Founders in Mobile, Mobile Funding

Hit the Accelerator: Mobile App Success Stories from Y Combinator

y combinator mobile app success

Startup accelerators of all sizes and forms help companies in their infancy grow rapidly and sustainably to succeed on their own. Maybe you’ve heard of some big names like SeedCamp or AngelPad, or you’ve seen them satirized on TV shows like “Silicon Valley.”

Few of these popular seed funders have had as big or as wide an impact as Y Combinator. As the first pure seed accelerator, Y Combinator broke barriers by providing private baseline funding to startups with flat investment-stake commitments and a rigorous selection of companies to support. Their model has been copied, repurposed, and lauded across the world, and their culture of innovation has led to massive success for hundreds of companies like Airbnb, Stripe, and Instacart.

Founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2005, the accelerator has also been the starting point for major mobile subscription app success stories. Their startup program helps train and cultivate these early-stage companies to build their subscription service offerings and reach consistent levels of revenue. As you explore whether or not an accelerator is right for your mobile app, read these six success stories with valuable lessons to apply to your own growth strategy.

HER: 10 million-plus users worldwide

HER is a dating app focused on queer women and gender non-conforming people that emphasizes inclusivity, connection, and safety. Founded by United Kingdom-based entrepreneur Robyn Exton, it offers services like chats, meet-ups and events, and more in major metropolitan areas across the globe.

App details

Launched in 2013 under the name Daatch, the HER app is listed under the lifestyle section of the Apple App Store in the 17+ category. Similar to other popular dating apps, they offer a reduced freemium version, as well as two premium subscription plans — a $14.99/month gold plan and $24.99/month platinum plan with tiered access to features.

The Y Combinator connection

Before accepting funding through Y Combinator, HER went through several smaller rounds of seed funding to develop its initial platform and build a customer base. Their first taste of an incubator came from U.K.-based Wayra who provided €40,000, which was subsequently boosted by about €117,000 from a trio of external investors. This allowed HER (then Daatch) to push for a U.S. launch and eventually led them to Y Combinator, receiving an additional $1 million and solidifying the name change.

Where are they now?

The Y Combinator investment and support pushed HER’s total funding to $2 million, allowing for a successful U.S. launch and a solid customer base:

  • $300,000 in monthly revenue
  • 33 current employees
  • 4.4 stars from 32,300 reviews on the App Store
  • 4.2 stars from 14,000 reviews on the Google Play Store
  • Bottom line

    Through Y Combinator, HER turned from a dating app to a substantial component of the LGBTQ+ lifestyle marketplace. It expanded its subscription service beyond dating to provide more engaging, connection-based experiences for its customers that proved its ability to scale and expand offerings. Today, it boasts a multinational presence of more than 10 million users and regular industry-leading events.

    ClassDojo: Available in 180 countries and 35 languages

    ClassDojo is an edtech platform that facilitates communication between teachers, parents, and students from pre-K through eighth grade. Founded by education consultant Sam Chaudhary and engineer Liam Don, the comprehensive service includes in-class lessons, presentations, and parent-teacher communications, all from a centralized hub.

    App details

    Launched on the App Store in 2011, the mobile service is listed under the Education category, in which it is currently ranked the 49th most popular app. Baseline features are free, but the more robust service comes with a subscription of $7.99/month.

    The Y Combinator connection

    One of Y Combinator’s most-discussed success stories, ClassDojo worked with the accelerator’s specialized EdTech division, from which they were able to launch their service and quickly develop a user base of U.S. teachers. From this early relationship, the company has garnered over $66 million in funding over successive Series A, B, and C rounds.

    Where are they now?

    ClassDojo has blossomed into a major player in the edtech space, now operating all over the world in 35 languages and garnering impressive stats:

  • $800,000 in monthly revenue
  • 40+ current employees
  • 4.8 stars from 2.1 million reviews on the App Store
  • 4.8 stars from 553,000 reviews on the Google Play Store
  • Bottom line

    From humble beginnings in Y Combinator, ClassDojo developed a robust educational platform that gave them the ability to be feature-rich at launch, leading to rapid early success that has continued for a decade. The company has been positively highlighted in major publications like HuffPost and The New York Times while continuing to spread its global presence. Most importantly, they’ve kept to their successful roots by continually expanding their service offerings to maintain engagement and retain education customers across the world.

    The Athletic: Acquired by The New York Times in 2022

    The Athletic is a subscription-based digital sports media company that offers national and local coverage on numerous major global and regional sports news. Founded in 2016 by Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann, formerly of the fitness subscription app Strava, the site is famous for bucking the traditional ad-based model in favor of an ad-free subscription model that focuses on quality coverage over article turnout.

    App details

    Launched on the App Store in 2016, the app is listed under the Sports category where it ranks at No. 158. The subscription model starts at $7.99/month while offering a newcomer’s discount of $1/month for the first six months before kicking up to the full price.

    The Y Combinator connection

    Part of Y Combinator’s “summer batch” of incubatees in 2016, The Athletic started in Chicago with local sports coverage before gradually ramping up service across the states, followed by the U.K. and Canada. Subsequent rounds of funding up until a Series D brought in a total of $139.5 million, but the major news came this year when the company was acquired by The New York Times for an eye-catching $550 million.

    Where are they now?

