#6: James Sinka - Hypnos.ai - Y Combinator Alumni Interviews (YC W19)

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Hello everyone, welcome to episode number six of Entrepreneur Gains, where I interview Y Combinator alumni. In today's episode, I interview my good friend James Sinka founder of Hypnos, a company that helps you discover which sleep habits actually affect your sleep and thus help improve your quality of sleep. James is a chemist and has a very different perspective than an average startup founder. He's been really interested in trying to get more science out of the lab and into the real world as compared to taking the easy route of staying in academia. The biggest topic that we discussed in this episode is pivoting. James has gone through a bunch of pivots in the last year, and we discussed all that in this episode. I hope you guys like it.
I want to start this with like you know knowing about a story like you know how did you get in the startup world how was the experience of why uh the the startup you went through YC, like how did you get to where you are right now? For sure, um so I had a bit of an unconventional startup experience um I think than most people. I started off as a chemist and undergraduate and I was really interested in entrepreneurship almost by a need to see what I was doing make it to the next level so I was fortunate enough at undergraduate rit to be working on a project where we were trying to develop inks that could be printed to make solar panels and the vision there was that we could take these inks and we could use them and use the same hardware architecture and infrastructure that you would use to make magazines or newspapers to literally print roll to roll continuously solar panels and i've been you know afraid of climate change my entire life i knew there was a serious problem and so i saw that as like a like a sign a calling sign for me to work on it especially compounding the fact that in rochester uh kodak was in our backyard and kodak was the largest film producer in the world at one period so they had all the infrastructure that was ready a lot of professors actually working on this doing this work were ex-kodak professors so it just it felt like the cards lined up and i saw no one taking it extremely seriously and i thought like i had to do this and so i was working on this project and i hit a point where um the research that i was doing in order to get it to a point where it would actually make a difference where the uh power that you could get out of these panels was equivalent to what you see on someone's roof i had to deviate my my research from what professors are doing so they're really focused on like the theory of like okay how can we make these inks and what kind of inks can we make as opposed to me saying like okay we need to have a certain level of performance or this isn't going to make a difference and that was like the first time that the economics factor actually made an impact on me at all like i was just a scientist wanting to solve a really curious problem but i didn't realize at all what the factor of economics would play in this problem solving at all so in order to do that i was out of funding uh i had no support besides just being able to use that research lab so i um petitioned and applied to the nsf and to new york state's research and energy development authority for funding and got 100k um to work on this project but the stipulation was it had to be there had to be a commercial attempt and a business formed around the technology because they wanted to see that money invested come back as um business opportunity for the state right so it was we basically got like a 12-week course uh where we'd learn business of specifically this is renewable energies so they'd plug us into mentors who had done renewable energy businesses before talk to us about how to talk to suppliers um how to talk to potential customers of our technology and we actually got an loi for the tech that we were building so i i had to become an entrepreneur i had to learn that side of the business in order to see the work that i was doing come to life and so i didn't necessarily choose to be a founder initially like i didn't set it out to be like oh i want to build the next facebook group i wanna be the owner of a billion dollar tech company or what have you it was just in it it was a required part of the process for me to do what i wanted to do at the level that i wanted to do it and actually make an impact on the world that's amazing so so you you didn't like you didn't go with the mindset i want to be a startup founder you just did university you went to university you were being a chemist you were doing the research which you loved and from there it kind of led into just like the start of the line and he kind of went to the startup route basically yeah there was this um really painful realization that i think i made which was um i had to confront the fact of reality the truth that unless something is economically feasible in that it generates sufficient profits um it's not going to maintain itself over the long term so the impact that i would have uh with my chemistry i wouldn't be able to get it i wouldn't actually be able to print these solar panels roll to roll um and pump them out like they used to magazines or newspapers unless i could get a business model to work around it unless the economics popped up so like you're saying i didn't even know about y combinator uh when i was an in undergraduate i never found the internet personally to be very interesting i'd always been been interested in chemicals because um everything around us in the real world is made up of chemistry so i knew that it could be applied to a whole different range of of opportunities and it just it came that in order for me to actually um do anything of substance and not just be like all the rest of the researchers um i had to learn entrepreneurship and i had to learn business and the other side of that is um 99.9 of inventions and innovations uh don't actually leave the laboratory so science yes scientists physicists chemists biologists uh computer scientists invent all kinds of beautiful things um literally almost none of them ever make it out to the commercial world and never touch your life or touch my life or anyone's life and that's heartbreaking um that's that's painful because we have so much innovation and part of that is again because the economics don't make sense but i couldn't let myself just say oh it's fine for me to bring it like i could just write a paper oh i can just do a phd thesis and then like call it a day i felt like the work that i was doing was more important than that so entrepreneurship was the only way to make that happen so i just had to step up to the plate or go home right i have a lot of questions about this because i was i was thinking about this analogy about uh being being a artist like a rapper or something and like you know like it's like before spotify like legit you had like you know it's so hard to kind of get out there or like before youtube i mean right but before we can before we get into that i want to actually ask you about what happened when you jumped into startup world how did that evolve like how did this like how was it like for you and like you know the whole journey of the startups yeah yeah yeah so um what was interesting was that that project uh the solar printing of solar cells didn't actually