(Note: W2016 applications are due Oct 13 at 8pm PT, so apply soon!)
Before applying to Y Combinator, I remember talking to several friends who were alumni. They spoke so highly of it, that my first thoughts were “this is a cult” and “my friends really drank the kool aid”. That is, until I went through the program myself.
Hands down, Y Combinator (apply here) is the most prestigious tech accelerator out there, and for good reason. My former company, Zen99, was fortunate to have been part of their Summer 2014 class, and Y Combinator was integral to us building the company. I’ve referred several friends in, who all say the same thing.
In the spirit of helping other entrepreneurs, I wanted to provide some insight into why you should apply to Y Combinator if you are thinking about or have already started a company.
1. It makes fundraising / recruiting / everything else 10x easier
The number of doors Y Combinator opens is phenomenal. There are stories of companies getting funding just for getting a Y Combinator interview. I can confirm that fundraising would have been much more difficult for us if not for Y Combinator — both being a positive signal, as well as prepping us appropriately.
2. You’ll be around 200+ of the smartest and most motivated people
Y Combinator is like getting into Harvard or Stanford — the cream of the crop fights to be there (Y Combinator’s acceptance rate is apparently lower than either of those institutions). These are people who will challenge you, help you solve impossible problems, and (most importantly) be there when you’re down.
3. You’ll make friendships that will last a lifetime
Batchmates have been in each others’ wedding parties. I went hiking with a few last weekend. Helping each other through the struggles of a startup create bonds for life.
4. You’ll learn to prioritize properly
One mantra Y Combinator (generally) follows is “if you aren’t embarrassed when you launch, you launched too late.” If you always wait until everything is perfect, be prepared for competitors to crush you. Learning lessons like these are tough by yourself; Y Combinator has the collective knowledge of billions of dollars of company value, and countless hours of mistakes made and lessons learned.
5. You’ll be around others who want to change the world
Our batch had startups doing quantum computing, fusion energy, and the like. TechCrunch even wrote an article about the breadth, because this isn’t typical for an accelerator. Y Combinator also has a Request for Startups (RFS) page for areas they hope entrepreneurs can fix.
6. You’ll significantly increase your company’s chance of success
Yes, there are plenty of successful startups who didn’t go through Y Combinator. But I have yet to meet a Y Combinator alumni who does not answer with a resounding “yes” that the program was absolutely worth it for their company.
7. Y Combinator itself acts like a startup
I’m incredibly impressed by Y Combinator’s recent experiments. Two recent ones include their YC Fellowship (investing $12K for no equity, in hopes it persuades entrepreneurs to take a risk and leave their job) and YC Research (trying to eliminate the inefficiencies of current research institutions…this will be huge).
So how do I get into Y Combinator?
Y Combinator always suggests applying, even if you think you’re too early or too late. They take companies from all stages; they just want to find motivated, ambitious people who hope to change the world. Here are some tips for applying:
1. Be a good person
2. Think big
Y Combinator wants to support world changing companies; for-profits should think billion dollar opportunities, non-profits should think revolutionary changes (our friends at Bayes Impact are a perfect example).
3. Be passionate about what you do
Startups are hard; if you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, the day to day will kill you quickly.
4. Set yourself up for success before YC
Get customers, get a prototype out, do some MVP work; think hard about why you are uniquely positioned to make this company work. Remember: ideas are cheap, execution is difficult. And execution is the only thing that matters.
5. Keep it simple in the application
Get to the root of the question, and give quality answers; leave out marketing speak and empty promises. (More resources below.)
6. Be prepared to work your a** off and get brutal feedback
During our first group office hours, I gave what I thought was a great 30 second summary of our company. Our group partners asked the rest of the group if they knew what we did — no one did. I was then used as an example for a 5 minute lecture on why that’s a problem. Lesson learned brutally, and quickly. But I never had that problem again. (Thanks to those two partners — you know who you are.)
More technical Y Combinator application advice
- I have a follow-up post on how to prepare for the Y Combinator interview, which I’ll post in another week or two.
- Zachariah Reitano wrote a great mock application using Thumbtack as an example. (Funny enough, see Thumbtack’s original ‘Ask HN’ 2,186 days ago, and their recent $125M raise 10 days ago.)
- Our friends at Aptible have a great post on the Y Combinator application and interview.
- Read from Y Combinator themselves on how to apply to Y Combinator.
- Learn more about what happens at Y Combinator.
You should apply to Y Combinator.
I’d be happy to provide advice to anyone who is on the fence about applying, or wants some feedback on their application. Shoot me a note at tristan [at] tryzen99 [dotcom]. I wouldn’t have applied if it wasn’t for Justin Kan and other alumni encouraging me to. My favorite part of the Y Combinator community is the desire to pay it forward and find strong individuals to further strengthen the community.
Also, follow me on Twitter if you want to read more about Y Combinator, the 1099 economy, and more!