The Story of Cruise (YC W14): How 4 people built a self driving car in 7 months.


The Beginning: One is the Loneliest Number

Spend any time on HackerNews and you’ll hear one piece of advice repeated ad nauseam : “Find a great co-founder”.

For Kyle Vogt, this was a no-brainer. Kyle has had great success following this advice in the past (he’s the former co-founder of Justin.TV and There was just one problem; He couldn’t find one for his new startup, Cruise.

What does Cruise do? Cruise will take control of your steering, braking, and acceleration to keep you in your lane and a safe distance from the car in front of you. It will automatically slow down for traffic, even to a complete stop if needed, and will accelerate once the traffic clears.

“I talked with a lot of friends and people with domain knowledge that would be great potential co-founders, but things always broke down. Sometimes the timing just wasn’t right, or they weren’t able to commit 100% right away.”

It was the perfect storm of inconvenience.

“I ultimately decided the opportunity cost of waiting for the perfect co-founder was too great a cost, so I just got started myself.”

“Nothing but a pile of parts and a 5 minute pitch”

The second month, Kyle committed to solving two problems. Raising money and fleshing the product out.

“When I went to investors, I had nothing but a pile of parts and a 5 minute pitch”.

Editors Note: One thing that Kyle also brought was his reputation which certainly helped fill any holes in his deck.

Kyle was able to raise his target round quickly (roughly two weeks) which let him focus on the product and putting a team in place. Two weeks after that, he had his core team built and “the pile of parts” began to take shape.

Joining the (YCombinator) Mafia

After assembling the team, Cruise joined YCombinator. I thought it was a little strange that a YC Alumn with two successful startups under his belt would join YC again so I asked him his thought process.

“It was a little strange for me too. When I first started Cruise, I didn’t think I would do YC again. I was showing Justin Kan and Tikhon Bernstam (the Founder of Parse) what I was working on and they highlighted 3 big benefits of doing YC.

First, even if you don’t feel you personally need the mentorship (having gone through it previously), it’s still great motivation for the team. It helps get everyone on the same page and there is a little competition (ex: Who can grow the most in a week, etc.) between companies that helps build comradery.

The second thing is that it helps immensely with connections inside the current YC batch.

The last thing is Demo Day. For us, that alone was worth the cost of YC. Demo Day is the best place for a startup to be. You have most of the top-tier investors in the same room, at the same time, and they’re all watching your startup present.”

Sprinting To Launch

“Our entire team was focused on Demo Day. It was an external deadline that we had to meet together. We were in sprint mode.”

ios app

I asked Kyle for a specific example (besides being more intense) of how Cruise operated differently when they were in “sprint mode” and he told me this story:

“One of our testing cars had an issue with it’s motor on Thursday and we needed to run tests on in during the weekend. We called around and nobody had the part we needed in stock. They said our only option was to wait until the next week when they could have the part shipped.

With Demo Day coming up we knew that we couldn’t afford to lose a weekend of testing.

We had to get the part no matter what. We called every shop we could find and eventually found somebody that had it 3 hours away. We sent a courier service (so the team could keep working) to go pick it up and ride back with the part in the trunk.

Under normal circumstances, we would have just waited until the following week. When your whole team is in sprint mode facing external deadlines, you have to deliver.

Another anecdote – We broke the entire steering rack on our only prototype car 2 weeks before demo day (long story). It was going to take 3 weeks just to get a replacement part shipped from Germany, and it wasn’t available at any warehouse in the US or anywhere in Europe. So we just found the exact same car online and leased it – got it to our garage in about 2 hours and spent the next 36 hours swapping our equipment into it.

“Working hard on a tight deadline is contagious”, Kyle said before quickly adding, “If done in moderation.”

After the team presented at Demo Day, everyone took a week vacation.

Do You Have Any Advice for Solo Founders?

“There are two things I think are really important to have when you’re going solo: mentors (for when you get stuck, since you don’t have cofounders) and an anchor like a significant other, family members, or very understanding friends (to help you deal with the emotional ups and downs).”

