Advice for YC applicants on the fence

My company, Comprehend Systems, was funded by YCombinator this past Winter 2011 funding cycle.  The experience has been great, and I wanted to share some thoughts in case you were thinking of applying.  

First of all, a little about Comprehend Systems.  We are creating enterprise reporting and visualization software which makes it possible for users to drill down in real time across multiple databases.  Our first product, Comprehend Clinical, is a reporting and visualization tool for clinical trial data.  It's an Enterprise Java application which our customers install on their own servers, although eventually we may offer hosting.  My co-founder and I have talked about starting a company together since we were in high school, and we pulled the trigger mid-2010.  Initially, we weren't even considering YC, because of misconceptions that they weren't interested in enterprise software.

In fact, they're interested in any tech-based startup.  We're focusing on enterprise software, and it's been extremely helpful. I'd recommend it to anybody who's creating any type of tech-based startup.  We have a much better understanding of how to go about creating a successful company.  Although we had read a lot about it, it was always a little amorphous. Being in YC really solidifies your understanding about how other startups succeeded (and failed), and we feel much more prepared than before.

If you've created a startup, or are thinking about creating a startup, I would absolutely apply.


Things to think about if you're considering applying (and demonstrate in your application):

  • A business - While you don't need to have all the answers, you need to understand how your startup will become a viable business.  Fundamentally, you're creating a business and you need to understand that.  As YC says, "make something people want".
  • Determination -  You need to be committed to your company. YC isn't necessary in order to make your startup successful.  If you think you need YC to succeed, then you won't (and shouldn't) be accepted.  You need to know that you can and will create this company.  In fact, if you have the right mindset, whether or not you're accepted into YC won't be an input into your company's success.
  • Technical cofounders - One thing that's specific about YC is that they prefer technical founders.  Simply put, if you're creating a technical startup, it's helpful to have technical expertise.
  • Co-founders - It helps if you and your cofounders know each other well.  Jud and I have been friends for 15 years. We learned to program together.  We have also always talked about starting a company, in high school it was a video game company (obviously) but more recently it had been enterprise software.
  • Integrity/Friendliness - PG and team are working very hard to create a strong community, so it's helpful if you can demonstrate that you are the type of person they'd like included in the alumni network


Things not to worry about before applying:

  • No public speaking experience - Don't worry if you don't have public speaking experience.  That's something that can be learned, as long as you have confidence in your product and your team.
  • Age - It doesn't matter. In this batch, there are founders in their teens, and others in their 30s.  My cofounder and I are both 29.
  • Company's current status - YC has funded established companies that have several years of revenue, and founders who haven't even thought of an idea yet.  
  • Industry - They are not looking only for social network startups.  They're looking for solid founders, who are determined to make a successful technology startup.  This includes (but is not limited to) enterprise software, online assisted offline businesses, and more.  It's not just "web 2.0".
  • Prior business experience - Again, as long as you have the confidence and determination, you can pick this up.  If you don't have prior business experience, it isn't a deal breaker.
  • Hacker News history - If you don't have a lot of karma, who cares.  Focus on your startup instead.


Final thoughts

The one other things I wanted to mention is how impressed I've been with the team at YC.  I had been a long time reader of HackerNews and PG's essays before applying.  In fact, my HN account was exactly 1400 days at our first YC dinner. My unreasonably high expectations were actually surpassed by the quality of the mentorship from PG and team.  They truly care about entrepreneurship and helping founders, and it shows in everything they do.  

However, you don't need to live and breathe HN to do well.  By contrast, my cofounder knew little about Silicon Valley, Y Combinator, and Hacker News, and created a HN account only when I told him that he needed one.  Overall, the experience has been great and I would recommend it to anybody who is an entrepreneur.

Now, back to preparing for demo day next week.  However, I wanted to take a break to write this, because I'd love to have helped convince one extra person to apply for YC S11.

Good luck.