Founders, ask us anything from YC admissions to Demo Day or something else!Featured
Hi Everyone!I’m Holly Liu, Visiting Partner at YC and former founder of Kabam, a mobile gaming company that exited in 2017.Excited to host a special AMA with @ElizabethAkman, Batch Director at YC for those of you who are wrapping up Startup School and are looking to apply to YC. Ask us anything about YC from admissions to the batch itself to Demo Day, being a woman founder or something else!We will be answering your questions tomorrow, Tuesday September 24 at 8pm PT.
I am a YC alum from W13. I am the founder of a company called experiment.com. @cadran mentioned that some of you are looking for YC alum to help review your application before submission. 🙋🏻♀️ I can make some time to help. Happy to review some apps and be supportive in any way that I am able. My email is [email protected]Like @avni, we also got rejected by YC before we got in.Edit: Thank you all for sending applications my way. I got way more requests than I had expected. I got through all that I have the bandwidth for tonight. Sorry I couldn't provide thoughtful comments to more of you.The most common piece of advice across all reviews is to say more with less. Be concise. Make your content clear and delivery memorable. Keep in mind that even the best investors (including YC) make mistakes all the time. If you are a good founder, you are good. What YC thinks of you doesn't change that you are good. Keep fighting the good fight! My inbox is always open to founders that want to send specific questions. I promise to answer every email.
I'm also setting time aside tomorrow to review applications - share your draft app via an editable Google Doc to [email protected] and happy to give feedback.
Hey @avni, I'd love to take you up on this offer as well! Sending you an email now. :)
Thank you @Cindy @avni and @shruts for all your generosity in reviewing and giving feedback! Your perspective is important and inspiring!
Thank you!!!! I sent an email.
I read about you a few years back! Such an interesting endeavor. I have friends who work in "pure science" including to new forms of abstract mathematics. They have the same problems as other entrepreneurs. They are doing something new and untested, which may be cutting edge even to other scientists. So they have to figure out how position and explain themselves to their audiences in the same way we do.
Hi Holly, Elizabeth, and Cindy, thank you so much for doing this. I'm co-founder of GamerSafer and we are making online gaming safer for kids and teens. Holly was one of the judges in a pitch competition we won last week and I sent you an email with our application as suggested. My email is [email protected] thank you so much, I'm looking forward to hearing from you. 🦄🚀🎮
Amazing, thank you @cindy! I'll send you an email as well.
Thank you for offering
Hi Holly and Elizabeth! Thank you for hosting this special AMA! Lots of great questions asked already.Adding a few more:1. Are the interview invitations and rejection emails sent periodically as applications are reviewed or are they sent all at once on October 16th? 2. Is each application reviewed by multiple people from YC? Can you share any more specifics into how the initial review process works before the interview invitations are sent? 3. In the admission team's ideal scenario, what would a prospective YC company have accomplished between submitting their application and their interview? 4. I read that approximately 1/4 of the last batch of YC companies had at least 1 female founder. Is YC making any special efforts to try to increase the number of companies accepted with a female founder in the next batch? Is that a goal or consideration of the YC admissions team? Thanks!Brianna
One extra question:This question is very specific to our scenario but I thought I may as well put it forward if you have time! 5. In our case, we need to incorporate before we are able to launch our product publicly. We've been speaking with lawyers to handle our c-corp formation but there's a huge price disparity. The three law firms have good reviews but one is about 3x less expensive than the other two for what seems to be the same deliverables. The cheaper one does not have as much expertise in our domain while the other two do.In your opinion, does it make sense to go with the cheaper law firm for the incorporation to get the product off the ground publicly, then get counsel from one of the other two when we need industry related advice?We want to make sure we do things right.
5. Do you need to incorporate before launching? I'm not sure the reasons why you could not just launch. When it comes to launching I mean showing it to users and getting them to use and or pay for it. When it comes to services like a lawyer, I think you get what you pay for. Especially if the firm has a good reputation. However incorporation should be easy and cheap and usually does not require domain expertise. If incorporation requires domain expertise then this seems like something you need special lawyers. What is your industry?
1. They are sent all at once2. Each application is reviewed by multiple people from YC. The initial review is loose and then it becomes a bit more tight. We look for great founders who can communicate clearly (without a lot of jargon) and can make a bunch of progress in a short amount of time. This means they have been able to get usage or revenue in a short amount of time. If you are too early, then you have some unique insight or the perfect team to do this. For example, the founder of Docker wanted to build something off of Docker but did not have a product. It made sense for them to do it. This is something we still follow when reading YC apps:https://www.ycombinator.com/howtoapply/3. Getting started, launched and talking to customers / collecting revenue/ getting usage4. Yes, YC certainly cares about increasing the number of female founders in YC. We put on events like Female Founders Conference, as well as during the batch ensuring women are well supported.
Hi Holly, Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions. Similar to juliemecca, I am looking for help with the application. Specifically, guidance on how to balance describing the near term MVP, which addresses one piece of the total addressable market, and the big picture, billion dollar enterprise solution. When and how do I succinctly explain phase 1 is a $10M business, but that it leads to phases 2-5 which add up to a billion dollar business. And that, for now, all efforts are on phase 1.
Glad to see you are getting help. Not knowing exactly what you do, we usually tell founders to start out with what they do. With small markets, we usually say start with where you are and build there. Currently it is a $10M market which may seem small but our retention/NPS/virality is off the charts, so we are growing fast. Once we reach saturation, we can apply this to XX industry and then YY industry, making this company an XX billion dollar company. The more 0's the better . Also know that a market is best built from the bottom up. Meaning you take the # of possible customers X $avg price per customer per year = Total Addressable Market (TAM)Good luck!
