I've said this before, and so have many others, but it's worth repeating: Choosing to apply to YC was one of the best decisions of my life.
Some reasons I love YC:
- My cofounder and I were in the Summer 2010 batch. We've changed our idea, made mistakes, and failed repeatedly. Yet in all that time, pg and co have had and continue to have our backs 100%.
- One thing I've learned in life is that who you choose to surround yourself with matters immensely. Doing YC means surrounding yourself with great people.
- Every single YC partner is a genuinely lovely person. The other week we got a heartwarming and encouraging email from Kate, YC's architect.
- The YC network is unparalleled. In the past week, I've relied on it half a dozen times.
- I don't know how to put this, but YC has taste. Where others are political or indirect or care about appearances or do things without thinking about them, pg and co are the opposite: Direct, thoughtful, and good. YC is good in much the same ways pg's essays are good, if that makes any sense.
If you want a little honest feedback on your application before you submit it, feel free to contact me. I was the first engineering hire at justin.tv, I'm the cto of ZeroCater now, and I love talking about startup ideas.
Would YC ever fund a not-for-profit startup, as a form of philanthropy?
Part of the reason I ask is that for-profit and not-for-profit organizations have different kinds of leverage, and for some activities not-for-profits have big advantages. It's striking that some major success stories like Khan Academy and Wikipedia are not-for-profit.
I imagine that having a YC-like model applied to not-for-profits might produce some remarkable new startups, maybe even entirely new types of startup.
Any YC partners who wanted to do this could set up a parallel not-for-profit or charity. That organization might benefit from some of the easily scalable benefits of YC (say, providing access to the YC alumni network), but would be independent. It wouldn't even necessarily need to be funded by YC partners - there are foundations which might be interested in partnering with an organization like YC to fund this kind of thing.
Although non-profits has good tax breaks, it's much more difficult to get funding since it's "non-profit", hence no return for the investor capital. Why not try to create a social enterprise instead? You can still get a bit of tax breaks, AND you can earn profits for yourself and investors.
The term "social enterprise" is used in many ways, and doesn't seem to have a clearly accepted legal definition. Without clarification of what you meant, it's difficult for me to comment directly on your suggestion.
However, with that said, I'd just like to emphasize that I'm certainly not criticising for-profits. I'm saying not-for-profits are different, and have a whole different set of advantages and disadvantages than for-profit enterprises.
That's certainly true. Many models of social enterprises exist and some of them are no more of a regular business that so happens to deal with "social" issues.
I guess the point I was making is that the advantages that a non-profit has ultimately (feel free to correct me, or add new ideas that I neglected) are a) tax incentives, b) helping the world or altruism, and c) zero or very low price for the goods and services offered for most of the customers. Having never really worked in the non-profit sector, aside from working during my years in college, those are the only benefit that I can generalize for non-profits. Both a) and c) can be replicated in for-profit firms. And social enterprise, depending on the sector that it's in, can capture b) as well to an certain extent. Hence as long as the people running the company has the right attitude and has good goals, running a non-profit really isn't necessary.
What were the advantages you were thinking of? I would be very interested to hear your take on it.
One of the things I have heard a lot of founders say when asked if they are considering doing YC is that they are already "down the road" with their company - as in, they have already launched, or have customers, or investor attention.
I know dozens of startups that went through YC at this stage, and they will all reiterate how beneficial YC was for them.
If you're running a startup I really cannot think of a singular reason as to why you wouldn't apply. (the biggest testament to this is probably the YC alumni doing YC again with their new company.)
I question what reasons someone would have to be unwilling to move to the Bay Area for 3 months given the amount of founders that claim that YC was the tipping point for their companies.
OK, just to give one example... my co-founder is married, and her husband is in graduate school. So either he'd have to interrupt his education to come with her, or he'd have to accept her running off to the opposite side of the country for three months, chasing a dream that he might or might not be fully sold on. We honestly haven't had the discussion yet, but my gut feeling is that this would be a very hard sell. And YC make it clear that they expect all (or at least a majority) of the co-founders to make the trip.
Also, we have a local incubator (Triangle Startup Factory) that is (potentially) an option for us, which would not require any relocation at all.
Given that, it's not exactly a "no brainer" to apply to YC. I'm not saying we won't do it (either now or in a future cycle) but it's not necessarily an easy decision.
Yes, life is all about tradeoffs. And I'm not saying we won't ultimately apply... all I'm saying is that it's not necessarily the easy decision some people seem to think it is. Especially for the people who aren't part of the "just out of college, single, no family, few commitments" scene.
