That said, startups should certainly seek growth, because that's how you evaluate and refine an idea. When you try to get people to use something you've built, and especially to pay for it, you learn quickly what's wrong with it.
The only misleading thing about Adrian's advice is the implication that you need growth to get funded by YC. That is definitely not true. A quick random sample of the current batch (the first 10 in alphabetical order) shows only half had any growth when they were accepted.
At least for us, it saved us a lot of discussion when we could say "is this particular feature helping us grow?" and if the answer as no, we would move on.
But I do think, even at the earliest stages, it isn't hard to gauge interest by showing demand. Sign up pages are simple enough to do.
Firstly, getting traction by number of users is much harder. But every customer you sign on implies huge growth for your company in terms of revenue. Take Palantir for example; afaik, their initial massive growth came from a single, but huge, government contract.
Secondly, growth will never be a smooth 10%/week type of curve -- more like an irregular staircase; but taken over the long-term (years), it might get you higher. So taking a granular snapshot of the early beginnings might show no growth at all.
Thirdly, there won't be many early signups. Simply because the volume is much lower.
Having said that, zooming out on the macro scale (years), your advice still holds (growth > everything) -- but it doesn't apply to the YC application process :)
I've noticed, the companies I hear about going through YC now seem to progressed further along than companies in earlier YC sessions. I admit, this may be due to media reporting bias of covering companies that have product and traction, but I'd like to see some stats comparing YC companies by session and launch dates. I suspect we'd find that more companies being admitted into current sessions are already further down the development track than earlier in YC history.
Of course, this should be expected. YC has grown significantly, and has a ton of media attraction. It has become a signal of success, so YC has more applications from companies which are already seeing success and YC gets to limit their risk by taking on companies further down the track.
Some months have passed, we've learned our lessons, gathered great team, got feedback from around the world and finally seeing that we're onto something. Nice thing is that on the day-to-day basis it seems that we are doing exactly the same thing as few months ago. But when looking from the time perspective we've discovered that there are changes - details really matters!
Now preparing to hit the local market so we'll make mistakes and adjust our stuff on local scale before hitting US & YC (and it;ll be also nice to show some real numbers from the market in our application).
Good luck to all S14 applicants!
For example, if the choice was made to put in more effort up front on iterating and validating the product design rather than trying to implement a MVP and try to start building the user base early? Is it easy for you conceive of situations where this is the best, or at least sufficiently logical, choice? Or is that likely a deal breaker?
My problem is that I purposefully tried to ask a general question with broad applicability, because I think that is respectful of your time and the community. However, what remains unclear are the specifics of how my product and company would be assessed. The devil is always in the details. I don't think it is fair to ask for such personal advice from you, but perhaps you have some advice as to the best way to go about getting good feedback on my company and product? Short of getting into YC, I mean. Should I take Adrian up on his offer if he is still willing (for my own edification, not for this round of applications)? Are there other good ways you know of?
And yes, at some point I will just launch on my own if necessary, but I continue to believe the cost/benefit trade off of getting counsel from experienced mentors is very favorable. So, I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to be successful and in the meantime to be able to demonstrate evidence that I am worth the time/effort/capital of those who are looking for those with potential.
It would be awesome to see Y and or TechStars or another incubator team up with the Recording Industry! I'm surprised that industry hasn't already established an accelerator.
YC is all about changing the game. Their game needs to be changed and it would be a win for them!
On a different note last year we applied and got denied, but a week later we we're invited to demo our novel tech to a company out in the valley. Not sure how that happened, but it was a good start to our story & journey!
This is really important. When I first started a business, criticism stung. Now I love it. It means someone knows you exist, and it's worth their time to tell you what you're doing wrong.
One of my friends who did YC said something that stuck in my mind: "Getting into YC is like getting into Stanford. For 70% of people it's their zenith. Sure the other 30% go on to do amazing things, but for most people just getting in is the most impressive thing they ever do."
I found the perspective extremely motivating and it doesn't surprise me at all that he and his company have continued to do well.
It's weird people don't think about the other way around:
• Strive for success — period — and then Stanford/YC will want YOU.
At the end of the day it's about creating value. It's not made out of thin air. It's not made from a diploma. It's not made from an acceptance letter.
It's made by You.
I bet every investor out there would much rather fund the guy who says "I built this website with this basic feature set, got a few dozen customers and X revenue. My customers want these totally doable features. If you give me $Y, then I can hire more engineers or whatever to build them." than the guy who says "I have a really cool idea that I haven't done anything at all with yet. Give me $Millions and I'll do something awesome".
If your goal is to get funded, you're much more likely to get ignored. If your goal is to build something awesome with whatever is at hand, then the investors just might come to you.
You couldn't have said it better. Nothing motivates me more than realizing that if I don't do something I care about myself, it won't happen.
