Since many people are anxiously awaiting their YC application response, I thought I’d take a few minutes to dispel a few myths about YC. Hopefully if you’ve applied this will give you something to do while you’re biting your fingernails waiting to see if you got an interview…
We were part of YCombinator’s summer session in 2009. One of the things that I know is hard to believe for everyone that will likely read this post coming from Hacker News is most people in the world have no idea what YC is… shocking I know. So for those that don’t know, this is the way I describe it to people.
“YCombinator is the easiest way to get your startup off the ground. They give you some initial funding (less than $20k), guidance, support and instant credibility in the investment world. Not many people get into YC, lots of people want to.”
I’ve heard over the years I’ve been following YC a ton of things that simply aren’t true about getting into YC, or what happens while in and after YC. So I figured I’d take a minute to address three myths that are simply not true.
Myth #1 – If you’re old, it’s harder to get into Y Combinator
Erik Landerholm and I have been friends and co-workers for almost 10 years. Erik is 33, I’m 32. We both have families and we both have kids. This didn’t even come up in our interview. Paul, Jessica, Trevor and Robert saw that we were passionate and competent. Age and life situation didn’t matter at all. The things that mattered, in my opinion, were that we were going to build CarWoo!, YC or not, and were willing to do anything to make it happen. Also, the fact that Erik and I had 10 years of history together was also a key to us getting in. We’ve been through many wars together and the strength of our relationship has endured many ups and downs over the years. So, if you’re older, chances are you’ve got many co-workers/friends that you’ve worked with that could be potential co-founders… age may actually be an advantage if you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make your startup successful.
Myth #2 – You should launch your company on Techcrunch as quickly as possible before Demo Day (if you’re accepted that is)
Let me first say Paul Graham and I will disagree on this one. Everytime I’ve seen Paul since the summer of 2009 he’s asked me “Are you guys going to finally launch CarWoo!?” My answer has always been. ”When the time is right.” Which it was two weeks ago and it went off beautifully. Timing is everything with your launch.
A product launch is different than a media launch…
For many startups the quick launch and TC coverage is absolutely essential. You will get customer feedback, iteration ideas, conversations with customers, and exposure with potential investors. However, the formula doesn’t always apply. For instance, at CarWoo! we’ve built a marketplace that has to get supply and demand aligned. If we would have done a media launch last summer, we would have had an overwhelming amount of car buyers (at that point, overwhelming would have been anything more than 10) looking to use our service, but we wouldn’t have had enough dealers (the sellers). I can only imagine what the coverage would have looked like when someone in Florida tried to use our service and we had zero dealers to satisfy their deal. Short story. Some businesses aren’t ready for media coverage quickly. You need to be aware if you’re one of those companies and if you do get into YC, take all the “launch quickly” advice with a grain of salt.
All of this being said, we did actually release our product for customers to use during YC, in San Francisco only. There is a huge difference between a product launch and a media launch. What we did was a product launch, but we waited until October of 2010 to do our media launch. Our product launch was absolutely critical to get customer feedback and to grow our dealer network. So make sure you think through the difference between a product launch and a media launch before letting Techcrunch or other media outlets know about your startup.
Myth #3 – If you get into Y Combinator, you will raise additional funds easily
Y Combinator is the best way to get in front of Silicon Valley investors. You no doubt will get meetings with a lot of investors and the YC name gives you instant credibility. That being said, you still have to be building a great company to raise money. We have raised over $6M and while YC helped us and we are extremely appreciative, the hard work we put into CarWoo! and our determination to build a huge company was the key to our success.
If you believe the success or failure of your company depends on getting into YC, you are wrong. YC will help you get your foot in the door, but it’s up to you to have a compelling product, team and business model.
There were plenty of teams from our batch YC Summer 2009 that did NOT raise any additional funds. Granted, it was probably the hardest time to get investment capital. We were smack in the middle of the recession and the VC/Angel community had really tightened. The only way we raised money was we had a huge idea AND our team was determined to make it happen no matter what. It’s amazing what pure determination can do for you. You should try it.
So there you go, a few myths that simply are not true. Good luck and I can’t wait to meet the new batch in January. Please fire away with questions.