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Dear Y Combinator, we bet you we can solve a problem of yours in 72 hours. (seedlauncher.com)
194 points by littlegiantcap on April 3, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 155 comments

Life skill for you: putting a message into a bottle and then flinging it onto the Internet could get it read, but that isn't the way to bet.

Here's a hypothetical for you: how many people do you think have social permission to contact a YC partner and say "X is awesome and deserves a look." I'd ballpark that in the hundreds to low thousand range. Many of them are accessible on the Internets and less overwhelmed with suitors than the YC partners are. How about solving a meaningful problem for one of them and having the next application say "We built a $WHATEVER for $SOMEONE which increased their customer base by 10%, like they told you over email earlier."

P.S. This advice had wide application beyond YC and beyond "applications." Indeed, part of me thinks that applications (in general) are a backup filtering mechanism for people who haven't figured out a more effective way to get what they want yet.

> applications (in general) are a backup filtering mechanism for people who haven't figured out a more effective way to get what they want yet.

It blows me away how many people don't get this.

The flipside is that there are a surprising number of organizations with lots of money that haven't figured out a better way of distributing it, so applications can still be a good way of getting funds. One of my acquaintances, for example, just got $100k in seed funding (with no equity in return) entirely based on a 15-page application sent to a funding body, having had no previous contact with the funder.

Having painstakingly gone through the process of writing 35 page Grant Proposals for a hospital and getting funding from the government on all three occasions, I can assure you that the application process was just a formality and legal requirement.

The funding came through because the grantor had a relationship with the department heads that received the funds.

Obviously, you need to meet the required criteria, and a perfectly crafted application is a requirement, but all things being equal it boils down to relationships.

I've also done that several times; it really depends on the funder. In a surprising number of cases, the funder has wound up with a pile of money and not enough contacts with relevant people, so they really do choose people out of the applicant pool. It can also vary by country. In Europe, for example, how much relationships matter seems to vary north-to-south. In southern Europe it is pretty much 100% about relationships.

Perhaps in reaction to what's perceived as southern-European corruption, in Scandinavia there is substantial pressure on funders to make their decisions based on the official application process. There's a worry that "contacts" means your old grad-school buddy, someone you know from a sports club or weekly board-game get-together, etc., as opposed to scientific merit. There's also (what seems to me, as a foreigner) a strong worry that the process shouldn't be perceived as a sham, which means that at least some proportion of the funds have to be doled out according to the official application route, to prove to everyone that the system works like it says it does. In practice that ethos is upheld at some places more than others, of course, but in some circumstances you really can just apply and get money.

The only difference between north and south in this case is that they are more open about it south.

> One of my acquaintances, for example, just got $100k in seed funding (with no equity in return)

One of my distant relatives won the lottery.

Dear lord, I'd love to know who this funder is.

The government most likely. There are several places in this world where startups, and businesses in general, almost drown in free money like this. The downside to this is that in order to get this free money, you first have to go through a senseless amount of paperwork, bureaucracy and bullshit. But, to be honest, it's a small price to pay for what you get.

Northern Ireland for example is a startup paradise. InvestNI, the government body in charge of giving away free money, recently had to give back a whooping £39m (that's $62m!) because it couldn't find enough businesses to give the money to quickly enough.

Sadly, many entrepreneurs in these places have never experienced what doing a startup in the "real-world" is like and they don't realise what an incredibly competitive advantage these grants give them. So instead of leveraging this opportunity, many spend most of their time whining and complaining about the paperwork and bureaucracy involved.

Northern Ireland for example is a startup paradise.

I can confirm this. One of the guys on my team has contacts in InvestNI and I'm told that they want and need to give money away or else they won't get as much for their budget next year, so its really easy to get free money off them.

In the case of my country's government (or Chile's), you can get a grant for your startup without having prior contact.

However, in my country at least, I do know they give more weight to applications from people they know (I don't know how, the others might get processed later or whatever, or they skew in their favor).

So, you might get funded without contacts, but it's less likely (I guess you have to be outstanding in some sense, either killer business plan or credentials).

Not sure what you guys mean.

For example, I don't think of YC as a way of getting funding, but as a way of getting things done well, thank to the possibly unbeatable amount of white board advice from so many good people that it's very hard to get otherwise.

You can have a great idea, have a great team and even have good money, but you could still make a mistake in choosing one of the key strategies of your product.

I, for example, think that YC is perfect at trying to avoid making this kind of mistakes and helping you make your idea stronger.


This explains our dilemma. Frankly, we are a bunch of "nobodies" in the middle of Iowa. We don't know any Y Combinator Alums, and even if we were to reach out the best we could hope for is a lukewarm they seemed "nice". We have a lot of drive and are trying to prove ourselves any way possible. That's what we're trying to do with this post.

Step back from this conversation for a second and reread this, pretending it was from someone you don't know. Does this person who wrote this post sound like a winner who is going to make the next Dropbox? That's who YC wants in their next class. Be the winner who is going to make the next Dropbox.

There is nothing wrong with making affirmative efforts to sound like a winner. This is a skill which will take you far in life. I suggest working on it.

