Lessons Learned: YCombinator Summer 2010 Rejection

Update 2013: I'm still running the startup that was rejected: Nitrogen Logic

Good news!  I have completed another iteration of the Y Combinator application process.  Though my application was not accepted for this summer's funding round, I have gained some valuable insights into the funding process.  I'll share these insights with you by listing differences between my last application and my current one and describing the apparent results of those changes.

Note: For those who are unfamiliar with Y Combinator, it's a company that invests in seed-stage startups.  They do two funding cycles a year, and find companies to fund using an online application form.  I am comparing the differences between my answers to their Winter 2010 and Summer 2010 applications.  Here's a list of this round's application questions.


The first difference is quite a big one: I didn't have a cofounder this time.  Last time, my cousin agreed to let me use him as a token cofounder.  So why wasn't he here this time?  First of all this application round kind of snuck up on me because I wasn't keeping track of the YC blog, so I threw it together myself during the last week before the deadline.  Second, though my cousin is a talented electrical engineer, his situation makes diving head first into a startup an impossibility.

The next change is how I responded to the "What is your company going to make?" question.  Originally I concisely described my startup's product, followed by a single-sentence description of how it would help potential users.  This time I went a bit more over the top with my description and swapped the ordering (i.e. the effect for users was first, then the product details).  I also tweaked the explanation a bit to emphasize the connection to Request for Startups #6, which was posted just before I finished my application (though my product development plans always included touchscreen/handheld development, long before the iPad was announced).

I think my "something impressive" from this round was more computer-focused and impressive than last fall's, but my "successfully hacked" story was probably not (how can you top a story that involves your car going up in flames?).  My answers to the remaining application questions were all reworded, clarified, or changed, though the meaning was mostly the same, except obviously for questions that relate to cofounders (since I didn't have one).  For the most part I tried to answer more aggressively and confidently than before, while shedding unnecessary words and phrases.  I also had, in my opinion, a better answer for the competitors question.

The remaining differences were in the video and my personal details.  I felt that I was much more engaged and spontaneous in this round's video, but being a solo founder I was the only one in it.  I also included a personal web site, where last time I did not.  Previously I specifically mentioned the content at the demo URL in one of my answers, but didn't this time.  Finally, my W10 application was submitted early and often, while I didn't have this one ready until the day of the deadline, mostly because I spent that final week working on a demo web site.


Apart from the obvious lack of an invitation to interview, I noticed a couple of other differences in the amount of web traffic I got to my startup's site.  Last fall, they hit my company's web site once before the deadline, and pulled down the entire demo page during the application review period.

This time, having included a personal web site, that was visited once during the entire week (though my server logs don't show any of the images being loaded), my company's landing page (since I'm in a private beta stage, it just has the name of the company) was viewed once, and the demo URL didn't get viewed at all.  Assuming they would read my demo page this time, I spent all of my time focusing on the demo instead of the application, and didn't put any content at the company landing page.


The most obvious recommendation I can make to anyone else applying for Y Combinator in the future is to have a cofounder.  Overall I thought my application was a lot more solid this time, but last time with a token cofounder my demo URL was visited, and this time going solo it wasn't.

I'd also recommend mentioning information available at the demo URL (screenshots, a working demo, etc.), without sounding like you're aggressively pushing them there.  Furthermore, I think it's a good idea not to put a link to a landing page in the "Company URL" field if there's just a company name on it, as they might go there instead of the demo URL and miss out on your cool demo.

Lastly, if you have to answer Yes to the "Are any of the following true?" question, I'd guess your chances are basically nil.  I bet they get thousands of applications, hundreds of which are really good, so they can afford to be picky.  Last time I had to answer Yes because my cofounder couldn't work full time on the project or move to San Francisco, this time I had to answer Yes because I was the only founder.

Naturally I'm sad not to be able to participate in the YC community, enjoy the benefit of the extensive network, and get awesome feedback on my products from some of the big names in startups, but I've got an endless supply of ideas and ambition, and I'm going to be successful with or without them.  Congratulations to those of you who get accepted this round, and good luck to all the rest of us.

What do you think? Please feel free to discuss YC experiences and share your suggestions on Hacker News or in the comments.