I’m a partner at Y Combinator and I've seen 1,300+ companies go through the program – Kat ManalacFeatured

Hi everyone! I’m a Partner at Y Combinator. I’ve been at YC since 2013 and have seen about 1,300 companies go through the program. At YC, I read applications, interview companies, and I lead our outreach efforts to prospective YC founders. I also help our founders with their first press launches. Before joining YC, I was Chief of Staff to Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit. And before that, I managed Brand & Strategy at WIRED Magazine. I have a BS in communications from Northwestern University.I live in San Francisco with my husband and French Bulldog Buster.Ask me anything about building your startups, applying to YC, working with reporters, or anything else!///EDIT: I answered a few this morning and will try to get to a few more later this afternoon! Thanks for riding along.
Thanks so much for joining us, Kat!Kat may not have time to answer every question, so please upvote the ones you'd most like her to answer.
Most financing has moved from "here's cash to support your idea" to "show me your product and customer base". What is your general take on this? Is it a positive or a negative thing?
The thing is, it’s much easier to start a startup today than it was 15 years ago. When YC started in 2005, a lot of the infrastructure that makes it easy to build startups now (like AWS or Stripe for example) didn’t exist. I think this is great -- startups have become more mainstream and accessible to many more people.At YC today, we still fund companies at very early stages. Only 40% of the companies we fund have a launched product. But because it’s so much easier to get a simple, mvp version of something product up and running (assuming it's software), if you don’t have a prototype or users and you’ve been working on your idea for a while, we wonder what’s holding you back.
Sadly, there are different standards for women vs men at YC primarily because YC philosophy favors people who are developers. I really wish that YC was open about this. We know the bias exists but no one wants to own it.
I still hear of men getting seed funded (at least in the Indian ecosystem where I live) on a "paper business plan". I rarely hear that story for women. Sometimes, even early traction isn't enough. I hate to think of this as a gender based difference in approach or different rules/standards for male vs female entrepreneurs, but can't help it sometimes. I'm in the middle of seed fundraising for my FinTech startup and have been through a set of ups and downs (mostly downs) - and while it seems to me at least, I'm checking all the boxes - my professional background, founder - market fit, early traction, large market, proof that I can hire a good team, etc - I still hear the canned responses from VCs on "too early", "we'll review for Series A instead", etc etc.I'd love to hear thoughts/advice on this!
Fundraising is harder for women. I’ve seen a lot of women successfully raise -- so it’s not impossible, but the data indicates that it is harder. This needs to change, and I’m happy to see organizations like AllRaise ( make moves to get more women into investing roles, but we all have a long way to go. Have you considered applying for YC? If not, I’d be curious to hear why not (shoot me an email at [email protected]). I may be able to make additional suggestions based on the approach you've taken so far.
I would like would to expose the user experience of All Raise. The marketing and real world experience are 2 things. Many people have applied multiple times and never hear back. There are very few people that have actually been helped by All Raise. If someone is helped, it is because they have an Ivy degrees or MBAs. All Raise no longer is offering individual help. They are doing a group of over 50 people on zoom with no individual help. All Raise marketing mission statement is perfect but that is not what they are delivering.
Hey Kat! I've been listening to the YC podcasts a ton lately so your voice has been guiding me often. Thanks for that and for being here :)My question is about applying to YC as a solo founder. I'm starting an online business academy for women after having bootstrapped a nontoxic fragrance company and experienced firsthand the lack of quality, actionable educational resources online for women starting small businesses.A few friends who've gone through YC are strongly suggesting I apply—but I'm a solo founder in active search of a cofounder. I know there's no harm in applying but also know YC prefers cofounder teams. How would you suggest I approach this? I'm also committed to finding the right cofounder instead of rushing into the "marriage" for the sake of optics so I'd rather stay solo until I find someone who's truly right for the company. Curious to hear how you'd approach this if you were in my position!