With specific reference to you being in Iowa: howdy! I live in a rice field in Central Japan. I work that into speeches frequently, often as part of a self-deprecating joke. I probably overuse self-deprecating jokes if I'm being totally honest with myself, but when I use them, the idea is not to convey "I'm not as competent as all you cool kids from the Valley who paid good money to hear me talk today", it is close to exactly the opposite of that.

You say you don't know any YCombinator alums. Is knowing YCombinator alums a priority to you? Winners routinely achieve their priorities by taking the basic, obvious steps for achieving them. There's a series of tubes between central Iowa and every YCombinator alum. There's also planes which regularly fly between Iowa and Silicon Valley. (I am totally serious.)

You may be inclined to state reasons why YC alums (or anybody else whose cooperation would be valuable) would not want to talk to you. How about you just don't state those reasons and instead wait to hear them from the horses' mouths instead? Better still, how about instead coming with reasons why they would of course want to talk to you, because you're building things that will solve identifiable problems for them?

I just wanted to say you've brought up some good points and given us some things to consider. That being said, I would think that someone who had the guts to throw themselves out there and say let us prove that we're worth your time is the kind of guy who could make the next Dropbox. This may seem like a cheap stunt to a lot of the people on here, but we're just trying to prove that we're more than our credentials and we're worth a shot.

I think it takes more guts to do what patio11 says.

If you look at business as if it was dating, this just makes you seem needy; while getting an introduction through a mutual contact is always a better way to go...

"I would think that someone who had the guts to throw themselves out there and say let us prove that we're worth your time"

The problem is what you are trying to do lacks creativity and originality. And without that I would question whether you could in fact build the next "dropbox".

This made me chuckle. Dropbox was one of the least creative or original startups I know. But it was born out an immediate unfulfilled need and a subsequent deep fury, and then executed and refined insanely. Before and since Dropbox there have been many, many attempts to fill this space, but their execution has been phenomenal.

Dropbox's success is in their creativity in solving a problem. (the execution). Here the issue is getting into YC (which by the way I question the entire idea of thinking that is an end in itself - but that's a separate issue). If that is the goal though, someone can put more effort into simply saying "I'm good look at me and let me prove it". How they say that isn't relevant either (putting up a billboard for example..)

Effort doesn't mean doing obvious things either. Simply doing the things that anyone can think of don't count and show creative initiative. Part of the problem is of course that newbies don't know what is "obvious" and tried before in varying degrees.

A business, startup or not, is not a solution to a problem (that's called a product). It is a series of solutions to a series of problems. As some of these problems are caused by the aforementioned solutions, it's important to be able to spot problems, and select the problems to solve, to continue the series. When the series stops, the business stops, even if the solutions live on.

What you're saying here is that you want someone to believe you can maintain such a series of problems and solutions, _without_ the ability to spot or select problems.

Exactly, "come at me bro" is a position of ridicule for good reason

I am going to go against the grain here and say I like what you did. Whether it works or not depends on the personalities and mood of the targets, of course, but it's different and counts for something in my book.

Of course, you should be mindful of the pressures from YCombinator. If they accept your challenge, they will have to either (1) do it in such a way that there aren't a lot of copycats; or (2) if it is wildly successful (they discover you, the group that builds, not the next dropbox, and not the next facebook, but the first dropface), they'll try to find a way to incorporate it into their business waters.

YCombinator is breaking new ground and trying different things. I think this was worth a shot. Maybe a "team challenge" will become part of the interview process eventually.

Patrick is right: networking your way in can be better. But it can also fail. Having a network connection can sometimes get you a courtesy audience, but it may do so in a way that is done as a favor to someone rather than someone who is actually excited about meeting you. It also can take a lot of time to build that network, at least if you do it organically. Indeed, most of us are on the lookout for the sniveling idiots whose only function in life seems to be to network. In the early part of the century a lot of folks thought that was a good idea. However, we quickly learned that most of the good people were working, not networking.

Besides, if this doesn't work you can always try networking.

Better still, how about instead coming with reasons why they would of course want to talk to you, because you're building things that will solve identifiable problems for them?


Getting into YC isn't the goal here... having a successful company/product is. I would try to just build something that solves a pain point for you. If you want to prove yourself based on what you can build in 72 hours, then pick something and do it[1]. That will get you more consideration than something like this.

[1] But, I'm not a fan of "look what we built in 72 hours" types of projects, so you may want to just try to build your product.

This is really the key here. It doesn't matter where you are from. What matters is what you can do (or, in the case of proving to people that you are competent, what you have done).

Do some small thing well to show that you have a chance at doing something bigger just as well.

This is how life works, not just startups.

Let me share my experience. Last year I decided to apply to YC with a project I had been working on for a while with a couple of friends. We were nobodies (from Colombia (South America)) and knew no one related to YC. We decided to get a decent demo of our product, wrote to 15-20 YC alumni to try and get some feedback. About 8 replied back and from those we got one to write a recommendation to the YC crew. We still don't know if that helped or not but we ended up getting an interview with the partners (who showed some interest in our idea). We totally blew the pre-interview talk with Harj on Skype.

