Inside HF0 with Parker Edwards

An interview with Parker Edwards, the Co-Founder & CEO of Proxy, regarding his HF0 residency.
February 24, 2024
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Background

Parker Edwards is the Co-Founder & CEO of Proxy, which uses AI to recommend energy-efficient upgrades for homeowners. Parker participated in the Summer 2023 HF0 batch. I talked with Parker about what initially attracted him to apply to HF0, the admission process, what happens during the program, and how HF0 helped his startup move faster.

Highlights

  • HF0 is being very intentional with how they are building. Everything is designed with quality in mind: keeping batch sizes small at 10 teams; inviting the 55 best GPs from a16z, Sequoia Capital, Benchmark, etc. to an intimate Demo Day at the house instead of hundreds or thousands of investors; having the A-list of AI and tech entrepreneurs like Sergey Brin (Google), Guillermo Rauch (Vercel), Max Mullen (Instacart), Matt Schulman (Pave) speak to current batches.

  • HF0’s value prop and what they sell is speed. They remove all distractions so you can go all in on building your startup by providing founders with housing, food, laundry services, gym memberships, and even cover egg-freezing costs for female founders as part of the program.

  • HF0 indexes on the team when selecting startups, but it helps to have traction and customers.

Interview Transcription

Kieran: Thanks again, Parker, for joining me today. Can you speak briefly about who you are and what you’re building?

Parker: My name is Parker Edwards. I’m the Co-Founder & CEO of Proxy. We are building AI to help homebuyers go green. So, to sum it up, we work with people like home builders, real estate agents, and mortgage lenders to help their home buyers become energy efficient and use AI to do it. My background – I spent a couple of years in the clean energy space. Before this, I was at a company called Vivint; they do a lot of solar and smart home distribution, and that kind of fed into this. My Co-Founder and I are in Lehi, Utah. We were in San Francisco but just moved back a couple of weeks ago.

Kieran: Great overview. Is this product live so people can visit the website and schedule a demo?

Parker: Yes, it is live.

Kieran: You participated in HF0’s summer 2023 cohort. Is that correct?

Parker: Yes, we went in May or June and finished in August. It was a 3-month program. It was a super cool experience.

Kieran: Why did you want to participate in a startup accelerator? Which programs did you consider?

Parker: So, we considered a couple. We were originally in an accelerator out of BYU here in Utah called the Sandbox program. We ended up going to New York to go to a program called Z Fellows with Corey Levy. We were kicking around the idea of whether we do YC, look somewhere else, or even do an accelerator. The story is kind of funny. So, I’m sitting in my apartment where I am right now, and it’s just before midnight. My Co-Founder, Jacob, calls me and says, “Hey man, we have an interview here in a couple of days in San Francisco with a program called HF0.” At the time, I had never heard of it. I tried to look some stuff up online, and it was like a single-page website. I’m like, man, I don’t know what this is. But we flew out for a 10-minute YC-style interview. We had zero expectations coming out of it, but we were kicking around -- do we do a program like HF0, do we do something like YC, or do we go ahead and raise a Seed round? I’m super happy that we ended up moving to San Francisco and doing HF0. 

Kieran: Can you tell me more about why (HF0)? What stood out about it? What were you looking for?

Parker: We wanted to be around other founders with the same mindset and goals as us. HF0 is unique because you live with the other 9 teams in a house. It’s a hacker house in the middle of San Francisco. So you literally eat, drink, sleep, and work with these other founders 24 hours a day. There’s nowhere else where you’ll be able to get that kind of experience. The Partners are pretty amazing as well. The three Co-Founders are Dave Fortnot, Evan Stites-Clayton, and Emily Liu. They are incredible. We jumped on a call with them, and we were in.

Kieran: Can you talk more about that admission process? So, I know from the website there’s a written application, and it sounds like you flew to SF for a 10-minute interview – is there anything else in the admission process, or is that it?

Parker: The admission process is you apply online. They had a couple of thousand startups apply. Then, they do a screening interview. Depending on how that screening interview goes, they’ll fly the top 100 teams out to San Francisco, and they’ll do a 10-minute in-person interview and they’ll let you know within the next week or two if you get in. I can go into that interview process (more). So, I flew out two days early to meet with a customer in Sacramento. Then, I hung out at the house the day before the interviews, which was pretty cool. There was another founder, Colton, who was working on Thousand Birds. He was in this last batch – I ended up meeting him there. Then, the next day, my Co-Founder came in and flew in for our interview. We ended up meeting Travis, who was in this last batch, and a bunch of other founders. We went in for this 10-minute interview. It was super intense. A core memory from that was as we were standing up to leave – I literally don’t think I had taken a breadth in 10 minutes; I was talking so fast – Dave, as I was walking out, came up and put his hand on my shoulder and says, “Hey man, just take a breadth, you’re good :).” Yeah, if I had to sum up that entire process of getting into HF0, it was just very unique, we had never done anything like that before, it was super cool.

