Practical Handbook for Applying to Y Combinator

September 2020
YC's motto.

Focus on building something people want, not figuring out the mechanics of applying to YC.

Introduction: Thoughts on Applying to YC

Chapter 1: What YC Looks for in Startups

Chapter 2: The YC Admissions Process

Chapter 3: Applying to YC

Chapter 4: YC Partner Interviews

Chapter 5: Everything Else (Recommendations, RFS, and more)

Appendix: Other Resources

I’ll start by saying something hopefully obvious: you won’t become a great company by getting into YC — you get into YC by being on your way to becoming one. As such, regardless of whether you apply to YC or not, you must never lose sight that your one and only goal as a founder is to build a great company; one that brings together a strong team to make a business out of solving a problem people care about.

Having said this, YC can definitely give you a big boost in this journey. For starters, they give you $125k in exchange for 7% of your company. The program also helps you level up most aspects of your company: product, vision, team, fundraising, and more. Perhaps less obvious, but more impactful in my opinion, is that being surrounded by incredible batchmates and partners opens your eyes to what’s possible when people dare to take action, and provides you with a place to meet many who you’ll count amongst your dearest friends going forward.

Since 2005, over 2,000 companies have gotten to experience this, including the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Instacart, and Reddit. Besides from top alums like these, YC is well known for its narrow acceptance rate of around 1.6% per batch. I know first hand how intimidating this number can seem, but I’m here to tell you three things: 1) As an entrepreneur, you’ll face worse odds in your journey, so you might as well get in the habit of challenging them. 2) Getting rejected is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the company you’re building; YC routinely misses out on great startups, and as many as 40% of founders every batch don’t get accepted in their first try. 3) In practice, it’s not as hard as you’d think for good startups to get accepted. The key to a successful application is to communicate clearly — after all, YC can’t see what you don’t show them. With this in mind, I’ll amend my opening statement to: “You don’t become a great company by getting into YC; you get into YC by being on your way to becoming one...and conveying that effectively throughout the admissions process.”

This last part might sound obvious, but it’s where most companies miss the mark. When we applied back in 2017, three alums — Pame, Chris, and Lucas — took the time to pass along this advice, helped us polish our story, and shared concrete pointers for each step of the admissions process. Since then, I’ve gotten to see dozens of companies apply these ideas not just to successfully apply to YC, but to improve their companies overall. While applying to YC is already simple to do regardless of who you are or who you know, my hope with this handbook is that you won’t even need to talk to alums like myself to benefit from the advice I got back in the day.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge that while this is not an official guide by YC, it would not exist without contributions from countless people in the larger YC community. Most of the advice compiled here was either passed down by alums, or taken directly from resources YC has published in the past. As such, it is dedicated to them.

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