    Beyond its funding and acquisition success, the publication stands out by leveraging a unique subscription model for a growing audience, leading to:

  • $65 million in 2021 revenue
  • 600+ current employees (including local and contracted writers and editors)
  • 4.9 stars from 172,000 reviews on the App Store
  • 4.7 stars from 28,500 reviews on the Google Play Store
  • Bottom line

    Another Y Combinator star, The Athletic learned to harness the unique pay structure of a subscription model and wisely strategized for user acquisition and retention. Their innovative approach in a largely static, ad-driven field helped propel their success while allowing and encouraging them to focus on content quality — an approach that’s both true to the company mission and essential to creating long-term revenue.

    Replika: 300,000 monthly downloads

    Replika is an AI companion app that generates a 3D persona to befriend and interact with users to provide coaching and support. Founded by Eugenia Kuyda through Luka, Inc., the AI service promises a life-like digital friend that learns from the user and responds intelligently.

    App details

    Launched on March 13, 2017, after a closed test, Replika is now listed under Health and Fitness in the App Store, with a sub-category listing of Chat, Voice, AR Companion. Though the initial download is free, fully unlocking Replika’s features requires a $7.99 monthly subscription, with additional IAPs possible through purchasing bundles of coins and gems, the in-app currency.

    The Y Combinator connection

    Replika’s journey to Y Combinator is a wild story of a former Russian culture writer turned San Francisco-based AI programmer who wanted to generate a digital version of her recently deceased friend. The successful program drew considerable interest, and the buzz allowed Replika to connect with low-friction investor Zillionize for their first round of seed funding. Following further development and a push for a national launch, the AI company received a larger Series A that included Y Combinator as a lead investor and accelerator partner, bringing their funding total to $10.9 million.

    Where are they now?

    Powered by Y Combinator and the strength of their technology, Replika has found an engaged, future-minded audience and fairly consistent revenue streams as well as the following:

  • $700,000 in monthly revenue
  • 28 employees
  • 4.6 stars from 187,000 reviews on the App Store
  • 4 stars from 397,000 reviews on the Google Play Store
  • Bottom line

    Y Combinator’s investment and tutelage helped direct Replika to focus its efforts on product development, further powering the strength of the AI program that made its subscription service so valuable. With a strong foundation, the service became sustainable by keeping their customers engaged and their tech top of the line.

    Precious: $1.1 million in funding

    Precious is an AI-powered mobile subscription service that creates custom photo stories and videos of newborns using user-collected photos and videos. Founded by brothers Christopher and Daniel Lau, the stories celebrate anniversaries, growing milestones, and more to provide parents with cherished, well-designed digital memories.

    App details

    Launched on the App Store in 2016 originally under the name Baby Art, the photo service is listed under the Lifestyle category. Users can try out features during a free three-day trial, at which point the subscription fees kick in at $4.99/month or a discounted annual rate of $39.99/year.

    The Y Combinator connection

    Starting in Y Combinator’s accelerator program, Precious sought to stand out from other baby photo-sharing apps by using AI to power the experience. More importantly, they wanted to ensure the viability of a solely subscription-based revenue model, as the founders felt it essential to avoid ads or the sale of third-party data to protect incredibly sensitive customer information and keep their users’ trust. The Laus have since raised an additional seed round outside of Y Combinator and their own self-funding, bringing their total to $1.1 million.

    Where are they now?

    Building off their Y Combinator experience and education, Precious has found a loyal audience along with strong word-of-mouth for new parents as shown by these numbers:

  • $200,000 in monthly revenue
  • 10 current employees
  • 4.7 stars from 93,500 reviews on the App Store
  • Bottom line

    Using their time with Y Combinator’s accelerator program wisely, the founders at Precious infused their AI-powered subscription service with as many usable, out-of-the-box features as possible to ensure early adoption and retention. The result is consistent revenue growth over six years on the market amplified by strong user sentiment and excellent retention metrics.

    Speak: $11 million in funding

    Speak is an AI-powered mobile English tutor and translator targeted at Korean speakers. Founded by Chegg and Flashcards+ vet Connor Zwick along with Andrew Hsu, the low-latency technology allows for instant Korean-to-English translation to aid in immediate conversation, helping both personal and professional communication.

    App details

    Launched on the App Store in 2017 through parent company Speakeasy Labs, the service is listed under Education. The basic level of features is available for free, with subscriptions starting at $21.99/month.

    The Y Combinator connection

    Speak’s relationship with Y Combinator started at an early point in the company’s development, with the accelerator supporting the early seed round of funding and providing guidance on how to flesh out the app’s fundamental aspects. A subsequent Series A led by the JAM Fund and serial entrepreneur Justin Mateen brought the total funding to $11 million.

    Where are they now?

    Under the guidance of Y Combinator and with a strong early launch, Speak has successfully proven valuable to the Korean-speaking market in both South Korea and the U.S.:

  • $200,000 in monthly revenue
  • 29 current employees
  • 4.8 stars from 1,500 reviews on the App Store
  • 4.6 stars from 12,000 reviews on the Google Play Store
  • Bottom line

    The early support of Y Combinator was essential for Speak to lay out the fundamental aspects of the AI technology, ensuring the viability of the service right at launch. Now, Speak is one of the largest translation tools in South Korea with the company planning to expand to new markets and languages in the near future.

    Some excellent companies have emerged from Y Combinator by using their time with the accelerator to increase the value of their product or service and introduce themselves to the masses as a fully formed company. Your own company may want to attain that hands-on experience, explore traditional funding, or even try more non-traditional methods like revenue-based funding from Braavo. Wherever your mobile app company stands, making the best financial choices is critical to setting you up for long-term sustainability and providing a true path to success.

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