Y Combinator: Startup Founders Share Tips on Getting Selected

Startup accelerator Y Combinator is known for its exclusivity, accepting only 1.5% to 2% of the more than 20,000 applications it receives each year.

For entrepreneurs who make it, the opportunities offered by Silicon Valley’s most prestigious incubator are life-changing: they have the chance to meet and receive funding from some of the world’s biggest investors and can tap into an alumni network , which includes the founders of Stripe, Airbnb and Dropbox for advice.

Creating the perfect app is critical for a startup to have a chance to break through. However, the process changed a bit after the accelerator went hybrid.

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Instead of a trip to Silicon Valley, the entire interview phase is now conducted remotely, and it can be difficult to gauge how a particular conversation with a Y Combinator partner went after a simple Zoom video call.

Business Insider spoke with 5 startup entrepreneurs who were recently accepted into Y Combinator. Here are your top tips for a successful application.

Keep your written answers short and to the point

For Knowtex founders Jocelyn Kang and Caroline Zhang, who secured a place in the 2022 summer pool, the start of the online application was a nervous moment. The two met during their studies at Stanford and partnered to create a company that would streamline medical note-taking with artificial intelligence.

None of them had much more than an idea and a prototype when they applied to the accelerator, and they did so 2 weeks after the original application deadline. “It wasn’t until we got into YC that we really decided to take the idea,” says Kang.

Both consider the request well thought out because required them to present a clear and concise description of their startup.

However, even for those who have a more solid idea for their startup, it’s okay not to have a perfect answer to every written question.

When Alan Novogrodsky and his co-founder Marshall Johnson filled out their summer 2022 application for sales programming startup Caddy, both were candid about areas where they were still figuring out their business strategy.

“You don’t have to understand everything, because nobody wants to,” says Novogrodsky, “but it’s nice to be someone who can recognize a problem, understand what’s going on, and communicate it effectively, because those are very powerful skills to attract employees, attract investors, excite people and sell customers.

And adds: “If you can’t communicate effectively, you will most likely fail anyway.“.

Practice the interview well in advance

After submitting the written application, founders must practice in case they make it to the first round of interviews.

“We did at least 3 different versions of our application and 6-10 practice interviews,” says Jan.

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They wanted to have as direct an answer as possible to any questions YC members might have, since the first calls only last 10 minutes. “They want answers in a few sentences, basically,” says Jan.

According to Saurabh Jain, summer group member and co-founder of HR benefits software startup Feather, just getting an interview is a good indicator that YC responded well to your application, “because not everyone makes it to the interview,” he says.

Saurabh Jain and Aahan Sawhney co-founded HR company Feather and were accepted into Y Combinator's summer 2022 cohort.

At the interview stage, one of the most important things entrepreneurs can do is highlight why they are the right people to launch your startup right now.

“I think what works for us on our end is the team because of our technical knowledge and our years of experience,” says Jane.

Zhang also sees the importance she and Kang place on their partnership as key to getting an opportunity: “YC puts a high priority on the team, and my co-founder and I already had a very strong relationship with each other,” she said.

It is also important to assume that the interview partner will have done their homework on their own initiative.

Caroline McKeon, Alex Brown and Daria Balatsky, co-founders of Alga Biosciences.

“They’re doing a really good job of understanding what we’ve already done,” recalls Caroline McKeon, co-founder of climate technology startup Alga Biosciences.

She and the other co-founders went through the application process for the Winter 2022 cohort entirely remotely, conducting their interviews from one of their rooms.

“Our group partner really understood what our idea was, knew exactly what we were doing and asked the right questions,” he says.

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If the interview goes well, Entrepreneurs need to know right away if they’ve made the cut, especially if submitted close to the deadline. Caddy and Knowtex co-founders said Business Insider that the day after their second interview they receive the news that they have been accepted.

All of the founders said the most important thing is to practice every step of the application process and be as flexible as possible when explaining why you and your startup are a good fit for YC.

“Articulating something in very few words or in a very short time is more difficult than giving a 10-hour speech,” explains Novogrodsky. “It might just be one day and one online application, but the goal is to put all the effort into that short application and that short meeting to make it work.”

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