Thanks Holly and Elizabeth! My company is creating an animated cartoon series and curriculum that teaches Computer Science. We have completed the pilot episode of our cartoon and completed the curriculum. I have two questions:1) Since I straddle the Education and Entertainment industries, should I pick only one vertical to talk about? We have submitted to film festivals and cannot release our work to the public so I have to at least mention this in our application. In the meantime, we are working on getting early adopters of our curriculum. 2) I Am a solo technical Founder with 20 years experience. I have a few friends that I’ve worked with for 20 years that I would bring on as a co-founder, but since they are sole bread winners, I know that I have to de-risk the opportunity before I bring them on. Do I mention this in the YC application?Thanks again!Amber Manry
I would love to read their answers to you and also - Amber let's talk! I make PuppetMaster, an animation app for kids. www.puppetmaster.comIt's become popular in schools, and then parents like that teachers are behind it, so I'm also kinda straddling animation and education. But there are also some other directions where there seems to be interest, so we'll see.But also, maybe you and I can collaborate somehow! Or at least share some info. Feel free to reach out! [email protected]
1) Much better to pick one IMO. Being a film company is different than selling curriculum. You have different business models, stake holders and customers. 2) Having a cf is much better than not having one. Basically we all know raising kids is much better with two parents vs 1. It can be done with one, just much harder, and investors know this. I think you can talk to your friends that you would enjoy working with. I also think they can do a little try before they buy and get them bought into the mission. Have them help you a little to get some traction and then convert them to full time once you are able to get revenue early on or some investors. I think if you are in the middle of recruiting a founder, you should mention that. If you are not, then don't. Basically be truthful where you are in the cf consideration and search.
Hi Holly & Elizabeth,thanks for putting the time on this & congrats on your exit!I'm a Founder of Vouchery.io, an API based marketing software for automating personalized e-commerce promotions. I've applied to YC once unsuccessfully, however, decided to reapply since we've done a lot of progress - we launched in between ( which I'm really trying to highlight in my application ). My question would be - do you see any differences between women and men applying? Is there anything we should be especially aware of?Hope to see you in SF!Best,Ewelina
I've heard women are much longer in their responses, have a strong story telling/personal story incorporation, and are less aggressive in projections and vision. To adjust to what YC is looking for: -be as succinct and understandable as possible -only talk about your personal experiences or approach if it is a competitive advantage or led you to discovering the problem -and be confident in your projections and don't be afraid to explore how your company can be a billion dollar company
We should chat as I am looking for a service like your for my platform Ewelina! Where are you based?
There is not anything that comes to top of mind. I do know in general here are tips applying . https://www.ycombinator.com/howtoapply/1. Clear and concise communication is highly prized. Put yourself in the shoes of the reader. Try to answer the reader's question before you get to it. No need to use extra descriptors. I have a tendency to add words to help soften the blow, which maybe because I am a woman. But clarity trumps all. In person tone can be conveyed in your voice and body language. 2. InevitableOne thing to convey is the inevitability of your company, its market, the problem and you. I want to encourage you to be the most fiercest version of yourself - unleash your inner Serena or Beyonce. This is why we ask you your most impressive thing3. Show don't tellIf you have a demo, please link to it and show the video. But also in your words, instead of saying I'm inevitable, show it by either usage/growth, your unique insight, etc.. "
Thank you both so much for doing this - it's very much appreciated! I have two quick questions: - For the recommendations, is it strictly restricted to former YC founders or can it be any founders with notable achievements but are outside the YC ecosystem?- It seems that there are two tracks of successful founder video submissions: ones that talk about the industry problem/vision/team and others focus more on key milestones in growth/product/partnerships. Which one makes the most impact for you?
Hi Holly and Elizabeth, thanks for doing this for all female founders. I am Bell, co founder and CEO of Buzz AR, Augmented Reality for Retail company in Singapore. My questions are: 1) would YC focus more on revenue or growth rate? We secured 3 large B2B contracts, but setting up backend system for each of them does take up substantial amount of time as a start, hence, our revenue is low while growth rate is high. Will YC focus on growth rate and ignore the revenue for now, considering the contracts are in place? 2) I do not have any recommendation from previous alumni for my startup for now (I didn't ask this time), does it matter or would you recommend us to get it?
Hi Holly, Elizabeth, So pleased you are doing this, thank you. Its a huge help for someone whos been there, done that (amazingly successfully) to give back. We began working on our company Reitly, just before SUS, and did a sort of beta launch just under 2 weeks ago. We have had a hugely positive response and so although we are not marketing, we are seeing fantastic engagement. Ive just submitted my application, but even in these few days, we have been making great progress. Did I submit too early? Would it be better to unsubmit, then submit late to make the most of the extra few weeks?I know late submissions will still be accepted, but is it a an advantage to submit on time? Whats the latest time we can submit?We are on a mission to democratise investment and improve financial literacy which is a pretty big hill to climb so we need all the help we can get :)
I will tell you the pros and cons of submitting early vs late. 1. early - some partners are reading them, but it isn't that season yet, but not as many apps have been read, so we can spend more time on them2. on time - the partners are all reading them and in that frame of mind3. late - the app will be read multiple times but by then so many other apps have been read you will be compared to them at least at a subconscious level and standing out gets harderEDIT: From YC's website:"Startups that submit early have a small advantage because we have more time to read their applications. And you can submit after the deadline - though keep in mind that the later you apply, the harder it is to get in."https://www.ycombinator.com/apply/
Hi Holly and Elizabeth, thank you for your AMA. As I was filling out my YC application I got some feedback from another successful applicant (who went as far as the interview) in the past. One thing that was said to me was YC doesn't care about you as a person just progress as the company. My question is: how does YC evaluate a solo, female founder who is working hard trying to start something in the healthcare space, not because of industry experience, but because of a personal event (i.e., tragedy) that had a lasting impact? Is working a long time as a solo, female founder, making progress as an individual to build a product (which isn't yet "complete", either, but she's learning to code full stack web apps), learn somethings about the industry, and forming collaboration with healthcare clinics, not something which can be seen as a positive sign? What can such a founder, who lacks resources and comes from a difficult background, do to increase her chances of getting into YC? (Especially if the proposed software will be built in stages, and may not be available immediately for users, but she has a really good plan to get to that future vision with progress already made in terms of collaboration needed to get there?) Thank you
We do care about you as a person, but want to know how it relates to what you are doing (are you an expert?) and why you are doing your company. This is why the bio is so important. In evaluating solo founders, we always encourage you to find a co-founder. Like raising a child, it is just easier with two parents than one. You can definitely raise a child on your own, but it's just difficult and more drastic tradeoffs need to happen. There are certainly cases of successful solo female founders (Julie Wainwright), but in general for both male and female having a cf is better. If you are solo founder, building a team will become incredibly important. Looking at all the things you are trying to do while keep your head above water, you may need a tech founder. It will make a world of difference on the company, product and your mental health. In terms of female founder, we definitely are interested in hearing from more! I also want to encourage you to not label yourself as a solo female founder, you are a fierce founder. There is a way in which labels can get stuck and be pernicious. I'm not saying ignore being solo female founder, but not everything is consciously viewed in that lens.