Sadly, we were told that due to legal issues they had decided not to fund us (and we had to close shop a couple of months later due to these specific problems). If a group of three colombians with a not-so-great demo could make it, I don't see why you guys wouldn't be able to!

'''We don't know any Y Combinator Alums, and even if we were to reach out the best we could hope for is a lukewarm they seemed "nice".'''

'''We have a lot of drive'''

Somehow these statements seem contradictory... and I'd be taking a hard look at your "business guy" right now if he can't even start by at least attempting a little networking...

That would be me. :) The thing is I'm finding cold emails aren't generally well received, if they are even answered at all. We'd go to more networking events and the like but most are on the coast and plane tickets are expensive. We're building up a strong network here in Iowa. What I was referring too was Y Combinator specific people. So we do what we can with where we're at. Not that I'm complaining because im really not, all I'm saying is from our current position, it's difficult (but definitely not impossible) to build strong relationships with Y Combinator alums.

Keep trying. This post raises all sorts of questions from my end.

How many of these cold emails have you sent? To what extent have you varied the copy in those emails? Are you just asking for something, or are you offering something as well? Have you gotten advice from other successful hustlers (concretely, talk to some seed stage founders for hustle ideation; abstractly, read How to Win Friends & Influence People at least once per year) on what you might want to put in the email?

What about non-email channels? Have you gone through Twitter (This is how I've met multiple investors and advisors, totally cold, with no friendly introduction.)? How about crawling toward them meticulously through LinkedIn? How about networking via HN? Have you tried hanging out on relevant IRC channels? Have you contributed to their questions & answers on Quora?

I don't mean to be overly critical here. The OP is a great example of inbound marketing hustle, and I commend you guys for it. Two of the key ingredients in startup success are determination and resourcefulness. Clearly you're resourceful, now crank up the determination a notch. Right now it sounds a bit like you've found good excuses not to keep trying. If you can't land a Skype call with someone who might be able to help you get noticed by YC, what evidence do we have that you're going to land a Skype call with a key distribution partner in six months?

Keep trying. Keep swinging and striking out. You'll see patterns. You'll improve. Eventually, you'll start making contact.

If I were you, I'd be hoping that YC didn't take me up on the offer. The stakes are just too high. You need to work your way up the food chain.

You know what takes savvy and elbow grease? Creating a customer acquisition channel! There are just so many amazing technologies these days for finding people and getting their attention. You could pick a YC company and find a way to generate credible leads or affiliate customers. You could do this with a completely automated, partially automated, or manual solution (like a series of great blog posts). There are all these YC companies who are making new products that replace existing ones. Take a special look at the B2B products. They have limited ability to directly target more than the few most lucrative verticals, but you and your friends are probably intimately familiar with at least one industry that could benefit from a new technology.

Here is where the most critical attribute of a YC-worthy person come in: hustle. It's all out there waiting for you: pick a technology that can help an industry that you understand, and sell that technology to them. Increase their bottom line demonstrably. After you've done this, you'll probably find you're a lot less interested in getting into YC, but they'll be more interested in you.

I see people are giving you lots of grief but I commend you for trying something new to get the attention of YC. In terms of networking, are you sure you're not connected to any YC alum? I live in New Zealand but was able to get introduced by email to 4 via LinkedIn. One YC alum was a college buddy of a friend I made at a rock climbing gym 2 years ago in Virginia. It's a small world. All the YC alum I was introduced to were happy to chat. Get your LI updated with everyone you know and see what second and third connections you have with the keyword YC.

The thing is I'm finding cold emails aren't generally well received, if they are even answered at all.

I'm confident there is at least one YC alum who would respond to your cold email. Stop assuming you can't solve this problem, and solve it.

Leave Iowa.

I was born in Idaho. I've since lived in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco; have built a great network and resume and recently raised a round for my startup.

... but I didn't do it from Idaho and you won't from Iowa.

One word, Dwolla.

It depends on your startup and what it does if iowa is a good choice. Funding isnt easy no matter where you live,congrats!

Have you reached out to the folks at http://www.startupcitydsm.com/ that's a local resource you could tap. Feel free to contact me directly through my profile for an introduction.

re: "Frankly, we are a bunch of 'nobodies' in the middle of Iowa"

"Never say anything about yourself you do not want to come true." Brian Tracy

I have. They're awesome guys. The thing is what I said was not at all a knock against Iowa. I love it here and the people are amazingly helpful and nice. It was more self depreciating humor to the fact that we're realitivley unknown college students.

A good way to stop being a "nobody" is to get your names on your online properties. Twitter handles on your blog posts would be a good thing.

It took way too much effort to track you guys down on angel.co, and even then I don't have twitter handles.

( ps: I'm also hanging out in Iowa, hacking on a startup. Hit me up @collintmiller, maybe we can cook up some ways to remind people this is the state that brought you the computer. )

Yes, please add it to your website. Or even better to your HN profile page.

I'm in Iowa too and I wanted to give you some non-public, very specific (and hopefully helpful) feedback.

jeromy@seedlauncher.com I look forward to hearing from you. :)

You sound a bit like my co-founder: determined, but ultimately thinks very little of themselves.

Stop it.

