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Show HN: I wrote a guidebook on everything I know about applying to Y Combinator (guidetoyc.com)
177 points by jasonshen 2110 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 53 comments

I noticed a few mistakes. I only skimmed this, so there may be more, but these were the obvious ones:

1. "Y Combinator invests 5k + 5k per founder in exchange for 6-10% equity."

Should be 11k + 3k per founder in exchange for 2-10% (but almost always 7%).

2. "According to PG, every partner reads every app over a period of about 10 days."

The partners no longer read every application. Alumni reviewers do a first pass. Better to start from the fact that a partner reading applications will read 70-100 per day, and do the math based on that.

3. "Oh god yes, we think of ourselves as just utterly terrible at picking these terms."

The "terms" must be some kind of transcription error. Teams?

4. "They truly would love to have every single company they fund be a "winner" even if there weren’t as many mega companies."

This is the exact opposite of what we think. We're looking for outliers. That's why we like to fund crazy ideas. There's nothing we like better than funding an idea that has a small chance of succeeding, but will be huge if it does.

Of course, once we accept a startup, we want it to succeed. But that is a separate question.

5. "The unofficial YC slogan is "Make something people want.""

That's the official slogan. (The unofficial one is "Never a dull moment," referring to the fact that with so many startups there is always something extreme happening on any given day.)

6. "My thoughts on the demo are actually that it doesn’t play a major role in YC’s decision."

The demo can matter a lot. It depends on the type of startup. If you're in a situation where you ought to have something to show for your work so far, it's bad not to. And no matter what your situation, it helps greatly if you have a great demo.

7. "Make sure you try your hardest to get some recommendations."

Actually it would be better to expend that effort on your company or the application. Don't spend a lot of time spamming YC alumni trying to collect recommendations. They don't carry any weight with us unless they are very strong. We can tell the difference between a recommendation that's being made for our sake (because the alum thinks it would damaging for us to overlook the application), and one that's being made for the sake of the applicant (e.g. because the alum is benevolent and they begged him to recommend them).

8. "PG has started to re-imagine YC as an institution."

It would be more accurate to say that I've started to talk openly about such things. The imagining started surprisingly early.

One point which I really was hoping to see covered in the OP article was timing.

Timing as to when to apply based on your startup's current roadmap.

We've been working on our startup for several months, will be ready to "pre-launch" beta right around the time we submit our application.

This leaves us in somewhat of a schism. A lot of discussions that I have briefly had with other entrepreneurs mention that they have either:

A) Just come up with an idea and are in the beginning development stage; or

B) Are already launched and are starting to pick up solid traction.

We are going to be in the middle of this, and will be starting to "pre-launch" at the beginning of next month with a solid MVP. So we would actually have quite a lot to show you in this application.

And then secondly, when it comes to the application, what do you prefer, direct links with logins to a live demo, or a 2-3 minute demo video of our startup discussing how we will plan to penetrate the market with our application.

I have a related question, though at a more micro scale: how early should we submit our application for the summer 2012 class?

The application page says that "Groups that submit early have a significant advantage because we have more time to read their applications." It also says we can edit and resubmit as often as we like. Based on this, we'd be inclined to submit as soon as we've completed all parts of the application to our own minimum standard of satisfaction, then update as needed.

However, I've seen pg say in another HN thread that YC does not reread applications when they are resubmitted, "so submit when you're ready for us to read it the only time we'll read it."

I perceive the trade-off to be that the earlier we submit, the more time YC partners have to read our application and engage with us, but the less time we have to improve the application itself before submitting (better demo, more up-to-date answers, etc). Do pg and the alumni have any advice on this question?

I realize the answer may end up being "you will need to evaluate that tradeoff and decide for yourself."

You will need to evaluate that tradeoff and decide for yourself.

Timing doesn't matter to us. Timing matters more as you talk to successively later stage investors. E.g. it matters more for series B rounds than A rounds. It doesn't matter at all when you're applying to YC.

For the demo we greatly prefer a link to the actual thing.

Timing doesn't matter to us.

Why is that?

How much does it matter for a large ($0.5-2MM) angel round?

We care mostly about the founders.

Timing matters for $2 million. It matters for $500k if you're unknown, but possibly not if you're not.

Thanks so much! This is really helpful. I have WP Super Cache installed but realized it wasn't turned on. Just did that so hopefully this helps!

Cloudflare is good for these moments as well.

"Your idea is not original"

And if it is? I think I'm the only one building a weather network with cell phone sensors :).

I used to work in the Notional Weather Center in Norman, OK. I assure you, you're not the only one who's worked on this, or had the idea :)

Having worked on projects with granular geo and weather data before, make sure you validate your monetezation strategy with this early and often. You'd be surprised at how little big weather firms and "typical" weather data users don't care about the specificity and accuracy you provide. But, you'd also be surprised that there's a lot of valuable niches for weather data that you wouldn't normally pursue.

Specifically, I'm collecting barometer readings from Android devices - I currently receive about 10,000 measurements per day. I've been planning on monitizing by providing better short-term prediction using nowcasting techniques with radar imagery combined with the barometer network.

This seems like it could work to me, as there are other startups working on the nowcasting idea (Dark Sky, for one) and I haven't found anyone with a similar custom-built barometer network yet.

Does this sound like a plausible strategy to you? I've had only minimal advice from meteorologists/atmospheric scientists (though I'm starting to make some contacts) so I'd appreciate any advice you can give.

