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.
Actually, what is the most popular YC cofounder name?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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! ;)
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
I am applying and would like to get some advice too.