Our backers have contributed $8.8M to 900+ science projects. I'm Cindy Wu, Co-Founder of Experiment and Jelly.Featured

Hi Elpha!I’m Cindy Wu, co-founder of Experiment, a crowdfunding platform for scientific research. I started science-ing when I was 19 at the University of Washington funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute. My friends and I designed immunotherapies, engineered an anthrax therapeutic for the army, and built logic gates using DNA. I dropped out of my PhD to build Experiment with my best friend Denny because when seeking funding for our science, my professor told me “the system doesn’t fund people like you”. The funders are so conservative they only fund the most obvious ideas – and certainly not ones from undergraduate students without a PhD.To date, we’ve had more than $8.8 million dollars in small contributions from regular humans go to 900+ scientific research projects through the site. We were supported with $2.5 million in investment from Y Combinator (W13) and Andreessen Horowitz, among others. Experiment is now a sustainable business, making more money than we spend each month, kind of like a grocery store. We stopped working on it earlier this year and three staff now run the business.In 2019 Denny and I founded a new company called Jelly. Jelly is the word that describes the feeling you get when you observe the reaction of baking soda and vinegar in a paper mache volcano for the first time, the feeling of a shared moment of discovery. Our goal is to make a jelly delivery vehicle for the web, to liberate all of science. We are structuring Jelly as a steward-owned company. We operate out of Honolulu. In my spare time I serve as a director on the Board for the National Speleological Society ( and will volunteer for political candidates I believe in.Ask me about the joy of doing science, steward-ownership where profits serve purpose, co-founding a company with your boyfriend/best friend (twice), successful and unsuccessful attempts at raising capital, operating a company in Seattle/San Francisco/New York City/Honolulu, living and working from a 1-bedroom apartment with a staff of 6, moving your entire staff across the country, co-founder conflict and break up, living with bipolar disorder, trying to work in politics, caving. AMA!
Thank you, Cindy, joining us this week! Cindy will be answering your questions before the end of the week. Please note that she may not have time to answer all your questions, so be sure to upvote the ones you most want her to answer with emojis.
hiya everyone, i'm here now reporting in from honolulu, hawaii... literally the middle of nowhere in the pacific ocean.
I'd love to hear about your advice living with bipolar disorder (thank you for sharing this with us!) and how you've communicated to the team about it and if you have to do any adjustment to how you work because of that.
earlier this year, i went to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with bipolar disorder. it came as a shock to me because my mom is a psychiatrist and she had never told me this. when i called my mom, she told me if you strictly diagnose me using the DSM-5 my behavior is inline with bipolar disorder. so, i did what every scientist would do and get a copy of the DSM-5. according to the DSM-5, i am definitely positive for bipolar.i have always known that my mind races races and races for no explainable reason. before being diagnosed, an advisor had given me the advice "to take the spike out of the high and the downward spike out of the low... not to be less effective, rather to be able to do more... to learn how to roll".this isn't something that i have broadcasted to my team, but also isn't something i try to hide.if anything, i have become more empathetic. mental health is biggest learning is that bipolar disorder is often seen as a "bug" or something that you have to fix, but i see it more as a "feature" or some sort of super power!
I second this! If you don't mind, I'm curious about how this diagnosis came to light and how you regained a sense of normalcy both in your personal and professional life after the diagnosis!
Answer to how the diagnosis came to light is above.For me, normalcy is not my desired destination. Seems silly, but this interview with Halsey made me feel more comfortable in my own skin: This article is what made me feel comfortable talking about this publicly. This AMA on Elpha is the first time I've spoken about living with bipolar disorder.
Thank you so much for sharing this story with us!
Hi Cindy,What has the reality of living in Honolulu been like as compared to the expectations you had (when you were deciding to move there)? Thank you!
I had a lot of reservations about moving here. We woke up one day and decided to move to Honolulu. One week later we were at HNL airport on a Monday, signed a lease on Tuesday, bought a used car on Wednesday. Everything happened very fast. Honolulu is perfect for us, right now. We wanted somewhere away from everyone we know (so no one can bother us), in close proximity to lots of scientists (so we can bother lots of users), and a place where we could both be happy and productive (denny likes to surf).My only complaint about Honolulu is it has been very hot recently (hello climate change). I feel very melted without A/C.
