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.
It blows me away how many people don't get this.
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.
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.
One of my distant relatives won the lottery.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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...
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".
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.
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.
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.
 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.
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.
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 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...
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.
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'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.
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.
It depends on your startup and what it does if iowa is a good choice. Funding isnt easy no matter where you live,congrats!
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
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. )
I'm in Iowa too and I wanted to give you some non-public, very specific (and hopefully helpful) feedback.
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).
Welcome to the snobbery of Silicon Valley.
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.
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
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 :-)
They better get cranking, because 72 hours is just not a lot of time to develop either of these things.
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.
This post is essentially asking PG to come up with an idea for them.
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.
Instead of telling us that you can build something, just build something. :)
It's not at all clear that the former correlates with the latter.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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!"
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Build something nice and polished (anything) and show them that.
Big claims work better when you're not coming empty handed.
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).
That actually sounds like a really good idea. Why not just do this without waiting for yc?
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.
In the spirit of showing you that we can thrive at Y Combinator, and that we are more than who we are on paper.
"I have got a problem"
Thanks for the LOLz...
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.
It would be interesting to know if there was a correlation (+/-) between formal, colloquial or improper grammar and the success of applications.
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!
Based on the second item of that list, might soon get some emoticon love on Google search.
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.
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.
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?
If you can solve a problem in 72 hours, it's not a very difficult problem.
Building a company takes years.
Real entrepreneurs identify opportunities (problems) and provide solution. Remember, a problem well stated is a problem half solved.
A problem, sure... I am sure there exists a problem of YC that you can solve in 72 hours.