How I Got Into 500 Startups (Batch 13)

A year-and-a-half after launching Hazel Lane, I was nearing complete burnout. My health was suffering from working a full-time job during the day and on our project at night and my 13 year friendship with my co-founder was drowning in subtle resentments. I applied to 500 Startups because I needed strategic help, but never thought we would get a call back. Unlike companies they had accepted in the past, we didn’t have massive traction, we were both non-technical and in no way connected to the 500 network. But, somehow Hazel Lane was 1 of 100 companies invited to interview from 1400 applicants.


During the interview, my partner made it clear this business wasn’t a priority for her, which left me feeling completely blindsided. The difference in passion for the business was something I’d been subconsciously brushing under the rug but for the last year. It was time to come to terms with it.


The Rejection

Ten days before Batch 13 started, we received a rejection letter due to my co-founder’s “lack of commitment.” Knowing this amazing opportunity was just out of reach was gut-wrenching. I couldn’t stand by and let it pass. I had to act. In just 3 days, I figured a way out of my business partnership and into 500 Startups.


Day 1: The Negotiation


After reading the rejection 10 times, it was pretty obvious they left room for negotiation. I emailed 500 and explained my co-founder would step down if it meant Hazel Lane could join the accelerator. At 10:30PM, I hit send and within 5 minutes had a response from the 500 team setting up a call Friday, the next day. The call went well and they pointed out critical components that needed to change in the business if 500 were to make an investment. The 500 team never explicitly told me to do anything about the partnership, they simply gave me the leverage I needed to end the business relationship.


Day 2: The Breakup


By Saturday night, my cofounder and I came to a pretty amicable agreement and leaving her until 5:00PM Monday to sign over most of her shares. Crazy text messages and threats to dissolve the business ensued. But after a couple days, she caved and signed the papers at 4:45pm Monday afternoon.


It was official. Hazel Lane was IN!


Day 3: The Reality


By the time the company was officially admitted into the 13th Batch, there were just a few days left until the program officially started. I still needed to quit my job, sublet my Venice Beach apartment and find a new home in Northern California. On Sunday afternoon, a little more than a week after being rejected, I packed up my life and Hazel (my cat) and headed north to Mountain View.
I was now a one-person team living in Motel 6 with my cat, but after a year long detour, my vision for Hazel Lane was finally back on track.

Next part: Being a solo, non-technical, female cofounder in the heart of The Valley

Enter your email in the comments below to be notified for the next  part in the series

Samantha Strom is a Venice Beach transplant, founder of Hazel Lane living in East Palo Alto (it’s the next Oakland) and working out of the 500 Startups Mountain View Headquarters.