The application that got Metlo into Y Combinator

Metlo was part of Y Combinator's S21 Batch

We applied to Y Combinator in March 2021 and got accepted into the Summer 2021 batch.

Thinking back to March 2021, I remember my co-founder, Akshay, and I, nervously scouring the internet for examples of recently successful YC applications. Companies like OpenPhone had generously published their YC Application on their blogs and seeing these successful applications helped us a lot.

Today, we're excited to give back to the startup community and share the application that got us into YC!

Some context before we get to the application – we applied to YC as Supernote. However, when Michael Seibel called us to congratulate us on getting in, he said that we were in but the Partners didn't like our idea much at all and encouraged us to pivot to something different. We spent some more time on Supernote before our batch started but ended up pivoting to Metlo – that's another story for another day 😉


Company

Company name:

Supernote

Company url, if any:

https://supernote.ai

If you have a demo, what's the url? Demo can be anything that shows us how the product works. Usually that's a video or screen recording. (Please don't password protect it; just use an obscure url.)

(Note – we actually didn't have a demo at the time we applied, but we sent this video in an update after submitting our application)

https://www.loom.com/share/21e6ca1704f24bea830e57f4944caa84

Describe what your company does in 50 characters or less.

We make tools for Data Scientists and Engineers

What is your company going to make? Please describe your product and what it does or will do.

Supernote makes collaboration, version control and model deployment much easier for data scientists, data engineers and ML engineers. To do this, we’re making two things:

  1. A “Hub” for data science notebooks and deployed models where people can go and search all the published work of their peers, filter on different criteria and see how a notebook changed over time, and
  2. A cloud-native python notebook with integrated version control, 1-click deploy for your ML models (turn a notebook into an API), scheduled notebook execution (cron jobs for jupyter notebooks; can be used for data pipelines, batch training etc), automatic cluster management and google docs-like collaboration features (leave comments on individual cells in the notebook, suggest changes etc.)

Eventually, we think we can expand into much deeper pieces of the stack to become an E2E ML Platform after we’re successful in becoming the daily driver for DS, DE and MLEs at a company.

Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC? (List as City A, Country A / City B, Country B.)

San Francisco, US / San Francisco or New York City, US

Founders

Shri Sukhani (shrisukhani)

Schools, Degrees (including field of study), and Years of Graduation

(Use a separate line for each school)

Should you be selected for interview, we may ask for academic transcripts

B.S. Computer Science at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (Graduated in 2019)

Employers, Position / Titles and Dates

(Use a separate line for each job, most recent first.)

Should you be selected for interview, we may ask for references

Facebook / Software Engineer / June 2019 - Present

Facebook / Software Engineering Intern / Summer 2018

Please tell us in one or two sentences about the most impressive thing other than this startup that you have built or achieved.

I created the core product performance metric at Fb that all product teams goal on when I was an Intern (first job ever). I was among the top 13 out of 2000+ interns at FB that year and invited to dinner with Zuck at his house. When I came back full-time, I scaled the product performance program across Facebook app (3000 Engineers).

If no, why not? What level of commitment are you willing to make? Do you have any other commitments during the batch (between June through August 2021 inclusive)?

No

Do you have any commitments in the future and if so what?

(e.g. finishing college, going to grad school)

No. But I'm not entirely sure when I can quit my job because of Visa issues -- I'm in the US on STEM OPT right now so we'd have to figure out how I can quit asap.

Akshay Shekhawat (ashekhawat)

Schools, Degrees (including field of study), and Years of Graduation

(Use a separate line for each school)

Should you be selected for interview, we may ask for academic transcripts

University of Minnesota, Computer Science, 2016-2018

Employers, Position / Titles and Dates

(Use a separate line for each job, most recent first.)

Should you be selected for interview, we may ask for references

Uber, Software Engineer, 2018-2020

Please tell us in one or two sentences about the most impressive thing other than this startup that you have built or achieved.

I started working at Uber full-time when I was 20. Soon after I joined, I led a project to centrally store all metrics used by my org's Data Scientists on one efficient platform.

If no, why not? What level of commitment are you willing to make? Do you have any other commitments during the batch (between June through August 2021 inclusive)?