Sounds pretty cool, actually. You may want to reach out to specialized/boutique weather data firms and broker a supplier deal. There are larger weather companies out there that would love to aggregate your stuff to improve their current offerings (kind of a whole being greater than the sum of the parts model). I wouldn't try to go strike a deal with, say, power companies or insurers or whomever the end user may be. By itself, your data may not be very valuable, and these larger companies likely already own the relationships that would take you a long time to forge.

But, if any when you are sitting down with these companies, be smart in the contract signings. I know a few meteorologists who got their early cash flow from supplying data, but they negotiated a bad contract and it was a rough experience. I've also heard some stories of great relationships that led to exits, so each company is different.

There's at least three companies doing that in London alone (one's a weather agency the other two are startups)

Would you care to provide more information? I'd love to know more, but I don't see anyone else doing this. Maybe I'm searching poorly? I'm collecting barometer readings, and I'm been search for others doing the same thing for about 12-15 months now without luck. Any help would be appreciated.

I'll see if I can track them down, one of the startups I just met at some random event, but the other I saw pitching at a pitching event (flagon's den) so I can probably find them again.

This is what I'm talking about.

Haha! However, I built and released pressureNET (my Android-powered barometer network) a couple of months before you wrote that blog post, so....perhaps you are the thief!

Let's agree to agree that we both have massive wangs of creativity :)

what kind of sensors you want to use?

I am using the barometers in the galaxy nexus and the other phones. We have a couple thousand users submitting to pressureNET (free on the Android market) so far. Expanding as fast as we can!

did you think that you can measure such weather params as air humidity or rainfalls/snowfalls by how they affect signal strength between fixed transmitters/receivers (e.g. cell signal strength to handset when it is stationary at home at night? :) just my 5 cents

I'm starting to wonder if being a VC-backed company in the post YCombinator era puts you at a serious disadvantage by not being in the yc network...

Isn't that the Evil Plan! Muahahaha.

Seriously, PG and crew have done an amazing job at positioning themselves to effectively own 6%+ of every tech win that will come along.

Although, I had posed the question previously about YC cloning itself to provide a focus on a vertical (i.e. Health) but PG replied that they were going to stay broadly focused.

Then Rockhealth created a healthcare focused YC clone. I think that is one opportunity YC missed...

Oh man, is it crashing already?

It looks like you are using wordpress, and doing DB hits on every pageload. The easiest thing you might do to get things working again would be to install a caching engine, which will serve static files.


It's BlueHost, right? Not surprised :P If you want somewhere else to host it, I have a lot of extra room on one of my servers.

I couldn't connect without getting database errors.

Am I reading this wrong or is the math on page 3 off by an order of magnitude?

If this is true: "every partner reads every app over a period of about 10 days" and there are "2000+ applications", then each parter would be reading 200 applications per day, not 20. That means you have 2 minutes to catch their attention, not 20 minutes. This only further supports the message of that page - impress fast.

Great catch! When the traffic dies down a little, I will be updating the text accordingly:

According to PG, every partner reads every app over a period of about 10 days. Assuming an 8 hour day with 5 minute breaks each hour means each app gets about 2 minutes of each partners time on average. (440mins per day / 200 apps per day = 2.2 mins per app)

Deadline is in less than two weeks - if you are thinking about applying, I hope you find this valuable. YC was a phenomenal experience and I wrote this guide as a way to give back to the community.

The deadline is Mar 28, which by my calculation is a little over 3 weeks. Am I missing something?

Your guide was good. Number 4 "Team" caught my attention the most. A solid team is vital to any endeavor. So it can't be stressed enough who you choose to work with, needs to be self-motivated.

Get W3TotalCache installed, and serve a cached static page.

Thanks. I have WP Super Cache installed but realized it wasn't turned on. Just did that so hopefully this helps!

11 separate pages, with a landing page to get to the 11 separate pages? That seems a little excessive, especially considering the low content of each page.

Sorry to make you click so much - I set it up in a chapter model partly to help me keep track of everything. I think next time, I would make a single page with quick links to various sections. Lesson learned!

Great guide! Was a good refresher for me and I could probably add to it (which probably means I've done too much research).

Now back to hacking on our alpha.

I got to read some, but not all. Looking forward to read up on the rest when you get your hosting in check.

"I’m nontechnical" - your cofounder was technical then?

I have two cofounders: Kalvin Wang and Randy Pang, both CS majors with startup engineering experience.

Ah gotcha. "I’m nontechnical but happened to have two technical friends and roommates who both worked at startups." doesn't say that they joined you at the incubator. :)

And yes, lucky indeed. I'm going to be traveling this summer some in hopes of finding one or multiple technical cofounders. Already have the idea well-planned out. They'll work, just need to get the tech cofounders so investors will even take a look.

I looked at your blog and saw that you are in Kingston. There are techies here too, so you might not even have to travel much :)

Hmm.. lies! :P I've actually not really had any luck finding any. I must be looking in the wrong places. Want to grab a tea/coffee? :)

Sure, send me an email. Address in profile.

Cool. Sent. :) Let me know if you find it..

I think this guidebook would be a great test case for gumroad (new payment platform for content). In case you are looking for an easy way for people to pay for the PDF...

Thanks for the guide Jason. Helpful!

Did I just get trolled? "Error establishing a database connection"

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