Ahana Banerjee Podcast Transcript

Ahana Banerjee Podcast TranscriptListen to episode here

Ahana Banerjee: [00:00:00] And I've suffered with skin issues pretty much my whole life, all through my teens still now, there's been comparatively little innovation in this space, and maybe that's because there aren't as many tech people who are also skincare enthusiasts. To be honest, I didn't think that I would be taken seriously as a founder if I worked on a skincare app and the interview said, okay, well the batch starts in two weeks.

Ahana Banerjee: Incorporate a company in the US. Open a bank account. Leave your degree. See you then. Y Combinator truly did accelerate my career by I would say at least 10 years, and I did end up raising 850K, so that brought the total host to a million dollars.

Amardeep Parmar: Welcome to The BAE HQ, where we inspire connecting guide, the next generation of British Asians. If working on YouTube, make sure you hit that subscribe button, and if you're listening on Apple or Spotify, make sure you leave us a five star review. Today we have with us, Ahana Banerjee, who's the CEO and Founder of Clear.

Amardeep Parmar: It's a free mobile app that allows you to buy, track and [00:01:00] share skincare. How are you doing today?

Ahana Banerjee: I'm very well. Thank you for having me. 

Amardeep Parmar: So you've got really interesting background and you've traveled well to, well, you've been three different countries. 

Ahana Banerjee That's right. Yeah. 

Amardeep Parmar: And it's interesting because you started off here, you went to India and Singapore, right?

Amardeep Parmar: And then you came back again. But along that journey, like how's your self-belief? Did you ever think one day I'm gonna start my own company and be a CEO? 

Ahana Banerjee: No is the short answer. I think growing up for me, I've always had a very supportive family, but like a lot of South Asian parents, school and studies were always important.

Ahana Banerjee: And so I'd say from from day one, I, I was always ambitious and knew I wanted to really push myself in whatever career I ended up pursuing. But for most of my life I thought that would be physics and and academia. And so that's sort of what I geared all of my education around studying, but things didn't go quite to plan and hence, I am now a CEO and founder.

Amardeep Parmar: So what was the moves like, right? So how old were you when you moved from the UK to India and [00:02:00] how did you feel about that move? 

Ahana Banerjee: It's a  really interesting question. I was 14 years old. I think for a lot of kids who've grown up in a primarily western community, we lived in Cheshire, which especially 20 years ago, was a predominantly white kind of area.

Ahana Banerjee: Moving back to India was a, an interesting thing to go through. So on the one hand,  because we'd been raised, me and my brother had been raised so sort of culturally English, you know, there weren't Indians around us and so my parents didn't even teach us any Indian languages. We didn't celebrate the Indian celebrations.

Ahana Banerjee: On the one hand, I was excited to learn about my culture and my heritage and also just to, to see something new. I'd gone to a regular state school here in the uk and. They have their challenges and I knew that I'd be going to a very privileged, fancy international school in India, and so there were also some, some draws for me, but I think it was a huge change.

Ahana Banerjee: As you can imagine, going from somewhere like Cheshire to New Delhi is a huge [00:03:00] transition, but. I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity just because not only did I meet people from so many different countries in, in the school, but actually learning more about Indian culture, my roots, my heritage, and also understanding just how privileged I am to have the kind of life that ,that I do was a huge realization.

Ahana Banerjee: And I think also reinforced that want to use the education I've had to do something positive in the world. And as I said, you know, at the time I thought that would be through science, academic research, physics didn't, didn't quite end up being that way. But it was a really enriching experience, not without its challenges, of course, you know, moving continent as a 14 year old, India's not the easiest country to live in.

Ahana Banerjee: From a safety perspective, from being able to just hang out with your friend. It's a very different lifestyle, but it taught me how to adapt, which was the biggest thing. It showed me resilience at a very sort of fundamental level, and now that I look back, those skills were invaluable and the fact that I got to learn [00:04:00] them at such a young age was, was something I'm really grateful for.

Amardeep Parmar: Now, I think it's the whole thing about the challenges, right? That's what helps you get that toughness. Obviously being a founder is very tough and sometimes people don't show that enough. There is a lot of challenges that come up and yours have to adapt, but why physics? 'cause you said you wanted to change the world.

Amardeep Parmar: How did you think that you were gonna do that for physics or what drew you towards that subject?

Ahana Banerjee: I'd always been fascinated by innovation in general, and I really believe physics and, and academic research underpins that. Its advances in research that allow us to innovate with new technologies and, and I think also just from a purely selfish perspective, I liked maths, I liked English, I liked a lot of subjects at school, and physics to me was the perfect combination of all of them.

Ahana Banerjee: It can be kind of philosophical, but it's still very tangible and you can explain pH phenomena in the world around you and, and I, I got massive satisfaction from that and I still think academia is a very noble area to, to work in a very [00:05:00] noble career to pursue. It's just that ability to have an impact at that kind of scale, especially with physics where you're researching fundamental elements of matter.

Ahana Banerjee: For me, my, my area that I was particularly interested in was astrophysics, which is, although very far from what I'm doing now, I think it's still that ability to, to see the impact of your work and work on things that are just so almost unimaginable to the in individual like space. Like it's, it's hugely fascinating.

Ahana Banerjee: There's so much we don't know, and I really believe that in, in any sense, knowledge empowers individuals and so to be able to contribute at such a fundamental level, I think it’s amazing. And I have so much respect for academics, uh, but it wasn't quite for me. 

Amardeep Parmar: So what's  interesting is that you know what Clear App does, right?

Amardeep Parmar: So we're gonna get to, in a moment, we're gonna get there to share, but physics, to me, you'd think, oh, biological chemistry would be more natural. So I'll ask you about that later on. But I wanna first understand where did the, like Seeds of Entrepreneurship come from? 'Cause you had this academic idea you're gonna do research.

Amardeep Parmar: Where did you [00:06:00] first get that bug?

Ahana Banerjee: It was during university. Um, and it was when I realized that physics wasn't gonna work out for me. As I said, for me, having an impact with my career was pretty important, and that I think from the age of 14 when I moved to Delhi, that was the the core thing that I led with, with all my academic and career decisions.

Ahana Banerjee: But when I got to university, I, you know, I studied physics at Imperial and from the first term of my first year, to be very frank with you, I, I didn't enjoy it and I, there were a multitude of factors behind my lack of enjoyment. I think part of it was the environment. It was very, very academically single focused, and I'd come from my school in Singapore, I did the IB.

Ahana Banerjee: It's a much broader curriculum, so I was used to doing all this wide range of subjects and suddenly it was just maths and physics all day. And then even just from a, you know, sense of belonging perspective, when I met the PhD students, the postdocs, professors, I just couldn't see myself in their shoes.

Ahana Banerjee: And although I was. [00:07:00] inspired by them. It felt very, it felt very aspirational, but unrealistic for me. I maybe, it was a personality thing. Maybe it was because I was struggling grades wise. You know, in my first year I got a two two, which, although, you know, in the grand scheme of things isn't a problem for a student that's done so well academically, throughout.

Ahana Banerjee: To go to a top university, and especially my whole friend group on Dean's list high first. I didn't tell any of my friends in my first year what my grades were because I was so ashamed about it. And so for me it was, it was almost just a way to dis, distract from how much I was hating my degree. I decided, well, y.

Ahana Banerjee: Help me. Like if I don't, if I can't contribute, if I'm doing so badly at this, I need to figure out what it is that I can do and I want to do. And so I very naively just started applying for any and every internship out there. And I was fortunate. I was in London and there's so many companies here, so I was applying to investment banking consulting.

Ahana Banerjee: Software engineering, and I didn't know what any of these [00:08:00] fields were, but I just decided that I, I need to learn what's out there. And so after applying to a load of internships, I was very lucky. I got a spring week in my first year. And I think once you get one internship, it becomes easier to get others while you're at uni.

Ahana Banerjee: And so by the time I finished my second year, I'd done quite a few internships in quite a few different fields already. And I'd started learning about what I like and what I didn't like career-wise and where my strengths were, where my weaknesses were. And one day on LinkedIn, I got a cold message from a student at a different university, and he had had this idea where he wanted to build a software to match students looking for jobs with graduate employers.