It’s better to have no cofounder than a strained founder relationship -- so I’m glad you’re taking your time trying to find the right person. While we do recommend having a cofounder, don’t let being a solo founder stop you from building your company or applying to YC. We’ve funded some incredible companies that are founded by solo founders -- L. (, Lambda School (, LUS Brands (, and Flexport ( are some examples that come to mind. I'd apply and continue to build my product -- but understanding the data (3 of the top 50 most successful YC companies to date were solo founded), I'd keep looking for a cofounder.
Hi Dulma, this is going to sound like a shameless pitch, but I assure you my intentions are pure. As proof of that, I can tell you that I quit my VERY lucrative job and took a rather sizable pay cut & risk, to join a company called Antler because I truly believe in what they aim to achieve. Antler is a global start-up generator and early-stage VC that aims to diminish the barriers to entry for founders. One of the main value props of the company is it's approach to connecting people to appropriate and complimentary co-founders, among many others (that I won't bore you with here). Take a look at our site: If you're interested I'd be happy to chat with you more.
Thank you so much for taking time for an AMA! And thank you so much for putting out so much content on youtube and as a podcast!1. Your career has been extremely steep! What are some recommendations you have for young women that want to break into the tech/startup/VC world?2. You are taking more and more startups from emerging markets. Sequoia just started Surge in India and SEA. Does YC plan a presence in the region?
Hi! Good to meet you. 1. If you don’t know whether you want to start a startup -- you should work at a startup. As someone who has worked at big companies (briefly google and samsung) and with a lot of startups, I can tell you that working at a big company will not give you the experience you need to start a startup. If you’d like to invest in startups, starting a startup is the best experience you can get to prepare you for that path. We hosted interviews in India this batch and funded 15 Indian companies. It’s not currently in our plan to start offices outside of the Bay Area, but we hope to spend more time there.
Thank you so much for taking the time to reply! Have a great weekend with your husband and Buster!
For a solo, first time founder who has limited resources with tons to do and learn, what do you recommend being the top priorities for such a founder to spend their time on?
1. Talk to users.2. Build product. The best founders are very focused on product. In the earliest days, almost everything else is a waste of time.
Thank you, Kat. If I may follow up, I notice the emphasis is on "users" as opposed to paying customers. Some products might have more than 1 user, and/or a different paying customer who may not be an end-user. Do we talk to all of them at once, or should we focus on a particular subset of them? If so, how do we prioritize which subset to focus on? -- considering especially, for a healthcare-related product where end-users and paying customers may have conflicting interests.
Yaaaay! I wonder if I’ve seen Buster on one of my long walks around the city?!! ❤️You’re awesome. My question is:WHEN IS THE EARLIEST I CAN APPLY FOR THE JAN 2020 batch?!! The ophthalmologist in me is like, incredibly excited about this whole “20/20” thing 🤣🤓🤩Thanks for existing! 🌷
I hope you have! He's the best -- and here's a shameless plug for his instagram account: We’re opening applications for W20 on June 20. Hope to see you apply! 🤓
An auspicious date! That’s the day I’m graduating from residency and then flying out to Paris for the MIT Grand Hack in Medicine! Uhhh you can’t keep me away from Buster or YC if you tried. 😂👸🏻😎
I'm a recent college graduate that would like to be the founder of my own company one day. In preparation for that, I want to ask you:What common qualities do you see in ideas and/or founders that get accepted at YC? What are your suggestions on structuring yourself and building a personal brand as a female founder that investors will trust? That is, what qualifications communicate desirable traits in founders?
Hi Winyl, at the risk of sounding redundant (I also commented above...) I quit my VERY lucrative job and took a rather sizable pay cut & risk, to join a company called Antler. Antler is a global start-up generator and early-stage VC that aims to diminish the barriers to entry for founders. Antler's mission to is turn exceptional individuals into great founders. They select brilliant and determined people, help them find the right co-founder, connect them to a top tier network of advisors and experts worldwide, and assist in getting funding. They provide a grant to accepted applicants from day one of the generator program to allow you to take the "risk" to start your own company. Take a look at our site: If you're interested I'd be happy to chat with you more.