make it past our lois and past prototypes so my vision the dream the reason i changed that that project was because i realized or or i couldn't envision the world being fixed of climate change by just having solar panels so cheap literally one-tenth to one one-hundredth of the cost uh which will scale we could get these panels down to um but the solar panel cost like the actual physical thing you put on your roof is only 10 of the overall cost of installing solar so even if we get that cost from uh from 10 down to zero so the cost would go from 100 to 90 percent that 90 of the cost is still too high to warrant a full transition over from non-renewables to solar energy got it um so like thankfully you know i made that realization i had that understanding i went down the path and i learned that like oh this that's one of the reasons why again 99.9 percent of innovations don't leave the lab right that there's that economic component that's missing there um but while we were working on that project my roommates and i were frustrated because we were drinking so much cold brew coffee and i this was i think 2015 or 2014 and we loved cold brew it was it was incredible it was amazing uh it was it was like this underground sort of coffee thing and being that i'm a chemist and some of the partners was working with ultrachemists we thought well we can't just constantly be making cold brew for 24 hours to have us run out every single day like we have efficient lives to build you know i'd meal prep um i would have routines that i'd set up to try to make my life more efficient so i could spend more time in the lab working on this project as i'm sure every entrepreneur does with their time yeah exactly it's just how it is uh so we developed a technology to do it in 30 minutes instead of 24 hours that way we could get back to work it was like oh we're missing out on coffee cool let's just make a 30 minute batch or we could spend two hours brewing enough coffee for the entire week wouldn't have to worry about it whoa okay um so after i graduated um i we pursued that uh that business model and actually i was introduced to the to y combinator um through paul graham's essays at the end of the closing of that printed solar cell project so my undergraduate went from four to five years so i basically added on a year to do the the printing of the solar cells as an actual like business feed a business attempt um and then during that time i discovered pg someone encouraged me to apply to y combinator uh i decided okay we're going to apply with this coffee deal and y combinator completely changed the perspective of what i thought entrepreneurship was um it was they were very raw they were very real uh it was sort of like a no approach to like you need to focus on one thing you didn't have one kpi one key performance indicator and if you don't move that forward you're a failure and the the beautiful thing about the raw truth of of um being in y combinator and in the real business world is that you do fail and things don't get finished and things don't make it in academia an undergraduate and even with this project it was like okay like if i don't make it it's fine i get to add to the a leaf to the tree of tree of knowledge for humanity okay but in yc in entrepreneurship you learned like if you don't make it you're just dead like just just call it a day move on do something else and so that that rawness that truth was eye-opening and on top of the fact that coffee was a consumer business and i would i would only had my experience in b2b and renewable energy whereas like coffee's a very different business was very eye opening to get mentorship from people who had experience in consumer in products in consumer packaged goods right so it completely what i knew about business which was just basically like okay i need to do like a five year forecast to see how my technology is gonna gonna turn out and and really it was like five years and then like a 20 year four year forecast based on how the pounds worked um to know hey you need to prove that people buy your coffee today and then in a week again and then a month again and then maybe figure out like like kind of what like a year and five years looks like but like your fiber projection's completely and like that blew me away i had no idea like i took a minor in business uh at undergrad like to be like okay i need this to support myself entrepreneurially and we didn't do any forecasting it didn't matter at all um and that was jaw-dropping that was eye-opening but it makes a lot of sense and so i don't want to fault academics because i think that they taught me a lot but they definitely don't give you the full picture and so so having the rubber hit the road and actually um knowing that if i don't make enough money this month i'm not gonna be able to pay my rent right that was real that was raw and it teaches you more than anything else can and why she gave us that opportunity right love it and then uh last i guess the part of the story where like uh the whole how was the ride through uh through your company and like what like where you are right now what was like the whole the journey that over there once you got to the yc for sure so uh when do we it's a hilariously funny story so uh we applied to yc with with our coffee um extraction technology and and at the time in order to make ends meet because we graduated in may uh we would just we moved into the cheapest me my co-founder uh andrew fleischer moved into the cheapest absolute place we could for rent was 300 a month and we knew we had to make basically 400 to 500 to break even right because we have to pay for food and utilities and so we were just selling coffee at the local farmers market um and when we applied to oic we applied as a coffee company we had an loi actually from from basically the whole foods of the east coast company called wegmans um who would actually uh take our product and put it on store shelves we'd start off with one store and then move on and expand um but between when we got uh we when we applied and when we got accepted for an interview the farmer's market we were selling we actually found someone who was selling um cbd hemp and being that we're chemists our light bulbs went off and we're like whoa we developed an extraction technology for coffee why don't we apply it to hemp and we tweaked it for over a couple days and we figured out actually we can extract the cbd out of hemp and since we were selling coffee we were we already the beverage guys we decided to start selling cbd lemonade alongside the coffee and that our sailor week there's a coffee a week we sold 1.2 k of cbd lemonade in a week and we're like oh my god okay this is the future i love it yeah yeah yeah and this was at the i want to say the end of of uh 2018 and so when we when we showed up for interview right like everyone still thought we were a coffee company because our application was that way we show up with cbd lemonade and we're like no no we're actually a cannabinoid extraction company um and the the reason we iterated that way is because we saw right there's way more business to be done in cannabinoid extraction and um when we got an interview we we emailed and called every yc company that was in the cannabis space that we possibly could and we pitched them on our technology we're like hey we understand you're doing cannabis so are we here's what we've invented here's why it's useful and we