Kieran: Can you discuss some of the questions you remember being asked during that 10-minute interview? Were they focused on your team, your product, or what were some questions?

Parker: I think they were mostly focused on our team. They were really interested in my background, coming from this space at Vivint. They were pretty interested in our initial traction and where we were at. But, yeah definitely way more focused on the team. I know that one of their questions was where do you expect to be by the end of the batch? They were very direct, though. There was no fluff; let’s put it that way.

Kieran: I was looking through Twitter conversations before this call, and they seem to index on traction. I remember people asking Dave on Twitter, “Do you need traction to apply to HF0?” And he strongly recommended it. It sounded like you had traction going into that call because you were talking to a customer in Sacramento. When you think about the other companies in the batch, did they also come in with traction, were they pre-product, or where were they at when they entered HF0?

Parker: Some had traction, some did not. I’m trying to think of some of the other companies that had impressive traction going in. There was a company called Smartroof, whose founder, Nathan, had quite a bit of traction coming in. I think he had over a million dollars in ARR or revenue coming in. There was definitely a couple of teams that had built product or had a pretty good idea of what they were building. This batch was pretty unique, though. In previous HF0 batches, from what I understand, a lot of those companies were pre-product, and some were pre-idea. I think even for this upcoming batch, there are a ton of companies that have significant traction.

Kieran: Gotcha, so they are moving a little bit further down the spectrum, maybe.

Kieran: I wanted to talk about the actual program. You mentioned earlier -- eat, sleep, work with these founders – 24/7 type of thing. I know they bring in speakers to come talk at the house. What else happens during the program?

Parker: Yeah, so the nice thing is that you have your own autonomy to run your own process, but there is a little bit of structure. Everything is taken care of when you move into this house. Laundry, food, gym memberships, everything is taken care of. When we moved in, I’m trying to think of exactly how it was initially versus how it ended. Normally, you wake up in the morning, and you go get breakfast. You go downstairs into what they call the hackspace. Then, you get to work. Every Friday, there’s Friday Dinners – they’re big community dinners. A bunch of people in AI or tech in general show up to these massive dinners. Right before them, we have Friday Demo Dinner. All the founders pack into a room, and we just present what we worked on for the past week. Afterwards, we have a speaker come. We had some pretty crazy people show up. We had Sergey Brin (Google), Guillermo from Vercel, and Max from Instacart. It was one of the coolest experiences.

Kieran: What was the most valuable piece of advice you received at HF0, and who was it from?

Parker: Jacob and I, about halfway through, we didn’t pivot, but we made a slight adjustment. To give context, we were super focused on new construction going in. So, we were focused on getting relationships with homebuilders and commercial contractors. About halfway through the batch, we decided to do what we called the “moonshot idea,” which was to make it so we could use AI on any home, any time it was transacted, to make it energy efficient. There were a couple of different things that went into that. There was a specific night when we were sitting in the library. They have whiteboards, and the whiteboard was full. Casey Caruso, who was a Visiting Partner, she was working on AI at Google before she was there. She came in, and we started talking to her. We asked, “Hey, what should we do here? We have a really solid business, but there’s this moonshot idea. If we can do this, it would be freaking massive, but it’s a big swing.” She told us, “Just go for it. If there’s a bigger opportunity, then pursue it.” I would say that was pretty instrumental (advice).

Kieran: Cool, it seems like she instilled that confidence to take that next step for you guys which is awesome.

Kieran: I was watching this video on Twitter of HF0’s Demo Day. It seems like it’s a slightly different format than other accelerators. One thing I noticed was it was a smaller crowd. It was 55 of the top GPs. It was more intimate. Other accelerators like YC invite hundreds or thousands of people to some of these events. What did you think of that format in terms of a Demo Day?

Parker: Well, the pressure was on. We had 55 GPs in a room from Andreessen, Benchmark, and Sequoia. It was wild. It was a super cool experience. I think what was really unique is what actually happened afterward. I’ve never done a YC Demo Day, but I have a pretty good grasp of how it goes. You go present for a minute, a minute and a half, and that’s about it. If they reach out, then they reach out. With HF0, we had our presentation time, everyone was in person, totally engaged. It was crazy – we had a photographer there – his name is Jordan – he was just saying that even taking photos, it was crazy how many people were not on their phones. I think that’s because everyone is in person, right? So, like saying what you said, it’s a super intimate experience rather than over a screen. Then afterward, you have an hour to set up a booth outside, and all the investors come up, talk to you, ask further questions, and get your contact info. That’s a completely different experience than just pitching. The dynamic completely changes. It was a super cool experience.