Ahana Banerjee: And the person he was looking for needed three specific skills. So the first was someone who could code. The second is someone who was at a London University and could get other students to sign up. And the third is someone who liked doing these internships or going to networking events at these big companies to get their HR people onto the platform.

Ahana Banerjee: And at that point, I hadn't considered entrepreneurship as a career at all. I think, I [00:09:00] think, you know, in the UK in particular, it's not the most entrepreneurially geared education system, so everyone is gunning for the big companies to begin with, and so I didn't take it that seriously. In a sense. It was sort of just, it sounded like a lot of fun.

Ahana Banerjee: And at uni I did charity events planning, that was sort of the raising and giving, uh, society, and I was the chair of that. And I really enjoyed that kind of work. So purely on the basis that this sounded like fun and I could potentially have an impact, I decided to say yes. And that was the first job that I did, that I truly fell in love with.

Ahana Banerjee: And I, and I saw myself doing and, and felt that. I remember when we first helped a student, land a job. That feeling of knowing that I got the student onto the platform, I built this platform and I got the company on board, like I can see how I've helped someone, and it became like a high, like a hit that you wanna keep chasing.

Ahana Banerjee: And so from that point on, I knew that entrepreneurship was how I wanted to have my impact. The next challenge was how, because it wasn't necessarily with that team or that company that I wanted to start my [00:10:00] career with 

Amardeep Parmar: that first company. Obviously, like you said, you were able to make an impact to different people.

Amardeep Parmar: But as you said, it wasn't the right thing you think overall for you, in the longer term. And what, how did that, I guess, that process go right? Because a lot of people might start a company, realize it maybe isn't quite right for them, but then have that attachment to, it's then hard to let go.

Amardeep Parmar: How did you go through that process of just having actually, this maybe isn't right for me and I should do something else instead?

Ahana Banerjee: It's a really difficult question and, and I don't think there is a straight answer. It's really down to feeling and intuition. Of course, you can rationalize it and with time you get better at you, your gut becomes more sophisticated through experience.

Ahana Banerjee: But I think it was a mixture of checking in with, with yourself and, and even when I was doing my physics degree, I'd grown up thinking that physics is what I wanted. It was a big admission to say, actually, this isn't what I'm gonna do and I'm gonna proactively try and find something else. And, and it was sort of a similar thing with, with that first job that I did, that I could [00:11:00] objectively see there were things that I really liked about it, but also thinking realistically there were things that I didn't like about it.

Ahana Banerjee: And if I were to say something actionable that I did, I had a list of non-negotiables for my early career. What are things that I'm not willing to negotiate on and what's important to me and for me? What it came down to is number one is growth, and that's both sort of learn personal growth, but also career growth.

Ahana Banerjee: And with that startup, for a couple of reasons, I didn't necessarily feel that I would fulfill my own growth potential. And the second was the team as well. And, and I think maybe because I hadn't been there from day one, although I joined very early on, I didn't have the level of of autonomy that I wanted, and I also didn't have the relationship with my teammates that I,

Ahana Banerjee: that I wanted in an ideal situation. So there were a couple of things that when I look back, I can see that, okay, like these are some tangible reasons, but at the time when you're working with limited information, it's much harder to make these kinds of decisions. But I think it's, I think being [00:12:00] decisive goes a long way and having a plan as well.

Ahana Banerjee: It's not that I dropped this and I thought, okay, well goodbye startup dreams. Like it's never gonna work out. I, I left that company very much with a plan of what I would do next in order to be able to start my own company one day.

Amardeep Parmar: And was clear that plan or did you have other ideas first that you wanted to test out?

Ahana Banerjee: Clear. Clear was not the plan, to be honest. I didn't think that I would be taken seriously as a founder if I worked on a skincare app. I thought that I should do B two B SaaS very arbitrarily from maybe the one or two conversations I've had I'd had with people in VC or investors. I just thought that like building a software as a service is what you do to be a real founder.

Amardeep Parmar: That's even the case still today, right? A lot of the VCs I talk to,  there is this a lot of people pin this, their hopes on SaaS. And even, for example, people that dunno what SaaS is. Right. Software as a service, it means what? It means. It's very scalable and that's why VCs like it.