managed to get two lois from two cannabis companies in yc to say hey we would use technology if we could have it i love it so yeah we showed up with those lois uh we showed up with our increased revenues we showed up with with both the coffee and the cbd just so they could see that we were legit we weren't just bullshitting uh and then they tried them on the spot and then that evening we got accepted so we went from a coffee company to a cbd limited company to a b2b extractions company dude um genius yeah you did that before you got into yc you reached out to every yc company who were who was in cbd yeah yeah yeah so so but particularly um cannabis so so we we got oh i think we applied in like august uh we got an acceptance to be interviewed in uh october right and then uh our interview date was in november so from october from when we got the yes to november all we did because it was like we had to book flights within three weeks or whatever all we did was email every company we couldn't yc was like listen here's what we're doing here's why we think it'll be useful um please like let's have a conversation let's explore to see if this is even beneficial for you and so so i got to take the training from from the the b2b um solar cell project which was like hey talk to suppliers or talk to potential business um partnerships before you actually have the product ready to see if they'd be interested in buying it if you make it yeah and so like that would be clutch that was cool um awesome oh sorry cutting you off but it's genius on like four levels i can see one because what right one month before your interview you're meeting all these founders and you're getting advice from them for the cbd company why like what made you want to how did you get in you know like all that kind of stuff like pre pre-introduced pre-interview advice too when you go in the in the room you can say hey we already have two yc companies ready to go founders are you know you're like that's amazing bro that's genius thank you man i appreciate it um and i like after our interview um so gustav if you for any of you guys that are uh familiar with the yc community gustav's an amazing partner uh he was one of the people who interviewed us and he specifically called up uh one of the companies we had an loi with uh california dream and the ceo and he was like hey like is this true is this loi real and over the phone they're like yeah listen this company's amazing we think the technology is super useful here's all the reasons why we've actually been having troubles that they would specifically solve so it was we were so lucky to have like made the right partnerships uh that that we got pulled from the inside helping us get into yc um yeah so so to to anyone that's applying to anyone that that has um a b2b company do your work and validate that people actually want what you need ahead of time because if it's a no then you're gonna save yourself all the grief and the time and the trouble and the the mental pain of figuring that out over the course of six months when you could figure it out in the course of six days right makes complete sense yeah very so so from there yeah we were a b2b cannabis company um when we got into yc so this was like this end of december into january the yc program was january until end of march um and we developed insomnia actually as we're going through ic so we were plugged into three cannabis companies that were doing uh b2b partnerships with and my co-founder and i were just like unable to sleep um and it may have been the stress but but not necessarily because we we were self-medicating with cbd with thc where we needed to and even still there was still like this tension we couldn't go to bed um and you know we had just what was it four or five weeks ago been a coffee company so we were kind of dealing with all this this intense crazy shift moving our stuff from new york over to california getting situated with san francisco um and then just being on this this sort of like a really high fast pace um movement which is good for us right ton of learning um but also the need to adapt was was fairly intense we could feel it so we looked into how we could solve our own problem of insomnia while we were working um forward with being a b2b cannabis company and we discovered a compound called cbn cannabinol which is different than cbd which is kind of a dial and there have been papers in the 60s and 70s that have been shown that you can actually use it to tranquilize animals and so we decided to synthesize some since you know we were chemists uh we still had our chemistry acumen we just put on the lab coats we're like all right let's figure out how to do this uh we we synthesized it we purified it and then we started to give it to other people after we tried it ourselves and found that it improved our sleep um and the way we actually tested how valuable it was was we found people with sleep trackers and those didn't have any we gave them sleep trackers and we said okay here's uh here's one and here's a second product we're not going to tell you which is real which is not uh but you take them on different days and we're going to see based on your sleep power data if it helps or if it doesn't help you go to sleep we found that our formulation with cbn did actually improve people's sleep they fell asleep faster and they had deeper sleep and so when we pitched at yc uh that our demo day we pitched as um a natural product to help you go to sleep faster and go to sleep more deeply so in the course of four months five months we had basically four pivots uh and we presented we raised half a mil it was great it was fantastic um but there was all this iteration that's such anime i was gonna say that the final pivot came we ended up working on this project for a few months um and there's this me and my co-founder once once you start investing in the production line getting into packaging um talking to distributors there's a lot of basically uh behind the scenes work you have to do in the legal california cannabis market to get a product like this available on store shelves we're going through all that motion we were about a month away from launching we we started to feel out uh that we weren't we didn't think this is the right decision and the reason was is because we didn't want to medicate people that didn't need medicine um as a chemist and and anyone that's that studied neurobiology or neurochemistry or biochemistry you know that um all products everything that you consume uh has both a positive and a negative everything's a double-edged sword there's nothing without it right and we don't know what the long-term consequences of cannabinoids are we know that they're for some people there are consequences um and frankly if you can survive taking less chemicals uh than necessary then you should you shouldn't overload yourself unnecessarily in chemicals especially if we don't know what the 50 year consequence is so we felt this kind of guilt and we realized like oh in the same way we tested to see what the strength or the the efficacy the performance of our cbn product was using sleep trackers we could test any kind of thing against sleep trackers whether it be blue light blocking glasses or a weighted blanket or cbd or melatonin or any any anything that would improve your sleep and therefore figure out exactly per person what would make the impact on their sleep and they wouldn't need it to take drugs