Founder Spotlight: Carin Gan W19

WAFFA
4 min readApr 16, 2023

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“Progress is better than perfection.”

Meet Carin Gan W19, Co-Founder and CTO of CoffeeSpace, a curated startup community platform that helps founders build, launch and scale their startups. CoffeSpace provides tools such as VC office hours, founder circles, co-founder search etc. to solve founders’ needs at every step of the journey.

When Carin first entered Wharton, she figured she’d end up in banking and consulting like many of her peers. But she was hooked on computer science — and Carin graduated with an offer from Meta in hand, on her way to California. Being a software engineer in big tech was like a dream come true — Carin got to meet brilliant engineers and work on exciting projects.

But then she came across her cofounder’s FaceBook post — Hazim Mohamed — describing his mentoring journey and how the mentoring relationship has flourished. Carin and Hazim reconnected and decided to build Counselab, a platform for career advice on demand, creating a marketplace to connect individuals for a 15-minute advising call on various topics.

One year into the startup, Carin and Hazim had a fully-functioning product and more than a thousand users but realized the usage patterns among the university/student audience they were targeting initially was not going to sustain the business. They decided to shift their focus towards the start-up community. After speaking to hundreds of founders in the Bay Area, they started uncovering some common themes of what most founders want, including community, introductions and to ask/share insights.

The Co-Founders embarked on a new chapter in June ’22 by hosting a ‘hacker house’ for the summer, hiring seven interns to live and work with them in Mountain View to execute the pivot. The result is CoffeeSpace, a social network for coffee chats between founders. More than just offering a piece of advice to founders, it offers tools, services, and resources, along with the network and support of other founders, advisors, and investors.

At first, leaving big tech for the startup world sounded pretty rosy to Carin — build, launch, grow and succeed. But she quickly learned that building from scratch was hard, getting signups was hard, activating users was hard, fundraising was hard. Keeping the company alive was actually REALLY hard.

Carin says, “It’s a tough and lonely journey. But despite the highs and the lows, the wins and the Ls, I can assure you it’s a path worth taking. No matter the outcome, you should celebrate that you took the leap in trying to build something amazing for the world.” Just a few years into the founder life, she says she is still learning and growing every single day.

Tell us a bit about your company

CoffeeSpace is a curated startup community platform. Think YC Bookface for everyone:
(1) for VCs/accelerators to manage their internal ecosystems via private communities +
(2) an open (vetted) platform for the general startup community including pre-founders, founders, investors, and advisors.

What inspired you to start your business — what opportunity in the market are you seeking to address?

Being first-time founder was really hard. I needed to learn to raise funds, hire engineers, create designs, build an MVP, grow user base, develop metric pipelines etc. Founder communities were really helpful, but at the same time, they were sparse and optimized; most used Slack which isn’t custom-built for startup communities.

What are one or two of the biggest wins or most encouraging experiences you’ve had so far?

  • When founders in our community are able to solve their problems via our platform, whether it’s fund-raising, hiring, or other challenges.
  • When VC tells us they want such a platform to manage their own portfolio companies and expert network

What has been one or two of your biggest learnings so far?

Build, measure and iterate. Applies to every single thing, whether its product, design, fundraising, marketing or other functions. The quicker the cycles, the faster the learnings. And don’t be too worried about making mistakes. Progress is better than perfection.

What is an obstacle that you are grappling with as you continue to build this venture?

We start off as community-first, but we soon realize it’s not scalable as network quality dilutes when it grows. Therefore we decided to be more platform-focused, and really try to build top-notch tools and services to provide to existing founder communities, VCs, and accelerators.

What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?

Ironically, all the hardships. I learned so much in such a short period of time. And for better or for worse, my tolerance for random fires and crashes have shot way up. We had some bad times when we were running out of runway or user growth had stagnated, but every single time, we hustled and fought hard to get things up and running again. It almost feels like a miracle every single time, but we know it’s all the team’s hard work plus maybe a little bit of luck ;)

Learn more about CoffeSpace here and connect with Carin here.

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