into the business of providing housing, daycare, and other extra services aimed at making it easier for women or parents with young kids to participate. I think that would be a mistake.

When I decided to join YC, one of the attractions was that they respected founders' independence and refrained from interfering with their living and working decisions. Startup founders tend to dislike hand-holding, and women with kids are no exception.

Starting a company while raising a child is inherently hard, as anyone who has done so can attest. There's no simple solution to that. Fortunately for Zidisha and me, YC goes out of its way to lend a hand to founders determined enough to try.