Check Cruise out at and follow us on Twitter (@startupfoundry) for more startup news.

I Want To Write About Your Startup – Relaunching TSF


I want to write about your startup. I’ve been putting together new content for the TSF relaunch and I wanted to reach out to longtime readers to see what you’ve been working on as a “thank you” for your support.

I’m relaunching TSF within the week with some killer content (Alexis Ohanian – cofounder of Reddit, Randall Bennett – On how his startup got on CNN, etc.) and would love to find a way to get your startup story in the mix.

Drop me an email – and let’s talk about your startup.

How To Do B2B Email Sales

Direct sales via email is a powerful channel to sell your product or service. Before I learned how to sell via email from Noah Kagan I had no idea how powerful the email sales channel was (I know I was a rookie). If you have proven the need and value of your product, direct email sales may be the best channel for your solution. If you can close via email you have a scalable sales process and can drive demand for your product. Here are 5 email sales tips that will help you close more deals via email:

1. Make it about the prospect.

Humans by nature are selfish and self-centered. We only care about ourselves. To be a top level sales dude you need to focus on the customer. Every email, phone call, and skype session needs to focus on the prospect’s needs and how you can help them. When writing emails avoid saying “I” or “we” and instead say “you”. Focus on helping your customers and building relationships with them. Show them you truly care and the sales will flow.

2) Keep it short (and easy to read).

Hey The Startup Foundry Reader,

You are awesome!

Please keep your emails to 5 sentences or less.

It also helps to space out each sentence.

Does this make sense?


You need to keep emails short and to the point out of respect for the recipient. Be clear about how you can help them, who you are, and what you are offering. Also remember emails today are read on all types of devices so spacing out each sentence improves readability. Your recipient may only scan your email so keeping it short and spaced out increases the probability that your message will actually be read.

3. Use Canned Responses.

Gmail’s Canned Responses is an unbelievable tool. It allows you to setup templates and fire off proven tested emails quickly. Here is an email sales video I created that talks about Canned Responses and other email sales topics.

4. It is all about the headline/subject.

Here are a few email headline tips:

  • Use the customers name in the headline
  • Use words like Exclusive, Free, or Time-Sensitive
  • Complement the customer in the headline
  • Capitalize most of the words
  • Make it about them not you!

5. Use Call-to-Actions.

Tell the person you are emailing what you want and by when. For example say “If you are interested please email me by November 29th”. Don’t be a wimp. Ask for the sale. You will never get what you want if you do not ask for it.

Selling via email is the perfect way to get your first few customers. If you learn to type fast and leverage Canned Responses you can fire off hundreds of personally tailored emails everyday. Don’t be scared to hit people via other channels like LinkedIn, Skype or Twitter as well. Make sure to test and track all your email sales activities so you can constantly improve your skills.

Email sales is a massive topic and I am still learning. Please comment below and share your tips with other email sellers.

This is a guest post written by Matt A. Smith (@MattASmitty co-founder of

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

Nasty Bug in iOS 5.0.1 OTA Update screws up Address Book on the iPhone 4S

I updated my iPhone 4S earlier today (using the OTA method), and I discovered a nasty bug. My iPhone could no longer remember the names of any of my contacts! I opened up the contacts app on my phone and discovered that all of entries were still there but if I got a text or a call my iPhone would have a sudden bout of amnesia and forget the contacts name.

It’s even more bizarre when you’re trying to create a new text. In the example above I texted Erin Hontz. After I selected her as the contact, I wrote my message and hit send. In the message pane (pictured on the right) it would forget my contact’s name and just show the number.

I mentioned this on Twitter and many of my followers had similar experiences.

How to trigger the bug:

• Use the Delta Update (The OTA version)
• Be on an iPhone 4S (I haven’t had reports with the 4)
• Be On Verizon

Disabling (and re-enabling) iCloud contacts did not solve the issue.

Have you had any issues upgrading to iOS 5.0.1?