they didn't otherwise need to so we then um you know painstakingly unwound and disconnected from all the work that we've done in the back of the california cannabis industry and uh you know wound down all of our b2b operations to say okay we want to focus and see if we can fix each person's sleep uh using their sleep tracker data that would give us an insight of what does and what doesn't work and we've since transitioned that from a one-on-one coaching method to a digital online self-serve application that people can use on their own time and can therefore reliably do it at a lower price without having to have like a human person on the other side giving them all this advice because obviously human capital is expensive it's worthwhile it takes a lot of time and effort to to bring through but we really had a wild ride just going from one iteration to the next to the next and frankly it was our conscience that said we had to make this this difference because i don't like i just wouldn't be happy with myself drugging people who didn't necessarily need that that drone that's such an amazing story and uh yeah that's crazy that how many pivots you guys did and then coming to that conclusion because you're right if you think about it right now in u.s with the whole opioid uh stuff that's going on right like that's that's like those people a lot of people them didn't really need the drugs right they just got used to it and so good on you man for coming to that conclusion and like you know leaving a potentially multi-million dollar idea on the table and you know like and not yeah good really good for you man i respect that a lot um before we get in so i have one last question before we get into the learnings part of it one last question about story uh yeah the story part of it now that you've been doing a sleep tracking company right um and you've had so many pivots are you at a stage right now where you're actually genuinely like you're enjoying it or do you want you think there's more pivots along the line or you try still trying to figure yourself out and like you know because i'm sure it's also been a lot of like personal growth here as well right definitely well doing this whole thing so where are you right at this very moment for sure um i would say that we're still in the experimentation phase um and that's because we haven't hit what in the entrepreneurial scene we consider we call product market fit and that's when your product is so well tuned and solves the exact precise nuance problem that your customers need that instead of you pulling for customers customers are showing up banging down your door for demand and so while startups aren't in product market phase their entire goal is to search for product market fit and there's a lot of great essays and articles you can read about product market how to find out how to iterate it but at its core the way you get there is through experimenting and talking to customers you're looking at how they use your product and you get that feedback and you synthesize you have new ideas you chase down uh different versions of what you're doing until you get to a point where you solve that point that problem very very specifically and you hit product market fit so this um where we're at right now is is exactly there we're doing that that kind of experimentation we learned that um though the interpersonal be uh specific person-to-person coaching was useful and had amazing outcomes like we we've improved so many people's sleep significantly to the point where some people don't have to take um over-the-counter drugs to go to bed every night like i would consider that to be a huge win uh we learned that the price point was actually just insurmountable for many many people so we had um i think like a waitlist of over 500 people that wanted to partake and we could only only maybe like 30 or 35 of them could actually afford our program so we knew that we had to shift things around we're working on this software driven the same type of we're trying to go for the same type of result but through a different kind of format um and so it's it's not necessarily where um i feel it's not where we expect it to be right but in the same way when i look at that startup journey from where we started where we are now i could have never expected that we would get here so um in the same way that i was learning how to do new things uh three years ago when i was working on trying to print solar panels i'm still learning on how to interact with customers and how to design products that really help solve people's problems at their core and that's exciting that's interesting that that's a problem that uh you can still i like at least the scientists in me can still see okay we're running an experiment here's the independent variable here's the dependent variable let's see how it goes let's see uh what result we're gonna get right so that's still fun awesome awesome man that was an amazing story let's move to part two i have a lot of questions for you uh okay okay all right let's do it i wanna start with this so first of all like you know you're you've had so many um iterations right and it's and the part that i love the most is that all those iterations have been based on what you loved like or what your problem was you're solving your own nature right how important is that and what if someone doesn't know like you know what really inspires them but they still want to be an entrepreneur like how like what like yeah how important is that and like how should they proceed totally so so there's two parts there that i want to uncover um the first one is if you have the problem that you're trying to solve you're automatically a good customer you know what the solution would need to at least to feel like maybe not necessarily what it precisely looks like because you still have to iterate and experiment over that process but if you know that for an example you're having troubles going to sleep you can at least experiment on yourself and see what puts you to sleep so having that trouble or having the problem that you're trying to solve specifically makes it way way way way better and way easier to solve or to build a solution to that problem i i think the classic example is mark zuckerberg wanted a place where he could look up what uh like the directory of his classmates and see what classes were being taken and get reviews on those classes from other people um at his university and you couldn't do that with the traditional uh like university i think it was like the white pages basically so he had to build his own um site to do that where people would would comment on like oh you know this history class is amazing you should take it the professor is great so by having your own that problem uh you can use your own intuition your own compass as a guide to get to the first few iterations and then from there you should be listening to customers to kind of understand like what um what you need to build next or what would help you need to product market fit and now the second part of that is like what if you want to be an entrepreneur like you said and you don't necessarily have that problem or you don't have a problem that you're trying to solve in general and there i would say that you can be an entrepreneur in many different ways um in my mind i believe that being an entrepreneur just means taking on more of the responsibility and in exchange for potentially being rewarded