Amy Yin, a former Senior Engineer at Coinbase, shares her journey building OfficeTogether, a desk reservations and team scheduling platform for companies who want to empower their employees through hybrid work. Amy covers her experience from building an MVP in four weeks to securing her first paying customer.
The Inklings of an Opportunity
When the first work from home (WFH) orders were issued, Amy Yin was skeptical of how Coinbase would function with all employees working remotely. She was eager to return to the Coinbase offices for the close collaboration with her peers, the camaraderie forged over daily lunch conversations, and her ergonomic office setup.
By the time Coinbase announced that it was moving to remote-first “post COVID-19”, Amy had invested in a proper setup at home, and got into a routine with cooking and groceries. After making these adjustments, Amy began to see the benefits of working remotely.
Amy realized that even though she enjoyed working at home, she still yearned for a part of her time to be spent in-person, interacting with colleagues and being able to feel like she was working as part of a greater team.
Reflecting on her experience, she realized that the world was already trending towards distributed work and that the pandemic only accelerated the trend by proving that remote work can be highly productive. Figuring out the default of the remote versus in-office dynamic in a post-pandemic world became a larger and larger problem to tackle.
Leaving Coinbase and Starting On Deck
Amy began to ideate around a suite of tools supporting this flexible model of remote work soon after the Coinbase remote work announcement.Still, she wasn’t sure when to take the leap to turn her idea into an actual product, and eventually into a company.
At around the same time, Amy joined the On Deck Founder’s Fellowship to expand her network and explore “shift scheduling for knowledge workers” as a side hustle. She thought there was an opportunity to help companies transition back to the office with capacity restrictions and that she could make a quick buck building short-term software on the side.
"At On Deck, I attended intimate sessions with other founders about both their successful and unsuccessful journeys. I got so much energy from writing code for the hackathon (I built OfficeTogether’s MVP in Airtable!) and I also met so many people in 1:1 meetings who had just made the leap. My experience at On Deck gave me the courage to leave my job and start my own company, which was hard given how much I loved Coinbase.”
On Deck also helped Amy understand how to pitch and think about Total Addressable Market (TAM), which made Amy realize that she had a venture-scale business on her hands. Two things happened: She realized that it wouldn’t be 10% of the world going hybrid, but rather 80%. And second, she saw that hybrid office software was a long-term need, not an intermediate or short-term need for the pandemic state-of -the-world.
Kicking off the MVP Process
One thing Amy learned from her first job at Facebook was to move fast and break things. And, that product iteration didn’t require code. Many of the growth hacks Amy led at Coinbase, Hired, and Facebook required the simplest HTML changes because they were testing copy and value propositions. To kick off her MVP process for OfficeTogether, Amy called up one of her closest friends, a designer at Google at the time, and they mocked up a shortlist of features that companies may be looking for in hybrid office software.
In parallel, Amy set up as many calls with HR leaders and Office Managers as she could, to understand what on-the-ground experts saw as the future of work. During the calls, Amy would have a rule where she would only present three features at a time, so as not to overwhelm them, and then observe closely to see which features made their eyes light up.
Amy refined, refined, refined until they had triangulated around the MVP set of features, to the point that someone begged to buy the product before it was built. Amy knew that money was the ultimate validation for an idea. It was time to build their product.
They called it OfficeTogether; its purpose would be to help employees plan time in the office, see their teammates’ schedules, and support an automated health and symptom questionnaire that ensures that no one has a fever or has traveled in the last 14 days, through integrations with Slack, Google Calendar, and BambooHR.
Based on the mock-ups that had led to the first sale, Amy spun up a contract engineering team in Romania and built the product in 4 weeks. Amy had a strong champion, a Senior Director of HR, who was under the gun to open up an office in time for the end of the quarter--their sales team desperately wanted to be in-person. They were able to narrow down on what was absolutely critical for the launch and hardcoded everything else, down to the office name and floor plans.
“It’s crucial to build for a single company in the early stage of a B2B product. This champion helped move us through the org chart and get through a tricky vendor review process (security review, privacy review, IT review, CFO review), which was all foreign to me as someone who had only been an engineer. Luckily, multiple friends on On Deck helped! Including a VP of Sales from Salesforce who helped me negotiate multiple parts of the contract and the CEO of Gem.com, who provided many of the early contract templates for my process. In early-stage B2B, find your 1 true fan.”
With OfficeTogether, Amy wanted to build something that not only serves as an office operations tool, aiding in scheduling and mapping where different people are but also as a product that helps companies preserve people and culture in a hybrid working environment. The reason companies have an office is to cultivate culture, engagement, and retention so that they maintain their most precious assets: their workers.
Employers have realized that arming their workforce with flexibility unleashes people to perform at their full potential (with substantial cost savings). The next step for OfficeTogether is to take care of the core operational needs of different companies and begin to think, “How do we make it all about the employees?”
A Chance Encounter
Sharing the news of the progress that OfficeTogether was making in the On Deck Founders Slack channel, Amy inadvertently attracted her first angel investor. She wasn’t raising but was in the process of prepping her deck. He reached out and wrote Amy’s first check within 24 hours of meeting her. And the check came so quickly that she had to rush the company’s incorporation (done through Perkins Coie, the law firm partner of On Deck) and lean on Mercury, the partner bank of On Deck, to quickly open her account so she could receive the investment funds. Although she knew startups move quickly, the speed at which people were willing to back the idea spurred her into action.
“In December of 2020, OfficeTogether raised $2.2 million in seed funding from Defy, Neo, MGV, and January Ventures. The main goal of the raise was to get me out of bootstrap mode (don’t worry, I paid myself back for the one month of dev shop costs I fronted my business) and hire my best friend full-time out of Google as well as in-house engineers to build software for the office of tomorrow.”
Since raising an initial seed round, the OfficeTogether team has been heads-down building new features for the product. However, support from On Deck did not end with ideation and fundraising help. Amy hired two “rockstars,” in her words. She loved the On Deck Fellowship so much that she enrolled her design leader Becca into the first cohort of On Deck Design. From there, Becca was able to hire Jon Prieto, a deeply talented product and visual designer in Portugal. Then, after posting a Comms Lead role on the On Deck jobs channels, Sarah Schultz (On Deck 50) applied and contracted for OfficeTogether for four months before converting full-time to run sales and marketing operations! As the company grew, Amy joined the first batch of On Deck Scale, which she has used as a sounding board for her ideas and way to meet other founders scaling their funded companies.
With a deep talent bench, OfficeTogether has been able to leapfrog ahead of competition to provide the best tool to unlock hybrid working. The software portal unlocks single and collaborative desk booking, paired with a cutting edge Slack application specifically for managing office logistics. As the landscape for the future of work continues to change, OfficeTogether is laser focused on making hybrid the most successful working arrangement for all.