YC - My experience and advice for the application and interview
January 01, 2021
Luke’s Thoughts on YC
If you are an early-stage company, I think YC has incredible value and should still be the default for most founders. Especially if you are selling a product to startups.
If you already have customers, have a product, and can (or have) raised a seed round from good investors at a high valuation then the benefits are less clear. However, I definitely wouldn’t rule it out. There are many smart and well-resourced second-time founders who still go through YC e.g. Suhail (the founder of Mixpanel who decided to also go through YC with Mighty). If this is the case, I’d suggest getting advice from founders who entered YC at a later stage about why they still decided to do YC.
TL;DR on my reflections: I’m confident YC was the right decision for us. It’s significantly increased our chances of building a hugely impactful company. It’s probably better suited for B2B but there are also B2C success stories. My advice would be to speak to someone with a similar (but not competing) company who went through YC. I’m happy to introduce you if useful.
Why we applied for YC
- Applying and joining YC gave our team great alignment and a solid goal to work towards.
- We thought that the dilution would be easily made up by the higher valuation that we would raise the Seed at.
- To significantly improve our network of SF founders to sell to and intros to VCs
- Learn more about how to operate a startup
- Team alignment: Definitely gave our team alignment and a goal to work towards. Post-accelerators, having office hours has been great for an external sounding board.
- Raise valuation: hard to say with confidence as we deferred demo day and it’s not easy to run counter-factual in the real world ;) But Pre-COVID YC was very likely to raise valuations, I’d suggest speaking to a post-COVID company to verify.
- Improve network of customers and VCs: This was definitely true
- Learn how to operate a startup: Limited formally taught knowledge, a large amount of peer learning and personalised guidance through the office hours
Where I think YC adds value (from most to least)
- The network is for the rest of your life. When we explored a new B2B idea I had a searchable database of 1000 Seed+ startup founders. I had a 60+ response rate with personalised cold emails. Many Series B+ founders were wanting to try it out in production and lots of other founders were willing to share their thoughts on the space and industry. I’m in a completely different position to start a company than before going through YC. And, if you are a B2B startup, as you grow there are more later-stage YC companies who are willing to be your customers and a fresh stream of new companies each year.
- I’ve had candid conversations with 40+ founders who all share industry knowledge that they are only happy to share because you are in YC and there’s a strong bond around that.
- Our network of impressive startup people that we know has improved 10x, many of whom are not directly involved with YC but reached out because we were in YC or we reached out to them due to something related to YC.
- The YC brand has meant pretty much everyone replies to my LinkedIn adds or Twitter DMs. Huge increase in response to cold emails. This makes reaching out for sales/investment/advice easier.
- It’s a 3-month excuse to just focus just on your company (applies a bit less now it’s remote and you’re not moving to the Bay Area)
- The office hours and group office hours are great for helping you set goals and keep to them
- Easy access to $150k capital based on a form, a 2-minute recording, and 1 interview.
- Pre-COVID, the YC brand and network would almost definitely help a first-time founder raise a larger seed which directly makes up for the dilution. In a post-COVID world this might have changed but likely to still help considerably. I’m happy to introduce you to founders who just graduated from the current online batch for you to ask.
Launching and press
- YC can significantly help get your first 100 users if there are relevant businesses from other batches or if early adopters are techy/prosumers.
- Guaranteed HN front page; ProductHunt launch help; a whole batch of other YC founders who will upvote and share/try your stuff; much higher chances of getting TechCrunch (which could get you 1000s of users).
- The YC brand is a strong attractor of talent but we are still early so it’s hard for me to comment on this. I worked for a startup in Cambridge, UK and a major reason for joining was the YC brand as an indicator of quality.
- There are surprisingly few formal lectures during YC but TBH I don’t think these are needed given the huge amount of content online. We received 2 days of high-quality lectures at the start but similar lectures are all on startup school. The dinners were fun and the founders spoke candidly - good reminder that they are just normal people.
- Great peer-learnings from friends where their startups take-off mid batch, and from those that don’t
Final thoughts on my experience
The most underrated thing about YC is that the 2 major benefits of Network and Office hours continue indefinitely.
Other advice that friends have written (I don’t agree with everything they have written but different perspectives are likely useful):
My generic application advice
Clearly explain what you are doing and where you are. Think of the main 3-5 points you want to get across during the application and make these stand out (e.g. Growth, Incredible insight, Growing market). Keep it information dense and cut the marketing language.
I’m happy to look over YC applications. Drop me a message on LinkedIn or Twitter.
Still wondering if YC is right for you? I wrote about my experience here
Useful resources for the application
- Paul Graham - How to apply successfully (Paul Graham 2009, excellent read)
- YC - FAQs
- YC - About Y Combinator
- The Dropbox YC application
- Example successful YC applications (and videos, & general advice)
- More example successful YC applications
- FLEX example YC application
- Collated YC application advice
- Paystack’s YC application
- Mixpanel’s application and his application advice
My generic advice for the interview
- Create a doc with the main interview questions and create crisp answers for each of them - learn these answers and practice using the question generators. Then do a few mock interviews with YC alumni and after each interview take 5 minutes to determine the answers that you need to add or improve
- Know the 3-5 main reasons why they should take you and make sure you get them across. After each mock interview ask yourself if you got across the 3-5 main reasons
- YC about the interviews
- YC how to prep
- Practice questions:
- https://jamescun.github.io/iPG/ / http://ipaulgraham.herokuapp.com/
- Garry Tan video
How to run a mock interview (by Mackenzie Burnett)
- Set up 30 min convos with founders, first launching into a 10 min timed mock, 5 min of feedback, another 10 min mock, then close with 5 min of feedback. All cofounders should be on the video call
- Send me your app and nothing else about your company so I have the same information a partner would
- In the meantime, practice with http://ipaulgraham.herokuapp.com/