more for the extra responsibility that you're taking and so you can be an entrepreneur within a company right you can or even better if if you are an entrepreneur if you want to be an entrepreneur you can go work for a company that is in its early stages that is entrepreneurial is still tight it's still small where people still have to wear all these different hats and they have a lot of responsibility instead of just being a replaceable individual with within a bigger company so you don't necessarily need to have either a problem that you want to solve um or like some great vision of a company that you're trying to build but if you want to taste what entrepreneurship is like working for a startup is a great way to do that and i think y combinator has like a work for a startup or a resource like that that'll help you find other companies that you could work for to get a flavor for what that's like and frankly uh if you don't like it that's a great way to know because you haven't put in all this emotional energy of of having your own baby that you then have to you know abandon it's you worked for someone else you felt out what it was like and then you can move on without as many repercussions to having started your own company yeah i think it's interesting i think an important question to ask could be are you doing it because of your ego because you want to show to your friends look i have a startup right or or i want to or once i exit the startup i will have like a freaking billion dollars or whatever or are you doing yeah because you're genuinely passionate about it excited about it right what would you say uh so so i totally agree and i think the media these days has has made it more glamorous to want to work on a startup or build a startup uh than it actually is and yes there are upsides like there are billion dollar hits but those are one in uh ten thousand or a hundred thousand right and frankly if if you don't if you're not doing it because you love it then you're not going to make it through all the pain and all of the the trough of sorrow is actually a term that paul graham puts up to describe this this point where you're not doing a great amount of you're not making a ton of progress yeah exactly exactly uh you're not going to make it through those trenches and actually see it through the success unless you have a really really deep passion for the thing that you're building and in terms of ego and being able to show the people like hey look i'm an entrepreneur put it you know on your twitter on your linkedin whatever for one thing that's that's definitely overrated um but for another i i think that it's also worth pointing out that there is some level of like hey i need to feel like i'm doing something meaningful and oftentimes there it's very difficult to find meaning where you're currently working or what you're currently grinding on and so being an entrepreneur allows you to be more flexible and necessarily pursue something that is more meaningful and so like there is i think a general distaste or a general desire in in our society in 2020 to find things that are really meaningful and an entrepreneurship is definitely a way to do that but it shouldn't be like a cop-out for doing that right like it entrepreneurship should basically be like the last resort it's like the only way i can do that meaningful thing is by being an entrepreneur because it's going to be the most intensive and the most difficult and the most um stressful out of all of your possible options so i would say um maybe cut yourself out a little bit of work and try to find meaning in other things that you could do or other jobs maybe look for a different job that could give you that meaning because all in all you save yourself a lot of time and a lot of energy and a lot of grief if you do that as opposed to just starting your own company because you're like i want to feel a little bit more meaning because it's valid that desire is valid um but don't go down this path thinking oh it's going to be easy oh it's going to be glamorous oh people are going to want to talk to me uh it's it's rough it's tough and it reads you out yeah i would also say it'd be kind of cool to like break it down right like one like are you like is it a if you want to be an entrepreneur is it like a startup founder like you know like or is it like a like just like like you know having your own business and like you know managing clients for whatever reason like a couple of clients right yeah or you can just kind of go into any direction but just think about the consequences but especially with startups i kind of feel like yeah like the idea sounds great but it's i i think about this and i'm like man i don't i don't think that i would enjoy having a 300 people team and dealing with that every freaking day like i i like my space i like to have freedom in life you know what i mean like it's just a yeah it seems good in theory but practicality only a certain kind of people enjoy that like i enjoy the problem solving of it but then i think about the whole managing the team part the growth growing the whole team part i'm like i don't want to do that uh and it's me i'm not saying that everybody's different obviously but yeah for sure so yeah and i i would i would build on top of that to say um just because you want to be an entrepreneur doesn't mean that you have to go for a billion dollar company to do that like the whole billion dollar notion is just for how venture capital works and so venture capital basically gives you money up front today for you to pay them back in five years ten times what what they paid you so it's almost like um before like kind of like a loan but you have to pay back 10 times what you borrowed and that only works the mathematics of that only works out if you're trying to shoot for the billion dollar company that has 300 employees right but you could be you know um an entrepreneur that solves a local problem or someone that like you know maybe you're really passionate about cooking and you just want to open up your own like bakery on the side like that's that's totally super valid entrepreneurship and you're going to get rewarded for that and it might just be like a five-person operation and that's great um but i i think it's really important to understand what you want first and then go out and like said do sort of the analysis see what fits with your lifestyle because being like a tech entrepreneur being a silicon valley startup founder is such a different ball game than being like a bakery owner or or running like just a very small piece of software for a niche community yeah yeah self-awareness basically yeah uh love it yeah okay uh i wanna so with respect to your uh being a chemist right yeah like and yeah i remember you said that 99 of people just stay in the you know in the lab and they um and they don't like basically like you know uh go out and explore because of so many reasons like you mentioned in the story in your story but so how like how can those people like you know like like you know get out and do stuff and like how can they make the most out of it the craft that they have they're so smart they're so you know they're an artist in a sense right and how can they absolutely take that art and like kind of go out and yeah totally and and so what's what's beautiful about uh a lot of modern science um i actually i'm gonna say particularly biotechnology is that there's been a lot of