Jesse Cooke is the co-founder and code-slinger at Watsi, a global crowdfunding platform for healthcare.
We started off only using PayPal, specifically PayPal Express. The response times were slow and the onsite, offsite, onsite experience was really bad. So we added credit card processing via Stripe in a little “wizard” that allows donors to donate much faster. We also allow donors to store their credit card info (with Stripe) for an even faster, nicer experience donating to patients.
Anything that is actionable goes onto a card in Trello; tracking patients, tracking investors, triaging bugs, developing the platform itself. Trello’s boards and lists are super flexible, so it’s easy to adapt a workflow that works for us right now. This also allows us to learn what we need to build for our internal tools because we have the flow down.
We try to personally thank every donor. I don’t mean some automated thing… I mean we send an email to each and every donor, thanking them for being awesome and asking what we could do to improve. We’ve gotten really good feedback on the product and the process.
International health care is a deep field. Knowing as much as you can about your specific field (preferably with numbers to back it up) is important, of course. In order for people not in health care to get what we do, we have to keep it simple. We’re extremely passionate and we let that show. People get excited because we’re excited.
Customers 1-30 or so were all friends and family. Our first customers beyond that were users of Hacker News. Chase posted to HN right after we launched to the public and HN blew us up. They funded all the patients so fast that we knew we were on to something. It was awesome.
We were invited to participate in Y Combinator’s Winter ’13 batch as their first non-profit. Over 500 companies have gone through YC, companies like Dropbox, Airbnb, Heroku… heavyweights. To get access to the advice and resources of YC was exactly what we needed. I moved down from Portland and Grace joined us from NY.
Did it pay off? Yes. Beyond making friends with members of our cohort, beyond getting awesome advice from the wonderful advisers at YC, we made contact with a great group of investors and foundations.
We knew that at some point we would have to stop raising money. We want to operate like a for-profit startup in that we want to focus on helping the donors on our site have the most rewarding experience possible. It’s easy to keep chasing money, but at some point you have to stop and get back to work.
Find the right kind of support. HN was that for us. Find the people that love your product and get them to spread the word. It’s not revolutionary, but it works, well.
The first week of YC I fell onto a tree and speared my leg while bouldering at Castle Rock. That was one of the dumbest things I’ve done in my life, but timing-wise it was especially bad. One shouldn’t fall on trees in general, but especially when you’re at a critical time in your company’s history.
Whenever I think about this topic I go back to Airbnb. It took them over 1000 days of failure to finally get some traction. That’s amazing. The belief they had in their product and the desire to build a great company is what made them a success. Believe so hard it comes true. Sounds corny but it works.