As that beat-up old Twitter account "ShitMyDadSays" once said: "...Out of your league? Son. Let women figure out why they won't screw you, don't do it for them."

In other words, focus on your problems, hell, list them out. Then make a plan to address each one, and get going. Between the sense of accomplishment you'll get by actually doing something, and the self-confidence of becoming what you think you should be, you create a field of competence around yourself that makes you hard to ignore.

When your life goes from one where you're focusing on your shortcomings to one where you're focusing on your successes, you go from liability to asset, even in your own mind (arguably the most important place).

Regardless whether you get a response from YC or not, I think that what you did is more creative than chasing down a bunch of YC alumni you don't know and getting reluctant recommendations that carry no weight. Good luck!

If you don't live here, and/or have social contacts here, well... do we have to spell it out for you?

Welcome to the snobbery of Silicon Valley.

To clarify, I don't mean this as a knock to Iowa. I love it here, I just wanted to emphasize that connections to Y Combinator alums are hard to come by out here.

There is an article on HN frontpage about "Be Specific (especially during PG's office hours)."


This blog article has virtually no specifics or concreteness, with the exception of "we're from Iowa."

As Patrick mentioned elsewhere, your location is relatively immaterial. Evan Williams (of Blogger / Twitter fame) made it out of Nebraska (my home state, fwiw), so I'm sure you can too.

Agreed. Figuring out a way around the admissions process is the admissions process.

Even if PG gave you such a task, how would that demonstrate anything relevant? You getting a task and a deadline is the opposite of being entrepreneurial; that's called having a job and a boss and showing that you are an adequate or better employee.

Being entrepreneurial involves you

1) generating ideas,

2) using your intuition to pick a good one,

3) testing it out to see if your intuition is correct (iterate if not), and

4) then execute that idea (and again, iterate as needed)

Or, in short: discovering and exploiting an opportunity

Edit: minor.

Oh, I don't know. Having a team that can solve any arbitrary difficult problem in three days could be quite useful in a startup. The (technical) execution of a startup idea can be cast as a series of arbitrarily difficult problems, after all.

Arbitrary huh...

My two long term pet peeves for which I would be most happy to help lobby to get them a hearing:

1) Faster than light travel 2) Create a robot that carries it's own power supply, communication device, and webcams that would allow me to traipse up and down any path in Rocky Mountain National Park in real time so that I can take a hike for 20 minutes when I need a break without the requisite plane travel and hotel bill

I suspect pg would be willing to pay for at least number 1 :-)

Well, I'd settle for a teleportation device or ability that could take me anywhere in the universe instantaneously, and far, far greater physical durability (maybe in a Culture-level gel suit).

They better get cranking, because 72 hours is just not a lot of time to develop either of these things.

What about simply 'Make something that will make lots of money.'

Could be useful IN a startup, but not AS a startup.

AFAIK YCombinator is for creating startups, not for letting outside people be a part of one.

You want to prove your will? Ask your neighbours, parents, friends, people you find in the street, ask them for what troubles them, what little things they have to do what would rather not. Find a way to solve it, charging money, low enough that they would rather pay, high enough that you cover costs.

Then you either have a nice startup of your own or at least you have some experience that you can share here. Repeat until success or bust.

While I agree execution is important, so is the process of coming up with a good idea.

This post is essentially asking PG to come up with an idea for them.

PG has argued repeatedly that the idea a startup comes up with is the least reliable and arguably least important factor in whether that startup will be successful.

The idea doesn't matter - but the method of getting the idea? The way that idea is tackled?

If the idea doesn't matter, the method of getting the idea should matter even less. What's important is whether the team can a) respond to feedback on their idea and b) code quickly and effectively to put that response into action.

The idea matters a bit, even if it's not the top priority. If the idea doesn't matter at all, why not just take your team of gifted programmers and start a consulting company hacking and finishing all client requests in 72 hours or less? If such a company existed, they can probably charge six figures for every project they take on.

I love the creativity, though I have to admit, I'm a little confused.

YC already does a great job of releasing great startup ideas (see links below in the off chance that you haven't read them already). And it seems like everyone I met who got in was accepted because of the awesome things they created. So if you're short on ideas, read the lists, and then get to work and have something to show for it by application time! Whether or not you get in will probably matter less and less once you're cranking away at a company you're really into.



Our team has been talking, and we've decided that even if we don't hear back from anyone at Y Combinator we're doing a 72 hour hackathon sometime in the next week using something on one of those list. :)

Yep just do it. Everyone can talk a good game. Solve something then come back and show everyone.

Good point. If you wanna show you're capable of executing, just pick one of the well known pain points. Build something cool. Then use that as a proof of your abilities. Investors look for good teams. There's no better curriculum for your team than a track record of great projects.

Instead of telling us that you can build something, just build something. :)

I don't think that YC is trying to identify teams that can create the maximum amount of value in 72 hours. They're looking for teams that will create the maximum amount of value over thousands of hours (or more).

It's not at all clear that the former correlates with the latter.

I think you're correct a long-term push is different from a 72 hour scramble but they're only looking to "win" an interview, not a place in a starting class. I think it's reasonable a team could be unsuccessful at filling out an application (which previously required an idea) but still be extremely strong candidates. I hope YC accepts, they don't stand to lose anything (save time) and there's no obligation to accept similar copycat offers in the future. They might also get a problem solved.