Hey hey Holly and Elizabeth,Truly pleased to e-meet you both. I'm the CEO and Co-Founder of Viageur (www.viageur.io) where we leverage AI and Big Data to create the perfect trip for travelers tired of doing research. Never ask again the question "What am I going to do when I get there?" We have done a soft website launch, spoken to a great number of excited users and our MVP goes live very soon! (very excited!)This is our second time around applying for YC and we are genuinely curious about a few things:1. How much do you weigh the first application submitted to the second one? Or is each application taken as the first time each time?2. How much does the video intro mean to you? I've heard different things from others and I would like to get a sense of what it means to you.3. What are the most important parts to you from the application?Thanks for your time! Hope to meet you in person one day!
Chiming in to help answer, as someone that applied to YC and got in on 3rd time :)1) if it's the same company, focus on the progress between the apps - be direct and focus on the concrete results/traction/insight since the last time3) from my experience, it's how well you're able to show how much you're building something people want - best way to prove that is traction and numbers, then is thoughtful insights/user learnings from talking to your users/customers.good luck!
Thanks @avni! I saw that you’re looking over applications today. I’ll be sure to send mine over. I’d love your perspective on it.
1. I look at the last app to this app to see if there is any progress. Or I look at the "If applied before, what's new"? question. 2. For me listening and meeting the founders enables me to get to know them at a different level. it is meant to be quick and short to help you explain yourselves and what you do in a clear and concise manner. 3. Read this: https://www.ycombinator.com/howtoapply/watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yiOcCPvyNEGood luck!
Hi Holly and Elizabeth, thanks for giving us your time! I am a co-founder of Forum, a startup from Nepal. We applied to YC this year. Due the risks associated with funding international applicants, is it more difficult to secure a spot at YC from a country like Nepal in comparison to local applicants from the US?
@hollysterQuestion about the YC application:1. Does your company need to remain in the U.S if applying to YC? 2. What’s the possibility of getting in YC if you’ve already been on an accelerator?
1. No! While you must be in Mountain View for the program, many companies return to their home base once the program ends.Also, you don't need to spend 100% of your time in Mountain View during the program. Many founders travel between their home base and Mountain View during the program - to talk to customers, take sales meetings, etc.I'll let Holly answer #2 since she's more qualified :)
Hi Holly and @Elizabeth AkmanA few questions1) Will there be a Female Founders Conference this year?2) For biotech and hard tech/deep tech founders, it's hard to cram everything into 9 weeks on. Startup School has bene amazing resource. One quick thing though, I feel like the timeline for this is so much longer outside of talking to users and building product). What if we're not ready to 'launch' the company already (due to sensitive IP needing to mature) or not ready to apply to YC just yet, but want to keep in contact with various investors, so that when we're ready to raise, we're not going cold. What should we prepare before meeting folks if we do end up going to a conference or another event. Is it enough for what one would submit to All Raise for Female Founders Office Hours, does this suffice, like a mini elevator pitch and having all that together with a few LOIs). And note this is outside of just staying heads down, developing product, and talking to users).I'm not always so camera shy, but I like to come prepared for success and not coming off unprepared or unpolished through rushing way too fast. I've also heard many people tell me to apply YC without having it all together (so random), or making me feel like it's ok to go all in when I'm feeling its's still way rough around the edges and not ready until we're generating more revenue, a friends and family round or more. I feel like there's a higher barrier to entry for various startups in my vertical itself and it's almost a joke to go in with a low amount in mind that barely covers a salary for 2 co-founders, and instead have decided to opt out for a while from applying. I'm wondering how common this is across the board for many other women, when the level of expectation is already so high for women in tech, technical women, and particularly founders when raising already due to bias. I don't think this is quite imposter syndrome or being a super perfectionist, but a need for being almost double the preparation that men have before applying and especially for highly technical startups (biotech, healthtech, deep tech etc.) than say like a ecommerce or makeup startup or something.
1) I'll leave this one to @elizabethAkman to answer. 2) Yes, we understand. There are specific questions tailored to biotech companies. Many biotech and deep tech companies come through us and make a lot of progress on business and product side as they know demo day is a good forcing function. If you are not ready to launch, you need to learn how to talk about what you are doing in a short and concise manner. We call this a "one liner" a "one liner" is like your elevator pitch that focuses more on what you do. I think if you are wanting to be prepared you should fill out the application. If not for anything but your company. It will help you think clearly about your company and increase your confidence. I had a ton of test anxiety growing up and to help me get through the standardized tests my relative (who got a perfect score - my mom told me all about it) told me to take the practice tests over and over. That not only boost my confidence but also my score. Remember you can always apply again if you do not get in the first time around. And, over half the batch has applied before. Good luck!
Hi Holly and Elizabeth! I’m a co-founder of Ardis AI, and we’re building a framework for general AI that reads, thinks, and responds like a human. Our approach is rooted in cognitive linguistics and modeling & simulation, and we’re using our framework to power content moderation software for Reddit and other online communities as a first product. We’re applying as a Hard Tech company, and we’re following the Startup School advice by using content moderation as our “heavy MVP” on our path to significantly more sophisticated applications, including user-friendly Electronic Health Records software, dynamically generated dialog for video game NPCs, legal research technology that can replace a first-year associate, and educational technology on par with a human tutor.Here’s the actual question: What advice do you have on how to focus our application given that we both want to communicate the long-term potential of our core technology, and also show that we’re taking content moderation software seriously as a first product? We’ve gotten some insightful advice from YC alums via Elpha, but I’d also love to hear thoughts directly from you two. Thanks!
The first thing is I'm unclear on what you do. Is it a software? When you say hard tech, I'm assuming there is a hardware component. When I look at "framework" I'm wondering if this is just a methodology? Who is your customer? I would consider focusing on a niche within content moderation, start with a sub-reddit. Like a good one-liner start with what you do and then build up to what your long term potential and vision.
Thanks Holly and Elizabeth!What are some of the traits you value in founders that are particularly difficult to gage from the application?