No

Do you have any commitments in the future and if so what? (e.g. finishing college, going to grad school)

No

Please enter the url of a 1 minute unlisted (not private) YouTube video introducing the founder(s). This video is an important part of the application. (Follow the Video Guidelines.)

https://youtu.be/Z1uSmLYmxYQ

Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together. Include urls if possible.

We made a consumer subscription app called [REDACTED] in December 2020 because we thought that the space was super interesting. We learned iOS development, designed and shipped v1 in 1 week and then launched a TikTok Ad campaign. The app reached $8K MRR in mid-Feb but we got bored and decided we wanted to do something much bigger so we stopped working on it as much. It's currently running on autopilot, we haven't done any work on it since mid-Feb.

How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?

We've known each other for almost 4 yrs. We met in college where we both worked in the AI and Vision lab and quickly became best friends. We've also been roommates in SF for the last couple years.

How many founders are on the team?

(Fill out this number of founder profiles)

2

Category

Which category best applies to your company?

Developer Tools

Progress

How far along are you?

We came up with the idea ~2 weeks ago, have done 15 user interviews since then and should have our MVP up and running by Saturday (3/26)

To validate the idea we also asked some of our users to pre-pay $50 (USD) to get lifetime access for Supernote and 3 of them agreed so we have $150 in revenue (bookings? Not sure how to account it, but money in the bank)

How long have each of you been working on this? How much of that has been full-time? Please explain.

We had the idea ~3 weeks ago. Since then, we've done 15 user interviews and are on track to ship our MVP by 03/26 to our first few users.

Akshay has been working on this full-time for 2 weeks. Shri has been working nights and weekends for the last 2 weeks and full-time for 2 days (all the PTO he could take right now).

Are people using your product?

No

When will you have a prototype or beta?

03/26/2021

Do you have revenue?

Yes

How much revenue?

  • Feb 2021: $150
  • Jan 2021: $0
  • Dec 2020: $0
  • Nov 2020: $0
  • Oct 2020: $0
  • Sep 2020: $0
  • Aug 2020: $0

Anything else you would like us to know regarding your revenue or growth rate?

All our revenue is from 3 pre-sales for lifetime use of our product. It's obviously heavily discounted but we couldn't think of a better way to validate our idea and asking for more seemed like a sure-fire way to get a "No."

Additionally, 1 out of the customers who bought it in the pre-sale is a close friend of Shri's.

If you are applying with the same idea as a previous batch, did anything change? If you applied with a different idea, why did you pivot and what did you learn from the last idea?

We did not apply for the last batch.

If you have already participated or committed to participate in an incubator, "accelerator" or "pre-accelerator" program, please tell us about it.

We haven't participated in another "accelerator" or "pre-accelerator"

Idea

Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you're making?

How we came up with this idea: Our goal for YC build sprint was to figure out what we want to make, launch a product and get 1 paying customer. We didn’t quite accomplish that but we spent a lot of time talking to our friends who work at smaller companies (Series A/B) and non-tech F500s (Boeing, Medtronic, UnitedHealth Group) about their workflow and problems. Among all our conversations (27 convos), 4 people who were Data Scientists at startups brought up that they “could be managing our notebooks much better”. Shri works in python notebooks a lot at Facebook so he knew that they had a pretty good solution to the problems our interviewees brought up and Akshay made a lot of the data infra for Uber’s marketplace experimentation team so he knew how to make the back-end.

We went back to the 4 DSs and pitched them Supernote -- they liked it so we did 11 more interviews with people we knew. We asked them to pay us $50 for life-time access to the product. 3 out of the 15 people paid us (1 of them is a close friend though) so we decided it was a good idea and we should work on it.

Domain expertise: Shri knows exactly what product we need to build because he’s a power user of Bento notebooks and ANP (internal tools) at Facebook which is what we used to validate our idea with customers. Akshay did a *ton* of data work at Uber and knows exactly how to make the back-end -- otherwise we couldn’t get our MVP up in 2.5-3 weeks.

How we know people need what we’re making: As described above we validated it with a bunch of people and got some pre-sales. Additionally, Facebook and Uber both have fairly large teams that work on these powerful notebooks as internal tools so we’re confident that there’s a real need here.

What's new about what you're making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn't exist yet (or they don't know about it)?