I'd like to do YC myself, and being single (although not "just out of college") it would be pretty easy for me to do. But my cofounder has a say in this as well, and I have to respect her position.
Anyway, I was just giving one example of a situation where the decision is a bit complicated.
Your business being based on strong personal relationships with people/businesses local to you is the first one off the top of my head. Strong geographical ties (family, etc) of the founders/employees is second.
YC probably wouldn't be interested in funding such a startup, and rightly so for them. But there's loads of startups that aren't YC's niche, all of them swept away by your statement I quoted.
YC is not for founders who like to go their own route, who like to figure stuff out on their own, even if it takes more time and is more risky. If you have too much handed to you, you will not learn as much as you would from your mistakes. Also, just based on HN there seems to be an awful lot of groupthink around YC (not the partners I'm sure), which is annoying to lone-wolf types.
Btw. I think your "tipping point" statement has a lot of survivor bias. Was it a tipping point for the ones that ended up going nowhere? Well, not, by definition. And for the ones that did and raised a series A, yes of course it was, but so is raising a series A without YC.
I'm not sure if we should apply. We already did three times and were rejected. It kind of put us off psychologically, because we really felt we matched what YCombinator says they look for. This is from last year:
Since then, we have raised a little over $100k in our first round, increased our team, and got 20,000 people using us daily out of 200k (lifetime) installs. We applied and explained everything -- but again just got a form letter a couple months later.
So now we are up to 40k daily users, and out of 600k installs, about 200k people keep our apps and use them (just not daily). We are about to generate profit. We are talking to investors about a 5mil pre money valuation. I am wondering what is the point of applying to YC again ... can anyone who has been in a similar situation tell me what your experience was?
Going through YC was an incredible experience and even just going through the application process really forced our team to answer a lot of important questions for our business. If you want to do a startup and are in a position to give it your all - it could only help your chances of success to apply.
As a YC reject, I can only say the same. I'm convinced that just going in for interviews to was the best thing that happened to us. Our original idea wasn't going to work and making the trip to California opened our eyes.
So if you're wondering whether you should apply, the answer is yes. Even (especially?) if you get rejected.
We're sorry to say we couldn't accept your proposal for funding.
Please don't take it personally. The applications we receive get
better every funding cycle, and since there's a limit on the number
of startups we can interview in person, we had to turn away a lot
of genuinely promising groups.
Another reason you shouldn't take this personally is that we know
we make lots of mistakes. It's alarming how often the last group
to make it over the threshold for interviews ends up being one that
we fund. That means there are surely other good groups that fall
just below the threshold and that we miss even interviewing.
We're trying to get better at this, but it's practically certain
that groups we rejected will go on to create successful startups.
If you do, we'd appreciate it if you'd send us an email telling us
about it; we want to learn from our mistakes.
They write an extremely nice rejection letter, stating that even they make mistakes, they turn away a lot of promising people, and that they are trying to get better at this every funding cycle. (been rejected twice) However if you are creating a startup just to get into ycombinator you should not be doing a startup.
But the value of YourCompany today is (for any 'big idea') something like P(small)*Size(idea).
The trick of accepting the dilution of YC is to make estimates of whether the idea could 7% become larger/better. Or (more easy to understand) whether the effect of YC on all the components of P(small) could accumulate to more than 7% of P(small).
If your probability of success increases as a function of your investors, for instance, YC easily earns its 7% just due to pure signalling effect. If you're looking to get better hires, then the YC seal-of-approval could easily elevate you into the 'A-Class' of hires that everyone insists makes the difference. Of course, there are a lot of other factors : but scoring a total of +7% on them overall is all that should determine whether to choose a place with YC (supposing that you've been accepted).
My potential co-founder is currently here (S.F.) on an H1B visa and it will be a year or two before he receives a green card. Does this rule him out as a co-founder? We've been investigating the options but so far a definitive answer has eluded us. I'm hoping someone here has dealt with this situation before and can enlighten us.
H1B is tied to a single company and if your potential co-founder switches to your newly formed company he has to get his H1B transfered. There are also many implications with regards to the green card process as it is tied to the sponsoring company. In short, talk to a lawyer before getting started!
I'm curious to know the financial situations of those who apply to YC. You don't have to give specifics, but has anyone gone through YC with a lot of school debt? (>$20k, >$40k?) How did you manage this?
For those who haven't gone through YC but do have a lot of school debt or otherwise, how do you think you'll manage?