decreasing costs in terms of there's more labs that are that are opening up that allow you to work in like its co-working or kosher lab space um being able to run computational models to figure out uh if what you're gonna do if like a protein that you're targeting will make sense for a certain drug application or even just like if you have an idea for how to edit the genes of yeast you can submit those edits to a company who will do all that lab work for you so so there's more infrastructure nowadays for you to do like high-level science work without actually owning or being in a university so that's the first piece um but the second piece i would say is it needs to come from from inside right if you don't feel like what you're working on is going to be game changing is going to really make a difference and that you the expert because typically these scientists that are doing their own research they're like one of five people or one of one person in the world that's focusing on this axis if you think the thing that you're working on uh is important enough then you should learn how to get it out there and the easiest way to do that is just to talk to more people but like we as scientists are trained to write very highly technical papers that are only written or only decodable by other people in science and that's very difficult for the modern person to understand but you could like inspire you know kids to be scientists that if you explained it to them in ways that they could understand you would kind of pass the torch onto the next generation and then the most important which i've seen so much happen in undergraduate and i know so many phds mastery students that are in this position but if you don't love what you're doing you don't love what you're studying and you don't love what you're researching just change it right there are so many meaningful problems in the world that need to get solved so many advances that are happening like just take the three months six months off uh take a sabbatical what have you and explore what's naturally interesting and curious to you and then you'll find what the most important problems are to solve there and and a quick hat tip to sam altman he says that you should be asking what is the most important problem in my industry that i can possibly solve right and i think if more scientists did that we'd have more breakthroughs in really important areas of science like fusion technology as an example which would totally make all fossil fuels irrelevant so if you don't do it necessarily like if you're not trying to optimize your science for meaning or for um leverage or or to benefit the greater good i would ask like why are you being a scientist and if it's to solve complex problems i'm telling you you're going to get a great kick out of solving a complex problem that also will add an important relief to it a very important tree of knowledge rather than something that's kind of like esoteric and niche and maybe not so important so so pick meaningful research for one thing and also tell people about it right especially young kids who who are still uh in their formative years who have the opportunity to dream and who want to think about the future in the way that you are as a scientist and who might find inspiration in what you're doing and want to carry that torch of being a scientist to being researcher themselves right but i also remember he said something about like you know a lot of people a lot of scientists keep the science in the lab and not take it to the real world right for sure how can people do more of that i remember you mentioned i got peter thiel talking about this concept as well or something along the lines definitely um so so it's easy to point to that statistic and say look like there's 99.9 of uh inventions or innovations just like don't leave academia um and like like part of the way you would get some of that to happen is by being more vocal about what you're developing but some of the other part would actually just to say it this is important enough like let me try to commercialize it myself like let me let me actually make this real um and the cost of failure is actually very very low um if you have expertise in a space if you have the desire and the drive to see what you're doing hit the real world so again i'd argue that if people are if researchers are really passionate about the problem they're solving you shouldn't just say okay like once i've written a paper or this is it or like i'm just going to like let it toil in the lab because your work isn't going to mean anything unless it's brought out of the lab so look for um you know other other companies that you might be able to partner with that could take your innovation from a lab space and actually commercialize it or you know if you're in the space of biochemistry or biotechnology uh there's so many pharmaceutical companies or biotech companies that you could talk to and say like hey look here's the line of research that i'm doing like what how can we do this research better so that way you could license it or that you could take it from our lab and actually move it out into the real world and granted the biotechnology company will take all most of the expenses and so on and so forth but so long as you align yourself and you know that the goal is to make something useful you can talk to these other players you can do this other research you can be more vocal you can pick more meaningful science and then once it's done you can like email and contact and reach out to individuals who you think could benefit and even if they can't they might know someone who will and so at the end of the day it's up to you to see that it that it actually makes a meaningful impact on society but if you're researching it in the first place you believe in what you're doing so wield that self belief and let it fuel you let it take you to that next level i love it man that's awesome um one thing that i love about you by the way as you can see from this conversation that you are an amazing conversationalist and you're a great networker uh obviously that helps you helps you a lot that helps you you know when you're going out there when you are pitching your product when you are you're passionate about what you do what if someone doesn't have that because most of the startup people you and you already know this they're mostly like nerdy they're mostly you know they have hard time talking so like how important is a skill and what can other people do who don't have this okay um so that that's a very tough question because i was an introvert for the majority of my life and i'm i'm definitely still very introverted uh but when it comes to talking about things that i'm passionate about that i care about that kind of falls away it disappears we're cutting you off i just wanted listeners to know because you're saying you're very introverted i remember being at camp yc and you're like getting everyone ramped up on freaking cbd coffee like i remember just walked in there and everyone was like drinking and you were like going like person to person and like i don't think i don't know i i think i thought you were such a charismatic person uh because i mean obviously yc is like when you go there you're like these people that you've looked up to like you know you see michael cyborg like freaking billion dollar exit and you were like like hey man when i have a cbd coffee and you're like kind of i don't