My question is less about why YC App & more about preseed, pre-traction funding: I don’t want to raise a lot of funding until we have traction and prove out our MVP hypothesis. Any thoughts on how to get 75-100k instead of larger amounts… Even Angel groups want to do 250 to 500 deals and traction.
Why not go to YC? I think some reasons not to - you do not want to build a VC backed company or not working on if full time. Otherwise, you should consider applying! If not, here is a fund that looks to give pre-seed funding:https://www.hustlefund.vc/
Hi Holly and Elizabeth, Are there opportunities for YC startups to meet with investors during the program to help prepare for future fundraising?We're a a new mortgage lender that provides a safer home loan. We would like to be able to seamlessly raise a larger round after YC so that we can bring the product to more people and continue to grow the idea.If additional context is helpful, our loan is a new product that reduces a borrower's monthly payments when home values fall to proactively prevent foreclosures and generate higher returns for mortgage investors. We've gained traction with borrowers and mortgage investors and if accepted, would value the opportunity to speak with VC investors during the program. Thanks!Shima
Usually it is dissuaded to talk to investors during the batch because it is better to grow your company. However, your company is a capital hungry, you need money to run your business. Some founders begin to lend off the balance sheet to do that. Some raise debt to make out loans. Either way I would encourage you to think about the smallest MVP (so you can show it is something people want) before talk to investors.
Hi Holly and Elizabeth!Thank you so much for giving us an opportunity to speak candidly. My experience at Startup School has been great: I had no idea how to go this deep and question myself, my goals and path forward.My questions go out to either of you:1. How many African-American founders were in the last batch? Male or female?2. Does YC recommend housing?3. Given that there are over a thousand investors on Demo Day, how much value does YC put into presentation? 4. The company 9GAG's user-base increased to 70 million global unique visitors per month after doing YC. Can you speak to building a fan community?Cheers, Regina
3. So on Demo Day, YC invites thousands of check writers, people who are interested in funding your company. As a founder, I had never seen anything like it. In effect YC created a market place for your company. Because we know that most companies will be raising their seed round from that day we spend 2-3 weeks preparing them. I tell founders it is one of their most highly leveraged 2 minutes. If an investor is interested in speaking with you they send a note. Demo Day is basically lead gen for the founder when it comes to fundraising. 4. I can certainly speak to building a fan community but not as it relates to 9GAG. What in particular are you interested in in terms of building a fan community?
I'll answer 1 & 2 here, and leave 3 & 4 for Holly who's more qualified to answer :)1. You can see our stats for each batch on our blog (shout out to our comms team for always keeping this up to date!).For S19, "5% of S19 companies have a Black founder; 2% of S19 founders are black"https://blog.ycombinator.com/yc-summer-2019-batch-stats/2. Yes! There are a couple of YC companies who can help with housing (Pad Piper, Zeus Living, and of course... AirBnB :) Also, once accepted, there's an internal housing forum that's super helpful for finding housemates.This has become an increasingly popular question as more international founders join our program, so I'm actually spending more time this Fall thinking about how we can help founders find housing quickly in the Bay Area (without becoming a housing provider ourselves!).
Because I thought we were speaking with candor, I was looking for African-American founders specifically. I know there are founders from African countries. One can only hope to have the dilemma of figuring out where to live at YC!
Is there a difference between applying as non-profit vs a startup? We are a good fit for both categories, we still don't have any legal entity and are debating the pros and cons of both options. A bit about Hastartupistiot (challenge you to say that 😉): We are the largest women tech founders community in Israel with over 4.7K members. Our podcast and office hours activities showcase the amazing female founders of startup nation, helping them gain media visibility, facilitate access to funding and acceleration programs, become role models and much more. We're aired since 2017 and already have proven success with investments done as a direct result of our activities. I've joined SS to help me figure out our global approach (2020 we're expanding to more locations) and that's why I'd love to participate in this batch to absorb as much as possible from all the knowledge and experience YC has to offer from their own road to success.
Congratulations on getting this far! Sounds like an exciting endeavor. Most of the time we look for the same stuff between a startup and non profit. There is a high correlation between successful startups and successful non-profits. Their focus on progress and momentum. I highly recommend that you consider what you want to be before coming to YC. By the time you get to YC you are basically put into a fast paced program where you are encouraged / pushed to work on your startup. It's hard to do this when you have one foot in each realm. And at the end of the 3 months Demo Day is the best chance for you to raise money.
Hi Holly, thank you for your help. Does it even make sense to apply if one has consumer product in a physical product space without having 20% growth month over month? My company Kiran Bani is third love for shoes. Using big data and technology I'm creating high end flats made in Italy to fit every woman. I have samples and I know that I and my friends want it (I have some pre-orders). But being a woman it is really difficult to raise money upfront. All the similar successful companies had capital before thye had 20% growth month over month. You need to get inventory, you need to get product in front of people, you need reviews, the fb and google ads are way too expensive. Third love had raised money upfront because co-founder was from Sequoia and Rothy's had 2 men founders from investment banking who put $2M in and rented the most expensive market place in SF -space in Ferry Building. I also heard that YC accept founders who were successful before without this 20% growth month over month because they believe they can make it (similar to third love Sequoia- they didn't have market /product fit for 2 years after funding). So being a female sole founder it is even less likely then- it is like if you already have money you get more money. But if you start from zero (and most of us do, because honestly only 2% or VC funded companies are founded by women), then we have to figure out how to do miracles. Any perspective or advise would be appreciated. As of today most high end fashion brands for women are run by men as a result. Can't we create our own shoes and clothes?
Hi Holly and Elizabeth – thanks so much for this AMA! I'm a co-founder of TOYCYCLE, a new marketplace taking the hassle out of buying and selling used toys and baby gear. We're in Startup School and working on our YCombinator app now. We applied previously with an earlier iteration of our product, but pivoted in July so have a new story to tell. My co-founder is in Pakistan. We've worked together for two years, have met in person and worked for a couple of months together when he was here in the US earlier this year. My specific question is about the founder introduction video. It's a bit awkward for us to create a video together. We did do that last time, but weren't super happy with it. As the CEO, should I submit a solo video? Should I ask my co-founder to put something together and submit two videos? And as far as remote teams, I've heard this no longer disadvantages a team. Would you agree? Thanks so much!
