Truett continues reflection on Y Combinator experience

Ambition(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second 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.

Three months of non-stop work and eating what they could find at the local CVS Pharmacy is the way Travis Truett describes the Ambition team’s time in the acclaimed Y Combinator program.

“Its biggest strength was its stamp of approval and the doors it opened,” he said, adding that otherwise, “The weeks were not much different than they would have been in Chattanooga.”

The Ambition founding team – Truett, Jared Houghton, Wes Kendall, and Brian Trautschold – split responsibilities during the program. Kendall, the CTO, remained in Chattanooga with the development team, while Truett divided his time equally between the company’s home base and Mountain View, CA. The other two devoted the majority of their time during the three months to their temporary California base – a rental house.

“We did not have a car, so we walked to the local CVS and lived on bread, peanut butter, tuna and beer,” Truett said.

“We were one of the more mature companies,” he added. “We just needed to get more customers.”

And that’s exactly where they focused. “We worked hard selling,” Truett said.

He described Y Combinator as atypical of many accelerators.

“It is purposely designed to not have as much structure as others,” Truett said. There’s a Tuesday night dinner and “spontaneous events.” The latter are workshops and prospect meetings arranged by a Y Combinator partner.

He said Y Combinator’s philosophy is fairly simple – “leverage our resources and work hard to be successful.”

In Ambition’s case, this translated into a strong focus on investors as well as customers. Truett noted that one set of Bay Area investors to whom Ambition unsuccessfully pitched in August has now invested, a fact that he attributes to validation as a Y Combinator participant.

The three months of 100-hour weeks culminates in a 180-second pitch at the Demo Day.

“The goal is to get them (investors) interested enough to have follow-up conversations,” Truett explained. In Ambition’s case, success happened with early commitments from SV Angel and Google Ventures.

“We were lucky to wrap it up, transition back to Chattanooga, and get back to building our business.”

Was it worth the time? Truett says absolutely.

“There was not only the benefit for Ambition, but our connections to and through the Y Combinator network will be valuable forever,” he said. “I would highly, highly recommend it.”

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