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Ryan Bednar
Director of Growth at '7 Cups of Tea', YC Alum, Co-founder Tutorspree, SEO Expert

Hi, I am Ryan Bednar, currently Director of Growth at '7 Cups of Tea'

As a child I wanted to make games so my dad, being a software engineer himself, pushed me into programming at age of 10. I started built websites for fun in high school and college. I ended up working in finance after college - after witnessing the firstdom crash I steered away from programming. However I was soon pretty bored and I quit after a year to work at a startup.

I hopped around a few startups in NYC as consultant and kept improving my skills as a programmer. In 2009, I moved to Philly to join a startup called Scribnia as its first employee, which we would later pivot into SeatGeek. I left after about year to start my own startup, and they've gone on to do really well.

 

I met Aaron Harris (now Partner at YCombinator) and Josh (Now VP of Operations MakeSpace) through Hacker News. Aaron wanted to chat about the idea he had. We clicked when we met and kept chatting for a few weeks and I then joined TutorSpree as a tech co-founder in 2011. A few months after, we got accepted into YC. YC was super stressful but fun. We decided to move the company back to NY after raising $1M. It was a roller coaster. One day it felt we were crushing it, and the next day it felt we were going to die. We raised a bridge round and created a marketplace for tutors. However we didnt control pricing, messaging etc. We soon moved to a tutoring agency model. Revenue started growing but it scaled to the limit of SEO. Google's Panda and Penguin updates hit us in 2012/2013 and cut our business in half. We had already raised $2M and had to take a call in pivoting or return the money back. It was a super tough decision.

 

After Tutorspree, I took some time off to travel, since I I didnt know what else to do. I started doing SEO consultanting for a bunch of YC companies. I helped about a dozen YC companies over a half year period and one of my clients was '7 Cups of Tea'. I was able to grow organic traffic for 7 Cups almost 10x in 3 months and I ended up joining full-time at the end of my contract.

 

From programming games as a kid, being a YC alum and founding a startup, raising millions of dollars, and helping lots of startups with growth - it's been one incredible ride. Happy to share my experiences. AskMeAnything!

Looking back, What would you do differently while running Tutorspree?

This is a tough question. So many things! There were a lot of learnings. The most obvious thing I think is to build a product that users loved more. We became hyper-focused on growing revenue pretty early on, and as a result, it was hard to move away from a (simple) product that was bringing in money. So I don't think the product was differentiated enough vs our competitors (tutoring is a super competitive space!), and it didn't create enough value for tutors, who only cared about us when we were sending them bookings. There are a few products out there now that I think are doing a better job of creating LOTS of value for tutors. Coach is one of them. (https://www.withcoach.com)

Which products should focus on SEO and who should not? 

It works for startups where there's already a group of people out there who are actively searching for what you offer - or something closely related. If you're developing a totally new product - without clear demand for it (like the next Snapchat), then SEO isn't going to be super helpful.

You were able to grow organic traffic of '7 cups' 10X in 3 months. Can you share few things that you did that worked?

This was all on-page SEO - 7 Cups had garnered a ton of attention and backlinks from credible sites but had never done any SEO. So I came in, cleaned up the site architecture, and within weeks we started getting traffic for: free online therapy, o...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

Do you remember your Y combinator interview? Can you share the story about how you prepared, how was it during the interview etc?

Yeah, I was nervous as hell, and we stayed up late the night before our interview tweaking our demo (which they never looked at). It's a whirlwind 10 minute interview, and before you know it, it's over. I think Aaron did really well in the intervi...This knowledge is worth millions but signing up is free

Can you share with us what is it like to be a YC alumni. How strong is the network, what activities and assets are accessible strictly for YC alumni community? 

How do you compare SEO to other user acquisition techniques? How do you see SEO landscape evolve in the era of social networks and discovery through push notifications?

What was the best and the worse moment while running your startup Tutorspree? Can you share some stories

You mentioned you helped many YC companies with SEO. What are few things early stage companies always get wrong about SEO?

What was the most surprising thing you discovered after joining Y combinator?