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You shouldn't apply to YCombinator if... (crowdbooster.com)
129 points by dtran on March 16, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

Oddly enough, "Why did we fund you again?" is not an uncommon question at the first office hours. Often when we fund a startup, it's because of something they could do in the future. So at the first office hours when they describe what they're currently doing, that doesn't always include what we liked about the idea.

On a related note; when you first talk to a group of founders, if you feel strongly that they should be pursuing a different idea than the one they are currently pursuing, do you usually say so right away? Or do you wait for them to struggle with the current idea and ask you for assistance / advice (if that happens) before saying anything?

If that was my opinion, I'd tell them right away. Time is short during YC. But since changing course is hard, if they don't agree with me, I don't insist too hard at first.

On the other hand, sometimes it happens instantaneously. There was one group that decided to change their idea during the last tuesday dinner. I was sitting across from them and we did a back of the envelope calculation about what their revenues might be in the ideal case, and we sort of looked at one another and said "maybe time to try something new." They found the new idea 2 days ago, and it's quite good.

This part of the story defines the upside of Y Combinator for me. It isn't the cash or the inevitable writeup in TechCrunch nearly as much as the guidance.

There is no anger or disappointment expressed by PG in the story - just straightforward advice on what the group needed to do.

Thank you for sharing.

It actually sounded like a bit of a test as I read it. Sort of a second trial by fire, the interview being the first. It simulates the feeling of pressure (for some, at least) while the stakes are relatively low, making it easier to handle tough questions when the incubating company is pitching clients or future investors.

Interesting. I'd heard of this happening and it made you sound strangely clueless (and a bit of a jerk). Thanks for the explanation.

Definitely not clueless. Stateless. Big difference.

I'd rather someone with as much experience as pg was a jerk to me and helped us win than smiling in my face as we lost

You shouldn't apply to YC if...you don’t have the heart and the team to go through five product pivots in three months and back... (from article)

HN readers: in case busy (shouldn't you be?), @jemka's comment will save you the trouble of reading the rambling article.

"Even if you feel unsure about your current idea, just apply. Ideas change, awesome teams don't."

Don't think you can say it better than that. Nice article crowdboosters

Was the Maritime Treason line a joke? I'm not sure I follow how the wiki article applies to leaving a cruise early.

No, sadly it wasn't. IANAL and neither was the customer service person at the cruise line who cited the Jones Act to me, but to my understanding, it applies because passengers technically count as cargo. Therefore passengers embarking on a ship leaving the US cannot disembark and not return on the same vessel.

It would be really interesting to know the specific statute which implies this.

I was trying to find something and it seems to be the Passenger Vessel Services Act which is now part of the Jones Act. I think the travel agent understands the rules incorrectly though.


Thanks, that looks like it might be it.

You could of swam back to the US. LOL!!

you cannot take constructive criticism, cannot take risks, cannot sell ice to Eskimos, do not have a sense of quirky nerd humor, and most importantly if you do not like eating cereals for breakfast, lunch and dinner for weeks at a time as money is getting tight in your startup budget.

Might want to rethink the "sell ice to Eskimos" part. That's the furthest thing from what's expected from any startup.

Agreed, there's too much competition in the ice market already. Maybe try colored ice! Or shaved, flavored ice!

I think you saw humor where there was none. I'm saying selling stuff to people that they don't need has never been what been important for a startup.

Selling stuff to people and convincing them they need it has always been important for a startup.

There is a difference between selling someone something that they need but don't realize it yet vs. selling someone something that they don't need. The term "sell ice to eskimos" means you're so good at selling that you can sell someone something they don't need. You don't need that skill in a startup. Sure, good at sales, and sure, good at communicating benefits, but you don't need someone so good at sales that they can sell someone something they don't need.

LMAO!!! Nice one @pdenya!

I actually felt my heart pumping each time I read "## days until Demo Day". That's how starting a business should feel. Money's running out, time is running out, energy is running out. How are we going to make this work, today?

Obviously you guys were a good fit for YC, both in terms of culture and ability.

What I wonder is, what percentage of applications are completely unsuitable for YC?

What percentage of applications can basically be ruled out as competition?

Great post, David! I remember the beginning days and hearing the story as it happened. Nice to read the whole story in one well-written article. Keep it up!

"Ricky and I met Mark at Startup School in October 2009 (I guess we have to begrudgingly thank Berkeley for at least that much)"

Hehe. As a bear I say Grrr... =D

Great post guys and thanks very much for the mention.

awesome post guys... and yes the punchline is key: you have to have the stomach to pivot if you are thinking of applying to YC

I learned more from film & music at SXSW than from interactive

...you can just build it yourself

I think YC is more about connections and press and experience you can't get on your own.

if you know nobody inside yc..

My cofounder and I applied and were accepted with exactly zero connections to the Valley and effectively no YC connections (one friend of a friend was a YC founder, but we didn't end up getting in touch until after we'd gotten in). I doubt that's the norm, but we're proof that it's possible.

If we'd been smarter/less naive, we'd have cold-emailed one of the dozens of YC founders who publicly state they'll chat with people who are applying.

Even if that were really true, the post itself offers you the opportunity to know someone on the inside - "shoot us an email with any questions you have about YC". What are you waiting for?


There is nothing age specific about YC. There have been YC founders over 40.

I think that folks that complain about being "too old" for YC usually mean that they have lots of commitments that aren't compatible with the requirements of the program.

But, there are plenty of YC founders of all ages with significant others, kids, mortgages and other financial commitments.

People that are looking for an excuse will typically find one.

There is nothing age specific about YC. There have been YC founders over 40. I think that folks that complain about being "too old" for YC usually mean that they have lots of commitments that aren't compatible with the requirements of the program.

I hope you're right. In fact, I'm counting on it; being a 37 year old founder who's looking to apply (possibly) for the next Winter cycle. Luckily I'm still single and have no mortgage, just a car payment and rent, so I have a fair amount of freedom to make radical changes in my life if I want. :-)

Side-thread: This 'extra commitments' idea shits me in SO many ways.

It's trotted out to explain why people who are older earn more when they have the same experience. It's why our student allowance in Australia is ridiculously low but our unemployment is much higher. It's used as an excuse for only asking the single/childless employees to work late/weekends/not from home.

You're right, it's definitely just an excuse. People generally chose their life commitments in some way, and using them to justify unfair treatment is just incredibly annoying.

Advise from a youtube spam on my channel..."Success and excuses don't work together. If you want excuse, forget about success". Not all spams are bad (^^)

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