Amardeep Parmar: But it's not the only thing you can do that's scalable. 

Ahana Banerjee: Absolutely. Also, given my background, the fact that I was so early in my career when I [00:13:00] was thinking about building something, there is the credibility aspect that looms and yes. You know, I'd done internships at top companies for my age. I had done a lot, and I have, well, I was doing a degree from a top university, so there were these elements that should have built my credibility.

Ahana Banerjee: But ultimately when, when you're founding a company, you're competing with far more experienced people, far more accomplished people, and I didn't wanna make it easier for people to say no to me. So for whatever naive viewpoints I had at the time, I just thought, let me pick. So pick something that's B two B for the sake of, for the sake of it, for the sake of being taken seriously.

Ahana Banerjee: And so through my banking internship, something I hated was taking notes and I thought that, well, let me build software that takes notes and I'll sell this to companies. And the idea wasn't horrible. The part that was horrible was the execution. I was not the right person to build that company. And so the, the software didn't work very well at all.

Ahana Banerjee: And even from [00:14:00] just like a sales and founder market fit perspective, I was finding it hard to talk to PMs at companies to sell this product. I was finding it hard to get those intros 'cause I didn't have the network. A lot of things weren't coming naturally. It was very much felt like pushing a boulder up a hill, which a lot of startups do, but I think there's different extents to that as well.

Ahana Banerjee: And so part of me knew that like this idea also isn't going to be it for me, but at the same time as I was working on this was when I'd applied to Y Combinator. The time also for context, I'd finished my third year of uni. I just started the fourth MAs, master's year and I had secured grad jobs in finance.

Ahana Banerjee: So I was in a really good position and my plan all along was to take those grad jobs in finance work for a couple of years. The big thing for me is I didn't want to be dependent financially on my parents when I finished uni, especially when I knew I could get a job and the, the prospect of getting funding for me at that stage was.

Ahana Banerjee: Ludicrous. I, I didn't really know anyone that had, had done it except [00:15:00] for people that had raised from friends and family, which wasn't an option for me. I, I had no idea even where to start, but a friend told me about Y Combinator caveating that with, you know, it's like practically impossible to get into and like, it's not for people like us, but me being overly optimistic as always.

Ahana Banerjee: And, and also I think just not being afraid of rejection and failure when. When I was at uni and I was doing these internships, I'd apply for maybe like 40 in a summer and get one or two, and it's the one or two that matter and that you put on your LinkedIn and everyone says, wow, you did this internship, but you don't see the 39 rejections that come through.

Ahana Banerjee: So I was so desensitized to rejection. I just thought, let me put in an application for this B two B SaaS company and see what happens. And they came back to me saying I had an interview and I knew even to get an interview with Y Combinator was a really big deal, especially for someone like me. And I'd applied when the idea was called Quill was a week old.

Ahana Banerjee: So I'd made so little progress and they, they saw something in that 

Amardeep Parmar: for people who dunno what Y Combinator is. Right. Could you just give them [00:16:00] a quick idea of what that is? 

Ahana Banerjee: Yeah. Y Combinator is a startup accelerator program means that they initially provide funding. So when I did it, it was $125,000 for 7%.

Ahana Banerjee: Now it's $500,000, I believe, and it's a three month program in which they provide a lot of support, guidance, mentorship. The partners at YC are exited founders, so they've had a lot of success with their own companies and they train up the next generation of companies and it culminates in demo day, which is essentially a convention of investors, and you are supposed to start your fundraising round, um, at the end of the batch.

Ahana Banerjee: And so, you know, it's, it's a great program. Companies like Airbnb, Stripe, Dropbox have gone through it and it's an amazing thing to happen to an early stage company. And at the time it still felt very aspirational. It didn't feel like something realistic, but I decided to apply just because why not? And so by the time the interview with YC came around, I was very confident that my [00:17:00] company Quill was not going to succeed, but I was really scared of telling them that.

Ahana Banerjee: So I made the decision just to put my best foot forward, show them what I've done, show them how much progress we'd made, and cross my fingers and also be very much prepared that it's not gonna work out. So that's what I did. And, and I did put a lot of effort into preparation. I spoke to lots of alumni, did all the practice interviews.

