AptDeco is a peer-to-peer marketplace for buying and selling quality pre-owned furniture. We manage the entire process including logistics, deliveries, payments, and product verifications.
Q: Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in Khartoum, Sudan. I came to the United States to pursue my undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland. When I landed a job at Goldman Sachs right after college I packed up my stuff and moved to New York– my dream city. I've lived in NYC ever since except for a short stint in Philadelphia during my time at Wharton.
Q: How did you meet your cofounder?
My cofounder Kalam and I met through mutual friends years ago. We worked together on small projects prior to starting AptDeco. Anyone living in NYC can attest that moving becomes part of your DNA. When Kalam and I realized we shared a similar frustration with selling our furniture we decided to put our heads together and figure out a way to solve this frustration once and for all.
Q: Tell us about your experience at YC.
The 3 months experience is organized into three segments: (1) weekly group dinners, (2) group office hours and (3) individual office hours.
We were assigned 2 partners, Kevin Hale and Paul Buchheit, who followed our progress closely and helped us set weekly goals, refine our strategy, etc. They also ran our group office hours every 2 weeks and we met with them whenever needed one on one.
During the first office hour we were asked where are our customers are located and our answer was NYC, so we were advised to go to NYC as much as possible and talk to our customers. From then onwards, we flew back and forth every week (Wednesday - Monday in NYC & Tuesdays in MV). This set the tone for the following 3 months at YC.
During the Tuesday dinners, I caught up with batchmates and met new ones. We listened to successful entrepreneurs share their candid stories about what it took to get their startups off the ground. Listening week after week to the stories of successful entrepreneurs I realized there is no magic formula for success. It's about talking to customers and casting a wide net to identify what works. YC taught me there are no tricks per se. Rather, it's about finding and executing on the "unscalable" solutions first then scaling these solutions.
For the bi-weekly office hours, we were divided into small groups of 5-6 companies. Our assigned partners facilitated these discussions. We went around the room shared our progress and challenges for the last 2 weeks. A lot suggestions and ideas came out of these meetings. Since most of us were facing similar challenges given the stage of our companies, it was both comforting and refreshing to hear everyone's ideas about how to tackle these challenges. It often turned into brainstorming sessions for each company.
Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC with Demo Day approaching?
The atmosphere was very collaborative, with everyone trying to help where they can. As Demo Day approached, every company was doing everything they could to improve their metrics and refine their product. The week before Demo Day reminded me of my college days– pulling all nighters, prepping for exams– only here we were all in the YC offices refining our pitch and presentations. It was an intense but fun week!
Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
I personally don't think about it from a gender standpoint. It's really about whether you feel passionately about solving a particular problem, having the confidence to take a risk and staying focused through the ups and downs.
Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
I think there are fewer startups with female founders because there are fewer women graduating with engineering degrees. For these statistics to be in women's favor we have to address the root of the problem. When more girls aspire to be engineers there will be more women tech entrepreneurs.
In college I worked and volunteered at the Office of Women in Engineering at the University of Maryland. We launched many programs to showcase how the sciences are fun. I consistently saw girls as young as 6 years old say they don't like math, but when we drilled deeper we realized it's because they didn't have role models around them to show them that women can be engineers too.
At the end of the day it's about seeing role models around you. I never thought to myself I couldn't do something because I come from a family of career women. From university professors to architects, I saw it all.
Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
I wish someone had told me don't limit your choices. You can really do anything you set yourself to from a career standpoint.