Doing Y Combinator a second time
I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been asked what it was like to do YC for the second time. That’s probably a good cue to write this post.
It’s a lot better.
To recap, I did the winter program in 2007. We had 13 companies in our batch, which back then was YC’s largest group of companies. Our batch included companies like Weebly, Zenter and Octopart. This summer I did YC with 64 companies. Some people have even asked why I would do it again as surely I have the knowledge and contacts from the first time.
1) YC is lot more legit
I almost feel silly writing this but there was a time back then when YC’s ability to create huge, massively impactful companies was in doubt. I remember when coming from England I’d mention YC to a few friends in San Francisco and not many people knew what exactly it was. Nowadays, I can mention it in most bars in San Francisco and no explanation is necessary (yay – though maybe I should be going to different bars?).
YC has real clout. There’s some truth in the joke that everyone in the Valley works for Paul Graham. He’s the closest thing we have to Steve Jobs. I’ve experienced PG’s reality distortion field, and his no-nonsense style of communication. This makes founding a company through YC awesome.
2) There are more processes (and partners)
It may not be obvious to the outside world, but the YC partners work really hard. A lot harder than you think. There are a lot of processes going on in the background. Back then, to talk to PG involved nabbing his attention at dinner. PG hates meetings, but loves office hours (indeed pre-demo day I think he set a record by doing office hours with 30+ companies in a day). Now if I want to schedule time with Paul it’s only a click away.
Having said that, the expanded YC team means that I don’t need to talk to PG as often. During YC itself, Garry Tan was probably the most useful partner as he helped us with our store design, which in turn allowed us to start making revenue immediately.
Sam Altman is also great to talk to, especially as what we’re doing involves mobile and carriers. I needed an intro to Verizon last summer. Within a few days I was talking to their director of new product technologies. His investment advice has also been extremely useful. I had no idea of how to price apps for carriers. Now I do.
There is plenty of positive stuff to write about the partners, they all have things they are especially useful for. When I want to feel dumb, I talk to Paul Buchheit. There is no better a reality check on what you’re doing than office hours with PB. It also helps that now some partners are from your peer group (less intimidating).
Everything is more rigorous. Notes are taken by the partners after each meeting. YC is building the tools necessary to scale.
3) Other events/partner deals
In the fall we took part in YC’s first ever “Ad Innovation” Conference. It opened several doors for us, including getting our logo next to these guys in a media lab in New York.
YC has also held iOS development and SEO mini-conferences, with the likes of Joe Hewitt (who made Facebook’s iPhone app) and David Lieb of Bump sharing their knowledge.
Related to this, there’s also a bunch of partnership discounts for YC companies. Examples include discounts with the following services:
Knowing that I have discounted premium storage with Dropbox makes our decision to store files online very easy. Likewise, the mandatory installation of Excel becomes super easy with the deal from Microsoft.
4) The founder network
The YC network was already useful when I last did YC. You can now multiply that effect to eight hundred founders. Even with this growth, the desire to help each other out hasn’t diminished at all. If any of us is stuck with anything, a quick email to our founder list always results in helpful responses. There is also a more casual facebook group where we share our successes and arrange to hang out.
5) Start Fund
I cannot emphasise enough how much this extra $150k of funding changes things as a YC founder. Knowing that death isn’t a month away at the end of YC really helps to extend your horizon. A longer horizon results in more ambitious startups.
6) Demo Day
Demo Day was probably my least favourite part of YC this summer. To be specific, the first of the two demo days, and I think this was simply because of the heat. There were too many people in the room. But as PG says, YC is always partially broken due its rapid growth. My understanding is that this will be fixed for the next demo day.
The 2.5 minute pitches are also laser focused. I now struggle to think what we talked about for 7 minutes back in 2007.
7) Class size
It’s definitely different walking into a room that is triple the size of the old YC office and with 150+ founders for the Tuesday dinners. Obviously it’s less intimate. But, much like school, you find a bunch of friends and companies that you gravitate towards. And when Demo Day comes, all of a sudden you get to know almost everyone pretty well. I probably made most of my friendships in our batch during the last week of YC. The camaraderie increases as we realise that holy crap, we’re going to be pitching to the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
To sum up, I really enjoyed doing YC a second time, and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
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