Startups are a lot harder for people with debt/no savings/kids/mortgages/etc, but there are plenty of cases where resourceful people found a way to make it work.
When you have debt and a huge-but-not-immediately lucrative opportunity in front of you, I imagine you'll manage like entrepreneurs have for centuries. Sleep on couches, eat ramen, rack up some more debt (credit cards?), dodge or persuade your creditors, etc... And hope that it works out.
I would advise to exhaust every possible better source of debt before turning to credit cards. Compound interest on your average credit card rate is brutal, and entrepreneurs going through high uncertainty shouldn't fall for the time-bomb promotional offers.
I'd be interested to hear this, too. Also outside of the context of applying for an incubator, even- the general idea (as far as I can see) is to work for as little as possible, keeping cash in the company. Sensible, but I live in New York, and rent/food isn't cheap. I've been wondering to myself how I would balance that- I have savings, but not a ton.
There are lots of people with great ideas and products out there who are not able to just up and quit jobs and move somewhere for months on end. It would be nice to see an option for people like this. Not everyone is single college student, what about established tech professionals with houses and mortgages, or even a family.
I agree with this in concept, but that doesn't mean that YC must fill that niche. Along those lines, it would be nice if there was a good system for getting hired as an employee (not co-founder) of an early stage startup (and not just in SF).
Could not agree more with both the need for funding options for those without the financial resources to be without income for long periods of time (hence need to get funding to support living and development full-time), as well as need for those willing to be early stage employees to meet those looking for them. Bonus points if the latter focuses on solving issues of working remote.
This is exactly one good reason for the emergence of additional geo-centric incubators / accelerators. I know that, in my own case, it would probably be a tough sell for my co-founders to up and move to CA for three months, since they are both married and have additional commitments that I don't.
But, luckily, there is Triangle Startup Factory, which has just re-opened and has funding for at least a few cycles over the next couple of years. This works because we could stay here if we are accepted.
Anyway, the point being, YC isn't the only game in town, especially if "town" is somewhere other than the Valley. Of course not every town has an incubator, but hopefully more will continue to emerge over time and spread the opportunity around a bit...
We're in the current cycle and I'm personally willing to help with applications, but only those who are hyper motivated and are willing to help themselves. Couldn't say enough good things about people behind YC. We feel lucky to be a part of such a wonderful community. Our startup is health focused and I feel that's the area I can help with the most.
I'm extremely interesting in applying for this summer. The only problem is that I'm still in Cegep (a two-year college for Quebec students before they go to university - I'm 17) and so if ever I get chosen, I still have one more year remaining to complete my program (International Baccalaureate in Pure & Applied Science).
I don't think I would drop it, because I ultimately intend to go in computer science at Stanford. Therefore, I would have to leave the Bay Area at the end of August in order to move back in Quebec and stay there during the year and come back in the summer when I'm finish my program.
I would still have time to work on my startup during the year, but at a much lower pace (2-3 hours each night and 8-12 hours on weekends). The other guy on my team (he's 17 too) is in a much less intensive program then me and he could continue working almost full-time on the startup.
But I'm the only one writing code. My co-founder (who's currently studying in Business Management) will be working on the marketing (posting on the blog, making videos showcasing the app, posters in schools and other places, talking with other companies so that they use our app, etc.) I also have a graphic designer that will not be directly involve in the startup but that will do my logo and help me design icons, textures, etc.
Without even knowing anything about my idea (I can tell you though that even if I'm the only technical founder, it's not an overwhelmingly complex app and I am confident that I could manage the coding alone. Our first goal is to get as much users as possible so I think it's appropriate that my co-founder will be more focusing on marketing the app), because really I don't want to be chosen for my idea but rather for my team (I've got this interesting idea that I want to work on, and I like it because I would actually use the app, and actually, I’ve got a bunch of startup ideas (I’m the kind of guy that always has tons of projects going on and new ideas in mind: I want to code apps, make movies and crazy edits, learn new monologues by heart, run marathons, travel around the world and learn new things!), but this particular one is not too complex to implement, yet if it turns out that I choose to do a completely different project, then so be it! Anyway, I don’t think the idea I apply with matters that much (but it ought to be good obviously), because anybody could apply to YC with a similar idea and develop a similar app. But would they really be as much passionate as us about the app and as much caring about the users, would they achieve to convince companies of using it, would they convince people of using it? I know we would. My point is that I’m expecting to be chosen a lot more because of my team than because of my idea. (If you're interested to know what my app is though, email me (email@example.com) or skype with me (francisbrunelle)). Yet why do I want do be chosen? I want to build useful products and it thrills me that with the internet millions of people could be using them! But what thrills me even more is that if ever I do YC, I would be hanging around with dozens of other developers that are in the same situation as me. I want to discuss and debate about ideas with those developer. It would be an insanely great and enjoyable experience. And that’s exactly why I want to do YC: for the experience.), do you think I have any chance of getting selected? Or should I wait for next summer, when I will have finish my program? The thing though is that I will still continue to go to school (Stanford, MIT, McGill or somewhere), so again I will have the same problem as the one I have right now.
