Office Hours: I’m the founder & CEO of baserun (YC S23). I previously led design at Cruise and Square. I’m Effy Zhang. AMA!Featured

Hi Elphas!

My name is Effy Zhang. I’m the founder and CEO of Baserun, where we help product teams streamline the AI application development process.

Before starting at Baserun, I led design and research at Cruise, focusing on the Simulation testing platform and ML Ops tools. During my time there, I contributed to streamlining the Cruise AV feature development cycle by 3x and reducing testing costs by millions. Additionally, I was one of the early product designers at Square (now Block), where I spent five years working on numerous 0-1 features such as the Square loyalty program, customer CRM, POS, and business banking, among others.

During my downtime, I enjoy rock climbing, long bike rides or anything to connect with nature.

Ask me anything about building startups, product design, gen AI, developer tools, going through YC, being a founder, or anything else!

Thanks so much for joining us @effyzhang!Elphas – please ask @effyzhang your questions before Friday, May 3rd. @effyzhang may not have time to answer every questions, so emoji upvote your favorites 🔥👍🏾➕
Hi! I just wanted to comment that I am also a former Square employee and your design work (in comparison to the products I work on today) is beautiful. No question - just flattery :)
Thank you :)
you are incredible and so inspiring to read your story. What kinds of outcomes are you hoping for your company? Like more of an acquisition? IPO (though the prospects of IPOing are slimmer with time but who knows what might happen, we can't predict the market)? keep running a healthy profitable business (ie without necesarily wanting to grow at all costs)? something elseAnd perhaps other than the usual advice of "just go do it/start the business", what advice would you have for aspiring founders?
Wooo to design founder! Curious what were some of the biggest challenges in going from operator to founder?
As a founder, what advice would you give to someone looking to start their own tech company, especially in a high-stakes, competitive field like AI?
Problem first, solution after. Is the problem worth customer spend $$ to solve? Does the problem has to solve by AI, what are alternative ways and how much does it cost? Prototype and sell before you build it for real.Get a few design partners earlier.
Hey Effy! Fellow designer here aspiring founder. Wondering if you’ve come across any prejudices as a non technical cofounder and how you’ve overcome that?
If technical founders can learn how to operate and handle sales, non-technical founders can also learn how to build or collaborate with builders. I was lucky to have a technical co-founder to start with, which definitely made things a lot easier to get started. However, to grow a business, we all have much more to learn from both technical and non-technical perspectives. We just need to have problem-solving mindsets; if we lack the skillsets, can we either learn quickly enough to fill the gap or find the right people to collaborate with?
I can't wait to read Effy's response to your insightful questions !In the meantime HN has some interesting threads worth checking out like this one
Hiya Effy, what advice would you give yourself if you were starting Baserun today?And what are your favourite and least favourite things about being a founder?
Timing is important. You might have the right product idea, but it could be too early or too late for the market. Therefore, founders need to either have the conviction that their time will come, or they should listen to potential customers carefully, build just enough for what the customers need at the moment, and iterate as they go. Tooling in the GenAI space is a good example. Favorite thing: I'm learning new things everything! Least favorite things: A lot more stressful than having a job :)
Thank you, Effy for being with us this week! Love your background 😍 and sounds like Baserun is a natural evolution from what you were doing prior! I am curious, - when did you know it was time for you to leave Cruise to start your own company? (eg did you have one of these come to Jesus moments? Or did you know you always wanted to do something on your own? Or maybe something else?) - and then from a financial perspective, what advice do you have for folks looking to take the leap and bootstrap? Should they keep working on the side a little while building or is there a way around being fully committed but having a little bit of a financial safety net?- what was the best part about YC and what do you think could be improved? - what keeps you at night right now and how can we help you?
In my case, being in San Francisco, I am surrounded by many startup founders who have inspired me to become one myself. For me, the right time to leave will be when I either find the right team or the right idea to start with. When I started Baserun, I had a team and a general problem area I wanted to work on, and most importantly, I had just received my Green Card. So, I left my full-time job to give myself some space to explore.Financial perspectives vary from case to case. Y Combinator has many young founders who have never had a big tech salary; they are extremely motivated and invest everything into their startup. I really love being surrounded by them. There are also individuals who have worked in the industry for many years and take calculated risks, similar to my situation. If we look at the statistics, working in a full-time job always makes more money, but the startup experience can offer long-term benefits. Even if it fails, your next paid job will compensate for it. Therefore, I think the financial risk is low in either situation.The Y Combinator community is incredible. I really enjoyed my experience and feel grateful. If there is anything to improve, I would like to see a more diverse founder profile such as designers and operators, join the YC program. However, the challenge is that the team needs to be able to iterate very quickly during the YC period, so builders are still essential.The AI landscape changes very quickly, and the market is noisy. As an AI tooling company, removing the noise, keeping up with the latest technology, and finding areas that truly provide value to our customers is at the top of my mind. I'd love to talk to business operators and builders here to learn more about their thoughts on AI. Where do they see the opportunity to adopt AI for their business, and what are the challenges?
Hi Effy! From all the products you've designed, which feature are you most proud of and why?
Personally, I care about impact. Even if it's a small feature, I feel really good if I see that many users are using it and it helps them save money or time.At Square, I designed a feature called 'Fractional Quantity.' The idea is simple, but it helped the company acquire many new customers and saved merchants tons of time. I no longer have the stats.At Cruise, my team built tools that helped AI engineers speed up their feature iteration time by 3X and save millions on testing costs, which I'm very proud of. Although this was not achieved through a single feature, it was done through many feature iterations over the years