Hi Kat! I learned about the great work that you do from a Filipino technopreneur who has been to one of your Tuesday dinners. Lodi! Being a Filipina myself and working in the Philippines for a social impact accelerator, I want to ask:1. What are critical support mechanisms that has allowed SF/SV to foster great entrepreneurs and enterprises?2. How do you help founders strike the balance between allocating time for promotions and media exposure for traction VV time for optimizing business models and product development? Any recommendations on effective carrots and /or sticks that your team at YC has been implementing?3. What are your habits to cultivate self-care and make sure you are whole when you come to work, considering all the things on your plate and all the founders you help out?Thanks, Kat! You inspire entrepreneur supporters like us to do better and be better everyday! :)
At this moment in history there’s nowhere else in the world that has such a high density of founders, investors and talent. For the sake of time (I'll come back to the other questions if I can), I’m going to skip to #3. I highly encourage therapy or coaching. I’ve been going for the last two years and it has changed my life. I wish both those things were accessible for more people. It has made an incredible difference in my life and I've seen it make a positive impact on many founders.
Hi Kat,Kind of obligatory to mention - but I noticed you're Filipino and born in the Philippines! I was born and raised in Manila and just finished my first year of college (and first year living) in America, and had no one to look up to back home and didn't know that a path in tech or entrepreneurship was possible. It feels infinitely amazing to know that as I step closer to the scene, there's more representation than I thought there would be.1.) Any advice for younger founders, or notes on some of the most common mistakes they make?2.) Did you know that you wanted to work in this space as a student? How did you get there? What's something you would do differently, if you could?Thanks so much!
Good to meet you -- I was born at Makati Med!For founders who are still in school -- you’re lucky! It’s the best way to meet cofounders or people you might want to work with in the future. You may never again be in such close proximity to so many smart, ambitious people. Use your time to build projects that interest you with people you enjoy working with. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I was in school. My first real job was at WIRED Magazine. I worked there for four years and during that time I fell in love with startups. I appreciated the intensity, enthusiasm and chaos of early stage startups and found (through trial and error) that I get existentially unhappy working for large companies. While I was at WIRED, I was fortunate to meet Alexis Ohanian, the cofounder of reddit. reddit and WIRED were based in the same office back then. I used to pitch him random ideas (one of the many random ideas was a chain of late night ramen carts called “Hot Noods” -- I still own that domain name.) After WIRED I ended up working with Alexis on his fund and non-profit and learned a ton about helping early stage startups from him.
Hey Kat, We provide standardized home renovation. Here is our website: As a early startup, we are always in a stage of balancing building the product online tool (Scale), marketing( UA) and offline operation (GMV). The more we care one of these, the other two gets slow down. Questions:1) For an early stage startup like us, what’s your suggestions? Which one matter the most? 2) At what stage/ offline traction we have, you would suggest it is the time to go after VC investors and scale up more.
Hey - I didn't end up having time to dig into every question but happy to do an office hours at some point. Shoot me a note - [email protected].
What books would you recommend that you think can help to make a sustainable product? In general, can you suggest books that inspired you throughout your journey.Love from Vancouver <3
I read Paul Graham’s Hackers and Painters and Jessica Livingston’s Founders at Work in the two weeks before I started working YC and I still think about a lot of ideas and themes they bring up in those essays and interviews. The founder story I read most recently that I loved was Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
In your experience working with YC startups, would you recommend showing *very early* / scrappy product versions to as many users as possible or keeping the audience small and targeted? If small and targeted, who should you be looking for and how do you find them? If as many users as possible, how do you mitigate the risk of it damaging the startup’s brand?
At YC we have a saying: “It’s better to make 10 people love you than 1000 just kind of like you.”Once you have ten people who love you, you’ll better understand who your first target customers should be and you won’t spend time acquiring users into a leaky bucket. And hopefully those ten users become a viral sales force for you.