Ahana Banerjee: I, I prepared a lot for my YC interview. And the interview came around and, you know, they're very scary interviews. They're 10 minutes long. They're very, without sounding rude. They're very American. So, yeah, you know, there's three, three interviewers. They're all interrupting each other. There's no pleasantries at the beginning.

Ahana Banerjee: It's straight into, you know, so what are you working on? And then it's like that for 10 minutes. So there's a very specific style to them, and it's hard to know how you've done. But you do have to be available for the six hours following the interview in case they have any follow-up questions or they want to do another interview with you.

Ahana Banerjee: And this was in the midst of the pandemic, so it was all done remotely in Pacific time. So I had to be available [00:18:00] until 4:00 AM the next morning. And I was still a student. I had all my master's thesis deadlines on this week as well, and they essentially came back saying, look like we, like you, you've made a lot of progress in a short amount of time, but we don't like your idea.

Ahana Banerjee: So we wanna talk to you again in a week. Show us some more traction, or come up with something better. 

Amardeep Parmar:  Oh, yeah. 

Ahana Banerjee: Speak to you then. And so, you know, this was like great and terrible at the same time. Great because to, to get a compliment like that saying that they, you know, they, they believed in the team was a huge achievement and that's half the battle won.

Ahana Banerjee: On the flip side, I hadn't, I hadn't had a backup plan. You know, I had, although I didn't fully believe in the idea I was working on, put everything into it also for this YC interview to prove to them that I was capable as a founder. But I, I took it as an opportunity to think long and hard about that reason why I wanted to pursue ent, entrepreneurship in the first place.

Ahana Banerjee: And it was to have an impact. So it came down to thinking, well, what, will I actually be good at building? What can I build better [00:19:00] than anyone else? And it was in that week of just thinking, what can I do that I realized I know a lot about skincare and I've suffered with skin issues pretty much my whole life, all through my teens still now.

Ahana Banerjee: It's something that I'm very much on a journey with and I spend all my time watching youTubers like following all the content creators. I've seen a doctor, dermatologists. I have a nutritionist to try and help with my skin. I've really tried lots of things about this and I've spent a lot of time researching and also engaging with communities online because it's also not the most pleasant thing to, to go through these challenges.

Ahana Banerjee: So I realized that there are a lot of problems with skincare. It's so hard to know which products to use. It's so hard to know whether they're working. There's so much misinformation online. It's a lonely feeling to keep trying things, having them not succeed. And in general, even from an industry-wide perspective, the products I'm using aren't that much better than what my grandma's using.

Ahana Banerjee: There's been very, or [00:20:00] comparatively little innovation in this space, despite it being an industry with so much money, there's, there's no shortage of that. But for some reason, technology hasn't come in and had the same impact on it as it has in other industries. And maybe that's because there aren't as many tech people or people that like to build technology who are also skincare enthusiasts.

Ahana Banerjee: So I realized that actually. I think I can build this and I think I can build this better than, you know, the people that can build the notes taking up as an example. And so in those four days, it was, ended up being four days between the interviews, ended up doing around 60 initial user interviews and even that showed me that

Ahana Banerjee: the fact that I can get 60 people in this space to speak to me in four days is more than I spoke to in the six months of working on Quill. And things are coming so much more naturally and the ideas are flowing, and I have a much better gut feeling about this. And so I had the second interview with Yc.

Ahana Banerjee: It was very different to the first, and then it ended very abruptly. And the interview said, okay, well the batch starts in two weeks. Incorporate a [00:21:00] company in the us. Open a bank account. Leave your degree. See you then said, and she also asked, she was like, are there any questions? And I was like, you know, number one, are you sure?

Ahana Banerjee: And number two, which idea do you want me to work on? She said, well, it's your company. Figure it out. And that's how my journey as a founder started. 

Amardeep Parmar: So  did you actually leave your degree at that point? And then what was the actual next steps? Like what practically happened?

Ahana Banerjee: Yeah, so I did leave my degree, but I have to caveat this by saying I hedged my risks that every step of the way.

