Office Hours – Elpha founders here to answer your questions!Featured

Hi everyone –This week, Kuan and I (Elpha's cofounders) are here for office hours :)We're building Elpha to create a space for women to talk openly online. When you look around at most social networks, they are designed and built by men and the cultures are very much set by men. We wanted to be part of an online community where the core culture, software and product decisions were all made and implemented by women. Since we couldn't find an existing one, we built our own!A bit about me: I'm Cadran, Elpha's CEO. I'm a software engineer and I also write the code for Elpha. Before founding Elpha, I was an Engineering Lead at Y Combinator and before that I was a Senior Software Engineer at MongoDB. I have an undergrad degree in Computer Science and Biology and Masters in Biomedical Informatics. Fun facts about me: I have an identical twin and I live in Oakland with my husband and extremely charming cat.A bit about Kuan: Kuan was born and raised in Shanghai, China. After high school, she took a chance studying abroad and went to Syracuse University where she studied rhetorics and graphic design. She wanted to become a journalist at first, but quickly realized she preferred working on technology that enabled journalism. Kuan led the design for the first iPad app at The Washington Post. Since then, she's been working in startups and tech companies: Grand St. (acquired by Etsy) and as Director of Design at Cockroach labs. Outside of work, she loves traveling, spending time in nature, wildlife viewing, horseback riding, and meditation.Ask us anything about Elpha, starting a company, community building, Y Combinator, or something else!
Hi everyone! Look forward to reading your questions. :) Happy Thanksgiving week.
Hi Cadran and Kuan! Thank you so much for building this space. I have a community building related question. What was the strategy you used to attract those first 1000 users of Elpha, first Leap, and how did you decide which topics were going to generate conversations first?
To attract the first 1,000 Leap users, we talked to women who we wanted to have as our first users to learn what they were interested in talking about. We also focused on topics that were interesting to us personally since we were building the community for ourselves, too. Thinking about which topics and conversations were most important to women in tech – compensation, career development, learning from other women, and talking about challenges that women uniquely face – were all focus areas then and now. From the beginning it's also been important to focus on the fact that we don't have one shared experience as women and to make sure that different intersectional perspectives are highlighted and discussed.
Hi Cadran! Thank you for your response, very helpful and path enlightening!
Thank you for the question! My take on deciding topics that generate conversations - it's a mix between what we think the community would enjoy discussing, as well as watching what organically happen in the community. Overall, our observation is that vulnerable topics, unusual journeys, specific asks, as well as many social issues like caring for aging parents, etc generate most conversations.
I find this very interesting, as often as its written people hold back from talking of vulnerable topics, and or social issues. But I do think Elpha has a particular tone of conversation where people feel open to sharing. From the goods and bads, and honest advice, and I think that's a great culture to keep promoting! Thank you for sharing your observations on what the community is most interest to talk about.
Thank you so much for having this amazing community. Is there any recommended tool to build up an app? Is there any female friendly investor? Thanks again.
Oo, I am not an engineer, so for me, I have looked at Glide, Webflow, Universe, etc as "no code code" platforms. Depending on what you need the app to do, there're more tools coming out like every other day to build apps. All our investors are very women friendly, which makes sense since they believe in the mission of Elpha. So the short answer is yes! How do you find them? Cadran will have more to say on this.
Thank you so much for your sharing. I will check out the tools you mentioned... AWS has Amplify as well. Trying to learn...
Since Kuan covered no-code or low code tools, I'll speak to female friendly investors. I would check Crunchbase and other resources to see who is investing in other women lead companies that you're excited about. We did a bunch of research that way and you certainly do start to see patterns in terms of who is funding women. There are also some funds that are specifically focused on women lead companies – like JaneVC (one of our investors) and there are some good precompiled lists out there of those funds ( It was also important to us to have women on our cap table, so making sure the funds we chatted with had women partners and that we were talking with women angel investors, too. Also lots of women investors are on Elpha!
Thank you so much for your sharing. It is so helpful. I will try to contact the investors.
I’d check out Zeroqode, too. They have easy & amazing templates for building apps without knowing any code. For example, if you want to build the “Airbnb of X,” they provide the template and you modify it accordingly. Right now they’re having a sale for 50% off all their templates until Dec. 4, 2019. Good luck! 👍🏽
Thank you so much for your sharing...
