In this post you will find:
— advice on YC application questions (by PG and alumni);
— advice on YC application in general (by PG and alumni);
— what we got out of applying to YC.

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Update: read our latest story how we built and grew our Slack bot from zero to profitability: Slack Bot Business Tutorial: From Zero to $25,000/mo.

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After we at Standuply turned a business idea to $100k product (read a story here), we decided to apply to YC. To make it, we searched for advice and the best practices.

As a result, we documented 75 tips from 19 people, explored 11 successful applications. Carefully following the advice we crafted our YC application.

Yet we failed 😞

So, I don’t think we’re in a situation to advise how to apply to YC. But, we can share advice by others which we carefully documented and organized.

We collected and sorted advice on YC application process by those greatest minds:

— Paul Graham (Co-Founder & Partner at Y Combinator);

— Sam Altman (President, YC Group at Y Combinator);

— Michael Seibel (CEO, YC Core at Y Combinator);

— Harjeet Taggar (Partner at Y Combinator);

— Aditya Agarwalla (Founder at Kisan Network, YC alum);

— Ethan Fast (CS Ph.D. student at Stanford, YC alum);

— Jason Shen (Co-founder & CEO of Headlight, YC alum);

— Zain Shah (Data Scientist at Opendoor, YC alum);

— David Chen (Co-founder of Strikingly, YC alum);

— Harry Zhang (Co-Founder at Lob, YC alum);

— Mathilde Collin (CEO & Co-founder at Front, YC alum);

— Aaron Epstein (Co-founder of Creative Market, YC alum);

— Garry Tan (Co-founder of Posterous, Partner at YC from 2011 to 2015);

— Joseph Perla (Co-founder at Turntable.fm, YC alum);

— Gleb Arshinov (Founder & CEO at Acunote, YC alum);

— Glen Moriarty (Founder at 7 Cups of Tea, YC alum);

— Tad Milbourn (Co-Founder and CEO of Payable, YC alum);

— Wil Chung (Co-founder at Noteleaf, YC alum);

— Adrian Sanders (Co-founder at Beacon, YC alum);

Moreover, we explored successful applications that are publicly available.

We calculated the average size of the answers. See it in the brackets after each question, like this — (avg. answer: X words). It’s applicable not to all questions.

Here are the applications: Dropbox, Lollipuff, One Month Rails, Mimir, bedrock, Apptimize, Muse, Muzzammil, GM, Seeing Interactive, Reddit.

Hopefully, all of that will help you to succeed. I wish you best of luck!

 

Advice on YC Application Questions

Demo

“The demo can matter a lot. It depends on the type of startup. If you’re in a situation where you ought to have something to show for your work so far, it’s bad not to. And no matter what your situation, it helps greatly if you have a great demo. For the demo we greatly prefer a link to the actual thing.”
By Paul Graham: source.

Describe your company in 50 characters or less

One good trick for describing a project concisely is to explain it as a variant of something the audience already knows. It’s like Wikipedia, but within an organization. It’s like an answering service, but for email. It’s eBay for jobs. This form of description is wonderfully efficient.
By Paul Graham: source.

Most important thing to remember for this question is to stick to the character limit. That is a must. As an international applicant, try and use some US based reference that makes it easier for the partners to understand. For example, Uber for X, Stripe for Y etc. This may not be possible for every company. In that case, just keep it as simple as possible and don’t over think it.
By Aditya Agarwalla: source.

What is your company going to make? (avg. answer: 110 words)

Here’s an example of what does not work: Public transportation in country X sucks. In addition, the cab service is erratic and over priced. People are coming online these days using their smartphone and want to get information and services at their fingertips. So, we are making a mobile app where we connect people with cars in the city to those who want a ride… And here’s what should be written instead: We are making a mobile app where you can press a button and get a car at your doorstep within 10 minutes.
By Aditya Agarwalla: source.

The biggest mistake founders make when applying is to confuse us. Half the time when I’m reading an application I’m thinking “I have no idea what this person is even talking about.” I suspect this often the writer’s own confusion showing through. It’s surprisingly hard to explain oneself. Even startups that we’ve accepted and have spent months working with say things in draft Demo Day presentations that make me ask “what does that even mean?”
By Paul Graham: source.

By far one of the biggest three turn-offs is the poor communication. After I read your answer to the question “what does your company do?” I still don’t know what your company does. Using jargon and buzzwords usually cause this. “Explain it like you would to your grandmother” is the best advice I’ve heard on this point.
By Michael Seibel: source.

Don’t be vague. Going into detail may seem to leave out the “bigger picture,” but I suspect this matters little to the readers at YC. You have the rest of your application to impart a broader vision; for this question talk specifically about what you are going to build.
By Ethan Fast: source.

Don’t just list features. Focus on unique insights you have about this product or area that other people don’t have. Did you get this idea from a pain in your own life e.g. Heroku was built as a solution to the pain felt by the founders when trying to deploy software. Maybe you’ve been thinking about this space for a long time? Those will sound more impressive than some cookie cutter text about how revolutionary the product is.
By Harjeet Taggar: source.

High impact After optimizing for success, YC wants to fund companies that really make an impact on the world — that capitalize on big opportunities that have emerged in society. They want Y Combinator to a engine of progress for the world. You can see this in their Requests for Startups List — the way they have identified problems that they want to “fix” — like dating, news and “the problem” of Hollywood.
By Jason Shen: source.

How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person? (avg. answer: 60 words)

Founder breakups are a leading cause of startup failure. You need to be in it for the long-haul, together. Display evidence of having worked with your co-founder before on projects or having known your co-founder for a very long time.
By Zain Shah: source.

Show strong friendship and teamwork between founders.
By David Chen: source.

How far along are you? (avg. answer: 72 words)

Evidence that you can actually build it and aren’t just building it for YC. Although, they also want to see how quickly you can execute. 2 years to build an iPhone app is too long. I’ve been working on it for about a month and already have a prototype of the iPhone app built. It’s about 1500 lines of code on the app side and 1000 on the server side.
By Zain Shah: source.

Have a high potential of success. This can either mean there is already evidence of great success to come, or there isn’t. What’s bad here is evidence to the contrary. If you’ve already launched but have little traction, it’s often worse than having not launched at all. Done the prototype. We haven’t launched but I have been signing up customers for pre-ordering their first repair to the service at a 10% discount for the past month and I’m already at 2500 pre-paid repairs, which is about $135k in profit already.
By Zain Shah: source.

We often use the term “traction”, usually understood as “customers”. But you can get it without customers. What we really want to know is what have you accomplished in the time you’ve been working on your startup?

If the main part of your business is a website and you are still in beta after two years, that is not impressive. But if you are building a rocket and have final drawings of the core engine after 6 months, that could be a big deal!
By Michael Seibel: source.

How many active users or customers do you have? If you have some particularly valuable customers, who are they?

Badly enough — having users is not the same as having engaged users. Do your users login more than once? Are they actually doing stuff on your site? Are they willing to pay for it? Do they share the product with their friends? Show YC how happy you are making your users. You need to convince YC that your startup’s trajectory is toward success. That you are going to make more and more users happier and happier in a way that you’ll be able to build a legit business around it. Speed matters, size of growth matters. Try to choose your strongest points of traction when writing your app.
By Jason Shen: source.

Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you’re making? (avg. answer: 123 words)

We look for in ideas is not the type of idea but the level of insight you have about it
By Paul Graham: source.

They want to know this is a compelling problem that you’ve experienced yourself or know first hand that people want solved. Tell a story about how you came upon this and realized you have the particular set of skills best suited to solving this.
By Zain Shah: source.

This is where you can talk more about the space and its relevance in your country. Don’t assume the partners know anything about the space (even though they are really smart people and probably do). This means no acronyms, no assumptions etc. Make sure you talk about the size of the market and briefly about how you arrived at the number. This is extremely important because the partners like to know that the problem you are trying to solve, about which they were totally unaware till now, is faced by millions of people, wherever they maybe located in the world. Regarding domain expertise or wherever you choose to talk about the founding team’s previous accomplishments, avoid referring to accolades that only those familiar with your country know about, without providing the required context. No reader is going to google any of it. If it’s a big deal, briefly state why it is. Don’t brag though — it will do more harm than good.
By Aditya Agarwalla: source.

We describe our domain expertise, and slip in evidence that we can get things done. However, we do come off as a bit researchy, which I think is a bit of a risk. Convey expertise through specific accomplishments. You should be perceived as people who know what they are getting into.
By Ethan Fast: source.

Be careful! This is not a question asking you to explain why you’re personally passionate about X. Just because you love X does not make X a good idea. It’s fine if you feel this way, but I would not make this your primary reason for doing this idea. It’s better that you chose this idea because you know a lot about the domain and see a real, unmet need either via personal experience or because you know certain businesses are willing and able to spend money to solve this problem.
By Jason Shen: source.

What’s new about what you’re making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)? (avg. answer: 130 words)

The thing we care most about in interviews (at least of things one can change) is how engaged the founders are with users. How do they know people actually want what they’re building? Have they talked to real, live users? What have they learned from them?
By Paul Graham: source.

Show YC you understand your users. One question we and many other startups hear at office hours again and again is “Who needs this? … No, who really needs this?” Your first answer is rarely good enough. You’ve got to convince the YC partners that you truly know who your users are, how to reach them, what their problems are, why this product fits into their life/workflow and solves their problems.
By Jason Shen: source.

Present your problem as a hair on fire problem, one that people would use immediately if they knew existed because the switching costs are negligible compared to their existing suffering.
By Zain Shah: source.

Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most? (avg. answer: 88 words)

Be realistic and reasonable regarding your competitors. Startups are made by people with delusive passion, but who still have an understanding of their environment and assess risks appropriately.
By Zain Shah: source.

What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get? (avg. answer: 94 words)

Your critical insight. Your secret that makes your business competitive against your competitors and likely to succeed against all odds.
By Zain Shah: source.

This is another way of asking what the “secret sauce” is? So far we have seen that it is imperative to not assume the reader knows much about the problem in your region. This question requires the same approach as the others, but a little extra caution should be exercised here. This is because you’re trying to explain, what is possibly, a nuance or subtlety about the problem that your company has discovered and is going to exploit. You would like the reader to be able to understand and appreciate this.
By Aditya Agarwalla: source.

How do or will you make money? How much could you make? (avg. answer: 130 words)

You could potentially make a ton of money, but be reasonable in making your estimates. Make bottom-up estimates, not top-down ones (e.g. don’t say “if we capture 10% of this 100 billion dollar market, we’ll be making 10 billion dollars!” because those estimates are often wildly inaccurate and don’t represent thoughtful estimation) We will charge customers the ordinary cost of a repair plus a 15% convenience fee. Ralph’s currently operates over 50 repair shops in each state for a grand total of 290 stores. Each one operates on only 10 customers per day, because others call in and are turned off by the 2 week wait time.When new repairmen were hired last year, the average cost of a repair went up 50%, but the volume of repairs also went up 100%, tripling revenue. Operating profits went from $1.2 billion/year to $3 billion/year. From this, based on the volume of repairs in San Francisco alone being over 150 per day, and the average cost being about $400, we could be operating at about $70k per day in just SF.
By Zain Shah: source.

The best answer is something like “we have a path to be doing enough revenue to cover our expenses in a year, but if things really work, here is how we could make $1B a year in 10 years.”
By Sam Altman: somewhere on HN.

How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won’t be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that? (avg. answer: 95 words)

You’ve thought about your biggest initial hurdle, getting people to know about you and pay you for your product. Be specific, don’t generalize with things like paid ads or strategic partnerships. We got our first 2500 pre-paid users with my connections to local repair shops. I used their existing infrastructure to sell the coupons and they will provide the services when requested from the app until I’ve built out the infrastructure ourselves. This partnership with local shops will continue until our own staff are able to compete.
By Zain Shah: source.

Distribution is also really important. I’m guessing a lot of applicants haven’t thought as much about this part of the app. That’s ok — I think distribution comes after finding product market fit (the whole thing about users) but it’s still a place where you can demonstrate you know your stuff.
By Jason Shen: source.

If you had aniy other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we’ve been waiting for. Often when we fund people it’s to do something they list here and not in the main application. (avg. answer: 100 words)

If they like you but not your business idea, any of these ideas may turn the tables in your favor. Therefore it is to your advantage to put something here. I’m sure you have other ideas.
By Zain Shah: source.

Please tell us about the time you, username, most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage. (avg. answer: 107 words)

They’re looking for evidence that you are clever. The ability to think out of the box and manipulate large systems to your advantage are critical to gaining an edge on the market when you have no capital advantage (which is usually the case with startups).
By Zain Shah: source.

When I was running my startup, we got catastrophic news that the first big customer in the space (Boost Mobile) was signing a deal with a competitor instead of with us. This would have killed us. The competitor was a much larger and better funded company that had been around for years. I was a 20 year old CEO. Most big companies do not like to make risky decisions, so this was not entirely surprising. We got this news at about 11 pm. The next morning at 6 am, I was on a flight to Orange County. I sat in the lobby until the guy responsible for the deal on their side walked in. He was polite but said the decision was made. I convince him to look at our demo (in the past few days, we’d done some research to figure out exactly what features he really cared about). As soon as he saw it I knew we had a chance. Ended up hanging around for about two weeks. Eventually, the other company overplayed their hand and we got the deal, and then the deals with every other major US telecom company.
By Sam Altman: source.

How you hacked some real-world system to your advantage is not a super important question. Probably not even in the top 10. I don’t know about the other YC partners, but the two most important questions to me are what you’ve done in the past that’s impressive, and why you chose the idea you’re working on.
By Paul Graham: source.

I believe the key to this question is demonstrating with a concrete example how you demonstrated the ability to be relentlessly resourceful and overcome an obstacle by thinking outside the box. As an example, in our application, I specifically discussed how I overcame terrible customer support lines (ie. cable companies) by carpet-bombing executives w/ strongly worded but polite emails using contact information I hunted off the internet until they couldn’t ignore me and sent an executive support member to solve my problem.
By Harry Zhang: source.

Please tell us in one or two sentences about the most impressive thing other than this startup that you have built or achieved. (avg. answer: 95 words)

To me this is the most important question on the application. It’s deliberately open-ended; there’s no one type of answer we’re looking for. It could be that you did really well in school, or that you wrote a highly-regarded piece of software, or that you paid your own way through college after leaving home at 16. It’s not the type of achievement that matters so much as the magnitude. Succeeding in a startup is, in the most literal sense, extraordinary, so we’re looking for people able to do extraordinary things.
By Paul Graham: source.

When answering the question about the most impressive thing you’ve achieved, it’s not necessary to “focus on things that can be useful in a startup.” In fact that’s a common mistake. If you won an Olympic gold medal and can also write hello world in Ruby, we want to hear about the former, not the latter.
By Paul Graham: source.

Come off as intelligent, capable, impressive in some manner. Bonus points if your impressive thing isn’t the startup but shows off your uniquely advantageous characteristics. E.g. Eastern region manager of the largest personal appliance repair shop chain in the world, Ralph’s, at only 25 years old.
By Zain Shah: source.

Pay particular attention to the question asking which impressive things you’ve built/achieved. it’s the first question on the application i look at.
By Harjeet Taggar: source.

Realize the question asking about the most impressive things you’ve built or achieved is one of (possibly the) most important question on the form. Don’t answer with “This startup”, “I haven’t achieved anything impressive yet” or use it as an opportunity to show your sense of humour. We’re not looking for resume credentials here, examples of where you were determined to do something and stuck with it — regardless of the outcome — are impressive to us (since so much of what we’re looking for in founders is determination).
By Harjeet Taggar: source.

We mentioned specific and verifiable achievements, the substance of which implied that we are determined people. You should try to avoid generalities.
By Ethan Fast: source.

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Advice on YC Application in General

Also, we documented advice on how to approach the application process in general. To add some structure, we grouped them by areas to focus on.

How and what to write

Don’t pitch and write like to a friend

Don’t pitch. I understand that YC is technically an investor, and you are technically pitching them to invest in you, but leave the formal marketing speak off the application. PG, Jessica, Trevor, RTM, Harj, Alexis, and any other YC alums that read your application are real people. Real, normal, nice people. So talk to them (and write your application) as if you’re talking to a friend, not a stereotypical investor. YC is looking to invest in real people, not robots spewing buzzwords and jargon, so just be a human.
By Aaron Epstein: source.

Simple rule of thumb: Does the writing sound like something you would say to a friend? If not, rewrite.
By Garry Tan: source.

Put the most important in the first sentence.

Whatever you have to say, give it to us right in the first sentence, in the simplest possible terms. If there’s a simple one-sentence description of what you’re doing that only conveys half your potential, that’s actually pretty good. You’re halfway to your destination in just the first sentence.
By Paul Graham: source.

You need to get to the point fast and make every answer matter. At the end of the day, nothing matters except that they say “oh shit, this team is really smart / over the top hardworking / resourceful / can get things done / like each other / could successfully build a great startup”. Think constantly about how you can impress with substance, not style (unless the style is in your product).
By Jason Shen: source.

Provide data and facts

If you have any kind of data, however preliminary, tell the audience. Numbers stick in people’s heads. If you can claim that the median visitor generates 12 page views, that’s great. But don’t give them more than four or five numbers, and only give them numbers specific to you.
By Paul Graham: source.

Be matter of fact in your writing. Stick to facts, data and solid points that can be backed up with evidence if needed. Concreteness matters because it increases the chances that the partners will “get it” right away. Remember they will spend about 5 minutes on average reading your application.
By Jason Shen: source.

Give figures. These can be lines of code, number of beta releases or beta users, your total addressable market, your pricing.
By Mathilde Collin: source.

Be concise but write a lot

Yours has to stand out. So you have to be exceptionally clear and concise.
By Paul Graham: source.

Write as concisely and clearly as you can, please don’t use big dense blocks of text.
By Harjeet Taggar: source.

Be concise. One or two sentences per answer is plenty enough. Bullet points are great.
By Mathilde Collin: source.

As you write your application, imagine that you are writing for a very tired YC alum who has just read through a billion of these things. Keep it short. Get to the point. No one wants to read an essay when a sentence or two will do the job.
By Aaron Epstein: source.

If I were to advise myself in 2007, I would recommend that I write briefly but write a lot. This advice seems contradictory, but I mean it in a very specific way. My first application, I kept brief. I did not want to swamp YC with a tome of text. I saved many of my accomplishments for the interview. Do not do this. Write, write, and write some more. Write everything interesting and unique about yourself. If you have doubts about a statement you made about a competitor, qualify it. Don’t vacillate, but at the same time don’t seem shallow, ignorant, and inexperienced.

Of course, once you’ve written all that, you have a very long application. Now, take out filler words. Compress ideas that take up two sentences when you can use just one. If you waste two words in a sentence, delete the whole sentence and write it again from scratch. If you see a phrase that you think an investment banker might use on his resume, nuke it. Achieve a high density. In my experience, the YC crew truly pores over these applications to understand all of the meat of it. They do not skim your application when it has rich content. Cut, cut, and cut some more.
By Joseph Perla: source.

How to stand out

Make them believe in you

Generally, the advice I’d give to applicants is: help us out. Investors are optimists. We want to believe you’re great. Most people you meet in everyday life don’t. Like all investors, we want to believe. So help us believe. If there’s something about you that stands out, or some special insight you have into the problem you plan to work on, make sure we see it.
By Paul Graham: source.

We want to believe. The biggest mistake founders make is burying whatever it is that’s exceptional about them or their company deep in the application. We are optimists. We want to believe. Help us by putting whatever it is that is going to make us want to fund you early in the answer to each question.
Also, be concise.
By Sam Altman: source.

The # 1 thing that YC worries about is rejecting somebody they should have accepted. Picking the best applications is easy, they are obviously good in every respect. But picking from the rest of them is profoundly hard.
By Gleb Arshinov: source.

Be awesome

Be Awesomer. Look at each of your answers and ask yourself, “what would make this awesome?” Think of a great book or a movie trailer. They throw you right into the action. They grab your attention. They leave you wanting more.
By Tad Milbourn: source.

Picture this scenario: a YC alum has just finished reading the 50th application in a row, and then leans over to pull yours out from the pile. How will yours stand out?
By Aaron Epstein: source.

Be formidable. A formidable person is one who seems like they’ll get what they want, regardless of whatever obstacles are in the way. Formidable is close to confident, except that someone could be confident and mistaken. Formidable is roughly justifiably confident.
By Paul Graham: source.

YC is looking for great founders. So the purpose of the application is to show that you may be great. That’s it. That’s all you are trying to do.
There are 2 ways to do this. The simplest is if you’ve already done some impressive things. This is what the “the most impressive thing other than this startup that each founder has built or achieved” and related questions are about.
By Gleb Arshinov: source.

Be relentlessly resourceful

But more than anything, YC wants to know that you’re ‘relentlessly resourceful’. If I had to put it in my own words, I’d say most YC founders (and successful people in general) I’ve met share a common belief that they’re not a victim of their circumstance. I think they’d actually find it silly to believe you can’t do something to change yourself or your life for the better in some way. They may not know right away how to make the change, but they know how to find out and they know how to ask for help.
By Wil Chung: source.

Never give up

Grit — you have to be the type of person who is never going to give up. This does not mean you are not flexible. You have to be flexible AND never give up. You just absolutely cannot quit. They are going to measure you. They need to be convinced on an emotional level that you are not going to quit. It has to be in your bones. I don’t think you can fake this.
By Glen Moriarty: source.

We ask ourselves some the question: will they be persistent? Startups are tough and at this early stage, one of the big causes of failure is a co-founder leaving to join bigco or heading back to grad school. Give us examples of where you’ve been persistent and not given up, convince us you’re not going to flake.
By Harjeet Taggar: source.

How to present your business

Don’t hide your weaknesses

If we can see obstacles to your idea that you don’t seem to have considered, that’s a bad sign… Paradoxically, it is for this reason better to disclose all the flaws in your idea than to try to conceal them. If we think of a problem you don’t mention, we’ll assume it’s because you haven’t thought of it.
By Paul Graham: source.

Do not try to hide your weaknesses or act like they do not exist. They will sniff them out and bring them to your attention. They do not expect you to be perfect or to be able to have an immediate answer for everything. Instead, they want to know that:
You have the ability to own your weaknes
You can generate a solution to address the weakness
You can ask for feedback on your solution
You can execute the agreed upon solution.
By Glen Moriarty: source.

Your application then serves to make it look like your company could be huge, and that you are the team best suited to make it huge. “Could be huge” is important here, your company just needs to be able to be huge.
By Zain Shah: source.

Show passion

Show passion! This isn’t something you can fake. You either have it in your soul, or you don’t. And if there’s one thing that PG/Jessica/Harj/etc are really good at, it’s that they can smell lack of passion and commitment a mile away. How bad do you want this? What are you willing to give up? Anything and everything?
By Aaron Epstein: source.

Sometimes we see founders who are not “all in” but are looking for YC to validate them. This is a bad sign. We like backing people who’ve jumped off the ledge because it is a necessary condition for success and something we can judge easily — usually we are not knowledgeable enough about a company’s domain to tell if their idea is good.
By Michael Seibel: source.

Solve a hair on fire problem, or do it right

Solve a hair on fire problem, or do it right. One of the first pieces of startup advice I remember coming across was Paul Buchheit talking about startup ideas. Successful ones fall in one of two categories: They either solve a hair on fire problem that has never been solved before OR they solve a problem that has other solutions, but they do it so much better that they are “done right.”

If you’re a hair on fire problem, you have to clearly state how bad that problem is. How do you know the problem exists? Who has it? How specifically have you solved it? When you’re doing something new like solving a brand new hair on fire problem, it’s an uphill battle just to let people know you exist. We want to know that you are capable of even getting people to know you exist.

On the flip side, if you’re focused on a more crowded space and you’re trying to do it right, then you’ve got to be a lot more clear about how your solution is unique and different. It’s not OK to do exactly the same thing. Help us understand what you have figured out that nobody else has. It’s so important, this is actually one of the questions on the application.

If you’re new, focus on explaining what you are. If you’re not new, focus on explaining how you’re different. If you’re neither of these types, you’re doing it wrong.
By Garry Tan: source.

If you are a new analytics tool, you need to be so much better than existing solutions that you could possibly be running on all the software in the world in just a few years.
By Zain Shah: source.

What makes your team/product/traction/distribution strategy SO GOOD that they have to fund your version of this idea? Better say something insightful that demonstrates your unique ability to succeed. Do some research, talk to customers, have something concretely legit to show.

Now, I do think that both for yourself and for impressing potential investors (like YC). You want to have a thesis when approaching your startup:“Not only does X suck in these specific and important ways, but all previous attempts to solve X sucking have failed for these 3 reasons. Now, new technologies or social trends have created an opportunity for us to solve this problem using this new approach Y which we have experience/expertise in.
By Jason Shen: source.

Show strong growth

There is really only one thing that matters in startups and that is growth. Everyone says it, nobody listens. But it is the only thing. Every other bit of advice is more or less bullshit without growth. All good founders will tell you this.

So when you’re filling out your application — quickly and explicitly state what your product does, and then get to the damn growth! YC partners are reading thousands of applications. But growth really stands out. Even the most banal or tired ideas can seem like real gems if growth is there. There is an outside chance that you have an idea so novel that it stands on its own, but the chances are slim, and even then, you could still probably find a way to show growth in interest (like a sign up form) for what you’re doing.
By Adrian Sanders: source.

One thing the YC partners advise is that you should pick a metric, one that really matters to the core of your business, and grow it by 10% a week during YC. PG goes over this in a recent essay. I think this is important to do even before YC. When picking the metric, one good question to ask is: If, within 1 year, we have 1000X of this metric, will we be actually successful?
by Hipmob team: source.

While growth is the most important thing in a startup, it’s unreasonable to expect it at the point when companies are applying to YC, so it is not the main thing the partners look for. Neither Dropbox nor Airbnb nor Stripe nor Optimizely had any growth when they applied to YC. When I was reading applications (odd yet delightful to use the past tense) the main thing I looked for was energetic founders working on an idea that grew organically out of their own experience. E.g. Optimizely consisted of the guy in charge of a/b testing for Obama’s first presidential campaign, starting a company to turn the insights he’d gained into a product.

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.
By Paul Graham: source.

What we got out of applying to YC

We applied most of those tips. Yet on a day X, we received a rejection letter from YC. It felt sad a bit in the first instance.

However, we got a lot of value out of that process, even though we didn’t make it.

YC questions make you think hard
All those questions made us think deeply about the business we’re building. One may not have time in a day to day routine, but when applying to YC you craft (at least we did) the answers carefully.

It was worth every hour spent on the application.

I returned to a gym, at last
“How can we show us being buddies?” — we asked ourselves while filling up the application. All we do is working 12h a day together in the same room.

Well, I wanted to return to a gym (gave it up to work more). Artem, my co-founder was in already. So, I joined him on a day we applied.

Thus we wrote on our application: “In between work, we work out in a gym”. It’s still true 6 months later 💪

How can we become a billion dollar company?
We could be rejected because Standuply didn’t seem to become a billion-dollar company. It’s the feedback we got from peers.

It raised our bar, and now we’re asking ourselves this question more often. Sometimes it leads us to interesting talks and ideas.

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In the meantime, Standuply continues to grow. We’re doing our best to get from zero to $100k and probably will break $20k in revenues in May.

We believe nothing is impossible. Even if you didn’t get to YC, based in the middle of Siberia and have no funding. Like us 😀

I’d like to wrap up with the quote by By Zain Shah (source):

The best advice I can give you is to make sure your business would do well with/without YC, and that it shows on your application. Advice on doing well with/without YC would constitute advice on doing well with your company in general.

P.S. If you don’t have a business idea yet to apply with, here’s my dedicated post how to come up with the internet business opportunity: Techniques to Find Your Billion Dollar Idea.

Cover Photo by James Pond on Unsplash.

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Alex Kistenev

Alex is CEO and co-founder of Standuply where he's in charge of strategy and marketing. Alex is a snowboard fan and travel addicted. Contact him via Twitter or email.

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