Here’s what Y Combinator looks for in successful startup apps
- Y Combinator, the most popular startup accelerators in Silicon Valley, is known for its exclusivity.
- Only about 1% to 2% of startups with over 20,000 applications a year are accepted per batch.
- YC’s Head of Admissions, Stephanie Simon, shares the qualities you look for in applications.
For early stage founders looking to grow their startup into a business accelerator, few names elicit as much excitement as Y Combinator.
The startup accelerator is known for its exclusivity, accepting only between 1.5% and 2% of over 20,000 applications for its summer and winter categories.
Stephanie Simon, Head of the Admissions Team at Y Combinator, reviews all of these applications. She joined the team in 2016 and took the helm in November 2020. Simon read thousands of applications during her tenure and gave her best advice to budding startup founders looking to gain admission into the exclusive accelerator programme.
A Y Combinator spokesperson told Insider that although the summer 2022 program deadline has passed, the admissions team will continue to review all late applications until the pool begins in June.
Simon said the Y Combinator application process is very straightforward. Once the founding team submits an application, the admissions team and even a few executives will review it.
If the committee decides that they want to interview the founders, they schedule a 10-minute video interview, and then make a decision on the founder’s application shortly thereafter.
“I would say 99% of the time, you get a 10-minute interview, and we’ll give you an answer within a day,” Simon said.
She also emphasized that no startup – no matter how trendy – would be automatically selected over another.
There are times when Y Combinator sees a rise in the number of apps in certain categories, such as crypto in recent years or “chatbots” in 2016. But the most important is the strength of the team. The lens is, Simon said, “what are smart, impressive teams working on?” ”
Having a Technical Founder on the team is essential
Simon says one way startups can stand out is to have a co-founder and one team member from a technical background.
“Essentially, we’re looking for founding teams where they can build the product, or at least the initial versions of the product, on the team itself,” she said.
Simon explained that by having a tech founder, the startup would be able to solve problems faster and creatively due to its prior knowledge of the technology. She said the tech founder would also make it easier to hire engineers, which could be one of the toughest things for startups to do. Technical founders usually have networks they can draw on.
A startup must solve a real problem
Another major advantage that YC’s more successful offerings have is the sense that the problem the startup is trying to solve appears real.
“When it’s a problem that was felt by the founders themselves or by someone they know closely, it feels more deeply rooted in reality, and it feels more likely to succeed,” Simon said.
She says she can tell if there is sincerity and authenticity in the problem the founders are trying to solve rather than just a good startup idea.
In some cases, Simon said, field experience is also important. For startups in specific sectors such as insurance and biotechnology, being an expert will pay much attention to the admissions team when reviewing the application.
Just a few traits will leave the company out completely
Simon said the biggest turn-off for YC admissions directors is their “lack of originality.” In every app group, they receive some ideas that don’t seem real for a startup.
“It’s so obvious when an idea seems to be an illusion [the founders] You haven’t experienced it personally or know of anyone who has experienced the problem they’re trying to solve.”
However, Simon points out that there is only one criterion that would rule out a startup entirely: “I think the one absolute thing that doesn’t apply to us is that when we imagine that company is successful, it is negative for the world.”