Update: Here is a partial fix

This method fixed my incoming calls but not incoming text messages. Your milage may vary.
via TSF reader James Foster

1) Open the Phone and dial *228. This is a Verizon over-the-air programming number.
2) When the system answer press 1 for “Program or activate your phone”
3) Wait for the call to disconnect. You should get a prompt stating something like, “Settings updated.”
4) Open the Task Manager (double click the home button) and kill the Phone, Message, and Contacts Applications
5) Wait a few minutes (I waited 3 just to be extra safe)
6) Open the Message App to verify the fix.

If you are still broken, kill the Message App again, then reboot your phone.

It’s Easier to Answer to Your Code Than Your Customers

Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in startups that I’ve been covering: menial work. Put another way, procrastination by being focused on things that don’t matter. I’ve identified several ways I’ve seen it manifest in startups. I’ve also discovered why it’s such a common problem for startups.

Here are the two most frequent forms of menial work I’ve seen in recent weeks:

1. Pre-optimization:

Every startup likes to think that on day one they’ll be mentioned in TechCrunch, and the onslaught of high volume traffic and subsequent millions of users will bring their server to its knees. I’ve heard of startups that delay launching for a month or two to pre-optimize everything. Sure, it’s important to have a server that won’t fall over, but it is far more important that people want your service (which you won’t know for sure until you launch).

Solution: Launch sooner. What you’ve initially built and what people actually want are almost always different things.

The most common reason I’ve discovered is…

2. It’s easier to answer to your code than your customers

Talking to your customers can be scary. The technical founders (that inspired this article) love to hack away at their codebase but hated talking to their customers. “That’s a job for my (nontechnical) cofounder” he said. He then spent a week developing a feature that their customers didn’t want and never used.

Although nontechnical founders should spend more time with customers, technical founders are missing out on huge learning opportunities if they only sit in their house and code.

Solution: Realize your customers don’t care about your code (assuming it works and is secure).

Menial work feels really good. It feels like you’re making huge strides forward but all you’re really doing is procrastinating. Don’t fall into this trap. Answer to your customers.

For more startup news, follow on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

It’s Not About Features

Bearer of bad news

Recently, I’ve been asked to give a talk to new and/or aspiring entrepreneurs.
The truth is, I almost resent talking to them, as I hate being the bearer of bad news.
And boy, there are many. I usually start with: “It’s going to be harder than you think, it will take longer than you think, you will lose health, friends and money in the process, and you probably won’t succeed in the end.”

But there is a good news. Especially valuable in the startup community, but not only.
This good news makes the conversation worth having, because so few people are aware of it:
You don’t need to have more features than your competitors to successfully launch your product.

Case study – Steve Ballmer vs iPhone

Steve Ballmer, January 2007, on the newly announced iPhone: “You can get a Motorolla Q phone now, for $99; it is a very capable machine, it will do music, it will do internet, it will do email, it will do instant messaging. So I kinda look at that and I say, I like our strategy, I like it a lot.”

Ballmer obviously failed to understand that users actually do care about the way they use their device, not just that it “does it”.

Yes, you couldn’t install apps on the original iPhone (can you believe it?). Yes, you couldn’t use the 3G network. And there was no camera. And on top of that, it was crazy expensive.
So why did it prevail? Where was Ballmer wrong?

He just made the common mistake of many entrepreneurs, upcoming and experienced alike: Users actually do care about the way they use their device, not just that it “does it”.
The iPhone then went on to become the gold standard in the smartphone industry.

Three years later, difference device, same story.
Remember how the iPad was decried for being pricey, while having way less features than its competitors? No USB ports, no camera, no multitasking, no Flash…
Phil Schiller (Senior VP of Worldwide product marketing at Apple) dismissed these criticisms in a very simple way:  “It’s not about the features — it’s about the experience. You just have to try it to see what I mean.” (source).

Not just for big companies

This approach works especially well for young startups, and you still don’t have to be first. Just more focused than your competitors.

Google didn’t invent search engines when they released Google search.
37signals didn’t invent web based project managment softwares with Basecamp.
Dropbox surely didn’t invent concept of online backup services.

Being focused on the core of your product is a big part of the “Lean Startup” methodology.
You can watch the case studies of startups like Dropbox or IMVU here.

