I mentioned last week that I had a deadline which I was working towards. I'm going to explain a bit more about this because a) it's consuming my life these days and b) I have the feeling this is going to be the beginning of something big. If it is something big, I think it might be interesting to hear it from the beginning.
What is Y Combinator?
Y Combinator is a "startup accelerator". Since that doesn't mean much, I'll explain how it works. You and your cofounder apply to Y Combinator. If they like you and your startup idea, they give you around $20k in exchange for a small piece of your company.
That's the boring part. What's a lot more exciting is that for your three month "term", they have weekly half-day dinners where you're presented to by successful entrepreneurs. You hang out with the founders of the other 40-or-so startups of your class, compare progress, and exchange advice.
You have access to the advisors of YC, and they, in turn, will introduce you to other people who can help you, or VCs. There's also a certain level of functional prestige in being a YC company. You're pre-screened, so it's easier to get press and funding. One investor will give you $150k without even knowing what your company does. It's basically the fast-track for startups.
If it's not already obvious, we're applying to YC for the community / advice / connections associated with it. I could care less about the money. My attitude is that if you can't raise $20k between two people for your startup, maybe you shouldn't be doing a startup.
YC will allow us to spend all of our energy on building our product and not have to worry too much about networking / raising money / etc. I like that.
What's your product?
I'm not really sure if I should tell or not. I'd like to, but I think it's a very strong idea and wouldn't want to jeopardize it by sharing it. Sorry. As soon as I think it makes sense to share, I definitely will.
Will you get in?
I think so. I've applied for a lot of things in my life, and without exception, I've never really felt like I SHOULD be accepted. For colleges my grades were low and I didn't really want to go anyway. When I was younger I'd apply to credit cards to fund my gambling business, all the while thinking it was ridiculous that anyone was extending me credit.
But this time was different. As I filled out our app, I kept thinking, "Dude. we're the exact people they're looking for". I could be proven wrong, but I feel very strong on our chances of being accepted. Two current YC founders (from AdGrok and Embed.ly) gave me feedback on the app, and besides giving extremely valuable advice, both were positive on our chances.
You'll know as soon as I know, probably via twitter.
What was your strategy?
The application is essentially three parts: a written part, a short video, and a demo of the product. We had a distinct strategy for each.
Paul Graham (the founder of YC) has made it clear that he's more interested in the founders than the idea. I know that YC is looking for ambitious people that get things done, so I made sure that my answers focused on examples of us being ambitious and getting things done.
For each question I tried to start of with a one sentence answer, and then go on to expand upon it. Reviewers read hundreds of these apps, and I want to make sure that our message is clear, but that they can dig down for a bit more detail if they want to.
Before creating our video, we watched all of the videos publicly shared by other applicants. The main problems I noticed were:
We didn't script our talk, but we outlined it and practiced it about a dozen times. Our format was: me introducing the problem we're trying to solve and giving a one sentence intro to our product, my cofounder giving concrete examples of how we're attacking the problem, me giving a quick relevant personal background, my cofounder giving his personal background, and then me closing it out with an overview of our work / personal relationship.
We used two identical cameras to film, one in a front view and one in a side view. We recorded the audio with a separate mic and used a large worklight bounced off the wall to provide good light. This may all seem unnecessary, but I wanted to make watching the video as friction-free as possible and to show that we take this seriously. Some other videos left me with the impression that the founders were applying on a lark, and I wanted to show more respect. Also, I just really enjoy making videos.
(By the way, some of the other videos were very good, too.)
The demo is an interesting aspect of the application. It doesn't even get looked at unless your written portion and video section are good, but at the same time if it does get looked at, that means that you're in the running, so it better be great.
Before deciding to apply to YC we had a balanced development strategy, but once we knew YC would be looking at it, we shifted efforts to the areas that YC would be looking at.
The biggest challenge with the demo is that you have to take unfinished software and present it in a way that shows the potential of the software. So rather than leave UI stuff until the end, we made sure we had a similar look and feel to our expected final project.
Our project is a take on an existing type of site with additional functionality. The problem with that is that you first build the base functionality, and then later add on the extras. We tried to include the most important extra features, but I think that if there's a weakness in our demo, it's that it doesn't look "different enough" from the competition, even though it will be when it's done.
Then again, I did see a couple demo sites from other applicants, and I felt that ours compared favorably.
Now we sit here and wait while the YC team goes through the monumental task of reviewing 1500+ applications. We'll hear back from them on April 7th, hopefully telling us that we've made it to the interview round, which goes from April 22nd - April 28th. Until then we quietly work on our idea in the background so that we're in the best possible position whether we get accepted or not.
Again, sorry this post is so general. I've archived our application, video, and a snapshot of the demo we posted. When it's an appropriate time for it, I'm going to share all of that here.
Upcoming travel: Vegas next weekend, then hanging out in SF for a good 3 weeks before taking a Florida -> Rome cruise and staying in Europe for a couple weeks.
LOTS of TaskSmash codes, which now include THREE invites for friends (once you sign up, go to the settings tab to find your invites):
It's surprisingly rare for me to get emails with suggestions for posts, but since posting last week about my startup, I've gotten several requests for a post about programming. Good idea-I should have thought of this before.
Now is a particularly good time to talk about programming, because now is a particularly good time to start a tech business. Every two weeks I go to Startup Poker, where I play poker with a bunch of startup employees and owners. We don't talk about startups all that much, but when we do, a recurring theme is this: there has never been an easier time to start a startup.
The process of starting up a tech company has almost become standardized: two founders join together with an idea, they start building it, take funding, and change the idea along the way as necessary. Amongst the two founders, there are only two configurations that you'll see: either both are "technical" or one is "technical". Technical meaning that they can program and will actually build the product.
What a crazy weekend! We launched our beta on Friday morning by posting to a few subreddits hoping to pick up a few more interested users who could play through our levels as we started to release new ones with the level editor we just finished. But we were not prepared for how many people would come check it out. We stayed #1 on all three subreddits for over a day, amassing 1466 points, 384 comments, and far too many players for our real-time multiplayer server to handle (forcing us to shut off the multiplayer and all server code synchronization). And that's all before we were crushed the next day by what appeared to our beleaguered Scott as all of Brazil, or at least every Brazilian on Facebook. (Olá!)
With all the chaos trying to keep the server up and the bugs down, we slept little and prepared for the next day's Startup School even less. We had been tapped for on-stage Y Combinator office hours with Paul Graham and Sam Altman. We watched a video of previous on-stage YC office hours and concluded that "office hours" really meant "eight minutes of two of the smartest startup guys in the world demolishing your idea in front of 1700 entrepreneurs and a live video stream".
Fortunately for us, they liked our startup and were much nicer than we expected. In fact, as we were walking off stage thinking, "Hey, that went well--maybe we'll get an interview!"--then Paul whispered something to Sam, who nodded, and they called us back.