Oh you can certainly skype him in or do a split screen. We have a lot of founders bring in their cf remotely. It is better to have him in the video than not, so i would make sure to figure out how to get him in there! We do look at the strength of the co-founding team and less so about the space between them. Good luck!
Hello! thank you for answering the questions, I would like to ask what would be a tip that you could give us as female founders in this industry (tech) to overcome the stereotypes there are.
I've realized that stereotypes is in the other person's head and it's hard to control anyone else's thoughts. But for women in particular here are some things that can be done:1. Know your numbers cold and in every which way. There is a stereotype that women are bad at math, so sometimes I see this come out by being harder on the woman with numbers. 2. Body language - I highly recommend learning how to play high and low with practice and what works for you iterating on feedback from meetings. If you want to bring your cf with you they can give you feedback as well. https://leanin.org/education/power-influence3. Pitch the maximum surface area problem/market. In other words, sell the dream and vision. Don't be conservative on market size. People often say, if I get 10% of the market we will be a $$$ company. Just pitch the entirety of things. A founder can change many things but it cannot change the problem or the market. I'm usually not the biggest fan of forcing women to change when it is everyone else that is the problem, but I fully understand I do not have magical powers to change people, I can only change myself.
Hello, Holly and Elisabeth! My questions is: does my MVP is solid and good to go if I have the first public version and not more than 1000 users or 100 paying users? Do you have any idea on how big our company should really be to qualify? By the way, we make a platform for content creating automatically in AR. Market has been proven.
You should apply. Applying alone will help you crystalize a lot of this. See @avni's post about how far along she was when she applied ;)
Hi Holly, I am working on my application. Marketplace for Digital Art NFTs for the professional art world.I have signed partners that want to launch with us, Industry leaders.1. I do not have a build out marketplace yet (currently working on bootstrapping with 3rd party) MVP ready by December. How big is that of a disadvantage? @hollyster
Since I don't have your app in front of me, I can't judge. But what I can tell you is in this post there is jargon and nebulous obfuscating language. 1. Digital Art NFT? What is NFT ? I think it's crypto non-fungible token? What do you mean by digital art? 2. I think "partners" is nebulous so you will need to define what a partner is. I don't know what that means. Are they critical to your marketplace? I can imagine myself reading it and getting tripped up with the language moreso than the traction.
Hey thanks for directing attention. I have all detailed written out in the application. Didn’t think it was the place to go into detail here.My question was specifically about the MVP that is not yet launched. About partners (art galleries in this case), they are key in the process. Thanks again @hollyster
It is fine to have an MVP. Likely we will care about what you learned as it relates to your progress via usage or revenue. Double sided marketplaces are difficult which it seems what you are doing and it could very well be you need a certain number of partners to get the users. You know your business the best and things we look to dig into on the app and interviews. Good luck!
Hi Holly & Elizabeth,I am Joanna Tong in San Francisco, CA. So far, I've survived the startupschool.org requirements. I am passionate about helping three social causes: the environment, reducing homelessness and empowering women.My goal is to help find funding to these good causes from folks with the money. I've been a seasoned business professional for 20+ years and, now, I will apply my know-how to make a dent into the issues mentioned previously.I am an engineer by education & professional experience and have an MBA. I wonder if I should bother applying to YC because I'm not an entertainment, lifestyle, or other app-focused or platform-focused business.My launch will be in December 2019. I am lining up a venue for my launch event. I have networks within 3 universities as I have 3 degress (2 engineering) and have been active in officer roles in the San Francisco alumni clubs of all.Seeing (online group discussion) all the other founders & their business ideas in startupschool.org's program with a tangible product or service while I am more social impact inclined. Please let me know your advice and whether I should apply and what YC evaluators might make of my application or even if they will bother with it.Thank you for your time!
Hi Joanna, sounds like exciting work that you are doing! I can't quite tell exactly what you do, but I think it will be a social program? I think that may be one of the two reasons why you should not apply to YC:1. If you are not building a VC investable business. Usually venture capitalists (VCs) are looking for billion dollar companies to invest in. They need fast growth and usually find this in the tech space because tech helps with scale. At Demo Day we mainly invite people who are interested in making these types of investments. 2. You don't want to work on it for a long time. Usually it takes 7-10 years to make a success, so VCs know this and want to bet on a team that is committed.
Thanks for your insight. I am an engineer. I have built apps for enterprise financial software. My history includes 2 prior small businesses. I know every aspect of business because I was fortunate to keep my eyes open to opportunity and shaped my career.I had responsibility for 15% of the revenue of a large technology company. I’ve worked in finance and marketing.Ultimately, if things go right, I may solve the flooding problem in Venice, Italy; get mass transportation to the SF Bay Area whereby people will give up driving their own cars; and young mothers will learn how to get their infants to sleep at night so they can get rest themselves. Can I use technology to solve all these problems? You bet!
Hi Holly and Elizabeth! Really appreciate you both sharing your perspectives! Sometimes it's can feel like you're sending your application into a blackhole so it's great to see the people behind the process!I'm Ricki - Founder of Club Melanin (hair and beauty booking platform for afro Caribbeans) and my question is around solo founders with teams. A lot of the advice I see and read is around applying to YC with a co-founder but there isn't much advice around being a solo founder with a team (not necessarily a co-founder). I've focused my last couple of months on building my audience (instagram.com/club_melanin) and finding someone technical that is able to build a software platform. A few weeks ago I found someone in my network who is now a part of my team and building - but due to life circumstances isn't ready to be a co-founder.The advice I've seen online is leading me to understand that without a co-founder my ability to get in is significantly reduced. Do you have any advice for someone in my situation?
It is harder for solo founders in general. I think the more important question is are you going to be doing this company regardless? (your fierce founder coming out!). We funded a solo non tech founder at the time of interviews, by the end of the batch she had 2 cf , including one technical and sold to 5 companies (b2b business) . See @avni's advice below.Good luck!
Thank you so much for this. I know I am late but I thought I might ask anyway.I completed my application, it was a process but I am glad I did it, even if all I gain is feedback I know it will be valuable.My question is in regards to non-tech physical product businesses - I don't think I've seen any mention of this type of business. It seems YC prefers tech businesses/services or if it's a product, it has to be a tech hardware product like a smart watch as opposed to a 'regular' shoe, let's say.Do non-tech physical products get accepted into YC that often? Is this the wrong platform for such a product?