know i thought you were pretty uh extroverted i would never guess that but but but like um the the cure to that the reason i was able to conjure that level extroversion was because i was talking about something that i cared about something that i was knowledgeable that i was passionate about and so if you ask me to do the same thing about like sports i don't care about sports at all so i can't i can't even listen to a conversation i just i want to go into a corner and like you know open up twitter or something like that uh it's it's not it's not my jam so so i would say to those who feel introverted like just try talking about things that you care about that you're passionate about and you'll just find that it comes out and if you're talking to people who are also interested they'll just ask and they'll be like so how did that work and why is it this way and how did it get that way and you'll you'll just find that they they almost bring it out of you and the same way like sabi you ask really great questions right and so like one of the reasons why it might seem like i have a lot of energy to talk is because there's just some things that that are interesting to me and that are more impressive or more exciting than the um tensed tension that i get from being an introvert so for for those that are more introverted i would again try to find things that you can talk about to people who who like or share similar interests and like don't force yourself to have conversations about things you don't like right like if someone's like you're not an extrovert or an introvert shouldn't find themselves obligated to like learn how to talk about sports just because you want to learn how to talk about sports like that's not your thing like don't waste your time life's too short um so yeah if you talk about something that you you care about that comes from the heart you'll you'll have no problem holding and having a conversation um but on the other hand of like the value of being um extroverted or or well-networked i i have to give two shout-outs here one to peer rich um who basically like proved to me or or he's he's a networker far beyond what i have and he also considers himself an introvert but he can just have amazing conversations with people of all different kinds of fields and his enthusiasm his excitement his desire to just like meet new founders and meet other like-minded people is is inspirational to me i i love it um and then reuben harris from career karma uh that guy is he's one of the hardest working people that i know and also he's he's always networking he's always hustling um and he's always discussing things that he's an expert in and that's on his mind and i think he he taught me that it's it's never a bad thing ever to be a thought leader or to talk about things that you have expertise in because not only do you get to have meaningful conversations with other people who are of that level of expertise and by doing so you sharpen and you evolve your your knowledge your understanding because by articulating yourself well other people can um pose questions or refine what you're getting at and as a group of experts you all learn together you kind of elevate one another he also taught me the value of like having your perspectives out there because then other people will find what you're doing to be important and exciting and meaningful and then you might inspire other people so it was sort of like again being a bit so uh in terms of how important it is it's not important to talk about things that you don't care about right like don't force yourself to have conversations about the weather or sports but if it's something that is important to you um and that you're meaningfully not bad at you don't even have to be good at it but like you just not bad at then i would encourage you to have conversations about those things because if you find yourself having unlimited capacity to talk about these things then it might be you have a strength there you might have a superpower there you might not be as introverted as you thought and other people want to associate with you you'll build the name for yourself and it'll be easier to be an entrepreneur um or an expert once people know that you know what you're talking about once you can ask these and answer these meaningful questions people will want to come to work with you because they know you know what you're talking about and that's that's super super important that'll give you a ton of leverage right i love this man man there's so much gold there holy um okay we're running to the end of the time so i want to finish off with the four quick fire questions okay uh one two two sentences yeah so first one is one unconventional thinking outside the box kind of thing you guys did in your business okay so when we're doing um sleep well which is the the coaching um to understand what fixes people sleep we actually gave away sleep trackers for free and the reason we did that is because we wanted to first prove that we could fix people's sleep but we also knew that one of the reasons people didn't buy sleep trackers is because they don't give you meaningful information they just tell you what you know which is that your sleep sucks yeah your heart your heart rate is this much or whatever but you're like what do i do with that exactly how do i make that meaningful so we decided to give them away and say the value is not in the sleep tracker but it is in the data and how you use it and we're providing that so you're paying us for our time and the uh data processing not the actual physical device itself right got it okay uh number two advice for someone applying to yc oof um i i feel like you're i feel like you gave an amazing advice on your story anyways but i'm still gonna ask you again that was like probably the best advice anybody would have given in my opinion but [Laughter] um i i think it's it's important to be um honest and authentic when you apply to ic and that's because a lot of the people that i know myself included have changed their ideas from when they applied to when they got into when they actually pitched oic so your idea is not exactly what people are going to judge you on it'll be who you are your character and your ability to get done so just be honest be hard-working be authentic and they'll see through that and i know like like one of my favorite yc companies who i'm not gonna name um applied to yc and then when they got an interview at the interview they said we hate your idea you have until the end of the day to come up with a better one and if you like if we like it we'll fund you and they did and they got funded and now they're they're crushing it so uh they're investing in you not your idea so don't necessarily be tied to your idea be be honest about who you are yes i i can relate to that as well i think uh it's not about ideas much about like how much you how passionate you are and how you know how how big are you thinking and all like and obviously i mean idea let's play a part let's be honest but like not not as much as people think it's 100 that yeah for sure yeah okay there's an unspoken rule about yc is is no [ __ ] so even if your id is amazing and even if you're making millions of dollars a year they're not going to take you in if they don't feel like you're a good person yeah you're good fit to the community yeah it makes sense yeah exactly right like because we're good people like like yc does bring a good