Ahana Banerjee: So I had done an optional bachelor's thesis in my third year of uni, and at that time I had no idea any of this would transpire. But what that meant is I could drop out of my fourth year and still graduate with at least a bachelor's degree, which not everyone could, could do. And so I had kept my university in the loop.

Ahana Banerjee: 'Cause it was also, I remember distinctly, it was the 18th of December, so uni had just closed for Christmas. It was like early hours on a Saturday morning when the YC acceptance came through and the whole of Imperial physics department was on holiday. And I was panicking because I had to get [00:22:00] an answer soon.

Ahana Banerjee: So I had kept them in the loop. I said there's like a 0.00000. 0.1% chance that this works out, but if it does, this is gonna need to happen. 

Amardeep Parmar: How was that conversation? Were they encouraging you? Were they saying, oh, don't throw away your degree? What were they, even the people around you, what were people like, your family, your friends, what were they saying?

Ahana Banerjee: I, I have a very supportive family. So, so when I alluded to hedging my risks, I'd also had these grad job offers. So my parents knew I wasn't doing this as like a rash decision or like, you know, I don't wanna work a nine to five, so I'm gonna start my own thing. I think they saw that I was very much prepared to slog it out, so to speak, that go down the traditional route.

Ahana Banerjee: But they recognized this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I know that sounds very dramatic, but, but it was, and, and when Y Combinator, you know, they call themselves an accelerator, it truly did accelerate my career by, I would say at least 10 years because this is where I would've dreamed I would've been years and years ahead after starting my career in finance.

Ahana Banerjee: You know, working up slowly. I think [00:23:00] having them provide me with that funding was was the enabler to allow me to start building a company at the stage of my career. And my parents had the open-mindedness to accept that my, my parents, I have to say, like in all credit to them, they've always listened to me and I think that's also partly why I, I love my job, but I also have had the confidence

Ahana Banerjee: to do it is because I've always felt heard and it was never sort of like just, you know, listen to us, like these are the rules, don't question them. I've always given them challenges and I've always voiced my opinion and questioned things, and so it was an open conversation with my family. But essentially because I'd had these, these separate grad job offers, I was able to get deferrals, meaning that I could effectively drop out of my degree, still get a bachelor's, which is what I needed for these grad jobs.

Ahana Banerjee: Build the company, and I had two years for it to fail before I could take these grad jobs. So technically the two years isn't up in the summer of this year. If I wanted to, I could still go down that route. So they knew that the [00:24:00] worst that could happen wasn't that bad, and I had consciously played a bit of a game, hedged my risks and didn't give them a reason to,

Ahana Banerjee: to advise me against it. And my friends now, I'm pretty strong minded. So they, they supported me in and, and kind of knew what decision I was gonna make. 

Amardeep Parmar: So  what actually happened on the accelerator that made it gi, gave you that 10 years experience?

Ahana Banerjee: The better question is what didn't happen? I think, you know, hiring misadventures happened, you know, I think team is a huge part of building a company.

Ahana Banerjee: It was one of the things I spoke about being one of the non-negotiables and finding the right people, especially when the company started so abruptly, was a major challenge. When we applied to yc, there were, I put four people on the application. By the time the interview came, there were only three of us left, and it was a bit of a sore subject at the time.

Ahana Banerjee: Things are fine now, but the first question YC asked me in the interviewer, where's the fourth guy? And we'd had a massive falling out. So it was like, uh, he, he's not, he's not here anymore. And then in the, in the interviews there [00:25:00] were, there were three of us, but the CTO at the time had said very, very clearly that he does not want to be a startup founder.

Ahana Banerjee: He's a, he was a close friend. He's happy to like, help us write code, but he wanted the grad job route. He cared more about money, which is totally fine, and he didn't want the stress, the long hours, all of that, that, that we that we have to go through and credit where credits due had the courage to, to admit that.

Ahana Banerjee: Because of that, we're still very close friends. But what this meant is, you know, YC had basically accepted us because of the team, because the, the idea was four days old. It couldn't have possibly been that. And then, you know, this, the CTO, he became very sheepish when we got the acceptance because, He had said very clearly, he's not prepared to leave his degree, and he, he doesn't want this for himself.