Conclusion – “Just do it”

There is still room for innovation everywhere. It will always be hard, but never impossible.
Always remember, to not just work harder, work smarter.

This is a guest post written by Christophe Maximin (@christophe971 creator of

For more startup news follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

YC Alum creates TouchBase Calendar and shares App Store Marketing Tips

TouchBase Calendar launched earlier this week to much fanfare. TouchBase Calendar hit the front page of HackerNews, jumped to the 18th spot in productivity on the App Store, and is receiving great reviews. I had the privilege of catching up with the cofounder of TouchBase, Tony Wright (A YC Alumn) to talk about what he’s learned from launching his app. In this TSF interview Tony talks about marketing tricks he used to create a successful launch, an inside look at his startup, and (with the benefit of hindsight) things he would have done differently.

Don’t miss this interview and make sure you checkout TouchBase.

Points of interest

0:30 – Quick Overview of TouchBase Calendar
1:20 – Where the idea came from (and challenges with finding a co-founder)
3:38 – Working in exotic locations – How Tony took advantage of Startup Workaway
5:45 – Start of Marketing section
5:50 – Why traditional (web) MVPs don’t work for mobile apps.
7:05 – The challenge of pushing out fixes to App Stores
8:40 – “Shooting a balloon out of a canon.” Tricks to use to get noticed. How to leverage Apple’s ranking of paid apps.
8:50 – Low price high volume apps are preferred on the App Store (for Apple’s ranking purposes).
10:30- Ways of buying traffic.
16:25- What’s next for TouchBase Calendar


Big take aways:

• Launching on an App Store is very different than launching a Web App.
• Your MVP needs to be of a higher caliber for App Store launches.
• The tendency of your ranking will be like a “balloon shot out of a canon”.
• Your rankings will naturally decrease to promote “fresher” apps. You need to juice your ranking.
• Don’t get stuck working some place boring.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.

What happens when a whale dies.

I’ve always found whales to be really endearing. In elementary school, my teacher told me that whales were among our closest animal brethren in the seas. They also live for about 50-75 years, and, according to Wikipedia, can teach, learn, cooperate, scheme, and even grieve.

Those majestic creatures swim through the ocean, from place to place. The other oceanic animals I’m sure are aware of whales, but unless they’re plankton being eaten by whales, I doubt they pay much attention.

That is, until they die.

You see, whale death, also called a “whale fall,” is a pretty magical event. After the whale dies, often times they sink… deep to the ocean floor.

Curious scavengers can smell the decomposing whale from afar, and make the trip to come pick it apart.

After the scavengers leave though, all that’s left is a skeleton of this once magnificent beast.

Eventually, a “fugitive species” of  little worm-like creatures find the skeleton, and start a thriving ecosystem based on the skeleton. In fact, 30 species of tubeworm have only been found present at whale falls. Their entire life and prosparity seems to depend on the whale skeleton.

According to RadioLab from where I first heard about whale falls, the ecosystem continues on for another 50-75 years; another full lifetime of life based on what the whale left around.

Steve was a whale. His skeleton? The bicycle of the mind.

On Steve

When I heard the news that Steve passed away it felt like unfortunate, expected news. The writing was on the wall when Steve resigned on August 24, 2011. Steve simply would not leave Apple unless he had no other option. Sad, but ultimately expected news.

What I wasn’t expecting is how much I’ve been personally affected. I’m not an emotional person. I knew that I’d be sad but I wasn’t prepared at how profoundly Steve’s early exit would challenge me. Steve made Apple in his own image, and then he didn’t stop. Go build something bigger than yourself.

I from the bottom of my heart, thank you Steve. You’re a huge reason why I became an entrepreneur.

Additional Links I’d recommend checking on Steve (please add more in the comments):

Read John Gruber’s Universe Dented, Grass Underfoot (This is the article I wish I would have written).

Steve Jobs Presents to the Cupertino City Council (6/7/11) – Thanks TSF reader Marcin for the link.

