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Allison Walsh

Building a search engine to connect shoppers with local product.

Company: Agora

Role: Founder, CEO

What drew you to this particular problem?

During college, I remember needing a black dress for an event, wanting to be able to easily search all the boutique stores nearby but having no way to do so. I ran into this problem for a variety of products after this, too. I also watched a ton of turnover occur in Cambridge Square; small businesses were replaced by big name brands constantly.

Agora was the solution I came up with to make these stores more searchable and their products more visible.

What’s the best piece of user feedback you’ve gotten so far?

Our beta launched mid-March and we’ve gotten great feedback from users so far. I think the best sentiment I’ve heard, generally, is appreciation for Agora’s socially-oriented mission. I started this company to have a positive impact, to help people and it’s been awesome to already have users saying “This is going to help a lot of small businesses.”

How did it feel to get into YC & what was the biggest takeaway from your time in the program?

This is a funny story, actually. I didn’t know this, but apparently if they like you, the interviewers will grill you with questions. I was so shaken after my interview and sure I hadn’t gotten in. I’d already made the decision to go all in on Agora and quit my job at General Atlantic so I was distraught. I took an Uber to Apple’s campus and started wandering around – tear-strewn – asking people for a job.

So when I was accepted, the main feeling I had was relief! Haha.

The best thing I’ve taken away from YC was the network. I met some lifelong friends in those few months; it was a high pressure, intense program that created deep bonds between the cohort. Having access to the alumni network has also been so useful. For example, I had a technical question related to Shopify the other day, sent a quick message over Bookface (our internal message board) and immediately got help from another founder.

What has been the most significant hurdle you've faced so far?

The most significant hurdle I’ve faced so far is on-boarding stores and products. I’ve had to weigh the speed of getting products onto the platform against involving the stores directly into the process of on-boarding. Agora’s model is complex in that it’s a double-sided marketplace – I have to be able to offer value to both store owners and shoppers in order for them to use the platform (and then get their friend’s to use it as well).

How do you feel you've grown personally in building this company?

I feel like I’ve grown so much! Agora is my baby and it’s definitely taking me on an incredible personal growth journey. I actually started a small blog to share reflections with my closest friends.

What has been your biggest misstep in building Agora and what did you learn from that moment?

YC had strongly recommended I search for a technical co-founder so I spent a few months looking for someone. I met people who thought Agora was a good idea but no one who was as passionate as I was about the platform. In retrospect, I think that time could’ve been better spent working on the actual product.

What are some specific challenges that have come with being a solo founder?

It’s definitely high pressure – I carry all the responsibility for the success of the company. But I also enjoy the full autonomy I have and think there’s an advantage in having one decision-maker when it comes to executing quickly.

What’s a song or album that’s gotten you through 2020?

Let me look at my Spotify haha. I think I’d say The Colour in Anything by James Blake. I actually named my blog after it! But It’s an amazing album that definitely helped me through 2020.

Favorite emoji or gif?

I actually have a broken shoulder right now – I fell off while horseback riding. So I’ve been using the metal, bionic arm a bunch, lately.