Practical Handbook for Applying to Y Combinator

Chapter 5: Everything Else

October 2020
Unlike fancy schools, anyone can get into YC without recommendations. Photo by Liam Truong.

There are some recurring topics founders tend to ask about YC that don’t really fit into any of the previous chapters, this is where we’ll cover them.

💌 Alumni Recommendations

Unlike college or certain jobs, you don’t need prestigious recommendations to get into YC — any good startup can apply and get in regardless of who they know. 

Having said this, YC does have a mechanism where alums can recommend founders for the program. These are not hall passes to skip steps or get in automatically, but rather, additional data points to get color on a startup. They exist to confirm hunches partners have about you after reading your application or interviewing you. The thing is partners only pay attention to these if the recommender actually knows you well (is a close friend, previous co-worker, etc). So, if you aren’t close with any alums, don’t sweat it, and focus on building a great business. Spending time and effort hustling recommendations from strangers isn’t typically worth it.

🎒 Startup School

The most underrated thing YC does is Startup School. It’s a free online program where you get access to a fantastic curriculum on how to start a startup, meet other founders through weekly live video chats, keep track of your progress with weekly updates, and get access to $100,000+ worth of deals. This is a no brainer, especially for first-time founders.

For those interested in getting into YC, this is a great path as well. While going through Startup School doesn’t automatically help you do so, it does indirectly help by making your company more successful and giving YC more data points to judge that. To give you an idea, in the most recent YC batch 45% of admitted companies were former Startup school participants.

📚 Startup Library

Startup Library is a recently released collection of resources curated by YC with everything you could possibly need to know about startups. It’s available for free to everyone, even if you haven’t participated in a YC program, which makes it an invaluable asset for any founder out there.

🎤 Events & Office Hours

YC routinely hosts events all over the world -- typically at Universities, Startup Hubs, or Alumni HQs -- to introduce themselves to potential founders outside Silicon Valley. These are great opportunities to learn more about the program, and figure out if it’s a good fit for you.

Every once in a while at these events, partners also host 10-minute Office Hours with founders. Typically these have high demand and require pre-enrollment, so keep an eye out on their Twitter and events page. I like to think of these as a free round of feedback. If you play it right by incorporating the partner’s advice by the time you apply, this is essentially like skipping one unsuccessful admissions cycle. Having said that, office hours are not as common nowadays, so don’t stress out about not getting them, most successful applicants don’t.

🔭 Requests for Startups

On their website, YC has a list of ideas that sound interesting to them. I’ve seen many founders give too much weight to this list, when in reality you should work on a problem you care about. To paraphrase YC: Many of the best ideas we’ve funded were ones that surprised us, not ones we were waiting for...Please don’t feel that you need to work on these [RFS] to apply, most of the companies we fund will continue to be internet and mobile ones… Also, you shouldn’t start a company just because it’s on this list. The RFS mostly exists to encourage you to apply if you’re already working on an idea in one of these areas.

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