Market Your Problems. Not Just Your Assets. – Detroit Launch City

This is a guest post by Jason Lorimer. Jason is an entrepreneur @CulturaHQ, advocating on behalf of those with the ambition to do more than just entertain ideas.

It is my first time in Detroit and I am riding shotgun down the main drag that is Woodward Avenue with a long-enough-to-keep-safe lens equipped camera in hand. I sat on the edge of my passenger seat ready to capture some of that choice disaster porn I had heard so much about. In between snapping pictures of what looked to be bombed out buildings, I was struck by the feeling that I was witnessing something truly unshroud. Glide down one street akin to Park Avenue, make a sharp right turn and find yourself smack in the middle of an episode of The Wire. It felt like I was witnessing weeds bursting from cracks in the cement. Burgeoning culture at its boiling point. I was intrigued. Detroit moved me.

The Motor City has all the moving parts to be a Midwest start-up hub. Creating jobs, tax revenue and adding to the culture of entrepreneurship born on the backs of your blue collar blood line. What you need is entrepreneurs, more than you have and the kind that see building the next soup of the day mobile application as a waste of their ambition. These passionate, persistent folks are out there looking to be intrigued by a problem and supported in a way that makes solving it possible. You can attract and retain these entrepreneurs, thousands of them from across the country. Around the world. And you can do it without relying on tax payer subsidy or other market negative solutions. I will show you how.

Duplicate and Drown

Cities tend to make the mistake of trying to replicate the tech mecca that is Palo Alto, and the surrounding towns collectively known as “The Valley”, as it exists today. More than a few times I have read and overheard officials in different cities say “What we need is an anchor company. If only we had a Facebook, investment and talent would follow.” This is true to the extent that any company growing as fast as the worlds largest social network is always looking to hire but Mark Zuckerberg did not move from his Harvard dorm room out to California simply because you can trip and fall over a computer programmer on your way to lunch. It is safe to say he traveled across country in pursuit of what Silicon Valley represents. The smartest people tackling problems side by side and sharing in the sense of community that comes from succeeding and supporting in the same.

“Import” Is No Longer A Dirty Word

A vibrant entrepreneurial community is an evolution. It is where the void that is commonly experienced  problems intersect with the oxygen of ideas, entering into the bloodstream that is a supportive network of entrepreneur advocates. In addition to supporting your existing start-up community, you must import these solution-minded people from other parts of the country to spark your movement and to do that you have to market the problems your city faces and not just the assets you sustain. Entrepreneurs are a special breed. They look at the things most people discard as annoyances and say: I can fix that. You need entrepreneurs and they need you.

Urban Incubation. Global Application.

The problems your citizens face are not unique to Detroit. They are relevant to any urban environment in the US or abroad and as such are what one engaged in such things would refer to as market viable problems. That is that the prospective solutions for those problems have application in a mass market. In my work I communicate with dozens of entrepreneurs each month about their ventures. I find that most of the problems being addressed by these upstarts are a slight variation on something the market has already proven out. Another wards, a niche vertical of a business model made widely popular by a company you know.
A Groupon for this or a You Tube for that. It is as if the inspiration for these models are coming solely from Tech Crunch. Some would argue that this is actually a function of the early stage capital infrastructure but for the purposes of this article, let’s just focus on the opportunity that exists in packaging and presenting the problems encountered by your citizenry to attract those hungry for unique problems to solve.

Pick a Problem. Any Problem.
First, you must look to your citizens for intriguing problems to solve and there are any number of ways to do that. I prefer to enable people to participate in a mostly passive manner. Here is one way. I am working on another here in Philly as I write this. The key is interaction points where people in your community can tell you about the problems, big or small, they encounter. Ideally as they are affected by them as this is where insights are most valuable. Now, after reviewing and cleaning up the way these problems are presented, aggregate them into a live feed on a website and broadcast them to entrepreneurs around the world.

