(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series updating previous posts about Ambition, a Chattanooga-based start-up founded by three former students at the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus.)
By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“It’s been incredible,” Travis Truett of Ambition says in describing an unexpected but extremely valuable period in the Chattanooga start-up’s life.
In many respects, his comment might be an understatement, considering the company was selected last fall to participate in the highly competitive Y Combinator program and just placed second in the voting of its peers at the culminating “Demo Day” event.
We first profiled the entrepreneurial journey that Truett and two of his former University of Tennessee (UT) classmates started in a two-part series published last October. The first of those articles can be accessed here and the second here.
Truett, Jared Houghton and Brian Trautschold began competing in business plan competitions while in college. After graduating in 2009, the trio went their separate ways, only to regroup about 18 months later to start work on an idea called Retickr, a social media news reader, and later one named Fireplug.
Their success, however, has come from a product that also bears the company name. Described as “Fantasy Football for your sales force,” the app provides subscribers with real time analytics and insights while simultaneously motivating an organization’s sales team.
This was not Ambition’s first attempt to be selected for Y Combinator.
“We applied with our first start-up, but did not get in,” Truett said, adding, “That was a wise decision on their (Y Combinator’s) part.”
When Trautschold submitted the latest application in late 2013, he did not tell the other team members, in part because Truett says, “It is statistically harder to get into Y Combinator than Harvard.”
The news that Ambition had made it to the final interview stage came in an email in the middle of the night. Truett says he saw it, thought it was a rejection, and went back to sleep, learning the next morning that it was real.
“We’re not a protypical model for Y Combinator,” he explained. Most of the participants have Ivy League connections, come from New York City or the Bay Area, and have a Google heritage.
“We’re building an unsexy B2B (business to business) company,” Truett explained.
With the invitation in hand, the team flew to California for the final interview.
“Most people spend weeks and weeks preparing,” Truett explained in comparing the rapid fire 10-minute experience to defending a dissertation. “We spent about 20 minutes preparing. I think the fact that we are sales guys helped us.”
He says they left the interview thinking they did not do that well.
“I was pretty stunned when they called and said we made it,” Truett explained. “It’s five months later and I’m not sure it has really sunk-in yet.”
So, once invited, the Ambition team had to decide if they would accept. The key decision points were giving-up some equity and splitting their time between Chattanooga and Mountain View, CA.
“We decided we needed all the help we could get in addition to Silicon Valley credibility,” Truett said. So, they made the commitment.
In the second part of this series, we’ll cover the Y Combinator experience and its benefits for Ambition.