Office Hours: I'm the CEO of Glimpse (YC W20), a platform to engage groups more meaningfully. I'm Helena Merk.Featured

Hi everyone! I’m Helena Merk, CEO of Glimpse (Y Combinator W20), a platform to engage groups more meaningfully through back-to-back, 1-on-1 video chat. I dropped out of Duke University my sophomore year to join Smartcar, an early stage startup in Mountain View. Nine months later, I convinced my co-founder to drop out as well and we started Glimpse. We’re passionate about mental health and, in an increasingly lonely world, believe building healthy relationships is the first stepAsk me about the founder journey, dropping out of college, virtual events, community building, YC, or anything else!
Thanks so much for joining us @helenamerk!Elphas – please ask @helenamerk your questions before Friday, December 18th. @helenamerk may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi @helenamerk! Congratulations on your journey so far! I’m also super passionate about the power of interpersonal relationships — just launched my app to help couples grow and stay in love (Lovewick) on product hunt last week! My question for you is how do you balance “no’s” and criticism of your ideas as a very early stage founder with also being optimistic and confident about your path? I feel like as a founder you have to be open minded to change and pivots but also not get rocked any time you get some feedback (from people or market) that plants seeds of doubt. Hopefully this makes sense! Thank you!
Hi @alimagg! Congrats on launching Lovewick! I've spent most of my time helping create new relationships, and your mission at Lovewick, addressing the longterm maintainability of relationships, is amazing.On balancing "no's": even without being a founder, I've been told "no" a lot -- wether from my parents when leaving Duke, or from VCs when fundraising. At the end of the day, you are the only person that knows what is best for you and your company. You spend more time than anyone thinking about the problem you are solving. It is your job to communicate why and how, while (of course) being open to being wrong. There's a few types of "no's". The two I encounter the most are:- In consumer social, a user who says they love it, but never come back, is a form of "no". This kind of "no", is worth listening to. - In parents/friends/colleagues, saying "no": it depends on their background, their values, their insights into your space. Most of the time, they won't understand any of the what/why/how of your early stage endeavors.tlrd: Find objective and quantifiable metrics that help you distinguish real "no's" from the fake ones. This works for people and market.
Wonderful advice, thank you -- especially the weight of user "no"s through behavior. Appreciate your thoughtful reply!
Hi @helenamerk, thanks for joining and congrats on all the amazing work! I'm currently exploring three startup ideas that I have as a non-technical founder. I'm fairly passionate about all of them, experience the problems myself, and as such, want a solution for it! I'm curious to hear what you did to decide to go after this problem of engaging groups more meaningfully with 1-on-1 video chat. Did you have the idea and validate it with field research? How soon did you build an MVP to test out the need for it? What made you realize "yes, this is what we are doing"? I'm looking for my own "aha!" moment as I talk to users about these problems spaces I'm exploring, but I'm also wondering if I need to stop waffling and build a prototype in Bubble already. Thanks!
Hi Reena! The short answer is that you'll know it's an "aha" moment because you'll feel it quite strongly. We tested everything in our SF office, quite manually, without any code, before coding anything. We FaceTime-ed people, set up a clock, and collected pre- and post- call feedback. We learned what stuck and what didn't just by stitching together old products in a new way.A lot of startup advice is generic, so know that I am saying all of this with the context of my personal experience in consumer platforms. Unless you have an extremely technical product, you should be able to scope the core of your MVP into a week. In the stage of rapid iteration, we spend a few days (1-3) testing a hypothesis, and a week building. Again, it really depends on the problem space, your experience, and your team.As someone with a technical background, my approach was always "let me build a prototype." I've learned that's usually the worst first step. There is *always* a hacky way to test your core hypothesis. Once you can get some insights through your tests, you can start over with a new hypothesis or build an MVP.As a non-technical founder, you should think about what prototype you can build without needing to pay a contractor, and without spending a good chunk of your time learning to code.
Thank you for this response! Hearing your perspective and experience is helpful. I'm feeling quite inspired to go hack some prototypes together!
Hi @helenamerk! I love Glimpse's mission of using video for community building. I'm also a college student and weighing the trade-offs with co-ops or longer internships to enhance my software engineering skills (with little time left over from classes and part-time work, it has been hard to juggle but something I would like to make more of a priority). My questions to you:1) How did you come up with the idea and meet Brian?2) How did you get your internship at Smartcar? Those 9 months seem to have been formative in helping you build the skills required to create an MVP and launch something of your own. Were there other ways you were trying to balance side projects with school prior, when you were still enrolled?3) How was it being part of YC, and where do you see Glimpse going in the next few months?Thank you so much!
Hello Helena,My Name is Jeanie and I am building a 2-sided marketplace. May I ask what was your go to market strategies for bringing on your first batch of users? and how many did you bring on. Are they 2 sided or just 1 type of audiences? Thank you. and PS I kinda like the drop out and convince another drop out part :D
Hey @JeanieL! Great question. I've never built a 2 sided marketplace, so hesitate to advise. Regarding Glimpse, we work with large communities. We speak with community organizers/leaders, who host events on our platform. This means we acquire Glimpsers in bulk. Many groups we work with are student groups or entrepreneurial groups -- both are filled with leaders who will take Glimpse to their other communities. We realized there's a few key decision-makers and target them for growth. I hope this helps!
Hi @helenamerk!I would love to learn about your founder journey and your experiences with startups. What factors did you consider before dropping out of college to work on your startup full time? I feel like it is quite a challenging decision to make.Also, from your experience, what are the goods and bads of working in a startup? And, if you were to look for a technical co-founder to work on your startup idea, what technical skills and soft skills would you want them to have? I personally think startups have lots of opportunities to be involved with technical tasks, since not a lot of those tasks can be outsourced. Thank you for sharing your insights!
Hi Ngoc! Wether or not joining a startup is a risk, and depends on how you define risk. When I was making the decision, I had a few safety nets to fall back on - that is not the case for most people. Identify if joinging/starting a startup is actually a risk for you first.I actually wrote a whole medium article on my journey and reflections thus far. The tldr, is that I had wanted to jump into startups for a long time before hand, entered college with technical experience, and had a lot of options. I didn't ever see leaving school as a risk. ( options were getting a continuing in school, getting a SWE job, starting a company, or something else entirely. If any of those options were to fail, I can always go to the next choice. We also got accepted into YCombinator, which de-risks starting a company as they provide you with both early financing and mentorship.A technical co-founders should be able to build the early versions of the product. Depending on your company, what this means will vary. If you are building an API or infra company, that requires someone very different than an ML company, and very different than a consumer product. Ideally she's someone who can build anything and figure out parts she might be missing.I could write a book on goods and bads of joining a startup, but here's my initial thoughts:- Goods of joining a startup: autonomy, flexibility, passion. - Bads of joining a startup: less mentorship, longer hours, lower pay
Thank you for your detailed response! Your Medium article was really informative too :)
Hi Helena! I remember reading about Glimpse in the demo day roundup and was really interested in what you're doing! My question is around your experience with the YC remote environment, how your demo day went, and any "behind the scene" insight you can share! Thanks so much for doing this!
Thankfully most of our batch was in person (we were in W20, Jan-> March 2020). We did have the first remote demo day, which definitely could have run a bit more smoothly! They cut a week of our batch short, and gave us only a slide to present. That said, there was a lot to handle and overall they reacted quickly. Fundraising during late March was definitely less fun than it would have been if we waited till ~May, but it all worked out. Although I can't speak for companies in fully-remote batches, I love that remote YC has allowed people to participate from around the world without having to relocate.