Janet Yen: Building more community

Issue 14

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It’s Thursday, August 5, 2021. This week’s builder is Janet Yen.

Janet Yen

Janet’s Story

Meet Janet Yen, finance major. Straight out of school in 2008, Janet went to work for Deutsche Bank. She spent two and a half years working in New York as an investment banker in the healthcare space. Mergers and Acquisitions weren’t nearly as much fun as she had hoped, however, so off to San Francisco she went.

Her first job there was with Quantcast, an advertising technology company. Janet grew in the finance team, then shifted over to the sales team, eventually leading the group there.

From Quantcast she went to the University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton MBA program, where she learned from some of the best in the business.

After Wharton, Janet went to work for WeWork. She loved working there until everything happened with Adam Neumann, and stayed about 6 months afterward, when she decided to go out and do her own thing.

As with so many other founders in Procrastineur, Janet’s first stop was with On Deck - this time the Founder Fellowship. It was there that she met her cofounder, Tamara Dottin, who was building a product and needed an expert on the business side to help her grow.


Janet and her cofounder Tamara built Athena as a standalone product at first. 

Athena provided a prompt, and you would record a response & insert a URL for that video into Medium, your email, or any number of other options. As people responded, the videos stacked in an Instagram-like story format. Unfortunately, as excited as people were to use Athena, they didn’t know what to do with it after the first use or two.

How would Athena make money?

Janet and Tamara went back to basics. Who would use the product? Which customers were most likely to keep coming back?

They landed on building for online communities. They built out a Slack integration so community leaders could utilize Athena directly, rather than routing their groups away from the main conversations. As of a few weeks ago, Athena had grown to many more communities.

To build, or not to build?

As of July 20, Athena’s future was a big maybe. I was set to have a conversation with Janet then, but she informed me that she and Tamara might be shutting it down. We postponed our conversation so we could talk about this very dilemma and their decision.

It was easy to get people to sign up and try Athena. These users said they loved the product! Unfortunately, it’s hard to keep people coming back. Continuing to build Athena and grow the capability would be hard.

Janet had a tough choice to make.

Since then, they’ve decided to keep going. They both believe in the product, more people are wanting to try it out, and they’re building integrations for all kinds of new products. Circle’s integration was just finished this week!

The biggest hurdle to come is how to make money. It’s not easy to charge for an add-on like Athena, and figuring out which customer group will offer the most growth is their next challenge. After all they’ve learned, I don’t doubt for a second that they’ll figure this out too.

Janet’s Advice

  • If you can, start your side hustle during your job. If that’s not possible, take the leap! Janet says she has learned so much about herself in the past year, as she worked toward starting a business and is now running Athena.

  • Allow your goals to change over time! Janet worked in finance, then sales, and now in a startup.

You can connect with Janet on Twitter as @Janet_Yen1. Her cofounder, Tamara, is on there as @tamaradottin.

Word from Will

Choosing Janet as a high potential founder is a no-brainer. So many learn a ton from their first startup, and whether she wins or loses on Athena, I believe that she’ll be able to grow a company eventually.

If you have a community on Slack, Circle, Discord, or any other platform, don’t hesitate to check them out! Athena’s waitlist is growing, and Janet is excited to share it with you. They’re still early in the journey, but having already been through the “do we stop” phase once, you can bet they’re sinking their heart and soul into this venture. 

I told Janet during our conversation that I would bet on this product as an educational tool, enabling classes to put together short videos and respond to each other in a more organic way. With Circle, I think they’re moving in that direction. Other communities will certainly be able to do the same - gardeners can share a short clip with advice or a question, allowing better and more personal responses than text alone.

I can’t wait to see where Athena is headed.

Be like Janet. Build on.