Ya, I'd tend to think it's at least worth pg sending them a challenge.

That being said, I don't think that what successful YC applicants are doing should be characterized as "filling out an application." The application just captures their past work in a form. It's the actual past work that matters, not the simple transcription.

I think my larger point is that an awesome 72 hour hack session probably isn't as good of an indicator of future success as a track record of successful medium to long term work in the past.

Why would he limit the number of potential solutions to one? If they wanted to try this it seems like it would better to put the challenge to everyone.

Getting a prototype out in 72 hours is a pretty good start, from there you can validate whether the approach is good, and if it is go into greater resolution about specific parts of the pain point and solve those too in the next iterations

And if the basic business premise is just plain wrong you've you've only lost a few days of dev time rather than months

Sorry, that is ridiculous. 72 hours is not even enough to analyze a fragment of the initial problems. I'm not even talking about coding yet.

Just starting to code some crap is exactly what's wrong with the current market. Anybody can do that. And for most, it won't turn out well.

What can you do differently? Invest more time and create something better.

When building the new Facebook photo viewer, we would ship a redesign to a small percentage of users, look at its metrics impact, and ship another redesign 2-3 days later based on the data. Simply being able to execute on something like this for 72 hours, no matter how blindly you do it, is indicative of a worthwhile skill that many people don't have.

That's a great way to iteratively develop a new design (which, BTW, is quite a nice improvement) for an existing product, but what if you didn't have the existing product? How long did it take to build the all the dependencies of the photo viewer?

While engineering the front-end can be done on a 2-3 day turn-around, I'm fairly certain that the engineering problems of storing and retrieving the petabytes of photos that Facebook users upload took far more than 2-3 days. If it used existing infrastructure then you need to count that engineering time in too.

I'm currently 2 months into developing the core technology for my project, working 1-3 hours in the evening after a 10 hour day at my client. Much of this work is with new technologies and mathematics/algorithms I'm unfamiliar with. In this situation, being unable to iterate on a front-end UI design in 2-3 days has nothing to do with skill.

I disagree. You don't need any skill. Anybody can ship a crappy photo viewer in 72 hours.

But many people can't ship a quality photo viewer even in months.

What heavily distinguished Facebook from Myspace in 2006 when it became open to public was the product culture and quality. It took 3 years to build.

Although I completely understand the point of being able to make quick decisions and execute, the problem is far from solved after spending 72 hours on it. It takes at least weeks to deliver a good solution.

I'm 100% sure you've spent a lot of time with that viewer afterwards until you were confident users will have no problems using it.

"You're actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say."

One of my favorite quotes of all time, by Ralph Waldo Emerson. If you are really more than what comes across on paper, you should have things to show that extend beyond what is on paper. Claiming you are smart and can execute will get you nowhere. I'd venture to guess that everybody who applies believes that they have that in spades.

But the larger question I have, and continue to have, is why people continue to view entrepreneurship as an elite club to which you must be allowed entrance. No offense to Y-Combinator or any other startup incubator, as I'm sure the experience is fantastic. I just think anybody approaching this as some kind of bridge that you must cross to achieve success is misguided. Successful startups were born long before incubators and they were built by people who knew how to execute and had the wherewithal to do so. The very fact that you have to plead to make the case that you can execute shows in many ways that you can't. An incubator should be viewed as one avenue to ramp up traction and execution, not a permission slip to do so.

I saw a similar post on nuclearphynance.com a few years ago. A young unemployed developer offered to code forum members' models for free. He was swimming in interview invitations because people admired the tenacity.

The biggest difference between what he did and what you're doing is that he made it an open offer. If you chopped off "dear y combinator," and released the challenge to HN members in general I think your post would have attracted a much more positive response.

Also, I'm not sure if you guys have been paying attention but pg and paul have been vocal about YC painpoints recently. Search their comments. The one I've heard the most is "everyone is exhausted after demo day".

You speak desperation language.

This is like a woman that rejects you on a date and you take it too seriously: " I will do whatever you wish to test my love". It does not work that way because you are putting her in a high pedestal and yourself in a lower status.(And you could be sorry for making commitments to people you don't really know yet, "may you get what you wish for" is a curse on China).

Maybe it is not the point that you could do something in 72 hours, but what you could do in 720 or 1000 or 3000. Sometimes you need to do marathon instead of 50 meters. I believe PG wants people that won't abandon on the hard moments of a startup, people that will "find a way" over difficult circumstances.

You don't need Y Combinator to success.

I guess one man's "desperation" is another's marketing/self-promotion.

Maybe nothing comes of this directly but many more people are already talking about them then say 24 hours ago. In that it's already a huge success for a promotion that has cost them all of 15 min.

I disagree. They could have gone and shot a bunch of dogs and posted pictures on the internet. By your measurement 'many more people are already talking about them...'. Is this example extreme? Sure, but the point is that the measurement is not if people are talking about them, but if they get closer to their goals.

