The Fast & The Curious: Prasad Kawthekar & Praty Sharma, co-founders of Dashworks

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Interested in reading our interviews with the other Fast & Curious honorees? Head over to the nominee hub to meet the rest of the Curious Six.

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“YC taught us to look at our startup as a series of calculated risks, and work to evaluate those risks with targeted experiments. That’s one thing we immediately knew would stick with us for a very long time.”

If there’s one thing every great entrepreneur needs to be, it’s flexible. For Prasad Kawthekar and Praty Sharma – founders of the Y Combinator-backed productivity startup, Dashworks – the year 2020 put their flexibility to the ultimate test.

When COVID-19 sidelined their cohort to a fully-remote format just weeks before Demo Day, Prasad and Praty learned firsthand that unexpected obstacles can lead to life-changing opportunities. Today, they’re working closely with some of the biggest names in the startup universe to change how we look at productivity in the workplace.

As 2021 Fast and Curious honorees, Prasad and Praty sat down with us to discuss the lessons they learned in Y Combinator’s first-ever remote cohort, and share some golden nuggets of wisdom for other founders hoping to gain acceptance into the startup world’s most prestigious accelerator.

“What surprised us the most was that having Demo Day be fully remote was actually kind of great. In our opinion, it turned out to be a much better format.”

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First of all, guys, congratulations on the nomination!

Pratyaksh: Thank you so much.

Prasad: Yes, we’re really happy to be here.

For those of us who don’t know, can you tell us what you do at Dashworks?

Prasad: We started Dashworks in late-2019,  because we both noticed that the companies we worked for were struggling with what we call “information app overload.” At Dashworks, we’re reimagining the entire process of knowledge management, sharing, and learning at work.

Praty: Which, to put it simply…

Prasad: In the other companies we worked at, we essentially noticed that a problem was emerging: Information has become increasingly fragmented across countless productivity apps. There’s Slack for communication, Salesforce for sales, Zendesk for support, Jira for engineering, and so forth. This often leads to fragmented knowledge and workflows.  

Praty: And it has a surprisingly negative impact on businesses. For example, it affects how everyone finds and learns from the various resources at their disposal, which in turn causes miscommunication and makes it difficult to align on who’s working on what.

Prasad: At Dashworks, we aggregate all this company knowledge into a single place. We’re building a new way for people to find, discover, manage, and learn from all the fragmented knowledge that gets siloed into these individual management applications.

Think of us as a layer that sits on top of the various knowledge sources inside your company, and lets you intelligently interact with all this information.

“When applying to an accelerator, you should focus on one important thing: What are the known uncertainties and risks with your company, and how do you imagine this program will help you solve those uncertainties?”

Why did you decide to go the accelerator route? Did you know you wanted to attend Y Combinator, or did you look at other programs?

Prasad: The biggest reason we pursued the accelerator path was because we knew we’d benefit from peer interaction and mentorship. Our product requires deep customer insights, so it didn’t make sense to develop in a vacuum without collecting as much feedback as we could.

We considered other accelerators, but Y Combinator has a specific set of value adds that we feel are particularly strong in the startup community — one of them being the actual community itself. Obviously YC provides a fantastic community of peers and mentors, but more importantly it provides a “pay it forward” ethos that allows you to get large amounts of feedback from extremely experienced people. That was something we considered really valuable, and we knew it would help us.

Praty: Having now gone through the program and experienced YC firsthand, I do have to say…this “pay it forward” philosophy was extremely helpful and pleasant. It far exceeded our expectations, and our expectations were already high to begin with.

“Going into an accelerator – especially one like YC – you should make absolutely sure that you know what your goals are. Go in knowing what you want to achieve. Don’t hope to figure it out once you’re already in the program.”

Y Combinator is obviously a hard program to get into. Any advice for other founders who are thinking of applying?

Praty: (Laughs) Oh, absolutely.

Prasad: We can definitely speak to what worked for us. While it might feel counterintuitive, one thing we made sure not to do was optimize our business specifically for YC’s application. That’s a short-term method of thinking that, in our opinion, won’t give you the optimal benefit once you’re going through the program. 

Praty: I couldn’t agree more. Don’t try to optimize for the application. Instead, you should build your business independently, and then think really honestly about how the program can or can’t help you achieve the objectives you’ve set for yourself. 

If the program can’t help you solve your specific problems, then even if you get in, it won’t be the most optimal path forward for you.

“Don’t try to optimize for the application. Instead, you should build your business independently, and then think really honestly about how the program can or can’t help you achieve the objectives you’ve set for yourself.”