I truly enjoy school but the real reason I want to go in c.s. at Stanford is to meet other c.s. students and start a startup with them. I'm also interested in studying in theatre, so I'm really not dropping school soon. But I don't want to wait after university to finally apply for YC, I feel ready now. The reason I want to go through YC is to meet interesting people, discuss ideas and because I'm sure it would be a tremendous experience. If I don't get chosen, I will still develop my app over the summer, but I just think YC is an outstanding opportunity and that I ought to at least submit an application. I will continue submitting applications every summer until I'm chosen.
P.S. As a developer, I'm not that skilled, but I always manage to figure things out by myself and find a way to do what I want. If I'm stuck, I don't easily give up. Nevertheless, I'm more of an idea guy. I'm currently following tutorials from http://www.raywenderlich.com/store since December in order to get more familiar with the iOS 5 SDK. When I'll finish them, I'll look at the Parse SDK (http://parse.com) and then at the Facebook iOS SDK (https://developers.facebook.com/). I will then code an app similar to FML but it will be called "You know you're in IB when...", IB being the program I'm currently in. I will integrate the Parse SDK and the Facebook iOS SDK in this app. It's a simple app that I want to do for testing purposes and also because I know that my other classmates would actually use it and that motivates me a lot. I will then start working on the real app that I want to do for my startup. My goal is to have a working app with bare minimum features for the end of May so that I have something to show if ever I move to the Bay Area. I'm working toward this goal 2-3 hours everyday and 8-12 hours on weekends.
Well, I'd suggest you apply and see what happens, I mean would you not consider dropping out of CEGEP for a while to see if your idea pans out? I believe that you could still get into an American University without finishing CEGEP(it's probably not the easiest way). Don't take my word for it bu they usually have a few path to get in and they have mature student options, and you do have a high school degree but with just a year less than US students.
You should still be able to get in with that. As for McGill (great place ;p, I work there ;p) you can always finish CEGEP later and get in.
If you are convinced that you are ready to start a company I'd say apply now. You loose nothing.
The thing is, the program I'm currently in, International Baccalaureate, is a program that I must absolutely complete in two years. The special thing about this program is that we are the same group for every class (we started 40 now we're 28). If I drop/fail a course, I'm out. And I then need to go in regular science. If ever I were to be selected for YC, the choice would be quite hard, because I really enjoy my program, I'm fond of the other students and I appreciate the teachers a lot. And I also fear that I won't go back to school if I enter the startup world.
At least, I'd like to finish my program and then maybe take a break from school to focus on my startup. My program requires a lot of effort, it's considerably more challenging than regular science, and I just don't see myself dropping it when I'll be halfway through it, but still there's a lot of chance I would - it's 50/50. I'm constantly debating in my head whether I should drop or stay, but I guess I'll wait to see if I'm selected for YC to make a final decision. Ultimately, I feel I would drop my program, because YC is such an amazing opportunity and also because I have a very good co-founder who is a long-time friend of mine. He would definitely succeed in convincing me :P And as you said, I loose nothing if I just apply.
I'm curious why YC likes 2-3 founders over 4-5. Do more people = more potential for internal drama? Or are larger groups more resistant to changing on the fly? I would think that 4-5 talented go-getters would be better than 2-3.
Empirically big groups do noticeably worse. I'm not 100% sure why, but my guess is that the problem is not with big groups per se, but what having a lot of cofounders says about the founders. I think when a startup has a lot of founders, it's often because the founders are afraid of starting a company, and thus recruit everyone they know to be in it with them.
Another theory I've heard is that a startup does as well as its worst founder, and the bigger the group, the more chance you have someone who's no good.
This is the famous tragedy of the commons problem where where the increase of members participating the in game (in an game theory sense), any individual is more likely to become a freeloader and hence less likely to put the optimal labor.