YC is a VC fund and they look for venture bankable businesses which tend to be scalable businesses, which means usually it is a a software company or something tech-enabled. We have funded physical non tech products like hair products for curly hair, cannabis infused alcohol drinks, natural mix, better Spanx, indestructible panty hose , just to name a few.
I’m Wendy Mcgee CEO of Workiit, a fitness platform for entry level exercise students between the ages of 45-64. Currently my partner left....trying to decide whether I take on another cofounder or perhaps an angel inventor that can serve as an advisor. We are on the verge of launching and I am searching for a technical arm as well as operations preferably with health insurance/ technology background. Any suggestions as to whether I should move on to apply to YC or wait until I have found the right person? I realize the correlation between growth and struggle. I am not giving up, ever.
Maybe a question to ask is... what do you have to lose by applying to YC? The worst case scenario is you don't get accepted.My 2 cents is to spend 1 hour putting together the YC app, hit submit, set it and forget it. YC is good at picking founders, but remember that even the best investors mistakes all the time.
Heya, it's Ricki again. Its not often i get to ask a YC Partner questions so going to be cheeky and ask another. Because, why not?My second question is around being a female founder and role models.Do either of you have role models who have informed your perspective of being an effective leader? If so, who are they and what have your learnt from them?
One of the biggest benefits for me as a YC founder is over time my role models became my peers, female founders in my batch and YC founders a few years ahead of me. It seems odd, but I've learned more from other YC founders than I have from any "famous" founder. Well, and sometimes your friends become famous. There's also that. YC founder friends are usually my first call when I don't know what to do. For example, I called @avni in March when I didn't know how to resolve a company re-cap issue, a very specific thing that very few people need to think about or experience. @avni is definitely someone I look up to!
Hello, Thank you for agreeing to answer questions for us. My name is Anike from Lapapo Special Needs. My questions are1. Does your company have to stay based in the U.S if applying 2. What are your three top tips for a successful company.
1. No need to stay in the US, but during the batch we expect teh founders to come to the weekly dinners, and group office hours (once every other week)2. Read this: https://blog.ycombinator.com/how-not-to-fail/
What are cofounder tips you have or best practices you’ve seen in cofounders of different genders? (i.e. I'm a female founder with a male cofounder). If you do, to what extent do you encourage non-technical founders to develop their technical skills? Assuming there is already a technical cofounder in place. What is a realistic % of the TAM we should plan to own? What are some things female founders do well when it comes to leading employees and dealing with or selling to customers? Some things we could be better at? What are some specific tips for Female Founders in the interview process? I imagine being succinct is one of them. haha
1. I'm not the biggest fan of nt founders learning how to code. I think there are so many urgent and valuable problems in a startup that is not the best use of your time. That is me, and of course there are case by case basis. You can spend your time working on getting customers. That is what investors judge a business by. 2. Do a TAM that takes in 100%. TAM stands for TOTAL Addressable market. You should do this bottoms up. It is more credible and continues to focus on you and your business. What you do is take the # of customers who would use your product * avg annual price per customer = TAM3. I'll answer the female founder question here. Most of my advice is the same between men and women founders, however, there is a percentage that is different and women get asked different things are put in more common scenarios than men (e.g. sexual harassment, asked about children, personal safety). These are things men don't even need to think about. When it comes to leading employees, as leaders women tend to get measured on a spectrum of competence and kindness. It has been that if a woman was a kind leader she was not competent, and vice versa. There is more and more research that a leader (regardless of gender) needs to be able to convey both. Men not getting away with bad behavior anymore (Harvey Weinstein, Adam Neumann, Travis Kalcinick.. and yes there are more bad actors still waiting to be found!). signals a shift in men are held to the kindness expectation as well. Getting a different style of leadership like Nancy Pelosi shows just how effective a diversity of leadership can be. So the most important thing for women in leading is be the most fierce form of yourself. I know it may sound silly but OWN IT! And how you do that should be who you are. When it comes to interviewing, definitely practice but don't stay rehearsed. A great interview is like a great conversation between the partners and the founders. You can see both sides light up and get excited about the business. It is not a time to convince or argue. And finally because 80% of what is said is HOW you say it, I highly recommend this talk from Deb Grunfield and practice your body language as well. Taking ups space as a woman is truly an art form ;)https://leanin.org/education/power-influence
Hello Holly and Elizabeth. Thank you for your time.I am working on a geo-social network Orbis (https://www.orbis.to - share your location with your browser so it works), a map of like minded people nearby. I would really appreciate if you could reply to my questions below:1. Holly, I would like to know, how did you manage to grow Kabam’s app to 60 million users (according to the article on Foundr https://foundr.com/holly-liu-kabam/). What was your acquisition strategy? What was user acquisition strategy for Kingdoms of Camelot after pivoting of the app?2. Can you give me any actionable technical advice you think would be generally applicable to consumer startups aiming to accrue a big database of active users ?3. Elizabeth, how is important to have growth of a startup compared to an idea while applying to YC? 4. Is it important criteria to have a impressive CV like working at well-known companies or/and graduating at well-known university or have previous impressive achievements?Thank you in advance.
1. We launched our product at a very different time on a growing platform - Facebook. At the time everyone was trying to get users for free and no one was buying users. It was incredibly cheap to do paid acquisition. Now that platform as matured and you see that everyone is doing this driving cost and sophistication up.2. Launch, launch and launch again. Find 100 users that love you and engineer ways for them to to share. finally instead of making your users go to you , go to where the users are.3. We have taken companies in an idea as well as growth. Every one of them has several characteristics in common: 1. Focus on something that people want 2. It is inevitable this team will be the one to do it and uniquely situated 3. This problem is big. Sometimes on idea it can just be 2. And the team finds their way4. The app is designed to show how impressive you are as it relates to your business. One founder had a a father who owned a SMb and did not have the resume of Harvard but was building a business in relation to his background Hope this helps and good luck!