Hi Cadran and Kuan! I adore Elpha, am on it most days, and have told countless friends about it. Y'all are doing truly incredible work. My question is #shameless: Since you just got funding, will y'all be hiring anytime soon? :) You know...just curious. :) Keep up the incredible work!
Hi! :) So glad to hear that you like Elpha and thank you for spreading the word! We're not currently hiring for full time positions, but are always glad to hear from someone who wants to pitch us on a role.Thanks :)
Thanks! Maybe I'll noodle on an idea for you for the future ;)
Thank you, Laura! :) We are very cautious of our burn, so are taking hiring slow, one step at a time. Right now, we have our incredible community managers contracting with us, as well as our editorial team. Full-time hire wise, I think we'd wait until the need I evident. I like what @katiedill said in her AMA a while back: hire until things run "hot."
Lol good plan. I've been at startups that hired too fast and then crumbled. Le sigh. Love how y'all are approaching things! I'll keep my eyes peeled just in case :)
Hi @cadran and @kuan, Thanks for doing this AMA. From the outside looking in, it appears that LEAP/ELPHA had a fairly smooth evolution and growth trajectory and I'm sure the Y Combinator connection helped a lot. You're now in the enviable position of being funded :-)But what challenges have you faced and what struggles have you encountered that you weren't expecting, that persist and that keep you up, and how do you manage or resolve them? And what do you do when the going gets tough? How has funding changed the way you do things or has it? On the flip side, what have been your most pleasant surprises? Lastly, what is the vision you have for ELPHA? Let's pull back the curtain and show us what we have to look forward to :-) And a recommendation: On Thanksgiving day, enjoy Aaron Copeland's "Simple Gifts." It's lovely.
Hi My Le! On challenges not expected: Not sure if there's anything that's not expected. I've read different stories about building different types of businesses and they seem to cover challenges well. So I'd think that the real challenge is a test of priorities in life, thus a very personal one: If I only have time to do one thing right now, what's it going to be? Why? Those decisions constantly challenge my belief about who I am and my core values, and require sacrifices that I didn't think I needed to make. So being okay with what I don't do and thus who I'm not is a challenge. I haven't come to a resolution to this challenge, but in the past year, I've learned to look deeper inside and dig out what it means to be the best version of myself to situations and people around me. When things get tough, I go back to those truths I discovered about myself: what's important to me? This makes accepting mistakes and sacrifices easier. The image came to mind is calm sea under the currents. Returning there has constantly helped me see through the currents. Funding has certainly removed some survival stress. Given our burn, we know we have runway for a while now.On most pleasant surprises: I have to say it's the same as the challenges not expected. Uncovering truths about myself and building and growing Elpha have been the best! Ha, in terms of vision, we don't have secret products to roll out, and our vision is that being a woman won't hold anyone back for success in tech. Elpha is already where our members connect with each other, give advice, make friends and grow professionally and personally. We're updating our job boards at the moment to make it easier finding the right company / position, and are working on a mobile app!Lastly, thank you for sharing the link! It's beautiful.
I love that. Years ago, a good friend of mine told me about the concept of “staying steady” which is challenging to maintain when you are faced with so many uncertainties, etc. The things that help me stay steady are space (mental and physical), movement (I have to exercise on a regular basis), and nourishment (good food and good conversation). Can’t wait to see what the future holds for Elpha! 😊
I love that. Thank you for sharing. :)
Just wanted to say thanks for sharing that song! It was lovely! 💗
Hi Cadran and Kuan,Thanks so much for this great community! How was it going through YC this past summer? In what ways did you find it helpful? Also, are you guys planning to grow as a distributed team or set up a headquarters in the Bay Area? And how did you and Kuan meet and decide to work together? Briana :)
Hi Briana! YC was intense and helpful. The biweekly check-ins pushed us to experiment quickly and move faster than usual. Our partners (Michael, @adora, and Rujul) asked very good questions to make us reflect on what we did and what we can do better. I wish we have more time to get to know our batch mates better. So far, we are planning to grow a distributed team, since Cadran is in Oakland, and I am in Salt Lake City. Our community managers and editorial team are also spread around the country and in the Netherlands. I shared how we met in the Samantha's question above. I decided to work with Cadran because we have similar visions about the community, and also have complementary skills. The fact that we know each other way back also was an important factor of trust for me. Lastly, it's an opportunity to build a company around an important, personal mission that I couldn't really turn it down.
