If you’ve spent any time around startups over the last decade, you’ve probably heard of Y Combinator. There’s been a lot of ink spilled extolling the many benefits of YC, and their position in the accelerator universe is pretty clear.
We just launched from the latest S14 batch, and I wanted to share our experience going through the program. If you’re on the fence as to whether or not you should apply, I hope this will move the needle for you.
From the extent of a single anecdotal perspective, here’s what you can expect at YC:
1. Advice from some of the best minds in startups.
With most startups, the quality of advice you receive is directly proportionate to your probability of survival. But you’re no doubt awash in startup advice, and it’s hard to select signal from all the noise.
YC is uniquely positioned to give great advice on startups. Even highly serial entrepreneurs have only seen a handful of iterations through the startup building process. In contrast, YC partners have seen hundreds of companies go through this same process, the by-product of which is near-superhuman pattern matching skills. There are very few patterns they haven’t already seen, and they can help you avoid many of the common mistakes that kill early-stage companies.
Most of the partners have also founded companies themselves, and know what it’s like to slug it out in the trenches. Running a fledgling startup can be something of a roller-coaster, and it’s helpful to have people on board who know what the ups and downs feel like.
Finally, they’re just really nice people, and both you and your startup will be better with them on your bench.
2. The right kind of pressure.
Startups don’t starve, they drown. There are usually a hundred things you could be doing at any given time, most of which will only have a marginal impact on the success or failure of your company.
There is something about the inexorable march toward demo day that forces you to focus on the things that truly matter. Distractions give way to the all-consuming and perpetual pursuit of growth, which, as it turns out, is exactly what you should be focusing on.
Demo day is a deadline to beat all deadlines, and the imminence of it can prove very motivating. This did wonders for us, and it would have been hard to simulate this forcing function outside of YC.
3. Unprecedented access to investors.
Unless you’ve previously started a venture-backed company, you’ll probably never get this kind of access to top-flight investors.
YC’s track record also grants you a significant valuation multiple, as investors have come to expect stellar results from YC companies and tend to value them accordingly.
This alone justifies the ~7% equity you give up to join the program, and it’s only the third or fourth most valuable thing you’ll derive from it.
4. Access to the all-powerful alumni network.
This is probably the least-hyped benefit of YC, at least relative to its value.
Unsurprisingly, YC alumni tend to be smart, ambitious, and talented individuals (with the notable exception of myself). What was truly surprising, was just how helpful they are. I reached out to a number of alumni over the course of YC, and was consistently impressed with their willingness to offer advice, introductions, and more.
With over 1400 alumni in the network, you can find an expert in just about every major domain, from flower delivery to nuclear energy. Open access to this massive array of expertise is nothing short of a superpower.
It’s also great from a personal perspective. There’s something awesome about being surrounded by great people, and I’m going to enjoy the hell out of the friendships I’ve made over the last four months.
You should apply to YC.
I almost didn’t apply to the last batch, and needless to say I’m glad I didn’t make that mistake.
I’m not your typical Silicon Valley founder. I didn’t graduate from Stanford, MIT or an Ivy. I didn’t go to college at all for that matter, and instead started a company right out of high school. I’m a solo founder, grew up overseas, and am far from what you would call a valley insider.
As it turns out, these things don’t really matter. What does matter, is whether you can build something great. All these credentials are just a heuristic to that same end.
Don’t let the low acceptance rates deter you. YC wants to fund as many great companies as possible, and for those who meet that criteria your chances are nearly 100%. Regardless of the outcome, both you and your company will be better for having applied.
The application deadline is four days from now. Don’t miss that boat.