Thank you for sharing Cindy!
Hello Cindy,Congratulations on building a sustainable healthcare research company. I appreciate hearing about how when denied to fund your research you didn’t let that stop you. I relate as I knew there was a reason women were not being paid as much as they should and I began researching psychology and social pressures on women. I began training women how to think about finances and every time they made more money and more importantly they built companies that spoke to their truth which made me continue to reach more women which is very fulfilling. Thank you for being a great example and willing to open up. Welcome to Elpha!
Thanks for sharing part of your story! Keep fighting the good fight.
Thank you. If you ever want to connect please let me know
I just want to say... I love you Cindy!!!
right back atcha, @jiwonmoon. 🥰
Hi Cindy, Given your love for science, have you ever considered going back and doing your pHD? Will you ever go back to academia?Cheers,
Yes. Will I ever go back? Anything is possible! ✨
Hey Cindy!! I'm so happy you're doing this. I'm raising an angel round for my company MÜD ( MÜD delivers highly personalized skincare recommendations and tracks skincare outcomes to help consumers find the perfect products without the trial-and-error. My biggest challenge: meeting angels. I'm from Houston and recently moved to SF. I've been attending events and getting involved in different entrepreneur communities to build my network out here, but haven't seen the results I'm looking for. Do you have any advice for navigating this sort of situation? How did you meet your first investors?
Moving to SF is a big step. Congrats on making the move!Investors are not all created equal. There are bad investors and good investors. The best investors are the ones that founders *love*. The best way that I've found investors is through other founder friends who have successfully raised. Do I have any advice finding investors?1/ Build a product and show that your customers love you with some sort of single metric that is growing. 2/ Be in fundraising mode or not fundraising mode. If in fundraising mode, don't do anything but fundraise. Set a deadline for when you will stop fundraising. Make a list of all the investors you want (this list should be in the hundreds), rank the investors A, B, C. A are investors you absolutely want, B are investors you'd be happy to have, C are investors you don't care about. Practice with B and C investors first, then hit up A. Always get a warm intro, preferably from a founder they have funded. Take what you can get by your deadline (use the YC SAFE). Stop fundraising on your deadline and get back to work. I do not recommend spending time at "networking" events.How did I meet my first investor?LOL. I do not recommend this, but this is how: the rest of my investors, I wrote a bit about them here: Skip to "Demo Day".
Hi Cindy!I'm immensely jealous of you basing out of Honolulu — I have family there and the one (and only) time I visited I wished I could pocket all the sunshine and bring it back with me.What was the decision-making process behind choosing Hawaii as your homebase, considering many early-stage companies flock to SF/NY to raise capital? Do you feel disconnected to the network in anyway because of Jelly's location?Secondly, I'm not personally familiar with anything in the scientific realm as all I've known is tech and design. Is there anything from a culture or philosophy perspective that you think is tremendously different between the two fields of scientific research / academic vs startup and tech culture?
Honolulu is quite magical. You might hate me for saying this, but do miss being cold. 😅 Come back out to Honolulu! Why did we choose Hawai'i?My co-founder Denny likes to surf. We raised capital from founders and early operators in the Bay Area. I do feel disconnected from the network. Is there anything tremendously different between academia and startup culture? My observation is friends are attracted to academia because of the freedom, but I've personally experience more freedom in startups (I am very lucky to have had a relatively easy road in startups and in getting what I want, thank you YC.) I think what attracts people to academia and startups is this culturally accepted notion that you can dream really really really big, that one small thing you build or discover... could change *everything*.
wow this is soooo impressive! i can see all the courage in the air! i've been following experiment for a while and am so excited that you are on elpha!
i appreciate your kind words!
This is so dope, I'm totally going to use this! Thank you for creating this! <3 I think you're dope.
Thanks for the kind words! 🙂
Hi Cindy-We are working on a robotics company and just got past the Project Pitch part of an SBIR/NSF grant and are now in the process of completing the full grant proposal. Have you done something like this before, any advice? Should we hire a consultant to get us through the proposal? Is there something else you can suggest for funding a heavy R&D phase, aside from bootstrapping (which we are also doing)?Thanks-Kendall