How can they take advantage of this to help them? The first step is do a 72 hour hackathon on any problem and produce results. Then come back, and say, "Show HN: We did the PG challenge anyway!"

We actually are doing that. We're in the process of looking at PG's list of ambitious startups/Y Combinators list of ideas for startups. Even if they don't get back to us over the next few days we're going to mull these over then execute.

Rather than naysay your efforts, I prefer to support. pg has opened up YC to people without ideas, so contrary to other comments here, I don't think you're violating the spirit of YC to request an interview without an idea. But your open-ended way of asking might give pg too much to think about. So that could be a reason why he hasn't got back to you yet.

One idea: pg wants to invest in more entrepreneurs who don't have ideas yet, and in some cases, perhaps even people without much history of success on paper. Applicants like yourselves need ideas to build. Create a system that makes it easy for YC's problems to be discovered by applicants, so applicants can use these problems as product ideas. Another tip: think beyond YC's problems to the problems of YC companies. The problems of YC companies are also YC's problems.

Another idea. I read that YC has trouble scaling their demo days each year. One article quoted a guy saying that the growing lunch line is actually one of Demo Day's bigger problems. Make YC Demo Day food service better for guests. Or instead, make it easier for YC to coordinate. I'm sure pg doesn't like thinking about it.

Question: Did you spend 72 hours straight doing everything you can to make your application reflect who you really are and what you have to offer?

Want to solve a pain point? why not start with your own. Clearly, getting noticed and recognized by YC Partners is a pain point for you and many others.

Almost 100 years ago Napolean Hill offered a solution. Spend a few weeks researching your target, and approach them with a real value proposition, an offer they can't refuse.

Or work on the problem of getting noticed by YC partners by hacking the application process, identifying all the entry points to reach them, create a platform for incubators to crowdsource out their problems and pain points to their applicants, or just find a way to become friends with their mothers.

If there is a will, there is a way goes both ways. If you really had a burning desire, you would have found a way, and if you haven't found a way, your will isn't up to the task.

> This is the second time we’ve applied to Y Combinator. Our dream has been, for a while, to get our startup off the ground

I don't mean to be crass, but

1) This seems to imply that doing Y Combinator entails success, which is backwards.

2) What has the startup been doing since when it was last rejected? Why try to showcase a random thing you can do in 72 hours instead of showcase how you can build your startup in the months in between YC sessions?

1. You're absolutely right, it dosen't guarantee success. However, getting into Y Combinator would definitely help.

2. This is actually our pivot. We've been together as a team for a year. Also, the reason we haven't launched is because we've been waiting on the crowdfunding law to pass.

We've been working and are continuing to work on seedlauncher.com, applying to Y Combinator is a very small part of what we've been up to.

I will be surprised if YC even has any pain points that are well enough understood to be concisely communicated to an external source and can be solved in 72 hours. Usually the reason you have a pain point is either that you don't understand the underlying problem yet, or the solving it will take time. But I suppose that just means any pain points YC may be able to convey are things where these guys are expected to fail, which I guess is the whole spirit of the challenge.

You'd be better off building something awesome in 72 hours and using that to show your awesomeness.

True that, build something amazing in 72 hours. You are not just idea implementation and realization machines.

We'd be in for that too. We have tons of ideas waiting on deck so to speak.

Then go and build one of them in 72 hours, live blog it, and post it here. If it's interesting, surely it'll get upvoted, and then at least some of the YC partners will take notice.

Do it PG! Do it! I want to see a slam dunk! I want to see EPIC failure! I want to see if they're all talk or can walk the walk. This is like the reality tv episode of entrepreneurship. Just once, I want to watch and wait with baited breath as the challenge is issued, the gauntlet is thrown down, the problem put out and the solution successfully solved! Don't make it easy, make it tougher than any problem one of your own companies can solve. Make it so tough people will look around and wonder, can it be even done? Also, make them play dramatic music at their office constantly for all 72 hours.

As tempting as it sounds I don't think there is any way to release the negative results without looking evil :).

A reality show of this nature actually is a pretty good idea.

Techstars created a reality show out of their program and I think it was widely regarded as a pretty bad decision in hindsight...

Right, but this won't be filmed, it will just be watched in our minds until the moment of failure or triumph, at which point we will pepper the internet with generally useless comments.

Ambitious, risky, and likely to be ignored by YC, but I like the spirit :)

Would be fun to see them play this game with you though (I'm quite curious to see how you guys work things out if they challenge you to send an iPhone to Mars and back, for one example of many, many problems they could ask you to solve that you couldn't really take care of in 72 hours).

Cocky, rash, and likely to be burned by YC is more likely the thing here.

If you want YC to pay attention to what you're doing, why confront it and ask for a challenge? If you're starting your own company why are you asking for a challenge at all? As an entrepreneur it is your job to challenge yourselves and the status quo.

This is like going to an NFL referee and asking them for a football game. Why not start the football game and make the referees take notice at how great you are? Being hungry gives you the ambition to improve. Being good is remembering and executing on what you've learned.

Their offer is specifically for problems that YC itself faces.

Give us a problem, a painpoint, anything that annoys you in day to day life, and we’ll hack it in 72 hours.