Ahana Banerjee: And so I was again, terrified of what do I tell them? Are they gonna give us the funding? Are they gonna accept us if we don't have our CTO with us? And it was fine in the end, you know, just navigated the conversation in a very direct way and told them the situation. They were fine. You know, after that tried to hire someone ended up having [00:26:00] major disasters with that.

Ahana Banerjee: We, we hired a contractor in who, in the short term, basically was lying about his identity, like the work. We checked with our lawyers that everything was legal, but this guy like refused to be paid through our like proper payroll system. He was sending. He wanted to be paid through PayPal, all these strange email addresses.

Ahana Banerjee: He didn't turn on his camera. His passport was from one, one country and like, I think everything that could have gone wrong with the first hire did, and when we were looking for a new CTO as well, had some really negative experiences with, with people. So learn a lot the hard way about team conflicts and, and dramas.

Ahana Banerjee: But then even from a product perspective, the idea was so fresh and fortunately, I learned from the mistakes I'd made in the, you know, graduate recruitment startup in the other B two B SaaS meeting notes one as well about, you know, talking to users, things like that. And YCS mantra is, you know, write code, talk to users.

Ahana Banerjee: So leading with that approach was very helpful and that was always the guidance from them. If we ever lost sight of that, [00:27:00] they reminded us. But within that, there were, there were major challenges and because we had all these team issues on the tech side, although me and my, my co-founder at the time were technical, we'd all done the same physics degree and I'd done software engineering internships.

Ahana Banerjee: I don't consider myself a good engineer. I can code. I am not good at it. So we only had three months until demo day, and the last thing we wanted to do was waste time. So we thought let's just hire someone in the short term. We've got this initial funding, we can use it. But because of all these hiring disasters, by the time demo day came around, we had no product.

Ahana Banerjee: And it was actually a really bad situation because I had started taking some meetings with investors beforehand. And at the time, you know, I'm, I'm 21 years old, I am a no-name person. I don't have any contacts in the industry. And I'm out here meeting with some random investors that I've reached out to cold and telling them, oh yeah, my app, my skincare app's gonna launch next week.

Ahana Banerjee: And then, there was, there was no app and, and that was, you know, we later found out that the guy who said he was writing code wasn't so, [00:28:00] It was a bad situation. And in throughout all of this, the one thing that I can say is I was very transparent with Y Combinator about what wasn't going well. And, and even then, I knew that there's no point pretending everything's fine when it's not, because they're here to help and they have seen these things happen before they will know they have the wisdom that I do not.

Ahana Banerjee: And so they were very, very understanding and they actually allowed us to defer demo day because you get one opportunity to fundraise and if, if it's not gonna go well, then like there's, there's no point. And they told me, they said, you're probably not gonna raise very successfully if you go for it now.

Ahana Banerjee: And it was difficult because we had an investor that was willing to commit a hundred 100K, which at the time doubled our runway. It was a huge amount of money, but on the condition that we fundraised in March of 2021. And the partners at YC were advising us against it. So it was a really tough decision.

Ahana Banerjee: Plus this guy that we didn't end up hiring was causing all sorts of, of problems as well. 

Amardeep Parmar: So what actually happened in your demo then?  

Ahana Banerjee: I. Pitched the company, so it was a one minute [00:29:00] pitch and I did end up raising 850K U S D, so that brought the total funding close to a million dollars, which is a huge achievement.

Ahana Banerjee: But it was well over 200 meetings and it did take me three months. So it was, it was very challenging. And I also didn't have a lead investor, so it was really 10 pitches a day, grinding through it. And now we're super fortunate. We have some amazing, both funds and angels on board, but that was another huge learning experience from from building the company.

Amardeep Parmar: And  where's the company today now? So you've obviously had this investment in, what did you use it for? What's the product looking like today? And then like what are you excited about  for the future?

Ahana Banerjee: Yeah, so, so clear. It's a, it's a skincare app and that part has stayed. So even when I started the funding round, we did have the idea and we had an app on the market.

