On March 17, Kurt Varner drove from his home in Los Angeles to Mountain View, where he will be living in his car while he attempts to launch a start-up. For the next three months, he’ll be toiling in co-work spaces, brushing his teeth in coffee shops and sleeping in his two-door Honda Civic while he searches for a co-founder for his alarm clock app called The Daily Toaster. When we last checked in with Varner, he had just arrived in Mountain View, where he’s focusing on building up a network of entrepreneurs and mentors to guide him through the start-up process. Here’s what he’s learned since then about the importance of meeting people, as well as some exciting news about Y Combinator
How have the past few weeks been for you?
The last couple weeks have been a whirlwind. I’m meeting a ton of really great and influential people, and they’re giving me great feedback on what I’m building. For example, I met with Sahil Lavingia, who was a founding team member of Pinterest. Right now I’m on my way to meet Justin Kan, the creator of justin.tv and a mentor at Y Combinator.
How are you managing to arrange meetings with high-powered strangers?
I’ve just been cold e-mailing pretty much everyone. It’s 90 percent through cold e-mails, but a lot of people don’t have their address public, so what I’ve been doing is taking my best guess at the person’s e-mail address and putting that in the “to” line, and putting all the other possible combinations in the BCC line. That’s a cool hack to be able to e-mail anyone.
After meetings, I always ask people, “Is there anyone else I should meet?” and sometimes they’ll give me an intro. That’s an example of how beneficial it is to be in San Francisco: The serendipity of the city has been amazing. One day, the guy who was employee number one at Path was my only scheduled meeting one day, but he introduced me to the founder of a start-up, who invited me to lunch with 10 other people from Eventbrite. It’s things like that that are proving really valuable.
What kind of feedback have you been getting on your alarm-clock app, the Daily Toaster?
Good feedback is fine, but the best feedback is the most critical feedback. I usually ask people, “Tell me why my idea sucks, and tell me why you wouldn’t use my application.” It has shined light on issues I hadn’t thought about previously.
My product is still in the space of improving the experience of waking up in the morning, but a lot of people said that the way the alarm is working doesn’t really mesh well with their morning habits. It’s a mobile app and a Web app, and they work together, but some people don’t want to look at screens in the morning because they look at screens all day.
That’s why I’m broadening my vision a bit and expanding my product. I’m still trying to actively meet people, but I may balance my time more toward working as opposed to networking. [Varner declined to give further details about The Daily Toaster until he has firmed up his final product offering.]
The last time we talked, you were looking for a co-founder. How is that search going?
The biggest challenge is finding a co-founder or someone to work with. Investors look for teams, not people. Working alone sucks: It’s lonely and you have no one to encourage you or bounce ideas off of. My biggest challenge is trying to find someone who’s interested in solving the same problem as me.
I met a guy who may fit a co-founder role for me. We met and meshed well on a social level. He’s a great iOS developer who previously worked for Google and Apple, and I’d handle design stuff. We applied for [revered Silicon Valley start-up incubator] Y Combinator, which is very difficult for single founders to get into.
When do you find out about Y Combinator?
April 16 they let us know if we got an interview, and the interview will take place between April 26 and 30. If we get an interview, they tell us the same day if we’re in. If we get the interview, my potential co-founder and I will be working together 24/7 preparing.
If we got in, it would be a life-changer. One, they offer a lot of mentorship, which would be an extension of your team essentially. You’re also guaranteed to raise money if you have a YC stamp — every team out of YC is able to raise seed rounds of funding. They also invest 18k and an automatic follow-on investment of $150,000, so it’s nice to have that extra runway.
Are you still living in your car to save money?
Yes — it’s going really well. I’m in a pretty normal routine. I wake up, go to the gym and shower I feel healthy, I’m sleeping well, so it’s not that bad.