From Peru to Y Combinator: Lessons on Grit from Liana Herrera, co-founder of BottomlessFeatured
I spoke with @lianaherrera, co-founder of Bottomless, https://www.bottomless.com (Y Combinator W19), a smart subscription company that automatically sends you shipments based on your usage. With Bottomless, you never run out and always receive shipments delivered right to your doorstep at the perfect time. Bottomless is starting with coffee and will then expand to all everyday goods, becoming a personal inventory management platform creating the future of automated retail. Liana grew up as an only child in Peru. Her father studied in the United States and told stories about the land of opportunity that the US was. Inspired by her father’s experiences, she applied to scholarships in the US and was accepted to university. She flew to the US alone when she was just 18. The transition was challenging: she got chicken pox her first week in the country and was quarantined alone for several weeks. She was first in Kentucky and then flew to Portland where she stayed with her father’s friends. Liana put herself through college by cleaning offices around Portland and working at Burger King and call centers. Over time, through sheer hard work, she got better roles. She became an accountant at Nike and worked in enterprise software at Workday. After years of working in large corporations, she put her savings into bootstrapping Bottomless. The idea for Bottomless was inspired by a personal pain point. Liana and her co-founder were both working long hours and rarely had time to go to the grocery store before closing. Even on the rare days where they were able to make it out of work early enough, the items they wanted to get were no longer fresh after sitting in the store for much of the day. They both kept running out of everyday items and searched for a better way. They kept rigorous lists, set alarms and reminders, and experimented with subscription and delivery services but to no avail. After 6 months of brainstorming possible solutions, they decided to create their own: Bottomless. Reflecting on her journey to the US and in building Bottomless, Liana shared her advice for being her own boss, finding strength, and productivity hacking. Be the best at each task you do, no matter how menial. Liana takes a lot of pride in the work she does regardless of what it is. Even when she was working in call centers and cleaning offices, she strived to do the very best job in each role. Now as a founder, she is doing both the glamorous and unglamorous parts of the job, including many menial tasks. Her experience in treating every single task with tender love in care has helped her rapidly pick up new skills, learn about new areas, and overcome each challenge as a founder. Rally people around you. When Liana is approaching a new functional or industry area, she reaches out to friends, former colleagues, her team, and others with experience in these spaces to get their advice and bounce ideas off of them as she implements and iterates. Continuously challenge your assumptions. Liana asks her co-founder and others to help her find and focus on her blindspots. She asks them to regularly challenge her ways of thinking and identify opportunities for improvement. Liana is an incredibly organized person, which has been a tremendous help on the execution front with Bottomless, but when she becomes overly focused on the details, she can neglect to prioritize. To combat this possible weakness, Liana works closely with her co-founder who is more of a big picture thinker. She also stops herself throughout the day to make sure she is doing the highest impact action and actively noticing whether she is doing something because of a natural impulse or because it will truly move the needle in the business. Break down large goals into atomic steps. Each week, Liana sets goals for the upcoming weeks and breaks each of these down into actions. She times herself doing each of these tasks to know how long she generally needs and iteratively refines her schedule in this way to optimally allocate just the right amount of time to accomplish her goals. Adapt your schedule and environment to do your best work. Liana has found she works best in sprints. She splits the day up into 3 sprints of intense work with breaks in between to recharge. She also works from different locations throughout the day to stay energized. Turn external challenges into motivation. Liana’s father was initially disappointed that he was not having a son. Instead of letting this hinder her, Liana saw this as motivation to show him how amazing having a daughter could be. Liana also grew up in Peru, a country with limited support of women and limited opportunities for women. Instead of letting this be a barrier for her, Liana saw this as an opportunity to show herself and other young women that they could be more than what societal stereotypes told them. Liana’s paternal grandmother was a huge inspiration for her and helped her adopt this mentality and turn belief into action. Compete with yourself. Instead of competing with others, focus on being better than you were yesterday. With each iteration of a task, focus intentionally on improving the quality, even just incrementally. Over time, this focus on self improvement pays dividends.