Ahana Banerjee: Now, you know, the, the key focus is still very much on product and I think learning from YC’s principles of just building something people want, that will be the focus until the next funding round. [00:30:00] So building out new features, testing, testing new ideas, and also building out the monetization plan as well.

Ahana Banerjee: We won a competition with L'Oreal last year, which opened a lot of doors for us and, and really was a huge win turning point in, in the company, but otherwise, you know, we've, we've been able to grow organically every single month with a several thousand large community now, and haven't invested a dollar in our marketing.

Ahana Banerjee: We're really fortunate that way, so talking to users and writing code is still where we're at. That will be the focus for, for the next couple of months, will be releasing some big features, which is definitely what I'm most excited about having spoken to our users, understood what the challenges are, what people like, what they don't like, and of course to do that grew out the team slightly.

Ahana Banerjee: So having learned from all those team challenges ended up hiring a really, really stellar CTO and some other developers as well. But we're still very lean, fully remote technical team. Writing code and talking to users. 

Amardeep Parmar: So sounds really exciting and it's gonna be interesting to see like how your journey progresses and where Clear gets to.

Amardeep Parmar: Thank you. But we've run outta time now, so we're gonna have to run [00:31:00] through a quick fire questions. The first one is, who are three British Asians that you'd love to shout out? That you think people listening right now should be paying attention to or learning from? 

Ahana Banerjee: I think the first one is one of our angel investors, Dr.

Ahana Banerjee: Fiona Pathiraja, she. Invested at the earliest of stages in Clear, and she's someone who really puts money where her mouth is. She herself has had a career in medicine and now running a health tech VC fund. I think she's really, really inspirational and, and goes out of a way to support underrepresented founders.

Ahana Banerjee: Fundraising is a female founder, was hard, so I think I, you know, I, I have a lot of respect for what she's doing and people should check her out, especially if, if you're a founder building a company. The second one, It is gonna be a guess that you've had on before is Dr. Vanita Rattan and as a massive skincare enthusiast myself, she was one of the, the content creators that inspired me, especially as a South Asian woman.

Ahana Banerjee: You know, she, her content around skincare for skin of color is [00:32:00] fantastic. So, Uh, partly a fan, but also I think that, you know, what she's done for the skincare community is, is really transformational. The third is gonna be my mom. My mom, Sima is a yoga teacher, so do check out her business at Yoga with Sima.

Ahana Banerjee: She's on on social media and she's, she's a fantastic teacher, but I think just the way that she and my family have supported me in, in my career. Giving me the confidence to, to pursue a career like this and, and being there during the tough times as well. 'Cause there is a lot of them. I, I think I owe my family a lot for the, the, the things that they've given me and both tangible things, but also just the, the love and the support.

Amardeep Parmar: So  lovely to hear that. Next question is, if anybody is existing right now, and would love to reach out to you. What can I reach out to you about ?

Ahana Banerjee: Anything startup or skincare related, whether that's raising funds, putting a team together, developing a product roadmap. I'm happy to chat about anything startup related.

Ahana Banerjee: I have done every [00:33:00] job involved, so just happy to, to share my journey there. Or if. You have any skincare questions, of course you can feel free to join, clear, ask your questions in the community, and you'll get tailored advice as well. 

Amardeep Parmar: And then  on the flip side, is there anything you are looking for right now where you need help or guidance?

Ahana Banerjee: Well, it's always helpful to get more feedback on the app. As I said, product is the number one priority right now. So if you wanna download the app, it's totally free. Test it, play around with it. Tell us what you like. But more importantly, tell us what you don't like 'cause that's the stuff that really, really helps us.

Amardeep Parmar: So again, thank  you so much for coming on any final words for the audience?  

Ahana Banerjee: I think maybe just my parting words from my journey so far is coming back to the point of not being afraid of failure and rejection. I think at every stage I'd experienced some level of that, but learning that that's part of the journey and also a sign that you're pushing yourself and growing is, is something that has helped me persevere through a lot of the challenging times, and for anyone watching, especially wanting to go into entrepreneurship, I think that's a really important thing to keep in [00:34:00] mind that.

Ahana Banerjee: Failure is part of the journey, and if you're failing or at some things or getting rejected, you're probably on the right track.

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