Practical Handbook for Applying to Y Combinator

Chapter 2: The YC Admissions Process

September 2020
Photo by Suzanne D. Williams.

One of the cool things about YC is that anyone in the world can go to ycombinator.com and apply in a matter of hours — no need to ‘have an in’ or fancy recommendations. The process itself is very straightforward, and meant to let you focus on what actually matters: building a great company.

📋 Stages of the Admissions Process

Stage Zero: Something People Want

The bare minimum to apply is a team and an idea (meaning you have identified a problem you want to solve, a possible solution, and the founding team to do so). Beyond this, as we’ll cover later on, you don’t really need to hit a specific milestone to apply to YC. All that matters is that you’re moving as fast as possible towards that solution every single day.

Stage One: Online Application

The first stage is an online application, which consists of two written questionnaires (one as a team, and one each founder as an individual), and a 1-minute team video. Chapter 3 is focussed on advice for this stage.

Stage Two: Partners Interview

The second and final stage of the YC Admissions process is the Partners Interview. This is not a pitch or a demo, but an intense 10-minute conversation between the founders and a panel of around four YC partners. Sometimes partners can request a follow-up interview to make a decision. Chapter 4 is focussed on advice for this stage.


🧗 Admissions Funnel

Around 15,000 companies apply every batch. Out of these, about 1 in 10 advances to the Partners Interview stage. Of these, a bit less than 1 in 5 companies gets admitted. Overall, ~1.6% of companies that apply every batch get admitted (source).

YC funnel as of September 2020.

🧠 Keep in mind

Don’t let the odds scare you

YC partners are known to say that the number one reason startups don’t get into YC is because they don’t apply. As I mentioned in the Introduction, thoughtful and clear applications have a dramatically higher chance of getting in than the average ~1.6% acceptance rate. Don’t let that number discourage you, you’ll face slimmer odds in your path to having a successful startup.

You can go through this process many times

You can apply as many times as you want to YC and it won’t negatively impact you. Even if you don’t get accepted, Partners will give you valuable feedback, and encourage you to apply again next batch if you address it. In fact, somewhere around 40% of admitted companies every batch apply more than once.

You’ll learn a lot from the admissions process

The Application is designed to force you to face important questions about your team, idea, business plan, and more. The Partners Interview is a bonding force for your team, and preparing for it allows you to refine your ideas even further. Even if you don’t get in (or aren’t interested in participating), going through the YC Admissions Process will yield important insights for your company.

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