Kieran: Can you talk more about that dynamic and how it changes?

Parker: Normally, when you go and pitch an investor, you’re pitching them. You can definitely feel that they are in charge. I think at HF0’s Demo Day, you got to kind of establish more of a relationship rather than just, hey, I’m going to just show up as a founder and pitch you. It’s like you came to the house, where we’ve been living for 3 months, and the types of questions you get asked are completely different than just what’s your revenue, where will you be in a year, and what does your team look like. It’s much more based on: what was your experience in HF0, how did you grow, and how do you think this will help you in the future? It was totally different than regular “pitching to a VC.”

Kieran: Were most of the startups in your batch successful in raising money on Demo Day? Was it really needed? HF0 gives you quite a bit of money upfront. So, did startups in your batch actually need to raise money at Demo Day? Or did they have enough runway where there wasn’t too much pressure to get money in the door right now, and they could use that Demo Day to build relationships with investors and raise down the road?

Parker: I think everybody’s been pretty successful in raising a round, for the most part. I know that even with us, we’re in the middle of closing our round. Coming out of HF0 is the best time to raise. You get to leverage Demo Day. We held off for a little bit before we started really diving in and talking to investors. At Demo Day, we weren’t even sure if we would raise. If you asked us on Demo Day if we were going to raise, we probably would have said no. But, because of the inbound interest both on the VC side and from the customer side immediately after Demo Day, we decided to start taking meetings. I think that’s how many people felt coming out of that. This is a really good time to raise. Could I wait a little bit? Yes, but raising when you don’t have to is always better. So, I think a lot of teams have taken that approach.

Kieran: HF0’s value prop and what they sell – and you alluded to this beforehand by them taking care of the gym membership, laundry, food, and housing – is speed. I’m curious to get a better sense of that for your journey. It seems like you came into the program with a few customers. Where were you at the start of the program, and where did you end up?

Parker: Going into the program, we focused on providing value to the supplier side of our marketplace. So, how we work is we’ll do an energy analysis on somebody’s house, and then we’ll plug and play different clean energy products like solar, smart home, HVAC, heat pumps, etc. Then, we’ll connect them to fulfillment partners in our preferred network to do the actual fulfillment. Then, after things are installed, we use AI to automate the filing for rebates and incentives on the home buyer’s behalf. Our focus just completely changed. I think where the speed really came in is our efficiency in making changes was accelerated. So, we had really close users that we were working with when we came in. When we came out, we were almost at 2 million in annualized revenue, which is a very big contrast. I think it all comes down to if you work 18 hours a day, you will be more efficient than if you only work 10. Also, I think there’s a lot of stress with being a founder – living life and running a company. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where somebody is going to be able to go and just focus on working on their startup and eliminate everything else. To take the words out of Dave’s mouth, HF0 adds by subtracting. I definitely felt that.

Kieran: What advice would you give to someone applying to HF0? How do they increase their chances of getting in -- what should they be doing?

Parker: My advice is to be genuinely yourself. I know that their decision-making process is way more dependent on the founder than on where you’re at as a company. Obviously, it helps to have traction and customers. Those are all super important. But, really highlight your strengths as a founder. So, to give insight here. I’m not technical; my co-founder is. During the interview process, they asked a lot about my ability to sell and my sales background. I just had to really focus on what makes (me) unique as a founder. On the application – I actually didn’t fill out the application – highlight who you are. I don’t have the most impressive background. My co-founder was working at a Series B startup here in Utah. So, it’s not like we’re former Facebook or Stripe employees or something like that. I think the more genuine and authentic you can be, the higher your chances of getting in.

Kieran: Let’s do the second part. What advice would you give to someone who got into the program to make the most out of the experience?

Parker: HF0 does a really good job of eliminating unneeded distractions. My advice would be to be all in—100%. Then also, I would say really establish relationships with other founders in the batch. Even right now, I talk to a couple of different founders weekly – Josh Payne from Coframe and Derek from Listening. I talk to quite a few founders. It’s really cool because if you build the community inside the program, when you leave, that still exists. I think that’s really unique about HF0. At YC, there are 300 startups, and it’s a little bit harder to know everyone in your batch. We literally lived with these people. So, I would take full advantage of that.

Kieran: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you think is important to know for people considering HF0?

Parker: Yeah, I think that if you’re thinking HF0 versus another accelerator, if you really take the time to go into what is the value add of each one, there’s something really unique about having people that are really invested in both you as a founder and you as a person. I think that I was asked or checked up on, you could say, as a person just as much as I was as a founder by Dave, Evan, Emily, and Casey. I don’t think that really exists in the same way at other places. We gave HF0 a shot when it was still early, and now it’s blowing up. If you have the opportunity to go meet those guys, you’d be pretty dumb not to take that.

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