Trestle’s YC App
To help current & future applicants to YC, here’s what my YC app for Trestle (YC W19) looked like. This was written in late 2018.
Describe what your company does in 50 characters or less.
The internal homepage for your company.
What is your company going to make? Please describe your product and what it does or will do.
People working together is what drives companies, and Trestle is how they’ll know who they should be collaborating with, how to work with them best, and who the experts are for any given task. As organizations grow close to and past Dunbar’s number (150 people), it becomes nearly impossible for people in the organization to know who each other are. Employees are often put into situations where they don’t know the people in their next meeting, they don’t know the right person to talk to for help with a task, and they don’t even know that much about the people who work right next to them. Trestle is a website that connects people within companies. Each company has their own Trestle “homebase”, similar to a Slack workplace. Inside of a Trestle homebase, each employee gets their own personal page that allows them to share their name, picture, best ways to contact them, a short bio, areas of expertise, past projects, where they sit, and much more. Trestle homebases also act as a hub of company-wide happenings, the frontpage containing a company calendar with upcoming events, birthdays, anniversaries, plus recent announcements and new hires.
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?
I used to work for Stripe, and while there I used an internal tool called Stripe Home (https://stripe.com/blog/stripe-home) on a daily basis. It was a huge lifesaver for finding important resources, learning more about my coworkers when I was new or interacting with a new person/team, finding out about company events, learning what teams did, and so much more. I went and started talking to friends at different companies and I realized that pretty much all large tech companies (Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Amazon, etc.) had built a version of this product in house as well. It seemed strange to me that in many cases, these teams had dedicated significant resources of their internal tools teams or sometimes even created a separate team solely to build and maintain this intranet product. Organizational communication is essential to organizations being effective, so many successful companies end up building their own “Home” but building and maintaining that becomes super expensive for everyone - this is a classic opportunity for a software-as-a-service solution. I started talking to people at high growth companies such as Opendoor, Atrium, and Coinbase who were contemplating building this in-house and when I told them that I was building this, they enthusiastically told me they would love to use it. I love working on tools that help people collaborate better and so this seemed like an obvious way to help organizations in that way and also to enhance their culture, which is another passion of mine.
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)?
Many larger companies, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Stripe have had to build this in-house, dedicating significant resources to do so and maintain the software. In some cases, this software is built solely during company hackathons and so the end result is often a product that doesn’t provide a cohesive experience, has poor UX, and lacks important features. At smaller companies which are just starting to feel the pain, companies fall back to products such as Slack or HRIS directories which provide only the barest information and lack good search functionality. [redacted], for example, has resorted to using Wordpress as their internal homepage where each employee has a “profile” with their name, picture, and contact info, and there’s a new post every time a new all hands video is posted. This is a clear pain point that companies are facing and I intend to solve that for them.
Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
My most direct competitor is Names and Faces, a YC company from the last batch, who is catering to the same customer base building out a simple employee directory. While they have a great UX, they have only the most basic information about employees: their name, picture, contact info, department, role, and office. They also lack any company information.
The competitor that I fear most are the variety of HRIS services that many companies already use such as Namely and Workday. They already have a huge customer base and offer a directory service. However, currently they suffer from a few problems: they generally have extremely poor UX, employees view them as mainly a place to update their payroll, view benefits, etc. not a place to connect/collaborate, and they also only show basic information about employees. If they decided to invest more effort into better UX and features, they would be a significant threat.
Lastly, Stripe could be a possible competitor in the future. They wrote a blog post about Stripe Home which got a significant amount of attention and their product has a good enough UX and features that I believe that it would succeed. They are also well respected in the startup community and also have a large customer base that they could sell to. However, as far as I know, they currently have no plans to productize Stripe Home and sell it to other companies.
What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
There’s a lot more to build here than a simple directory. Every HRIS system has some variation of name, picture, role, contact info, and org chart but what organizations are really trying to solve is a collaboration problem. Magic happens inside of companies when the right people get in a room together to discuss the right thing. It’s significantly better to be able to find out the right expert to talk to when you’re struggling on a task, or to make sure you’re talking to the right person before you book a meeting with them. Knowing a little bit more information about a person such as a short bio or interests or that their birthday is today can help you connect with them better when you message them on Slack or during meetings. Having a central repository for all of this information plus crucial company information such as important resources and events can create a minimally distracting destination for employees to easily understand what’s going on in the company.
How do or will you make money? How much could you make?
(We realize you can’t know precisely, but give your best estimate.)
I will be using the typical SaaS business model and charging a monthly fee to companies using Trestle probably on a per-head basis. Companies are currently spending hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars of engineering time building and maintaining these systems. The problem I’m solving for companies is almost unboundedly valuable, it makes the entire organization more effective as it scales. In the long term, Trestle could also start to eat into the traditional HRIS space and start offering features such as onboarding, benefits, payroll, etc. to provide an even more valuable and comprehensive solution.
In just the US, as of 2012, there are over 100,000 businesses with over 100 employees employing a total of over 75 million people. Even if just 1% of businesses use Trestle, and it’s priced at $10/head, that’s over $90 million in revenue per year.
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?
We will sell the product to entire companies by selling to the COO, Head of People, or Head of Internal Tools at companies. I fully acknowledge Slack’s bottoms-up approach is a better sales tactic and I will continue experimenting to see if there is a way to make Trestle useful on a team-by-team basis, but currently Trestle is most useful when everyone in the company has profiles on the platform. Once companies reach over 100 people, these decision makers (COO, Head of People, Head of Internal Tools, etc.) already clearly understand the problem and realize that they will either have to buy a solution (Trestle) or build and maintain it in house, which makes the sales process easier.