A lesson in inbound marketing
In a Twitter AMA today, Y Combinator president Sam Altman said this:
We don’t have a PR firm. I do think YC paid for an ad once in 2006 in the Stanford college newspaper, but we don’t really do marketing. The thing we rely on most of all is founders we fund telling other people about our program.
He’s right, to an extent. I have no doubt that YC has no “marketing budget” to speak of, and they certainly don’t buy ads.
But they absolutely do inbound marketing. From Hubspot.com:
Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.
Here are a few examples:
- Startup School — an event where people come to learn about startups
- How to start a startup — a Stanford class that got syndicated globally
- Female Founders Conference — an annual conference for females interested in startups
- Startup School Radio — a podcast about startups
- Paul Graham’s blog — along with dozens of other YC partner blogs
- Hacker News — the hub of startup discussion and links
- YC Hacks — a hackathon hosted by YC
- Event presence — go to any popular hackathon or startup conference, and Sam Altman, Alexis O’Hanian, or someone else from YC will likely be on stage.
So, yes, YC doesn’t buy ads and pay for press. They have mastered a particular field, and provide the world with free content related to that field. It’s the best marketing they could ever do.
If you have any involvement or interest in startups, you know about Y Combinator. That’s not a coincidence, and it’s not because they bought your attention. It’s because they put good content, events, and platforms out into the world.