Sending a phone to Mars and back isn't one of them, and is missing the entire spirit of the problem.

"Give us a problem, a painpoint, anything that annoys you in day to day life, and we’ll hack it in 72 hours."

Perhaps one of their painpoints is people begging for acceptance with the argument "gosh, we really are worthy, honest!". Maybe they could solve that one by coming up with a way to demonstrate their value beyond a plea for compassion.

I didn't say I thought it was a good approach. I was just clarifying the GP's misunderstanding.

I don't know about you, but for me not being able to explore space by myself is a daily painpoint ;)

There's some really interesting hacks, or at least concepts, around non-tackily doing that. Hmm.

Solving the problem of interplanetary travel would indeed be a tough one. Especially in 72 hours. :)

Heh, not for Levar Burto....whoa, did Levar Burton write this?

Thanks, we hope they'll at least give us something. Even if it is to send an iphone to Mars :)

You know what works better?

Build something nice and polished (anything) and show them that.

Big claims work better when you're not coming empty handed.

I admire the hustle, but in this case, you are asking the people of YC to do extra work to come up with something for you to solve. I think they are very busy and unlikely to do that.

Hey guys, the list of problems to solve is up: http://paulgraham.com/ambitious.html

You guys should post about your startup here while you have some attention. Sounds interesting (I am assuming you are applying with the seed launcher idea?).

Without being an expert in startup financing I'd imagine there would be some fairly significant regulation challenges in the idea? Anyone successfully using the platform currently?

It is also interesting that your idea itself if it comes off might be solving a YC problem (How best to connect pitching startups with the right investors and generate the best valuations).

Seedlauncher.com is a crowdfunding for equity site that is based around investing in small businesses within your own local community. With crowdfunding becoming legal we're creating a platform to enable both accredited and unaccredited investors to become part owners in their local businesses.

Maybe distill that into: Seedlauncher is crowdfunding for small, local businesses.

That actually sounds like a really good idea. Why not just do this without waiting for yc?

We are doing it. We've been working hard for months. We're just waiting for the SEC to write the regulations for crowdfunding following the passage of the JOBS act.

If it existed today, I would almost certainly be using it. This needs to exist, and with the JOBS act passing it will. The race is on to see who gets a user base first, or before someone like angelist does it with their existing user base.

If I were in your shoes I would spend 72 hours getting a full profiling system up and online with the vision, get THAT on hackernews, and start building a user base. By the time you actually finish the integration of backends to allow for micropayments, tracking users, and equity allotments, you already have users and are that much further ahead of anyone else working on something similar when you turn those features on.

YC is awesome, but they only are one of many options available to you. From where I sit, there is nothing about this project that _needs_ a lot of funding to get a prototype built, an a prototype will be what you need to prove you guys have the chops to take this all the way. The prototype just needs a few weekends of time, infrastructure knowledge and programming skill. The only thing I really see you needing some cash for early, is legal counsel to build solid terms of service and investment agreements carefully written to make sure you are fully protected and acting within the JOBS act.

Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss this further.

Thanks for the link, didn't expect to see an error

They should solve their hosting issues first. Google's cached version for those looking for a copy http://bit.ly/HM9HHg

I've got a problem for you to solve. This is not a complete sentence. Solve that. ;)

In the spirit of showing you that we can thrive at Y Combinator, and that we are more than who we are on paper.

Awesome, free grammar advice from someone who writes:

"I have got a problem"

Thanks for the LOLz...

I've got something for you to read. http://bit.ly/HcYIJS

Edit: Also, while I stand by the correctness of my first statement, me being right or wrong wouldn't make that fragmented sentence a complete one. However, unlike the OP, my comment was not intended to catch the attention of Y Combinator to get an interview with the hopes of getting my start-up kick started. So I would tend to give posts like mine a little more leeway than a challenge like the OP. Perhaps grammatical errors like that resulted in the rejections.

While admittedly childish on my part; the use of formal grammar brings up an interesting question. In a potst somewhere on HN I read that yc uses some sort of bayesian filter on applications. The details and my recollection are a little murky about the process.

It would be interesting to know if there was a correlation (+/-) between formal, colloquial or improper grammar and the success of applications.

That would be interesting. As imperfect as my grammar and spelling are, I know that when I have a stack of resumes on my desk to review, the first pass weeds out the ones with grammar/spelling mistakes. Applying for a job is too important of a task to make avoidable mistakes like that. If you have not taken the time to make your resume perfect then you are likely to do sloppy work in your day to day activities. I would apply the same filter to a YC application. If I ever find myself working up an application for YC, I would spend the time and money needed to make sure every bit of that was correct. Now whether it should be formal or informal or what have you would be a big mystery. I would tend to lean toward formal in something like that. But perhaps not so formal that I come off has a robot. You can't trust robots.

What am I looking for? Formal written usage or informal spoken usage of the two phrases? Clear and succinct or acceptable?

Look for whatever category you think a comment on a thread on HN would fall into. I don't think that would be "formal" anything. You didn't specifically mention "informal written" but that is probably what I would classify it as since this is an informal setting and it was written not spoken. The top few results certainly put it in the "acceptable" category. General usage of the phrase in similar situations leads me to believe I don't really need to defend my usage of it.

