Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Medical Crowdfunding Site Watsi Becomes Y Combinator’s First Nonprofit Startup

The closely watched startup program Y Combinator said today it was backing peer-to-peer medical funding site Watsi, its first nonprofit investment after eight years and hundreds of startups.

Watsi“I’ve never been so excited about anything we’ve funded,” Y Combinator chief Paul Graham wrote in a post about Watsi today.

Watsi is a peer-to-peer platform that connects medical patients to donors and sends 100 percent of donations through. The organization’s own costs are covered by separate donors.

Graham said he first found the site on the YC-run news aggregator Hacker News, where Watsi pitched itself to readers last August and received much acclaim.

Watsi co-founder Chase Adam said he didn’t think to apply for Y Combinator, but was approached directly by Graham and his partner Jessica Livingston. His team is currently participating in the winter 2013 batch, which began earlier this month.

Because Watsi is a registered nonprofit, it couldn’t offer Y Combinator any startup equity, so Y Combinator made a charitable donation instead of an investment.

Watsi has funded 70 treatments over the past six months, based on $55,000 in donations from 1,300 donors. Donations are currently growing 28 percent per week, Adam said.

There’s obviously not going to be an IPO down the road for Watsi, but, as Adam put it, Y Combinator is looking for a “social return on investment,” rather than a financial one.

In most ways, Watsi has more in common with Web startups than with nonprofits, Adam argued. It’s not like Watsi is the first nonprofit to put a picture of a person in need next to their request.

But rather, “We’re structured like a startup, and we take lean startup methodology,” Adam said. “We focus on transparency, which is really important to donors. And user experience is really important to us, something a lot of nonprofits don’t invest in.”

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald