@ycombinator's @startupschool week 7 - the final week! YC Group Partner and head of admissions Dalton Caldwell @dalstonc talked about How and When to Apply to YC. 📝 sharing my notes:
This isn’t a basic talk about the logistics of applying, which you can read on the YC website
this talk is a much deeper look into - how YC thinks about investing in startups and - why so much advice that you hear about applying to YC is wrong.
first - why it's worth applying to YC: it's good to sit down and think about your startup. the application process itself is helpful for reflecting on your business
if you are interested in this presentation then it's probably a good fit for you
the application is easy and fast. the potential upside is very big
on luck - a lot of applicants reference his old talk, about luck. his philosophy - certain people are luckier than others. but one of the ways to create luck is to put yourself out there
you can systematically do that by taking more risks or if you avoid then you reduce the surface area for getting lucky
it's good evergreen advice for life and running a company. try a lot of different things applying to YC is taking a sensible risk
bad reasons to NOT apply: I am too early - there is no such thing I am too far along - they have people joining who have raised >$1m or annual revenues >$500k
some people think that YC startup school is a reasonable approximation for YC - not true! the actual YC program is more intense and hands-on. you also get information that is never made public
another bad reason - someone in my life is discouraging me from applying if it's an investor - ask them if they're willing to invest. call them out if they don't
maybe it's someone in your country that is telling you to think local. ask them if they are discouraging you from dreaming big
maybe you're holding off because of a potential upcoming event like a seed round. not a good idea to remove your options
you may think that your company is too unique - but they invest in every vertical in every country YC funds companies in all geographies and multiple companies in the same space
don't over think it. if it might be a good idea, give it a shot
the secret reasons you may not apply: you think you can't get in. fair. but get used to things that probably won't work. most people in the most recent batch have applied multiple times before getting in
good reasons not to apply: you don't want to stick to this company for years you don't think venture funding is the route for you you are not running a tech startup
now, on to the actual application: you apply on the website. no emails. no deck.
Dalton's tip: fill on the full form including all founder biographies. leaving sections blank is a red flag for them. pay attention to grammar, punctuation and capitalization. it shows care and intent.
make a founder video that follows directions - i.e. ALL founders must be in it! be clear and concise.
as an applicant reader, these are the questions he asks himself: who are the founders and how do they know each other? what is their idea? do i understand it?
what exactly do they have today. at this moment. is it built? users? is there evidence that people want it? are the founders serious? do they really want to do it? e.g. left their job.
lastly he looks for something impressive about the application - like the founders, the idea - something that stands out
Dalton then tells himself a story based on that application form - see the example below
weak applications obfuscate everything so it's hard to tell that story if someone cannot understand the basics, then convincing them is impossible
here's another example from Github, a YC company. it's very concrete on what it is, who uses it. It's crystal clear what they do
this is a fake example of a bad application. there are words but it is impossible for Dalton to summarize the story.
the application rewards honest people acting in good faith. anything that is intentionally misleading is going to be a disqualifier. they notice and they don't like it
the biggest variable in the odds of getting an interview is the quality of technical talent
a team with at least 1 cofounder who has the technical skills to be hired at a top YC startup has 5x better odds than one without
tarpit ideas have very low odds - see my other thread on that topic here: https://twitter.com/afscott/status/1551628015582400512
how to improve your odds? find a technical co founder via the startup school platform apply multiple times, show progress
note that they do not want warm intros or pitch decks. that is now how they work
there are no tricks, it's just about the application form. don't give any time to someone who promises you to get you an edge in the process
next stage - the interview if you're selected, you have a 10 minute zoom call. 2-4 people from YC. they will have the application open. all founders must attend.
the questions are basic. they should not be surprising. the questions are based on context - stage and industry.
once they understand the basics, it'll turn into a conversation. it shouldn't be thought of as an adversarial process. you're not working against YC
there is a lot of bad YC interview advice out there interviewers are asking themselves if they can work with these founders
for example if you prepare memorized answers or not answer the question - it's unlikely that the YC people will feel like they can work with you
if you don't seem trustworthy, stretch the truth - those are also red flags
most people who get in have read the instructions. some people do interview practice, which can help if you it gives you confidence
a successful interview is one where all the basic questions are answered well. founders know their numbers, the risks and what to do next
founders are credible, honest and aware of the real challenges. but they are still confident. the best founders are authentic and not acting like they are on shark tank. try to be natural and conversational.
ultimately they are looking for people they are are excited to work with
if you interview and are not selected, you get feedback. internalizing this feedback and addressing it will help your odds in a future application. they track this stuff
applying to YC is simple. it's well documented. it's a good risk with uncapped upside that could change everything for your startup.
create luck, put yourself out there.
Q&A with @KatManalac - is it worth applying if my company is not incorporated in the US?
Yes. They support four entities and they're on the website. If you have one not on that list then there may be some ownership transfer required.
Q - should solo founders apply?
Yes they should apply. Many top YC companies - like coinbase, instacart, cruise - were solo founders.
Only caveat on solo founders - it's best if the solo founder is technical and can do all aspects of the company: build, sales, etc.
All these example companies added a co founder later. But they had the skills to do everything at the start.
Q - can I apply now for the next future batch?
You can. But try to explain in the application why. There might be good reasons.
Q - if I didn't get in last time, what should I change?
Read through this content and look at the tarpit ideas lecture. Most common feedback is that it doesn't seem that serious - people often apply without demonstrating that they are really serious.
Q - does an existing YC competitor impact my chances of getting in?
The definition of a competitor can be very broad. It's generally not an issue. But if you are building a clone of a YC competitor then that's probably not a good thing. It needs to be better than what has come before.
Really good startup ideas often have multiple people attacking it. And YC funds multiple companies in each space.
Q - what if I already raised money?
If it's on SAFEs, then it's not a down round. They regularly fund companies that have raised millions of dollars. Founders believe that they can be helped by the partners, the network, distribution. Ultimately it's the founders decision, not the investors.
Because they invest on a SAFE, the concept of a down round doesn't apply. Just remember, you make the decision as the founders. Always think about what puts you on the trajectory to build the biggest company.
The end of Q&A! Applications for the next batch are open. Deadline is 12 September 2022.