How to Get Into Y-Combinator

Tips to apply to YC

Table of Contents

What is Y-Combinator?

Y-Combinator (YC) is a startup accelerator that provides seed funding, mentoring, and connections to startups in exchange for equity. YC has launched over 2,000 companies including Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, and Coinbase.

Who should apply to Y-Combinator?

Anyone with a startup idea and team should consider applying to YC. YC looks for determined founders solving real problems who can demonstrate their capabilities through prototypes/demos. Experience is not required.

How does YC compare to other accelerators?

YC is the biggest and most successful startup accelerator. It has a simple and fast application process - just a website form and 10 minute interview. YC's network and brand are unmatched. The program is intensive but short at only 3 months.

What is the YC application process?

The YC application process consists of filling out a simple form explaining your idea, team, and progress. Applicants also make a 1 minute founder video introducing the team. YC then selects companies for a 10 minute interview to decide on funding offers.

How should you prepare a strong YC application?

A strong YC application clearly and concisely explains the problem, solution, market, and team. Include a demo if possible. Practice interview questions and show progress between application and interview. Be authentic and address weaknesses too. Follow directions closely.

YC Interview Red Flags

  • Giving long, rambling answers instead of being concise. This makes it hard for interviewers to understand the business.

  • Seeming evasive or misleading when answering basic questions about the company, numbers, etc. This comes across as untrustworthy.

  • Having founders talk over each other or argue during the interview. This suggests poor team dynamics.

  • Demonstrating a lack of mastery of the business, not knowing key metrics and details.

  • Overconfidence and unwillingness to acknowledge weaknesses or risks.

YC Interview Green Flags

Some potential green flags include:

  • Clearly explaining the problem, solution, market opportunity, and progress to date. Telling a coherent story.

  • Evidence of a strong technical co-founder who can build the product.

  • Showing meaningful progress between application and interview, like launching a prototype.

  • Founders seeming honest, likable, and able to work well with YC partners long-term.

  • Balancing confidence in the business with acknowledgment of challenges and remaining risks.

  • Following directions and having high quality application materials like the founder video.

Building an MVP for Y Combinator

  • Build something, even if basic - the difference between nothing and something is "huge" to YC.

  • A prototype or demo shows you are capable of building and "serious".

  • Focus on solving a real problem for real users. Don't get distracted perfecting things.

  • Be prepared to talk about what you have built so far, how it works, and the future roadmap.

  • Progress between application and interview is highly valued, so iterate rapidly.

  • Domain expertise on the founding team is valued to build credible products.

  • There is no need to wait until having an elaborate product. Just build something that shows your capabilities.

How to Pitch Your Startup at YC

Here are some tips on pitching your startup to YC effectively:

  • Explain the problem, your solution, and the market opportunity clearly and concisely in 10 minutes. Don't give lengthy background or details.

  • Share your startup's origin story - how the founders came together and got the idea.

  • Demonstrate expertise in your domain, whether technical, scientific, etc.

  • Provide evidence of user demand and market validation. Numbers of users, customers, revenue etc.

  • Be honest and realistic. Don't exaggerate claims that can’t be backed up.

  • Show your capabilities through prototypes, demos or early products.

  • Highlight progress made between application and interview.

  • Convey passion and determination to succeed regardless of YC's decision.

  • Be authentic and personable. Don't recite speeches or talk nervously.

  • Listen to questions and directly address what is asked. Don't deflect or avoid weaknesses.

  • Sell the size of the potential opportunity and your team's ability to capture it.

Other Tips for Getting into Y-Combinator

  • Filling out the application prompts thinking and planning, even if you don't apply.

  • Don't overthink when to apply. There's no perfect time - just go for it.

  • Persistence pays off. Many successful applicants had applied previously.

  • Add technical co-founders to improve odds, like through YC's co-founder matching.

  • Warm introductions or networking are not required or expected. YC prides itself on funding strangers.

  • Don't pay "advisors" who promise to help get you in. Focus on the startup itself.

  • View YC partners as collaborators, not adversaries. Don't try to "trick" them.

  • Prepare for basic questions about your idea, progress, team, numbers, future plans.

  • Practice interviews, but don't over-prepare or give robotic, memorized answers.

  • Seek evidence you are solving a real problem people want solved.

  • Demonstrate grit and determination to succeed with or without YC.