The fundamental problem comes from a form of information asymmetry where any individual is not able to assess the amount of labor placed by other members. If a project is run by 5 people and requires labor input of 5L, an optimal allocation of be L from each person. However, because each person does not know how much labor other people are placing into the project, they assume that others might put more than L, or the total labor from others are 5L-x where x<L. Hence the person in question only puts x amount of labor in the project. Alas, if everybody thinks in the same way, we only have 5x, which is far less than the required 5L. Unless all 5 people are together at all times, there are bound to be information asymmetry, and it is just much easier to manage with fewer people, in the case of 2-3.
The application links are a special type that don't expire for day, so this should not be happening. But I know of course that should not doesn't mean does not. Is anyone else seeing expired links when saving their application? I can't reproduce it myself.
Now that YC has gotten bigger (=more competitive), does an application without a prototype still have a shot? I'm incredibly paranoid about getting exposed to IP-related problems (working for a large corp and not in California). I suspect a few other people are in the same situation.
The sad thing is that when I think about it, I wouldn't fund someone without a prototype (if the roles were reversed). It is only when you build something do you realize if the materialized idea has any wings. Quite the mess I'm in :(
Yes, of course. We care more about the founders (both individually and their relationship) than the idea.
Incidentally, YC hasn't gotten as much more competitive as you might think, because we've grown as the number of applications has. We consistently end up funding about 3% of applications. Not as a conscious strategy; it just always works out to about that. Applying to YC has grown somewhat more competitive though, because the top 3% keep getting better as we get better known.
Related to that, I have a question that's been bugging me:
If the application is assessed primarily on the founders, is it really worth failed applicants applying again? Speaking as someone who has applied (and failed, with cause!) twice relatively recently, and as an experienced 14 year 'veteran' of web technology, I can't say that my experience, skills or business-savvy have drastically changed since the application from 6 months ago.
As there's (understandably) no feedback for previous rejections (e.g. "Your idea sucks" vs "Your founders suck"), it's difficult to tell whether it's a waste of time to apply again. (Having said all that, we will of course be applying again anyway!)
We seem to get more and more who have. It hurts your chances slightly, but we wouldn't turn down a company just for that.
There are a whole bunch of things in that category (being a single founder, cofounders who won't quit their jobs, still being in school, etc). We wouldn't reject an application for having just one of these qualities, but when an application has several it starts to tip the balance to no.
I wonder about this too. I just noticed that our idea fits RFS #2 pretty well. I wonder if #2 is played out? It's certainly not as general as RFS #9, and I assume many have given this one a shot. On the other hand, most of these RFSs could probably stand relevant for years to come with multiple and varying startups able to satisfy the request.
I would like to apply but I feel stumped. I have a bunch of ideas and I'm a very resourceful and personally developed person (heh) with a big network of useful contacts / potential cofounders, but I don't know how to translate that into a compelling pitch.
Someone should start a business that writes these applications for you. :p
Hey YCombers.. regarding RFS #9 it explicitly mentions SOPA and related topics but only in the context of Hollywood and not music. Do you think a music play that that addresses copyright issues would be of any interest?
We're applying anyway so it doesn't matter, I'm just wondering if we can say we are responding to RFS #9 :)
You have to be there when the program runs. That is a criteria. Otherwise, location should not be a problem, I know of at least one startup here from India with India based co-founders who was part of the program.
Does it matter how early you apply? We'd like to have a working product to show before applying, and could have it before the deadline—but might it be better to apply earlier while we're still in the concept & design stage?
I have been rejected 4 times and each time I learned things.
socialadmanager.com - 2x it was that my product lacked focus and the value it created was as obvious as I thought it was.
spotted.at - 1x I learned that even if I had been funded I would have failed because the product was simply not something that people would pay for.
i.crowdfunded.it - 1x I learned that I did not understand the customer / market etc... enough to complete the YC App.
The biggest lesson is that I (a single founder) have tunnel vision. If I had a co-founder it would have been easier to see all of these problems because I would have had another perspective.
I am applying this cycle and even though I won't get in I don't see it as a rejection. Instead I see it as a way to ask some of the smartest people around if they would/would not use my product and if I am articulating my value prop in a clear and concise manner.
The product I am applying with this cycle has paying users and is complete VS previous years where I just had working prototypes so the thing I am really looking forward to this time is hearing what they think of my product. I have stopped caring if I get in or not.
My team of 8 eminent scientists are going to caffeinate tomatoes. We calculate, that among the YC classes alone, there is a $1 million market for tomatoes and a $5 million market for caffeine. We're going to be crazy profitable.