Thanks so much for sharing your stories with us, this AMA has been great :)
Glad to hear! :)
Cadran,Thank you and Kuan for creating Elpha. We all need others to be forerunners, try to succeed, fail and dust ourselves off before moving forward to success.I like putting out ideas and getting feedback from you & others who’ve been there (especially since Elpha does accept all women no matter where they are) about the startup scene. Sharing your experiences will help many of us avoid the same trip ups and problems.My questions:1) How many female partners are in Y Combinator?2) Can we establish an Elpha clubhouse in the City (San Francisco)?3) Can we request successful Elpha members to teach us newbies the ropes of various topics?Thanks again! Happy Thanksgiving!
Hi! A few more thoughts:1) Here's the link to YC's list of partners – We're focused on the digital clubhouse, but would love for you to plan meetups in person.3) You can post your questions on Elpha and the community will give you offers and advice!
Thank you for your replies!I appreciate transparency in an organization otherwise how can we build trust?
Hi Joanna! 1) I counted that YC has 6 women partners, not including visiting partners. You can read about them on YC's website. 2) Are you thinking about a physical space? It'd be very nice to have one, but operating a physical space is costly to say the least. Our mission is to make Elpha the clubhouse for all women in tech to meet, connect and collaborate around the world, regardless of where you are. So we are focusing on building the digital space! 3) That's a great idea! You can send us your request ([email protected]) and we can see if we can make it happen. :)
Hi Cadran & Kuan - Thanks for your dedication to building a great community. How did you balance building and promoting elpha in the early days? I'm building a piece of software and bringing on my first engineer to help out now. I'm trying to think about the right balance and ramp up approach for working with someone new on a product that's still evolving. Did you stay really close to the code and product, or did you find it better to delegate and focus on building the brand and community? Or, like most answers with startups... did you do both :) ?
At this early stage, we have to do both. My strength is in product, so thinking about brand and other pieces to make Elpha successful doesn't come naturally. I'd say that's one of the hardest thing about being a founder - you must care and do all aspects of the business, and be good at it by moving fast and avoid fatal mistakes.
I think it's true that you can only really focus on doing one thing well at a time. But I also think it's true that early on, you need to be close to all aspects of what you're building. It's definitely a challenge to juggle and inevitably some piece of the puzzle is not getting as much attention as we'd like. I think figuring out your core metric (e.g. active users or revenue) helps you figure out where to focus your energy. Also to note that when you have cofounders it's easier for the founding team to have coverage over all pieces.
Hi Cadran, I'd love to hear more about a couple things. 1) How can a company become a partner company to Elpha for job posting purposes and 2) What are some ways you imagine Elpha allowing women to collaborate or partner? Will there be in-person meetups? Mentoring programs? I imagine some of the these things might grow organically out of the community but I'd be really curious to hear more about your particular vision for the platform.
Hi!1) Email us to chat partnerships. [email protected].2) We're focused on the digital platform. We're excited to have women come together and collaborate based on conversations they have on Elpha. We also encourage in-person meetings and are excited to hear about in person success stories. We do periodically have in-person events that we host and will likely do more of these in the future, but our primary focus is to build the best digital space for women in tech to meet, learn and support each other.
Thank you , Cadran! I appreciate the work you're doing with Elpha's community. My question is, What is the best way to start building an online community?
I would start by figuring out what the shared purpose is. Why should people come together in your community and what should they talk about. The more specific you can get the better!
Hey Cadran and Kuan! How did you two meet? :)
Oo, we met in New York City almost 7 or 8 years ago when we both were living there, and reconnected because of Leap! :) I joined Leap and was very excited to discover that Cadran is the creator of the community.
Hi @cadran and @kuan 😊👋Thanks for your time!1. What were the first set of purchases you had to make but were scared to? 2. Where do/did you go for legal and marketing/branding services?3. Does the team have a first-time founder kit or something like that?