Hi Kat: Are you still looking to hire a PR/ communications assistant? Would love to apply.
I’m not — will have to update my profile!
I hadn't thought of asking about reporters if your intro hadn't suggested it... So what do you think is the most important thing for new startup founders looking for press to know in working with the media?
Press is not a great user acquisition strategy. You can't rely on press to get you users on an ongoing basis, so don't spend too much time thinking about it early on. Think more about how you can plug into communities to get early users and feedback. Start with showing people what you're building in places like Elpha, Product Hunt, Hacker News.
I'm partnering with the legendary Dolores Park Truffle Man to scale his beloved products to the licensed CA market and beyond. We're fully licensed in CA, have a seven year lease on a warehouse in Oakland that we're converting into a factory, and have pulled together an amazing team hailing from Instacart, Purpose, and Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign. We're raising $1M to get product on shelves and renovate our factory. We've just lowered our $5M cap to $3.5M, as we're looking to close quickly and keep momentum--and we have $325k in soft commitments and to date have received term sheets for ~1/3 of that. Am curious your thoughts on (a) this type of company applying to YC; (b) cannabis investment in general.
The Dolores Park Truffle Man! We've funded a good number of cannabis companies, especially those that have a tech angle -- Meadow, Flower Co, Nabis, to name a few. We'd be happy to see you apply. Cannabis is clearly a growing space.
Kat, thanks so much for your time! I'm not a founder, but excited to be surrounded by all these female founders in this Q&A.1. What's your favorite thing about what you do?2. You've spent significant time with Alexis, the YC team and YC founders. As someone who applies behavioral science in growth, marketing and social good, I'm curious - a. are there any patterns, behaviors or perspectives you notice about these founders that impact their success? b. I find the power of community fascinating and incredibly impactful. Similar to the question above, have you found any patterns, tenets or behaviors in the YC community (other than $$ resources) that strengthen chances of success for the people involved?3. Favorite podcasts (you can't say YC haha)?
Hi Kat, thank you for being here! Here is a question from an Elpha follower, @insegna_app, on IG:Aside from revenue projection, what else informs YC Partners that a company will do well?
This is so awesome that you’re doing an AMA :) I have a handful of questions 😬1. What’s your opinion on the state of startups and investing in Europe? (I’m Berlin-based) We close much smaller rounds, have more government regulation and don’t manage always to scale the same way. What learnings do you think Europe and the US can learn from each other? 2. Having seen so many startups go through YC, what’s the top takeaways you wish startups had focused on in the beginning? 3. Aside from YC, what other tools for learning would you recommend to female founders? 4. What part of the YC program is the part you think really transforms startups? 5. How do you define failure? 6. Once a startup has launched their MVP, what advice do you have to build success from there?7. And finally, in terms of branding there is a lot of focus around truth branding/marketing. To what extent do you think startups can be completely honest when it comes to telling their story? Do you think investors will be deterred by this? Thank you 🙏 ✊P.S. It would be amiss for me to not ask you this (since I also have my own startup), what are the “must-dos” for a startup in their first year?
Thanks so much for sharing your insights and experience, Kat!I'm curious to know:1) At what point should a startup begin to build relationships with media/press? And do you recommend any prerequisites before starting that journey?2) As someone who's passionate about people and culture, what types of resources or supports does YC provide to founders in thinking about leadership development, creating a great culture, or hiring/people development?
I've been an operator at various companies (large and small) and I'm interested in working at accelerators and/or venture studios as a Design Partner. I recently got a management degree and am looking for opportunities to combine both business and design skills into my next job. What would you recommend to someone like me to get into these types of places?
I work in market research and our clients are primarily major corporations because research is expensive. But I often wonder how we could better support young companies and accelerators in this area. Do you think startups would benefit from having access to consumer research? What about accelerators?
Kat's Office Hours are now over. Thanks to everyone who participated!