Applying to YC & Techstars
Many people talk about their startup accelerator journey, but very few share the learnings they obtained while going through the application process. This week’s article is dedicated to what our team learned when applying to two startup accelerators — Y Combinator (“YC”), and the Techstars’ Sports Accelerator (“Techstars”).
XP Fantasy is a daily fantasy esports site for those who do not want to gamble, but still want to compete and win prizes. We are a relatively new company — we ran our first beta test back in 2020 and officially launched our site at the start of 2021. It didn’t take us long to realize that we would be able to scale more quickly (and effectively), if we had the right mentors to help accelerate our learnings. We also knew that being surrounded by a group of founders that were going through, or had already gone through, similar challenges to us would allow us to learn from others and set us up for success.
It was for these reasons (along with so many more), that our team decided to apply to both YC and Techstars.
The application process for both accelerators is quite straightforward. Teams are required to submit (i) a written application, (ii) a founder profile for each founder, and (iii) a one-minute team video.
Prior to starting our applications, we did some background research to see what advice we could find from others who had applied to either YC and/or Techstars (note my mention above about how few people share their accelerator application learnings). The resources we did find suggested that our written application should take no more than half an hour to complete. And, while that may be the case for other startups, it definitely was not true for us.
We were forced to think about things that the team had never taken the time to think through and internally align upon.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the questions themselves aren’t tricky — in fact, they are so straightforward that it’s almost embarrassing when you can’t respond to them point blank. Yet, this is exactly what happened to us. We decided the best way to tackle the application would be to have one person from our team fill out the application so that we could have a starting point and then could all finalize the application together over a one-hour call. That one hour became two, and then three. We broke for dinner. And then we got right back on a call. It took us countless hours to answer a few “basic” questions. We were forced to think about things that the team had never taken the time to think through and internally align upon. For example, the questions forced us to discuss critical things like what our company was truly solving for, what qualified us to solve the problem we were tackling, and what our equity division was.
Both the YC and Techstars applications have a few questions that focus on each founder and their background. As we quickly learned, your founding team matters — sometimes even more than your idea does. This is especially true for first time founders. Many of the YC and Techstars alumni that we chatted with told us that oftentimes, teams are selected based on who is on the founding team, not on the teams’ idea. This makes the founder section of your application all the more important — definitely think through your answers for this part of the application.
Our team had a lot of fun putting our team video together. Since neither of us were together, we filmed our video over Zoom. The trickiest part of this portion of the application was limiting our video to one-minute and trying to express how well we all worked together — remotely. This is also the only part of the application where you can show off your personality so don’t be afraid to be yourself or pretend to be someone you’re not.
We came out of the application process with a deeper understanding of our product, mission, and roadmap. As cheesy as this sounds (and trust me, I know it sounds cheesy), we will always be grateful for the learnings we picked up during the application process. Highlighted below are 3 of our key takeaways:
- Keep your answers as simple as possible. Some accelerators may give you 1000+ characters to respond to a question and, even though you could use all 1000 characters, it’s far more impressive if you answer the question concisely, in less. Just because you have the space to share, does not mean that you should. The best answers get to the point right away. Bonus tip (which may seem obvious but trust me, it isn’t), answer the question. Don’t write what you think the accelerator wants to hear, just answer. the. question.
- Describe your company in one sentence using language that a person without any expertise in your industry would understand. This is especially true for highly technical or niche products and services. As simple as this may seem, our team greatly struggled with this. After much debate, we settled on “XP Fantasy is creating an affordable daily fantasy esports website for fans worldwide who do not want to gamble but still want to win prizes.”
In one sentence we explained (i) our business model, (ii) our target market, and (iii) the problem our company has set out to solve.
- Stats, stats, stats. Even though we had not officially launched XP Fantasy when we applied to YC and Techstars, we knew it was important to demonstrate that our idea had been legitimized by the market. The best way to demonstrate traction is by sharing statistics that demonstrate company growth. We shared the following statistics in our Techstars application (in February 2021):
(i) we have run 108 contests with 133 unique users (with a month over month growth rate of 120%);
(ii) 871 lineups have been drafted by users (with a month over month growth rate of 445%);
(iii) we have built an MVP;
(iv) we have conducted 70+ user interviews; and,
(v) we have grown our discord community to 177 users.
The waiting game! We are currently waiting to hear back from both YC and Techstars to see if we have qualified for an interview. If the interview stage goes well, we’ll be invited to join the accelerator’s incoming cohort. Regardless of what the outcome may be, we’ll be sure to keep you posted.