Handbook for Applying to Y Combinator

Chapter 5: Everything Else


October 2020

last updated:

June 2021
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 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 tickets to skip steps or get in automatically, but rather, additional data points on a startup. They exist to confirm hunches partners have about you. Partners usually only pay attention to these if the recommender actually knows you well —  friends, co-workers, or investors — so, if you aren’t close with any alums, don’t stress out about it. Focus on building a great business, 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 the core YC program, this is a great first step. In a recent YC batch, 45% of admitted companies were former Startup school participants. This is not because going through Startup School gets you into YC, but because by leveling up your company through the program, you have a stronger application.

📚 Startup Library

Startup Library is a 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 to introduce themselves to potential founders, typically at Universities, Startup Hubs, or Alumni HQs. These are great opportunities to learn more about YC, 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. These are typically in 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 whatever feedback the partner gives you by the time you formally apply, you essentially skip one unsuccessful admissions cycle. Office hours are not as common nowadays, so don’t stress out about getting them, most successful applicants don’t.

🔭 Requests for Startups

On their website, YC has a list of ideas that sound interesting to them. Some founders give too much weight to the list. 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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