Prasad: Before you think about applying to YC, you should know your market, and you should have some well-constructed hypotheses about both the product you’re building and the problem you’re setting out to solve. Once you have those things figured out, Y Combinator then becomes a way to accelerate your progress, as opposed to a ground-level tool for discovering what you want to build in the first place.

Praty: Our best advice: When applying to YC (or any accelerator, for that matter), you should try to think about one specific thing — what are the uncertainties and risks with your company, and how do you imagine this program will help you solve them? Being able to answer those questions in your application will have a huge impact on your success.

Prasad: Yes. Going into an accelerator – especially one like YC – you should make absolutely sure that you know what your goals are. Go in knowing what you want to achieve. Don’t hope to figure it out once you’re already in the program.

“Before you think about applying to YC, you should know your market, and you should have some well-constructed hypotheses about both the product you’re building and the problem you’re setting out to solve. 

You were in YC’s winter 2020 cohort, which was disrupted by COVID-19 just before Demo Day. What was that like, and do you feel it helped or hurt your experience?

Praty: (Laughs) Well, we certainly didn’t expect that the world would change so quickly once we got into the program. In the last couple weeks of YC, we had to transition to a fully remote program. It literally happened overnight. Demo Day, like you mentioned, was fully remote, and our cohort was sort of the guinea pig for that.

Prasad: What surprised us the most, though, was that having Demo Day be fully remote was actually kind of great. In our opinion, it turned out to be a much better format.

“If you have [the right] things figured out in advance, Y Combinator then becomes a way to accelerate your progress, as opposed to a ground-level tool for discovering what you want to build in the first place.”

Praty: Absolutely. Demo Day can be an intense process. You speak to so many investors, it’s a whirlwind. Doing that in person – like, running around Sand Hill Road and scrambling to get to every new meeting on time – in hindsight, that’s probably not the most optimal way to go about it in the first place. I imagine it only amplifies the pressure and intensity.

Prasad: We were obviously nervous at first about the shift to remote, but it ended up being a lot more founder friendly in the end. We’re pretty happy to have experienced it the way we did.

Praty: Since we’ve graduated, too, the remote Demo Day at YC has become even more organized. Witnessing the program’s ability to adapt to the remote environment has been so impressive.

“Running around Sand Hill Road and scrambling to get to every new meeting on time – in hindsight, that’s probably not the most optimal way to go about it in the first place. I imagine it only amplifies the pressure and intensity [of fundraising].

We were obviously nervous at first about the shift to remote, but it ended up being a lot more founder friendly in the end.”

What’s one thing you learned at YC that helped you grow and evolve at Dashworks?

Praty: The most surprising thing we learned was the YC ethos of iterating extremely quickly. The program taught us to look at our startup as a series of calculated risks, and work to evaluate those risks with targeted experiments. That’s one thing we immediately knew would stick with us for a very long time.

Prasad: Each founder’s business rests on a specific set of hypotheses. Maybe a market exists, maybe customers will pay for this, and so on. The way YC structures the thought process around building your business is very eye-opening and useful. You take these hypotheses, and you work to validate them as quickly as possible by talking to lots of customers and users.

“Each founder’s business rests on a specific set of hypotheses.

The way YC structures the thought process around building your business is […] you take these hypotheses, and you work to validate them as quickly as possible by talking to lots of customers and users.”

Praty: As you get more validation, your business matures and you gain a clear understanding of what kind of business you’re actually trying to build. The nature of the problem we’re solving is that it gets much, much worse as a company grows larger. In choosing who we wanted to work with as mentors, we focused on seeking advice from former YC founders who were running large companies.

Prasad: They were extremely generous to embed us inside their companies and give us access to their teams, so that we could learn as fast as possible. I really can’t overstate how valuable the experience has been.

If you could go back in time and attend YC again, would you do anything differently?

Prasad: That’s a great question. Looking back, we certainly would have been more proactive about preparing for what will happen after YC ends. 

What I mean by that is: When you go into the program, it’s very important to leverage the community and mentors outside of the “standard” time you’re allotted. Connect with other founders and form peer groups, so that you can establish a cadence for advice and referrals that will last beyond the program and into the future.

Praty: Basically, when you’re in YC, try to optimize not only for the time you’re spending right now, but for the post-YC experience as well.  

It’s been a pleasure meeting you, guys. Best of luck and congratulations on all your success!

Prasad: Thanks!

Praty: It’s been an honor, for sure. Thank you.

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