From Dorm Room to Silicon Valley: ‘Shout’ Founder Reveals How He Got Into Y Combinator

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Twice a year, Y Combinator, a seed funder named the top startup incubator and accelerator by Forbes, invests $120k in dozens of promising startups in exchange for 7% equity. As of 2013, Y Combinator has funded over 500 companies, and according to founder Paul Graham, the average valuation of Y Combinator-backed companies is $45.2 million. The infantile startups move to Silicon Valley for 3 intense months and are given the space, advice, and network to whip their businesses into the best possible shape before presenting their ideas to potential investors.

The hopes, dreams, and tireless work of these startup founders, web developers, and designers all culminate in one daylong event that has the power to change their lives, and perhaps our lives forever: That event is Demo Day.

We were lucky enough to catch up with one such founder and General Assembly alum, Zachariah Reitano, who will be presenting his app, Shout — which he describes as “Classifieds for mobile”– to investors on the next Demo Day on August 19, 2014.

From The Ivory Tower to Silicon Valley

Just 5 minutes into our 30-minute conversation with Zach, it becomes abundantly clear that this young founder truly believes Shout has the potential to change the face of social commerce. (He may be right. The app has been getting significant buzz in major sources like TechCrunch.)

Zach recalls, “We saw not only a broken system but a limit to the types of transactions that could occur on the web. The mobile device enables current exchanges to happen far more efficiently as well as enables an entirely new exchanges.”

The mobile app allows users to connect with other “Shouters” to exchange tickets, reservations, or even a bike pump—the goal being to leverage the power of the crowd to help connect you with the right individual at the right time—a concept that attracted Y Combinator’s Sam Altman for S14 of the groundbreaking accelerator. But this wasn’t  Zach’s first attempt at startup success.

Back in 2012, as a junior at Columbia in New York City, where he received a dual degree in Economics and Creative Writing (a left brain/right brain marriage that is obvious when speaking to the enthusiastic and articulate entrepreneur), Reitano and fellow student Mason Silber won the Best Student Award for NYC BigApps 3.0 for their app, ParkAlly, which enabled drivers to exchange parking spots and gave notice when a driver should move their car for street cleaners.

Prior to graduation, Reitano and another peer, Henri Stern (co-founder of Shout), worked on a photo-sharing app. This was the idea that Reitano and Stern originally pitched to Y Combinator’s president, Sam Altman, during office hours at Columbia.

Sam asked if they had another idea and they quickly pitched something reminiscent of Shout. Altman acknowledged that there was opportunity in the space for real-time, crowd-sourced exchanges; but Shout wasn’t fully formed, and Reitano wasn’t accepted to Y Combinator.

Zach says, “When we showed up for that first interview, we weren’t close to being prepared. We didn’t have a demo, only a hazy idea of what we wanted to create. So we got rejected.”

However, Zach and Henri were asked some important questions; namely, “Which one of you codes?”

Learning To Code, “What’s Another 3 Months?”

It was in that moment that Zach realized he was missing a critical piece necessary to launching a startup that was truly disruptive and beautifully functional. He began researching the best way to learn code; asking his computer science friends which language he should learn (Ruby on Rails), and perhaps more importantly, how to learn them (a coding bootcamp)? Ultimately, Zach discovered General Assembly’s Web Development Immersive after someone on Quora recommended he take a look.

Just weeks after graduation from Columbia, Zach found himself enrolled in WDI where he embarked on 12 weeks of intense coding during the day, and worked on mapping out a new business, which would become Shout, on nights and weekends. After all, he thought, “What’s another 3 months?”

Second Time’s A Charm

Armed with a new technical skillset, clear product, and talented new team members (who he met at General Assembly) Zach and his co-founder, Henri Stern, were ready to pitch Shout to Sam Altman for the S14 of Y Combinator, and this time, they were accepted.

Zach is thrilled with the progress he and his team have made after just 10 weeks in Silicon Valley.

He says, “YC creates an environment where it is okay to ignore everything else in your life. Our team has been extremely focused and accomplished more in the past three months than we did in the previous six. But it is more than simply efficiency. The advice from the partners and the sense of camaraderie from fellow batchmates is what makes YC truly unique.”

Demo Day and Beyond

Zach is excited to share a second version of Shout to a specially selected audience of investors and industry influencers on the impending Demo Day. With 7,000 users and over $4,000 going through the platform in one week alone; he’s confident his time at Y Combinator has paid off.

After Demo Day the Shout team will be returning to NYC, where they will continue to perfect and expand their product–we’re confident the Shout story is far from over, and look forward to covering its evolution in the coming months.

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