Stand up to the Crowd

When these ambitious folk come about your website linked from one of the hundreds of large tech start-up sites online who will follow and report on a city-fueled platform such as this (especially coming out of Detroit where the National press have found a disaster darling six years post-Katrina), they will see information about your city side by side with your problems listed. You should surely highlight those assets you have touted for years but now, in addition to the tax incentives, low cost of home ownership and beautiful waterfront, you will list your problems or more specifically those problems your citizens see in the course of their daily lives. Remember entrepreneurs like problems and with the click of their mouse, they can open a particular problem and create a crowd funding profile. Something similar to what you might find on Kickstarter. My suggestion would be to integrate this into what you are already doing with Kiva Detroit but it can surely done stand alone. By leveraging your existing network of advocates, giving citizens and expatriated business folk, you can raise say ten thousand dollars to relocate a potential founder to Detroit for an incubation period of 90-120 days. It will be easier than you might think. You also have supportive institutions to look to like that of the Knight and the Kauffman Foundation. In addition to capital it is important to support the incoming entrepreneur with the personal logistics of temporary to permanent relocation. Jack Miner at Tech Town made me aware of the Detroit Orientation Institute, an organization that might be perfectly equipped to lend a hand in this part of the process.

Incubate and Connect

Now that the entrepreneurs you look to support are incoming with solutions on the brain. Full of ambition and feeling supported in their personal efforts, you must also incubate their professional venture. I will leave you to determine what you consider incubation but for me, as I know these folks that would line up to be part of a platform such as this, you need only house them, preferably with fellow entrepreneurs, while connecting them to your existing network of entrepreneur advocates. Open office space in Detroit at the moment is a commodity I imagine and as for facilitating interaction between the new and existing entrepreneurs and mentors, you need do little if any more than create a directory where people can profile themselves and integrate their Twitter profiles and email addresses for communication. Set it up and get out of the way. My City of Brotherly Love has a great example of what I am talking about in something called We Work In Philly.

The entrepreneurs will work for those first months along side their fellows, sometimes splitting off into teams no doubt and iterating concepts in hopes of arriving at what they deem a minimum viable product. That is the bare bones version of the solution they wish to eventually scale into the market. You could if wanted have a demo day every few months where entrepreneurs could pitch early stage investors but I don’t see it necessary. If they are building something that solves a real problem in a usable way, finding investment need not be a dog and pony show.

Seed to Stay

Looking to local early stage venture capital funds and angel groups, those ventures deemed market viable by each individual investment entity will receive enough capital to incubate the start-up out in Detroit for 6-12 months. In most cases, these are going to be relatively nominal investments in the 100 – 200k range.
If an investment fund were focused on investing locally and so inclined, they could model an investment vehicle after the Start Fund. A mechanism first established by uber-angel investor Yuri Milner in where 150K convertible notes were and continue to be given to each accepted start-up into the Y-Combinator accelerator program. Mr. Milner wisely sees that particular start-up shop a filter for his investments. Your city is of course not an incubator so this arrangement with an investment firm, should there be one, would be specific to those companies they deem viable. If you wanted to do it, I would pitch it as a “First Look” deal like television studios have with independent producers. The twist here, and as it happens it is already being done in your own cities start-up accelerator, is adding a residency clause to those companies you seed.
In returning for being the first investors, along with all the other standard fare like right of first refusal and discount share options, your seed round will require the new company to stay and build in Detroit.
Regional economic and workforce development right on your doorstep.

If it seems as though I am overly simplifying the process, you have likely been too long mired in bureaucracy or are accustom to building industrial age businesses. Three hundred page reports and exploratory committees a thriving economy does not build. As it stands, I fear that Detroit flush with tax breaks and subsidies sits mostly in the cross hairs of those that tinker with the boom and bust economy the average Joe now knows all too well. If nothing else, Detroit, rooted in the can-do spirit of factory workers and fisherman, steel workers and small business owners, has the perfect sort of ethic in place to drive the next generation of start-ups out into the world.

If you want to reach out, email me here and follow me here. A big thank you to @HayleyBierkle for first showing me around Detroit and for helping me with drafts of this article. Your city would hard pressed to find a more brilliant and fervent advocate so be sure to say hello to her on Twitter and should you run into her down at Cliff Bells.

For more startup news, follow us on Twitter @startupfoundry or on Facebook.