level of camaraderie around they know how to pick through the [ __ ] and have just high quality people left over yeah i love that okay advice for someone starting their first startup okay um make sure that what you're doing is something that you're passionate about and it's something that you can see yourself working on for 10 years um generally it takes that long to see any kind of like really meaningful success and uh do it when you're young actually like or when you i could i'm gonna phrase that a little bit differently do it when you have um little responsibility and an opportunity to fail because like i happened to just go from straight out of undergraduate right to the the entrepreneurial scene um but you know if i was married and i had kids and i had a lot of obligations i wouldn't be able to put in the 80 to 100 hour weeks that inevitably you just have to you just find yourself doing um so make sure that you care about what you're doing and do it at a time in your life where you think you can fail and that that tends to be when people are young because like let's say you miss out on two to five years of like career building most of the time that's when people are getting their first job that they don't really care about that they're just like doing to get experience you know because every job requires five years of experience right so they're just getting that fires or experience before they can apply to their dream job so you're not going to miss out on your dream job by doing it early got it okay uh and last question if there was only one thing that people could take away something that has helped you in your life a lot what would that be oof okay all right so throughout all of the iterations throughout all the experiments all of the different startup pivots that we've done um what's been the same and what's been consistent is uh friends and family and community and who you are isn't just what you're working on and we talked a little earlier about ego and about how people get wrapped up on how what they can show other people what they can tell other people but it's oftentimes those indescribable unpointable unquantifiable parts of life that are the most meaningful and that will give you the most value when your startup inevitably fails right there there's a phrase that a friend of mine uses which is every startup is broken and that's a fact every single startup is broken it's not fixed if it were fixed it would be a big company already so be sure that you're still taking care of yourself you still you're not burning your friends and your family for work because they're the ones that are going to remind you of your value that are going to keep you up when you're feeling down and that are there to really support you and they're happy to see you when you succeed and they want to see you when you succeed um and your startup may not live forever right 90 90 95 of all startups fail but your family will still be there yeah i want to add one more point even if it doesn't feel like it yeah even yeah what's that like for you it sounds like there's a story in there yeah i mean same thing where like you know i felt like where you see all your friends and you see all your family right well family first of all i don't know for my family they were like what the are you doing just go get a normal job you know and you're like well i'm like taking this risk all i need is support i don't need your money i don't need anything right so you obviously have that feeling where you're like what they don't trust in you or they don't support you or whatever which is obviously not the case they just look they just want good for you right exactly with friends i think it feels especially the friends who are not you're not working with it feels like when you're young you see all your friends like kind of going out you know like i remember partying in greece and you're like in a basement for like 12-hour days it feels like it doesn't feel good yeah so that definitely you know but you got to realize that you you're going you're looking at the long term and not the short term so and that's why it's so important like you said to be passionate to be really cared about what you're working on and looking at the 10-year journey completely completely completely agree with you something you said there really quickly resonated with me which is like your family wants the best for you yeah and your friends want the best for you and like oftentimes they're right but sometimes they're wrong and sometimes you need to be comfortable in saying like listen i disagree with these people who think they know me really well and who i love and who i think know me really well but they're not in my shoes yeah they don't know my context they don't know my struggles they want the best for me but if they were where i am right now with all the experiences that i've had and all the opportunity that i can see they would think that i'm making the right choice and so don't let your friends your family hold you back either right like be well-intentioned um but at the same time like understand that that they do love you and if they say that you're being stupid by pursuing the startup uh they just don't know that they're they're not living in your shoes so take that either way you will learn you'll grow out of it it's gonna be great experience either way so uh even if you were stupid it's not gonna change you know what i mean even if you fail it's got you're gonna get so many learnings while doing it that will work out so yeah i also think i also like to put one word i think i think one word in my opinion at least or what i've seen when it comes to startup is uh it involves a lot of sacrifices so you have to be okay with doing sacrifices yeah you know that that that actually is something that um i take for granted and i just kind of assume that that's just the way it is because i have sacrificed relationships right like that's one of the reasons why i recommend that it's something you don't do um i have sacrificed friendships i have sacrificed opportunities and time and money um particularly like and when i was living out of my own savings after i graduated trying to figure out how to do this whole entrepreneurship thing right um so sacrifice is a huge huge part of it but for those of you that are hearing that are thinking oh like sacrifice what do i get in response there is a prize and and that prize even if you fail is self-understanding and when you sacrifice something that you didn't want to have sacrificed you then understand that that thing is important to you and you're not going to sacrifice it again or that the prize or the the reward for that kind of a sacrifice has to be so high and the guarantee has to be so precise that it's worth doing that again right so you will learn through your failures you'll learn through that sacrifice um but it's absolutely a part of the journey and you can't have success without giving up like you said the opportunity to go out or the the chances to like even be with your family sometimes for outings you just you literally cannot you're you're stuck you're busy you're grinding um but they'll understand if you're honest with them and and you're vulnerable with them they'll get it exactly awesome man thank you so much for coming to the show that was all amazing man that was probably the best podcast but [Laughter] don't tell your other guest thank you so much for having me it's been great!