I think it's really funny that all the comments telling people they won't get noticed are actually boosting it to the top where they are very likely to get noticed.

Humanity ftw!

I have an idea. Within 72 hours you have to hack into the Y Combinator servers and mark your application as "invite to interview". Do that and you get an interview :)

Disclaimer: if you're not sure what :) means, please google it before proceeding with the above suggestion.

Anyway I'm just joking. Your post is a nice way to get noticed. Good luck with your application!

Have you ever tried googling for an emoticon...?


Based on the second item of that list, might soon get some emoticon love on Google search.

"Your search - :) - did not match any documents. Suggestions: Try different keywords."

Which is a pretty unsatisfactory result, really. If I came across :) and didn't know what it meant, Googling for just that is a natural action.

Maybe you can try building a search engine for Hacker News.

That already exists, scroll down.

> Our dream has, for a while, to get our startup off the ground


I was going to point this out for them. It's particularly harmful because it's in the second sentence...

Oops I accidentally a word there. Fixed :)

Yes, but relating to and understanding the problem that you are trying to solve is the difficult part. You may create a solution to the problem, but any programmer can do that. I always viewed YC as being difficult to get into because you had to do this part prior to applying. If PG does give these guys something to make, then maybe that'd be a good answer to the question on the application that asks what your greatest hack ever was - it'd be turning the tables on PG and getting him to give you something to solve! Clever. :)

If you an idea or expertise to do something like this I don't know why you need to wait for Y Combinator to pick you up before you get started.

Making something profitable from day 1 is difficult but profitable from day 30 is less so. Yes the profit may just about buy your team a round of coffee's but at least you got off your mark. Your ball is rolling.

Waiting for seed funding before building your product seems somewhat counter-intuitive to me.

We aren't waiting for seed funding. We pivoted to seedlauncher back in December, and have been working on it since. We're prelaunch while we wait for the SEC to write the regulations surrounding crowdfunding so we can operate.

He gave a couple at the pycon conference. Why don't you pretend they responded with killing email and come up with the better solution for task inbox...

Being able to ship a proof of concept (a precursor to an MVP) is a pretty core skill that will happen many times in that thousands of hours.

Other fun questions in the perpetual proof of concept game:

Will it work this way? Will it work that way?

I don't know. How long will it take? Can we quickly try it out somehow to see if it gets us what we need? Who can jump on this?

I would venture to say the application process worked like clock-work. YC is looking for people to mentor, educate, and smooth out the bumpy road ahead for, to discover modest people, who acknowledge their weaknesses and are willing to humble themselves and learn from everyone around them.

Ouch. We never said, or even meant to imply we were somehow better than the awesome people at Y Combinator, or frankly better than anyone else. All we're trying to do here is show that we're worth a second look and maybe a conversation.

Just in case anyone is curious about what we're working on I thought I'd give a quick description. Seedlauncher.com is a crowdfunding for equity site that focuses on investing in small businesses within your own community. If anyone has any questions I'd be more than happy to answer them.

Here's a crazy idea: start working on your startup now and try to gain traction. Apply for YCombinator again next season and show them that you've actually hit on something that's becoming popular. This is actually how a lot of the most successful Y-Combinator alums got in themselves.

The arrogance and desperation...

If you can solve a problem in 72 hours, it's not a very difficult problem.

Building a company takes years.

Cool bold approach. Props. I'd like to see YC respond with a challenge. Everyone should stop being so skeptical. Maybe the guys are incredible geniuses. In fact I think they are being modest by throwing in that third 24 hour period. I bet they could do any challenge in 48 ;)

Not getting picked should not necessarily reflect poorly on you... But if you try much harder you will just show that they were correct to avoid you. You do have spirit though, so do something useful with it instead of ranting about not being picked at the dance.

Finding good solution to a given problem is what most of the engineers do day-to-day at work.

Real entrepreneurs identify opportunities (problems) and provide solution. Remember, a problem well stated is a problem half solved.

Why don't you just build something other people want? Don't focus too much on what YC partners want, focus on what other people want(conversely if you do that YC partners will want you, not vice-versa).

The problem with "building something for others" rather than solving your own problems is you may not be passionate/persistent enough to survive the low's to get to the next milestone

>Why don't you just build something other people want?


If you'd rather not leave the Midwest, consider Chicago. They have a great entrepreneurial community at: http://www.builtinchicago.org/

If you are so talented and innovative, do you really need YC? Just because one road closed down, doesn't mean you can't reach the destination.

Any problem, I don't think so.

A problem, sure... I am sure there exists a problem of YC that you can solve in 72 hours.

make it a competition and the best team wins the interview.

Why don't you spend the 72 hours prototyping your startup?

So Seedlauncher.com is a crowdfunding for equity site focused on investing in small businesses within your local community. So, we're pre-launch because we're waiting for the SEC to write the regulations regarding crowdfunding. We'd open up our site to a closed beta, but we don't want to jump the gun and fade into obscurity by launching 4 or 5 months before we can actually operate legally.

hey guys getting database error on your blogs.

I wouldn't use it equity is valuable

Ballsy. I like it.

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