What kind of team do you think YC is looking for?
Typically YC is looking for founders who have deep domain expertise, with unique insights on the problem they’re solving. They’re looking for teams with complementary skills, such as a technical co-founder with a product or business co-founder. In addition, YC places a lot of importance on communication skills; especially the ability to simplify what might be complex/technical concepts in ways even the average person can understand.
How do you think our program and partners can best support the teams?
First-time founders often tend to over-complicate their businesses. Helping them figure out what actually matters at their stage of company, then focusing all their efforts on that is usually the first step in building a great business. Then helping to distill the results of their efforts into a compelling and simple story/pitch would improve their chances of getting into YC.
What is the most important question on YC application?
The description of what your company does is probably the most important question. In addition to your company’s one-liner, it’s what everyone sees first when reviewing your application. You should highlight the most impressive aspects of your company in the description, and keep the answer simple and concise.
What type of response would you consider a red flag in the application?
There are many potential red flags, but the most common might be when answers are too long and filled with jargon. If you read an answer out loud, and it doesn’t sound like something a human would say, it’s probably too complicated and signals that the founders either can’t communicate well, or are trying to bs.
What topics or ideas do you think the 1-minute video should cover or focus on?
The video is really just a way for reviewers to get a quick read on the team. It is a way to tell if the founders are people that they’d want to work with for a few months (so smile!), to get a sense of the team’s personality and dynamic, and whether they can communicate clearly and persuasively (show enthusiasm).
What is the most common mistake founders make on their application or during an interview?
On the application, a common mistake is when founders don’t answer questions simply and concisely. Often this is due to trying to make their answers sound more grand or impressive than it needs to be. YC understands it’s usually still early in a company’s development, and it’s better to err on the side of clarity.
In interviews, a common mistake is to spend too long answering a question. Be short and concise with your answers, ideally with something concrete as opposed to vague generalizations.
What is the best approach to get to the interview?
It is typical for companies to not get an interview on their first try. Applying again, with proof that you did what you said you were going to do since the last application is a strong signal.
Also, getting other YC alumni (that YC respects) to recommend your application helps a lot.
When do you think is the right time to apply for YC?
There is no right or wrong time to apply. It’s okay, and even recommended, to apply again if you don’t get in the first time.
What is the most important thing to include in the application? What is the least important?
Most important is to make sure the most impressive aspects or achievements of your company are being highlighted (the top 3 to 5 points). Least important are things you plan to do in the future (roadmap, projections).
What advice would you give to a founder who is about to enter YC?
Continue spending most of your time building your business, not networking or socializing. Find the group partner you resonate most with, and follow their mentorship. Some founders instead try to get advice from many partners, which is a waste of time and probably will lead to further confusion.
Can you provide 1 or 2 examples of the application or interviews that impressed you in a positive way?
YC doesn’t share examples of successful applications. But you might be able to ask YC alumni to share theirs with you.
How can early-stage startup founders use their time effectively?
Ask yourself what is the key milestone you need to achieve, then try to spend most of your time and focus getting there. And try to spend as little time as possible on everything else.
How do founders know what feedback to act on and what to ignore when they receive input from investors or customers regarding necessary changes to their product?
Unfortunately there is no easy way to determine what advice/feedback to act on. But in general, the best founders are domain experts with a strong vision for what they are building. And they should trust their own intuition. Customers can be very helpful in honing the product - but founders need to be careful that they aren’t being pulled into building something too specific for that customer.
What is your favorite question to ask founders?
“What do you do?” (which is also often the first YC interview question)
The founder’s ability to very simply and enthusiastically describe what they do is very telling. In YC interviews, the next question would drill deeper, based on something the founder said in their answer.
For those who have applied before and been rejected, is this a red flag? How do they come back from it?
Many companies have been accepted after applying multiple times, so this is not a red flag. In fact, it can show determination and resilience. It’s a huge positive if there has been a lot of traction since the last time they applied.
What should those who apply with only an idea focus on? Those who’ve already raised significant funding?
Many companies have successfully gotten into YC with just an idea. But then other aspects of the business need to really shine. Such as the strength of the founders, the unique domain expertise and insights that the idea is based on, etc.
How important is a demo? What should the demo show?
If you can show your product (or mockups/prototype), it is always good to show it. Ideally, it should show the love & care you have put into the product. As well as the unique aspects of the product that differentiates it from the average product.
What are some things international applicants specifically should think about?
If you are solving a problem for a specific geography (such as Taiwan), then make sure to describe why it’s a big problem there. Especially if it wouldn’t be as obvious for someone coming from the USA.
What are the best ways to be concise and explain clearly? How do you “write concisely but say a lot”?
Be specific and concrete. It’s okay that the answer is narrow and doesn’t cover everything. Trying to cover everything in one answer just dilutes the main point you’re trying to make.
How can the applicant sell themselves outside of their business idea?
Most importantly, they sell themselves by how they communicate, as well as their passion & enthusiasm. In addition, there are questions where applicants can share their other achievements, times when they overcame strong adversity, etc.
What makes the business idea attractive?
Sometimes the best ideas are not obvious, even to YC partners. But in general, the best ideas are ones that are based on some insight that is non-obvious to the average person, solves a real problem that isn’t well served by existing solutions, and can lead to a large addressable market if it works.
What is the best way to incorporate numbers to the applicant’s advantage?
Focus on the KPIs that are good, and don’t emphasize KPIs that aren’t. Tell stories around the numbers to give reviewers a sense of why they are impressive. Metrics that show strong month-over-month growth are often good
How should a founder talk about problems or challenges they’ve encountered?
Every company runs into problems or challenges- it would be more odd if there hasn’t been any. How founders face those challenges and overcome adversity helps show the grit, determination, and adaptability of the founder.
What is the best tone with which to write the application?
Write your answers like you would talk to a person in real-life. Keep things simple, concise, and colloquial. Don’t use jargon, and don’t use fluffy language. Your average friend (or aunt) should be able to understand your answers.
What are some of the best ways to show connection to users/traction?
It depends on the type of business. For instance, if you have a B2B business, ideally you want to show recurring revenue contracts with 1 yr+ commitments. If you can’t, then you can fall back to paid pilots, unpaid pilots, and letter of intents (LOIs), in order of strength. Likewise if you have a B2C business, user or revenue growth is best. But you can fall back to showing strong retention/stickiness and user engagement.
Are there any common traits among YC founders?
What's the best way for founders to talk about their startups?
Always err on the side of simplicity and be concise. Founders often want to talk about everything they are doing and everything the company will eventually do. But that just makes it harder to understand what the company actually is, and what it does.
What is the important but often overlooked aspect in the startup process?
Founders who come from having worked in other companies prior to starting their companies tend to focus too much on perfecting every aspect of their company. Such as having the proper HR or hiring policies in place, or creating unnecessary processes for how work gets done. While all this will be important in time, founders are often better served being maniacally focused on the 1-2 things that actually matter (usually finding product-market fit).
Marketing & Product
How would you define a good MVP?
One that shows proof of early product-market fit - that someone clearly wants what you’re building. For instance, someone is willing to pay for your MVP.
What do founders need to consider about their product when applying to YC?
Founders have successfully gotten into YC with just an idea, as well as a prototype/mockup, as well as a full-fledged product.
How should founders effectively communicate their vision and value proposition to the customers?
Communicating to customers or potential customers often can be different than communicating to investors (or YC). With customers, you often want to speak in their vernacular/language, as this shows you understand them. And everything you say to them is framed around their problems and needs (which they typically already understand). But with investors, you want to frame the discussion around why there is this group of customers who need you in the first place, and why it’s such an important and big problem to solve.