Arun Kirubarajan is the co-founder and CTO of Magna (YC W22). Magna is a startup providing token equity management for crypto companies and is backed by Soma Capital, Y-Combinator, Abstract Ventures, and Shima Capital ($2.5mm pre-seed). Arun graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (‘21) with degrees in Computer Science and Linguistics. He was previously a Managing Partner at Dorm Room Fund and an early employee at Vise. He was working towards an MSE in CS at Penn before taking a leave of absence to work on Magna full-time.
In today’s issue, Arun shares his experience at Y Combinator, cofounder dynamics, and decision to leave Penn:
🟣 What is Magna? Magna is a platform where companies can manage capitalization tables and distribute token equity to employees and investors. Their automated platform not only saves time for companies, but also prevents lost tokens and security vulnerabilities.
💡 Getting started: In high school, I was always trying to start a startup, reading up on Y Combinator, Hacker News, stuff like that. At Penn, I did a lot of research in natural language processing and machine learning. I got introduced to the Dorm Room Fund through a mentor, where I met Bruno, my cofounder and Magna’s CEO. We were both managing partners at the fund and worked together on a product called Maple (a B2B SaaS marketplace) which ended up getting into YC.
👬 Co-founder dynamics: I'm fresh out of college, meanwhile, Bruno has sold his last company to Palantir and is an investor and multiple-time founder. Bruno is my mentor in a lot of ways - he was someone I looked up to even before we started working together. It's an interesting dynamic, but a good combination of a fresh perspective combined with a lot of experience. We’re a good yin and yang. It’s like a marriage in a way, where you're always bringing out the best in each other.
🎓 Leaving school: My original plan was to do a PhD or work in trading at a big hedge fund. I’ve worked at hedge funds in the past, and while it was interesting technical work, there aren't a lot of other areas for growth. Being a founder, you're basically forced to grow or die. Frankly, I was a lot more excited about starting a startup and taking on that kind of risk. Being young is the perfect time for that; the craziness is naturally suited.
📅 Day/week/month in the life: Since I have teammates on the other coast and other continents, I try to maximize overlap with the timezone differences. I wake up around seven or eight and go to the gym. I spend my mornings in meetings on fundraising, partnerships, and hiring, and my afternoons and evenings writing code. I work with our developers and do a lot of pair programming because I know the code base the most. I’ll sign on again at nine o'clock or so and bug my teammates on Slack about things.
Weekly goals are set around improving the product. Each month is radically different from the last. Some months are very focused on building. Some months are fundraising, doing interviews, and hiring.
🚀 The Y-Combinator experience: Everyone's in it together. It’s not a cut-throat environment. Even though we have a competitor in the batch, we're in the same group chats on Telegram, we retweet their tweets, and we support each other.
🍊 Biggest takeaway from YC: Don't hire the Navy, hire the Navy SEALs. The Navy is geared for the one specific mission they expect coming in, whereas the Navy SEALs are prepared for any mission and willing to do it. We need people who can adapt to the constantly changing needs of building a product - it’s almost like an infinite game.
💼 How do you guys hire? Mostly out of our networks. Our first hire was someone I worked with at Vise, another startup. Other hires were students from Penn and Stanford. We just want people who are excited about what we’re building.
👥 Acquiring customers: We’ve had a huge explosion in our pipeline. Sometimes we reach out to them, especially if we already have a connection. Other times, our investors talk to their portfolio companies and recommend us. We try to qualify our leads to make sure they fit the type of company we’re looking for.
💸 Raising funding: It's a small world. We like to be at every single hacker house, every conference to meet people. Bruno already knew Shima Capital from his previous experience and being an angel investor himself in over 50 companies. It’s definitely nice to be able to pick your investors, and so we ended up going with investors who were excited about what we’re building.
👨💻 Unsexy side of building a company: Lots of maintenance work, sitting behind a desk and getting your head down. There are no shortcuts. If there is sexy work to be done, I'd prefer one of my teammates do it so they have an opportunity to shine and don’t get burnt out.
✨ Most underrated quality in a founder: Leave your ego at the door. While I was striving to be ahead of the curve, as a founder, my job is to enable other people to do their best work. A large part of that is acknowledging where my limitations are. Founders are somewhat pre-conditioned to be like, “Oh yeah, I know everything about the space.” But if you can say, “Hey, I don't know anything about this,” then you can start approaching everything with fresh perspective.
🛶 On growing up Asian-American: My parents came immigrated to the United States in the middle of a war in Sri Lanka, so they've always been very resilient. Being a founder, it's all about being resilient and having a lot of grit, so I think I pick that up from them. My parents were really good at letting me pick what I want to do, and they never really put any expectations on me. I'm very thankful to them. I don't know if they even fully understand what the company does. All they know is I run a tech company and do a lot of programming.
💡 Best advice? Hold out. Progress is nonlinear. For the first three years of doing research at Penn, I was floundering in a way, then at one point during my fourth year, everything I was learning just clicked. Same thing with startups. A lot of things worth doing end up being risky and taking a lot of time. As a young person, you don't have much experience with longer time horizons.
tl;dr 1) Take risks while you’re young and seek out the opportunity where you’ll grow in the most number of ways, 2) Leave your ego at the door, 3) Progress is nonlinear, so don’t get discouraged if you feel stuck.
Check out Magna here: magna.so/
Keep up with Arun!