Handbook for Applying to Y Combinator


September 2020

last updated:

June 2021
YC's motto.

This is a compilation of the advice I got when we applied to YC. The goal is to help you avoid wasting time over-optimizing the process of applying to YC, so that you can focus on what matters: building something people want.

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, 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 that, YC can definitely give you a boost in this journey. They invest $125k for 7% of your company, and the program 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.

Besides for top alums like Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Instacart, and Reddit, YC is known for its narrow acceptance rate of  ~1.6% per batch. I know how intimidating this number can seem, but you need to know three things: 1) As an founder, you’ll face worse odds in your journey, so you better get into the habit of challenging them. 2) Getting rejected is not necessarily an indicator of the merits of your company; as many as 40% of the companies in each batch applied more than once. 3) In practice, it’s not as hard 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, 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 in the admissions process.

This last part is where many drop the ball. When we applied back in 2017, three alums — Pame, Chris, and Lucas — helped us polish our story, and shared concrete pointers for each step of the process. While applying to YC is already super simple regardless of who you are or who you know, my hope with this compilation is that you won’t need to talk to alums to benefit from that advice. This is not an official guide by YC, but I want to acknowledge that 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.

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