So you want to apply to Ycombinator …

March 29th, 2012 § 0

First of all let me start this by saying I was a member of the W2012 cycle of YC … That’s right, I said “WAS”.

Through the roughly 3 and a half months I spent either knowing I was a part of or actually attending the dinners, office hours etc. at YC I can honestly say I learned. I learned a lot.

In this blog post I will give you some tips on what to do to get noticed. What to do to get accepted. and what to do to do what I could not … FINISH.

TL;DR … just don’t bother going any further, if you lack the dedication and commitment to reading a single blog post about applying to something that will literally change your life, you simply aren’t cut out to be accepted anyhow.

1. Know your Co-founders. Know them so well that their parents would be ashamed to sit through a knowledge competition about their own child against you. This is far and away the MOST important aspect of going through YC.

Going in we thought companies never had founder problems, truth is lots of companies do, in fact it would be nearly fair to say a majority of companies do. But knowing your co-founders will resolve most of this fairly quickly and rationally. If you are thinking about applying with people you kind of know, or are casual acquaintances with just stop thinking about it. Would you get married to that semi-hot chick you’ve been on two dates with? Yea me neither. So why would you start a company with some person you get a good “vibe” from but have only met a few times or never really seen all facets of their personality.

Part of me truly wishes there were more obvious larger consequences for this. With sexual partners there are STD’s which sometimes cause people to think twice. I so often wish that business partnerships had the same obvious consequences.

The truth is the consequences of a bad business partnership are probably worse. They cause more stress and more hard feelings than most personal (or sexual) relationships ever would. You walk away and whether or not you “win or lose” does not really matter. You are emotionally battered and bruised. Nothin can compare to this feeling so unless you’ve been a part of a bad business relationship you probably won’t understand this. But if you have, just know you’re not alone, it hurts and it sucks, but others have been through this too.

2. Know your strengths and have clearly defined roles.

It’s great to have a killer idea that is going to make billions of dollars, but what is much more important than that is knowing the strengths of yourself and everyone else on your team. Ideas change, markets change, businesses change, but people … they rarely do.

So if you have the perfect team for that great new photo sharing app that everyone is surely to dump instagram for because your mom told you it was fantastic still take the time to figure out what everyone on your team is best at. Know that one person will negotiate, one person will represent the company to investors etc. if the others dont have the time or are not available. Know that one person will write the code and own it, even the code of the others who are contributing.

Truly knowing what everyone on your team’s strengths are is something that will be a great strength in the bad times. You will have a time when a trying situation comes up. You need to know who schmoozes best via email and can make up for that poorly worded comment one of you let slip in a meeting because you were working on a few hours sleep. Those little things are the ones that can make or break you. They can lose you a million bucks but they can make you a billion depending on how you recover.

3. Know your market and where you fit into it.

if you think you are going to unseat facebook as the biggest and best social network on the planet that is fine but you better damn well know why and how you plan on making that happen. You cannot simply just say you are better. you ACTUALLY have to BE BETTER.

If you’re going to start with some sort of viral marketing campaign that’s great, they work … but how are you going to retain those signups after they’ve gotten there. what is going to keep their attention and make them choose you.

Got all of that info for me? Great now condense it all into two sentences.

Yep that’s right. 2 sentences is about all you’re going to get to make your impression on YC. So they better be well formed, well thought out and you damn well be ready to defend anything you say within them.

4. Stand out

This seems like a simple concept but few people do it. You only have so many ways to make people remember you. Do it in a clever way and get noticed. For us, I bought clever domain names (it also helped that we had a rather stellar crew on our application) for others it was viral twitter campaigns.

For just about anyone applying I would recommend doing what we did. Reach out to YC founders you know and dont know. If you don’t know them try to get to know them. have a skype chat or buy them a beer. ask for a recommendation from them to pg or one of the other partners. Even if that rec is as simple as hey i met so and so and he seems like a smart guy with a good grasp on what it takes to run a company, you guys should bring them in for an interview.

Those recs go a long way with the partners and are a huge part of the reason we got the interview in the first place.

5. Be confident, not arrogant

One of my favorite phrases is “If you cannot dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with Bullshit.”

That however, will not work on YC partners. These are some of the smartest men and women you are likely to ever step into a room with and they don’t fall for tricks. If you’re the best at something then that is great, you’ve accomplished something and you should be proud to say it. But if you aren’t, just be forthcoming.

They expect you to have faults and will not exclude you because of those you disclose. The only flaws you will be punished for in life are the ones you try to hide. That holds true when applying to YC as well.

Arrogance can quickly be aligned with being an “asshole” and lets be honest, noone likes an asshole.

6. Be Committed. If you aren’t, its probably obvious

You’re doing yourself and lots of other applicants a disservice if you apply to YC and you aren’t committed to what you are doing. It’s a big part of the reason I am not re-applying this cycle.

Everyone should be 100% committed to their idea or at the least their partners and the idea of building a business with them. If you aren’t ready with or without YC to start building something great for yourself and by yourself. You aren’t really ready to apply and you should probably not waste your time or theirs.

Now, with all that said, if you’re still ready to apply then good luck!

shoot me your application if you want a fresh set of eyes to look over it ill be glad to help where I can.

If this post has made you think twice about your application it does not necessarily mean you don’t have what it takes to be a part of YC it probably just means you need to think about what exactly you are doing more clearly and be honest with yourself.

Maybe now is not the time to apply, perhaps next cycle would be better? Maybe you should get another year of experience at that programming job you just took before making the leap.

Maybe you just aren’t cut out to run a company (it takes a strange person to love this). Honestly no one knows except for you, but take your time and don’t waste theirs. Realize that what you are making is a decision that truly can affect the rest of your life, or at the very least the next few years of it.

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