Hi Holly, I’m E, one of the cofounders of fedup - an online marketplace where you can order food any ones grandma, uncle, or neighbor. My questions would be how to gain access in international markets rather than the local US. Thanks
Hi, thank you for your time and effort on doing it!I am co-founder of AWAKE, a digital coach that tailors an ideal morning ritual for you and guides you in the morning to accomplish it, in order to you become more energized, connected and productive throughout the day.Prachiti and I are applying to YC and my questions are:1) What does YC really want to see in the team interaction?2) Do we have to have specific roles inside the startup? *We are on the stage of building the second version of the prototype.3) All co-founders should be full-time in YC after accepted to the program?Thank you!
1) During the interview we like to see how the founders interact with each other. Are they cutting each other off? Are they supportive? Do they get each other?2) Usually it is good to have someone building and someone talking/selling to users3) Yes, it is hard for investors to put their money to work on a team who isn't full time because they are not committed. And, a startup is a marathon at sprint pace, you can't do it part time.
Is it a deterrent/negative to explain one single solution that covers more than one problem? And also, similarly with saying only one single way of monetizing, rather than saying more than one way of monetizing?
1. It is best to stick to one problem. I know founders get excited about solutions because we like to build, but choosing the problem is the fundamental step to making something that people want. Choosing a good problem has bearings on business and fundraise. Choosing a good problem has three elements: 1) Re-occurring and frequent 2) Person with the problem has a sense of urgency and 3) The problem is valuable - willing to pay money for it. Kevin Hale does a good job explaining VC math here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haqjaY_0uEc2. I think it's important if you have multiple ways of monetizing to be focused and clear on one and then move to the next. In general the largest businesses usually have simplicity in their model, so i'm a personal fan of sticking to one of them. Having too many gets complex on understanding your business and explaining to others. Startups are hard enough!
Tagging @avni and @shrutikapoor who are YC alumni and will for sure offer great advice and tips on applying!
Hi! So one of the biggest misconceptions is that you have to be a certain size. I first applied for Poppy when I had 3 weeks of data and maybe 10 users ... didnt get in that time but because the growth and user insights were there, even in that early phase, got an interview and great feedback for what to focus on. 6 months later we were an actual team, with 6+ months of really strong traction (still relatively small) and probably 50-70 users - applied and got funded.The biggest thing is: are you building something people want? If yes, it will show in your metrics - how your users love to use the product or the user number is growing. And a lot of the application should be focused on the user insights you've learned because you're so eager to talk to your users and learn from them.Overall this means I wouldnt worry too much about absolute numbers but rather the relative numbers - is the growth rate promising? Are YOU the founding team that understands some insights that others just dont get.There are the important bits, imho.
Hi Holly, I greatly appreciate you taking the time to answer questions for us all, I am the founder and CEO of Unboundly, where we leverage artificial intelligence to optimize flight itineraries. This allows for full flexibility (creating and adjusting your itinerary in real time) and affordability, to date our customers have seen an average cost savings of 40% compared to common sites we all know like Expedia, Priceline, Google flights, Hipmunk etc. When I started Unboundly, I brought on a cofounder, this cofounder left the company after 2 years, which made me a solo founder. How should I handle this in the application process? I did bring on a CTO recently, but he’s not a Founder…I’d like to know how it will appear as a solo female founder in the application process? What’s the most effective way to paint the picture? as I heard being a solo founder has been frowned upon in the past? Thanks so much for your time and suggestion :) all the best, Danielle
Hi Danielle! Congrats on getting this far. So I think you should be honest about where you are in the cf process. Why did your tech founder leave? We have taken solo founders before, but reality is that it's a bit harder for solo founders. Usually the solo founder has an expertise in this space. In your case, it may be traction. This one is incredibly difficult as well because it is in the consumer travel space, making new entrants extremely easy to get in. I think with your algo that is a good defensibility but you will also need to demonstrate that users can find you and want to use you. Good luck!
Thanks so much for doing this Holly/Elizabeth! We are three founders. Our start-up straddles healthcare and hard-tech. We're finishing three clinical studies, two to go, and starting a paid beta user's group which will give us valuable product feedback. If we were fortunate enough to be accepted to YC following our three-person interview, can two founders live in the Valley 100% of the time, leaving one behind to manage these critical clinical studies and User's Group -- both which need physical proximity? Or do ALL founders have to be physically there?
Wow congratulations on finishing clinical studies! I have seen it where some of the founders are at the weekly dinners. It is best if all founders are there, but we also think it's important for founders to be where their users are. Airbnb famously would fly to NY after the dinner was over and fly back in time for the next one. I've seen international founders rotate. During demo day all founders need to be present and the CEO should plan on sticking around for around 3 months afterwards to finish fundraising.Good luck!
Hi @hollyster quick question, Caroline here Founder of www.skoutli.com I am a solo female founder with no CTO but I already have an mvp in market with some traction, I use an open source Markeplace that my technical advisor helped me put in place. I use some previous contact to do some technical work on the platform. Everyone has signed an IP assignment. But the big question can a female solo founder can be accepted by having not having a full time tech team / no co founder / no CTO? Thanks a lot for your help!
See @avni's response. We find that companies with a tech cf move a lot faster than other companies in the batch. This is not just YC but also Silicon Valley. Investors also will wonder why you don't have a cf, and your valuation is lower. The good news is you have some traction and can use that to recruit a CTO. Nothing like traction to help out! Good luck!
Thanks, Holly and Elizabeth for this.We're applying for the second time to YC this year, and also participated in Startup School. We have developed a lot in the last year being in touch with YC.Just wanted to ask how difficult is it for a woman founder in the SiIicon Valley there? Because here in India, we see very less participation from women.Also, would be great if you can help with application review :)
I can’t review specific YC apps but put your app in a google doc and share with Avni or Cindy former YC alum who are setting aside time to help review apps:[email protected] and [email protected]
I think in Silicon Valley anyone in the minority can sense the lack of people that look like them. I think the larger issue if you are based outside of Silicon Valley is getting Silicon Valley investors to invest. It's a little hard for them to do it unless that is their focus - otherwise they cannot be as helpful unless they are close by.
Hi Holly, nice to hear from you abou the todays session. I have company to create data mining and Machine Learning solutions for Mobile Game Developer and publisher companies. I really would like to share with you. Ofcourse your opinion and experiences are quite valuable for us.
