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99dresses founder Nikki Durkin joins Y Combinator

Friday, 18 November 2011 | By Michelle Hammond

Twenty-year-old Australian entrepreneur Nikki Durkin will participate in the fabled Y Combinator program in the United States, as she seeks to replace eBay as the world’s premier online fashion portal.

 

Durkin was 18 when she founded 99dresses, a site where users upload their unwanted clothes to sell for a virtual currency, which they can then spend on other users’ unwanted items.

 

99dresses is Durkin’s third business. She started her first business at the age of 15, selling T-shirts that she designed herself before having them printed and drop-shipped from China.

 

Now it’s been revealed Durkin has been accepted into the highly exclusive three-month Y Combinator program, after flying to the US to deliver a 10-minute pitch.

 

It’s believed Durkin beat thousands of start-ups that applied for a spot in the bi-annual program, which culminates in a demo day whereby the start-ups present to a large audience of investors.

 

As part of the program, Y Combinator invests a small amount of money – around $18,000 – into each start-up. In exchange, it takes a small stake in each one, usually 6-7%.

 

The start-ups move to the US for the duration of the program, during which time Y Combinator helps them to hone their offering and refine their pitch in preparation for the demo day.

 

Along with her recently-appointed technical co-founder Peter Delahunty, Durkin flew out to the US on Monday to pitch. Durkin and Delahunty met at Sydney co-working space Fishburners.

 

Prior to this, Durkin worked with local tech seed fund Pollenizer, with co-founder Mick Liubinskas acting as her mentor.

 

Liubinskas says while he was unaware Durkin was planning to pitch to Y Combinator, he described her selection as “fantastic”.

 

“Nikki is a young rising star with a really great future. She’s learned a whole bunch since we met her. The only sad thing is that it is unlikely she will come back [to Australia],” he says.

 

“She’s bright and ambitious, and Silicon Valley is the world stage… Someone like Nikki will feel at home there.”

 

Earlier this year, Durkin said she planned to take on eBay as the premier online fashion portal by overhauling her systems and business model to underpin a possible expansion to the US.

 

That plan now looks certain to become a reality.

 

The Y Combinator program has spawned a host of successful tech start-ups including Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, Loopt, and Heroku.

 

Australian start-ups that have gained from the program include travel experience start-up Adioso, founded by Tom Howard, and Omnisio, sold to Google for $US 15 million in 2008.

 

According to Omnisio founder Ryan Junee, Y Combinator “is the most energising and intensive start-up environment you can imagine”.

 

“Nikki will probably work harder during those three months than she ever has or will, but it will be amazingly rewarding and fun,” Junee told The Sydney Morning Herald.

 

“She’ll be surrounded by 60-plus teams of very smart and capable entrepreneurs, all at similar stages of their business ideas, and all willing to encourage and motivate each other to succeed.”

 

“At the end of the program, she’ll have the chance to pitch to basically every investor in the Valley and many that fly in from New York, LA and elsewhere.”

 

“Y Combinator has such a brand now that just being part of the program almost guarantees you a meeting with any investor you choose, and probably boosts your valuation as well.”