What’s new: A lot of our features exist in disparate open source software but there’s no one tool that a Data Scientist or ML Engineer can use to manage their whole workflow. These features individually solve annoying problems but not big enough that customers would want to pay for them. However, we think that a bundle of all these tools (Supernote) is much more valuable and crosses the threshold to something people will pay for.

Substitutes: The most common DS workflow today is training a model on local jupyter notebooks or google colab notebook (for more savvy people who work at companies that allow it), testing it out with an example set of arguments and then putting it into a python script that they then upload to GCP cloud functions/AWS lambda to deploy it. There’s no good collaboration solution so people often just share screenshots in slack. The DS’ who are technically savvy and understand git sometimes use git for versioning, most just don’t save versions over time.

Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?

We don’t have any real competitors right now except Deepnote (YC S19) and Naas (https://naas.ai). We don’t really fear them.

In the future we think Databricks, Domino Data Lab, AWS, Azure and GCP could all become competitors. We do fear Databricks changing their notebook product to be exactly the same as ours -- if they do this, we’re not sure what we’d do because they own so much of the data infra in a company’s stack that it would be very difficult to compete with them.

What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don't get?

We think most people in the space don’t understand how overlooked DS tooling is and that if you capture the DS notebook (home for Data Scientist/ML Engineer), you can expand easily into other areas of the data and ML pipelines. There’s a ton of focus on DevTools for devs, not much on tools for pseudo-devs (DSs) -- we think this is a pretty big opportunity that we can go after.

How do or will you make money? How much could you make?

(We realize you can't know precisely, but give your best estimate.)

We’ll make money with a SaaS subscription by charging $20-50/user/month and then charging for notebooks deployed as APIs on a usage-basis. We think we could be every DS’ daily driver tool so we could make a lot of money.

For rough market sizing, we’ll assume that we can charge $25/user/month. According to LinkedIn there are 2.6M Data Engineers, 350K ML Engineers and 400K Data Scientists in the US alone, all of whom use Jupyter Notebooks everyday.

For our notebooks product alone, we could make 25*12*3.35M = $1.05B/Yr. But more importantly, after we are successful in becoming the daily driver for DS, DE and MLEs, we can sell an E2E Data platform to our customers later which is a *much* larger market.

How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won't be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?

Most of our users initially will come from sales and marketing but in the medium-longer term, a free tier for students and individuals will help us get much more organic and word-of-mouth growth similar to Qualtrics and Benchling’s early GTM.

Equity

This may be in the US, in your home country or in another country.

No

If you have not formed the company yet, describe the planned equity ownership breakdown among the founders, employees and any other proposed stockholders. If there are multiple founders, be sure to give the proposed equity ownership of each founder.

(This question is as much for you as us.)

Akshay - 50%

Shri - 50%

Please provide any other relevant information about the structure or formation of the company.

No other relevant info

Legal

Are any of the founders covered by noncompetes or intellectual property agreements that overlap with your project? If so, please explain.

No

Who writes code, or does other technical work on your product? Was any of it done by a non-founder? Please explain.

Both of us do all the work. No one else has worked on Supernote.

Is there anything else we should know about your company?

(Pending lawsuits, cofounders who have left, etc.)

No

Others

If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we've been waiting for. Often when we fund people it's to do something they list here and not in the main application.

  1. Feature Store for ML
  2. Consumer subscription app studio (many are very successful in Belarus, Israel, China, Florida, and Bordeaux)
  3. Sourcing tool for recruiters based on data merged from GitHub and LinkedIn

Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered.

(The answer need not be related to your project.)

1/ The vast majority of subscription revenue comes from people who forgot they were paying for a service and consumers’ willingness to pay for stuff is way higher than people give them credit for.

2/ Paid marketing is a *much* better channel than people give it credit for. It often costs a heck of a lot more to get word of mouth growth and “organic” growth than it does to just use FB or Google Ads for customer acquisition. Few companies like Netflix, Wish and Spotify understand this deeply; most others just complain about CAC and give up quickly.


Hope this was useful!

If you're considering applying to YC but not sure if it's for you – just do it!

If I can help with something, feel free to reach out at shri@metlo.com! 😀

If you're interested in using something like Supernote – I'd recommend checking out Deepnote!