Hi Holly, Elizabeth. Thanks for answering our questions. A few things. At the meetup in London, Kevin mentioned that the interviews were 10 minutes long. Is this accurate, and if so, assuming we're lucky enough to get to interview, are there any points you think are particularly key to cover in the interviews given the short amount of time available. There is quite a lot of stuff online regarding the SAFE agreements and the complications of dilution that can arise if they aren't kept in check. Whether in YC or with other investors, do you have any advice or can your recommend any tools to help avoid finding yourself in trouble in future rounds because of dilution?Lastly, with regards to the application. If you are building a web platform, do you think it'd still be valuable to add in a product demo video/screencast? For clarity's sake?Thanks so much. Louisa
1. Interviews- Yes they are 10 min long. Here are some tips and how they go:https://blog.ycombinator.com/tips-for-yc-interviews/We start out every interview with: "What do you do? " 2. Read the articles around the SAFE and use the template provided by YC. You can use captable.io to model out dilutionhttps://www.ycombinator.com/documents/3. If you have a demo please do show it! I do like videos because often demos are hidden behind a password wall even though we ask to please not do that.
Thanks again for offering your help! During the winter, I will be in the middle of running pilot programs and attending YC and leaving my community is not really ideal. When we apply, can we indicate that we're mostly interested in the Summer batch? If we say we can't go to Silicon Valley in the winter, is that an automatic red flag?
Hi Holly and Elizabeth, thank you for your time!I’m Irina - CEO of https://vectorly.team/ Vectorly helps companies to grow skills and retain employees. 1. How important is the existence of revenue?2. If we haven’t started sales yet, what can be a good growth rate for our b2b product?3. Do you have some triggers, that block an application for you?Hope to see you in SF!
1. In your case, I'd be very interested in how you are going to get revenue. There area lot of HR tech companies so it's pretty competitive. Revenue shows that it is something that people want. You though might need to show some unique advantage on product or selling. We had a team who was getting 80% of their customers via a blog. This was for HR tech. That was a unique advantage2. In YC we care a lot about the slope of the curve, but usually a b2b company like yourselves we see successful companies get to 5 digit MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) by the end of the program 3. There really should be no triggers to block an application. We have humans look at all the apps. However, if it is unfinished, likely it will not be seen. If a piece is forgotten the partner will email the person.
Hi Holly! My company is applying to the YC W2020 batch.1) Do you know if there is any bias against pregnant women in the program? My other two founders are male but I'm worried if I'm pregnant (I'm not yet but hope to be soon) come YC, they won't accept us. Ironically, my company is a pregnancy planning website called myHoneyBump.2) How worried should we be about legal while launching our MVP? We technically provide some "medical advice" and have built a terms of service and disclaimer policy through Termly, but should we have a lawyer scrub our material ASAP?Thanks!
Hello, I am a medical device regulatory affairs professional. You don't need a lawyer, you need a medical device regulatory affairs (RAC) professional who can help you make sure your claims will keep you outside the definition of a "medical device". You should also have this person prepare a regulatory strategy so that you know what your classification and route to market will be. It is possible you will always be outside the medical device regulations but it will depend on your claims. Practically speaking, you are not likely to get in trouble with the FDA unless someone is injured, or a competitor rats you out (although the probability is not 0). However, investors want to know that you understand your regulatory obligations and how they fit into your plans. And, investors don't want to invest in a company that is in potential legal trouble, even if you aren't yet in trouble, potential risk is a turn off. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/classify-your-medical-device/product-medical-device
Thanks @hollyster and @elizabethakman for taking time for this AMA. I am a solo founder for an online platform connecting home chefs and cooks to your choice of location. I have applied to the W2020 batch. I found the progress and idea sections are great exercise of helping me look through what I have achieved and prepare me for upcoming demos for customers and partnership. I would love to hear some feedbacks from our alpha community.
Hi Holly and Elizabeth, Thanks for offering your time to answer questions. My co-founder and I are a very early stage startup and would eventually like to apply to YC but at this point are exploring a more near term option. We have just been accepted by the Founder Institute (Boston) but I have received a lot of mixed reviews and we are still deciding what our next steps will be. Would you be able to comment or provide any feedback? Thanks in advance! Whitney
FI is built for people in any stage life to explore doing a startup to see if they even want to be a founder. If you are already a founder then FI may not be the right place for you since you are 100% working on your startup. If you are exploring if you want to be a founder FI is a good introduction. I'm assuming you went through startup school? If you are working on your company full time, know the problem you want to solve and wanting to build a big multi-billion dollar business out of it, then I highly consider you applying to YC!
Thanks so much Holly and Elizabeth!This is very useful.I'm a female founder currently learning to code so that I can build my product myself. How does YC view this on the application?
YC highly encourages tech founders! The biggest issue may be the stage that you are in. If you are learning how to build it's hard to build fast. So I would either build it to get it to an MVP (that can be fast!) and then recruit a tech founder to join you to scale. We would want to know results of the MVP - how many customers used it, etc.. See also @avni's post on how she did it.
Thanks Holly, very kind of you to help us.I am Selma, co-founder of Eathub, a marketplace for local eats. I have a few questions about the YC application review process:Q1: What question do you read first?Q2: What is a precondition for you to open the intro video?Q3: Which are the most important questions in the YC application?Q4: When do you read founder’s profiles? Before or after the application?
this is pretty much how we are trained and encouraged to read the app. I encourage you to complete the entire app to the best of your ability =)https://www.ycombinator.com/howtoapply/
Hi there, I've been working on drafts of the application for some time now, and I've had a few people with YC experience read it and give me edits and suggestions. However, a lot of the advice is conflicting. Especially when it comes to how detailed an answer should be. So my question is if any answer is longer than one or two short paragraphs is it likely that it's not getting read? I'm not talking about 2 pages an answer. I talking about if the answers are reasonably concise, but have color. Is the application a "Just the facts, ma'am" situation or should our personalities be evident?
Congrats on getting to this step! Yes you will get conflicting advice, because that's kind of what advice is - it can be good or bad, but not necessarily right or wrong. Always look at who is giving the advice as well because it's usually relative to their experience. In the app and with investors, it is always much better to be concise and straightforward. Take out extra words. Imagine you will try to tweet this (not that severe) ,but you get it. You can have your personalities shine a bit more in the 2-3 min video.
Thanks, Holly and Elizabeth for this timely AMA!What advice would you give to a company that had a recent post-MVP pivot (say, a week) and is applying with a new idea but no traction yet?