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How I got into YC S13 (aelag.com)
120 points by aelaguiz on Sept 16, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments

Pretty accurate assessment. I almost certainly would have not gotten in had I not had a chance to talk to a few YC alums.

Side Note: Jason was absolutely the reason I got in. YC should do whatever it takes to get him to become at the very least a part-time partner. They and all future YC companies will be better off with him involved.

From my own experience, the OP is absolutely right about the no BS part. Just explain what you're doing. You don't need to sell it or exaggerate (doing so will actually hurt your chances). I think the most important thing to explain is why people/companies want what you're making. The next most important thing you can do is teach them something. If they are able to learn something new about a market from you, you're chances of acceptance go up.

The in-person interview day is pretty exciting. It's sort of like the first day at the dorms (which for me was in 1995). It's perfectly acceptable to walk up to someone, say hi and and just start talking.

If you're thinking about applying, you should.

Which Jason? (We've funded 11.)

Changing my name to Jason.

Actually, what is the most popular YC cofounder name?


2nd most common men's name globally. (1st is Mohammed.)

Freedman. 42 Floors.

Teaching them something is a great point.

Great story, fun reading, not exactly good advices for me here. My take from this is, in order to get in YC you must: i) have a successfull exit as track record and ii) have YC alumni in your network to review your application and pitch.

Well, turns out I am very far from both situations, so I just read it as a success tale. Which I actually appreciated, as the author sounds like a really honest and nice person.

I'm the author :)

FWIW I didn't have Alumni in my network until I decided to apply and then I started seeking them out. I went so far as to cold-email people on AngelList.

Also I live in Austin so the number of alumni has now doubled since I'm back, to give you an idea of how slim the pickings are.

I don't know how much the exit mattered. pg has a way of making you feel like nothing matters except the quality of the words coming out of your mouth.

Great article aelaguiz , very thoughtful. I especially like the "no bullshit" part.

I'd love to hear more of your thoughts about why you decided to seek out YC in the first place, especially since you'd already had some success with PokerTableRatings.

Also, I was genuinely surprised that your typical experience with Angels is that they focus so heavily on not loosing their initial investment. This strikes me as too risk-averse given the nature of early tech startups. Did you find yourself wasting a lot of time with these folks? Any advice for how to spot/avoid them?

Really I have to say it was an emotional decision. I've been a fan of pg and YC for years and now I actually was free to try it and had a team that was inclined to, so I went for it.

Angels are regular people. They are as diverse as any crowd at a mall. I've found that outside of SF they tend to be MUCH more downside conscious. I did waste a lot of time with some angels who turned out to be bad for the ecosystem (willing to toy with entrepreneurs for long periods of time).

The best advice (and I live by it) is anything that isn't a yes is a no. That doesn't mean stop trying but that does mean that you focus your energy on stronger leads first. Nobody actually says no, with very few exceptions. It's hard to understand this until you get a few checks closed and then you'll know what a REAL yes feels like.

Good to know about the Alumni. But the track record, well it is hard to get a better indicator that you are a good team than a successfull previous startup. I would say that he wanted to know the quality of your words just to check that wasn't just luck that made you successfull.

Anyway, is not that I demotivated, I just know I will have to find different ways to prove I am worthy the bet of YC.

To be fair, two great advices I took from your post: Explain don’t sell and Explain your startup to your non-technical friends. Thanks! ;)

" But the track record, well it is hard to get a better indicator that you are a good team than a successfull previous startup."

While this was probably true for Amir, YC routinely rejects founders who have previously built startups for other reasons -- eg, insufficient traction.

Regarding your application: I was one of the alums who reviewed Amir's application. I will generally review a few each application period and give pointers. Most YC alums that I'be known will do the same if they're not too busy with their respective companies/lives at the time. Just politely E-Mail them, be prepared and treat them like you think their time is valuable.

If you're courteous and succinct most alumni will treat you in kind. Except for jnovek who is to be avoided at all costs.

FWIW - unlike Amir, we didn't have a "startup" track record, we weren't coming out of (or dropping out of) Harvard, Stanford or MIT. We also didn't have anyone from YC in our network. Oh and we were probably 10 yrs older than everyone else...

So, while there is a stereotypical YC founder... it's not a hard and fast rule. You have to be resourceful. Get things done.

We also reached out to YC alum and found them to be very helpful.

Yes and also having a kickass startup idea doesn't hurt. This guy is building http://www.simplelegal.com/

Oh random point of advice. The best advice I could actually give is that there is a frame of mind that is associated with Y Combinator. If you can get into that frame of mind, you'll be much more likely to gain acceptance.

The best way to get into that frame of mind is to consume as much information written by YC partners as you possibly can.

It's this strange blend of intellectual honesty and curiosity. Interesting thoughts are valued highly. It's a bit hard to explain but if you go read an article written by PG or Sam Altman and then go read your average startup-targeted article you'll be able to see the difference.

What other YC partners' writings do you recommend?

regarding point #2, if you don't have an alumni connection in your network, yet you know that this is part of the formula for writing a successful application, then it's on you to figure out how to make those connections. that mentality of being "relentlessly resourceful" is straight from a pg essay [1].

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/relres.html

Ding ding ding

Regarding the advice to speak to alumni, does anybody have suggestions for best alumni to talk to for not-for-profit applications?

P.S. Thanks for the informative and thoughtful post.

EDIT: at the risk of creating more competition for my eventual application, here's a relevant quote in an interview of Watsi's co-founder:

I asked him if he would recommend that other non-profits apply to YC, and without missing a beat he replied, “yes. For three months we were able to focus on our mission and our products alone. We didn’t have to worry about fundraising or entering competitions or getting grants. We focused on our product and solving a problem. We grew like crazy in the last three months. We went from getting $2,000 of donations a week to $12,000. That’s a crazy growth….Every non-profit should have this opportunity for focus.”


I was in YC W12 and S09 for for-profit companies. But I've also run started several nonprofits. I'd be happy to meet with you.

Watsi, I think they are the only not-for-profit startup, are they?

Yes, but as one is too little, I would list some other companies that have business models very focused on direct social impact: 7 Cups of Tea, SoundFocus, Amicus, True Link Financial.

Other than that, both application forms are very similar and I imagine the YC criteria are going to be very similar too. So... any YC alumni may provide useful advice.

Hasn't there only been one non-profit YC so far, Watsi?

These "how i got into yc?" post are usually lame but this was actually a worthwhile read. Good luck to these guys. I am rooting for you.


Google cache url for those that cannot see the page


Very insightful read! Can anyone help me with reference an Education startup Alumni from YC.

I am applying and would like to get some advice too. Thanks.

Thanks a ton. This was useful!

Thanks for creating the post, it really made my day! I'm just going in circles now in the room and thinking what to do :). We already decided to skip the winter batch and go for the next, but after reading your essay, we might give it a try after all.

Great read, you feel the love in your post :)

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