The best way to prepare for the YC application process is to actually work on your company.
You learn so much about your customers and product space by actually building something and talking to customers about it. By doing that, thinking critically about the results, and iterating, you'll find the YC application and interview questions get easier to answer - because you'll know more about what you're doing and why than anyone else.
After that we spent 95% of our time talking to potential customers and building things. We just refined our application every few days.
The questions get a lot easier to answer, and you're not wasting time trying to hack answers.
YC should be regarded as fuel to the mythical fire... whether that fire is your passion, an initial sloping growth curve, or a crazy new technology you just created in your attic.
Partners, the schedule, constant accountability will all provide structure and tremendous value to accelerate your progress - but the mythical fire must already be a spark.
Maybe it's more truthful to say - "having a growth vertical and being able to articulate it concisely is the most important." Things will change. Your strategy will change, your product will adjust itself based on testing, listening, more testing, listening. Getting that market fit, and knowing your market ensures that you're growing in the direction that you actually want to grow in.
I'm a current applicant though, so maybe I'm wrong. Regardless, we did our best in the application and that's all we can do. Now -- back to working on the company! (it takes them a while to get back to you anyway, no point waiting anxiously)
PS. good luck to everyone else who applied
YC has a lot of benefits, but I feel like it would be a amplifier to our existing success and a community of mentors and entrepreneurs to help us stay focused on what it takes to sustain growth...
Growth is very gratifying. It still surprises me when people like the things I build.
To combat this, we presented a concept video on our website and accepted emails for signups. By carefully explaining the idea and finding people who might be interested in it, we've managed to collect over 600 emails in the past few weeks. I'd recommend a similar approach, reach out to people and communities who might be interested in your product. If they're unwilling to give you their email, it might indicate they're even less willing to give you their money.
Once we flushed the idea out a little bit more, we updated the video with actual footage.
Growth and potential market are things we'll look at, but we're careful about making sure neither unduly influences us. The most important things are the founders and their relationships to one another. We want great founders with great ideas and the tenacity and ability to go after them.
Week 1 - 11 [10%]
Week 2 - 13 [>10%]
Week 3 - 15 [>10%]
Week 4 - 17 [>10%]
Week 5 - 20 [>10%]
Week 6 - 23 [>10%]
Week 7 - 26 [>10%]
Week 8 - 29 [>10%]
Would a growth rate of 2-3 paying accounts at a SaaS price point of $10/month really affect a decision?
Sure, if your MRR grew by 10% and your starting base was $10,000 I could see a reasonable extrapolation from that. But if your starting base is 10 accounts @ $10/month [$100 MRR], you might die out once you realize your niche is only 1000 accounts deep.
So I'd say 'growth' is probably the equivalent of a +1, criteria met, rather than an overpowering criterion that is weighted higher than any other.
That is just my guess tho.
If your product costs $30+/user/month, dozens of users could mean that you're ramen profitable at the end of two months, a major milestone. If you can sustain that 10% growth for two months of YC, you'll have enough money to hire an employee by bootstrapping alone, which means that you're able to turn down investors, which makes you more valuable.
You shouldn't ask for (and shouldn't take) millions of dollars in investment at that point, but you're certainly lined up for hundreds of thousands of dollars; keep up that 10% growth rate a few more months and you will be ready for VC.
Show you want to go after something big. And if you switch after (you most likely will), no problem. You still meet all the big players and accomplish your goal (which will be impossible to uncover).
Lifestyle businesses are not failures. If you're making enough money to live on from your business, and you're happy, then keep doing it, even if your business isn't growing.
• Even a lifestyle business needs growth — just enough to support the owner's lifestyle — but growth nonetheless (unless one customer is all you ever need)
Lifestyle businesses don't need growth; they need profits. If your revenue/profit are consistent, and they're high enough, you don't have to grow.
But the reality is that with or without YC, you're going to need to learn how to close some of those contracts on your own.
Of course having connections is super helpful, but you're much more likely to get those introductions if you can show that you get things done without them.
So my advice would be to work on closing smaller contracts / deals and show that you are capable of running those processes first (and you also show growth!).
Then it's a lot easier to recommend you and pass you along to people in a network.
Thousands of people work at HBO. Tens of thousands of people work at Time Warner, which owns HBO. And tens of thousands more work in the broadcast media ecosystem. If you're really passionate about doing something in this industry, why not work in it for a few years?
Not only are you bound to meet the people who can help you, or who know the people who can help you, if you're strategic, you can put yourself in the position to come to the table with a modicum of industry cred, something that run-of-the-mill introduction-seekers almost always lack.
I'm not trying to discourage you, just pointing out that there are huge obstacles in the space that have nothing to do with technology.
> if you can't get growth, then you should probably hang up your boots and retire from founder life
Don't let anybody tell you when to retire.