What Entrepreneurs Need to Remember When Applying to Y Combinator

There are so many unknowns when you embark on a startup venture. How do you grow? Where do you grow? How do you target and land those first key customers? How do you attract the attention of VCs? 

The YC experience is all about answering these key questions and so much more. Participation in Y Combinator is a transformative experience for any early stage company.

Believe me, it will set the pace for how fast you should go. Within three months of entering YC in Mountain View California, my company, a location analytics startup named PiinPoint, was transformed from a small made-in-Canada startup with a handful of customers into a fully formed company and team that is attaining 5-7% growth week-over-week and making a significant dent in the North American retail market. 

That, folks, is the difference required to take your company from a lifestyle business to being a high-growth contender.

For any entrepreneur considering YC, the first step is getting an interview. My advice is simple: keep your answers to the point as the YC partners have to review thousands of applications. It is best to focus on your growth metrics and sell your startup like it’s the next Airbnb or Dropbox. You should be prepared to relocate and try to recruit a YC alum to review your application.

Let’s assume you land that important 10-minute interview.  From the moment you walk in, you will face a barrage of questions. Reflecting on our experience, here are a few tips:

  • Keep your answers to no more than 15 seconds.
  • Ensure all founders contribute to answering questions.

Once accepted into the YC program, you will have three months to prove you are one of the hottest startups in the world. You’ll be immersed into Silicon Valley’s culture.

I recall walking into a coffee shop in Mountain View soon after arriving, and realizing that every person surrounding me was an entrepreneur.  While there’s a degree of kinship in that fact, it is also incredibly eye opening, as you are starkly reminded of the competition around you—for customers, for attention and for investment. It is an invigorating and terrifying realization.

The YC experience was both taxing and inspiring for my small team. We were away from home – some for the first time – working from 7am until 11pm at night.

By day we were coding, building our messages and selling.  Each week, we would attend a dinner hosted by YC where we’d hear from a series of speakers including other startup founders, venture capitalists, journalists and executives. It was an incredibly intense go, go, go environment, but it also produced amazing synergies and progress.

Our dev team were able to build the next generation of the PiinPoint platform based off sales input. Sales were able to talk to the dev team about what features were coming next. Sleeping on the floor, crunched together in a small apartment, we were removed from any other distractions in our lives. We had a sense of purpose none of us had experienced before. We were productive as hell.

YC can break as many entrepreneurs as it can make. As a founder, you are essentially forced to make the decision to grow, or die. You have three months to prove yourself and to prove your startup. If you don’t, it’s just that much more difficult to make it work.  

Here are three important takeaways from our Y Combinator experience:

  • Growth is everything. We now are driven by the 5-7% week over week growth metric. Anything less is intolerable.
  • Build something that people want.
  • Make decisions quickly. As a startup you don’t have time to contemplate and analyze. Be decisive based on the information at hand. If it is the wrong decision, learn from it and move on.  

So if you are one of the many entrepreneurs out there contemplating applying to this next round of YC, here are some words of advice. Know that growth will be one of the most important factors to showcase in your application. Tell them a compelling story and convince them that your startup is the next big thing and they’ll be missing out if they fail to accept you. Focus on building and retaining a strong team. (The number one reason startups fail is a break up between founders.) And finally, recognize that if you are fortunate enough to join YC’s elite club, it is just another rung on the ladder in your entrepreneurial journey. It absolutely doesn’t mean your startup “made it.” Lots of businesses raise millions and still fail in the end.  

YC will, however, present you with an opportunity to accelerate your growth, connect you to experienced entrepreneurs, and expose you to a network that is unlike any other and nearly impossible to access on your own. Best of luck.

YC is now accepting applications for the W2016 Batch. Here’s some advice from them on how to apply successfully.