Meet Helena Merk, Founder & CEO of Glimpse

FcF: Tell us about yourself?

Helena:  I dropped out of Duke University my sophomore year to join Smartcar, an early stage startup in Mountain View. Nine months later, I convinced my co-founder to drop out as well and we started Glimpse.

Originally I taught myself to code in grade school and always have seen it as a way to make an impact. I started with educational games for kids, launching several apps before high school. Throughout high school I worked to increase animal adoption rates at local shelters with tech, and got increasingly involved in startups and entrepreneurship. During my brief time at Duke I worked with misinformation at the Reporter’s Lab, and closely with Global Health professors. 

Exploring the intersection of health and tech was the most interesting, and focusing on root causes of mental health, relationships, and loneliness drove us to build Glimpse (or Gravitate at the time).

FcF: What is Glimpse?

Helena: Glimpse is the best way to engage your community online. It is the only speed matching platform on Zoom. 

On Glimpse, you can deeply engage your communities, sizing 4 to 400,000 through 1-on-1 video chats. Members match back to back for time-boxed round-robin chats, or use optimized tags for enhanced pairings. We’ve added games, photobooths, icebreaker questions, and more.


FcF: How did you come up with  Glimpse?

Helena: Iteration and experimentation. I started working with my cofounder in September 2019 with a single mission: authentically connect people and build meaningful relationships. This started as a "gen-z lunchclub", morphed into an employee wellness tool, became a social video chat app... and other iterations, before landing where we are now: a platform that unites large groups of individuals in genuine and intimate ways.

Brian and I have cared about authentic relationships for our lives. We grew up in an era of social media, spiraling our generation into the highest rates of teen loneliness and mental health problems. Healthy relationships are at the base of building healthy lives, and helping people meet is the first step.

For myself personally, the need became acute when I dropped out of Duke to join a startup. I moved to Mountain View and really dove deep into work, but realized I had almost no social life. Being 19 and working full-time in the suburbs, when all your friends were out of state in college, was tough. Visiting school and sitting down with Brian really got us started.


FcF: What were the first 3 steps you took after you knew you wanted to pursue this idea?

Helena:

  1. Convince Brian to drop out of school and apply to Y Combinator with me
  2. Test every hypothesis before building a product. Write down all assumptions we are making, and work actively to try to 
  3. Jump in full-time, launch mvp after a single week, continuously get feedback and iterate

FcF: This is awesome that Glimpse is part of Y Combinator! Can you share what the process was like to apply and how the experience has been so far? Also, what advice would you give to others in applying for Y Combinator or any other seed money startup accelerator? 

Helena: The experience has been great! Being surrounded by other motivated young founders is invaluable. The best part of YC has been the community.

Even the act of applying to Y Combinator was extremely valuable! The questions are comprehensive, and the preparation requires you to ask yourself all the questions you’ve backlogged.

I should note, however, that when considering participating in an incubator, think about the type of company you want to build. This might sound obvious, but the reason to join an incubator or raise capital, is to grow your vision into a several billion dollar business. This means your market has to be 1 billion at a minimum. Remember that raising capital and being venture-backed is not the only way to grow a successful startup.


FcF: How did you meet your Co-Founder? What do you look for in a Co-Founder? 

Helena: I met Brian early in my undergraduate studies at Duke, and we became close organizing an environmental hackathon together. The traits that set him apart are his values and how he sticks with them. We have very complementary personalities and balance each other out, while sharing the same core values means we can find common ground and alignment. We geeked out early on about all the ways we wanted to change the world, and our shared passions for mental health and environment really solidified our relationship. 


FcF: What advice do you have for other women who have a start-up idea or side project idea?

Helena: Nobody knows what they are doing! The moment I realized this, every sense of imposter syndrome disappears. This also applies when thinking of "if you are ready" to start your venture: You will never be ready for what starting a company is like. While this sounds unfortunate, it should also be comforting, because you can stop worrying: just jump in and seek to learn as much as possible every step of the way.


FcF: How can the Female CoFounder community help you?  

Helena: We are looking to run pilots with Glimpse in various communities! Our primary focus has been school-affiliated organizations: club recruitment, club fairs, freshmen meet and greets, employer networking, and career fairs.Another large segment of Glimpsers use the platform during conferences for networking. 

If you are onboarding a lot of new hires, looking to host office happy hours, regularly host networking-style events, or are a student leader, we'd love to pilot with you!


FcF: How can people contact you?

Helena:  helena@joinglimpse.com

Consider us for your next virtual socials: https://www.joinglimpse.com

We’re hiring! Apply here.

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