YC Partner Dalton Caldwell gives insight into how YC admissions works and what makes for a successful YC experience.
Watch this if:
- you're interested in applying to YC
- you aren't sure what YC looks for in a startup
Geoff: Hi everyone. So this morning, we are going to do something a little different than we normally do on Thursday. We're actually going to have a Startup School lecture by Dalton Caldwell, my colleague, and the head of admissions at YC. So this is, sort of, rather than a conversation that sort of fits in between the cracks of the lecture series that we have organized, this is part of the actual lecture series and is meant to help you understand more about the YC application process. We're just halfway through the course. And, excuse me, the YC application closes on October 2nd, so the timing is about right.
So a couple of things I wanted to talk about. First of all, as always, if you've parked in that lot, move your car, or bike. No one seems to have done that, that's great. Secondly, there's just a word about the application and the eligibility for the $10,000 grants because I think that caused a little bit of consternation. We decided a little bit late in the game that we were going to do a much better job of evaluating those of you who complete the course if we actually had the information contained in the YC application, and it also occurred to us it would be really good for companies to actually fill that application out. And a bunch of people cried foul saying, "Oh my gosh, that's unfair you're making us do an application."
I get that because it's a new requirement we added on, but a few points. First of all, and this was probably our fault and unclear, the deadline does not necessarily apply to the folks who are just looking to be eligible for the $10,000 grant. It doesn't matter. You can fill out that application anytime between now and the end of the course. In fact, you can do that even if you are applying to YC. Although, if you're really applying to YC and you want to get into YC, it's best to apply before the deadline. We take late applications but your probability of getting in decreases. It's a good idea to fill out the YC application.
It will help you and your company. It helps focus your thinking on what's important and what's not important. There is no obligation when you fill out a YC application. We're not going to force you to come to Mountain View and work with us. If you get an interview, you do not have to go to the interview. Frankly, I think that would be strange because, look, the people at YC sincerely believe that we help you be successful. And so if you get an interview, I would advise you to come and get the interview, but you do not have to. We hope that it's not too onerous to fill out the application.
Like I said, we believe it's a good thing for your company. We apologize for figuring this out a little bit late as we went around. There's a bunch of things that happened in this version of Startup School that were unexpected. It's not unusual for unexpected things to happen. Those of you who are running companies, which is hopefully almost all of you, understand that. So that's what happens. With that, I would, with great pleasure, like to introduce Dalton who is going to talk about how to apply and succeed at YC. Thank you.
Dalton: Hi there. How's it going? All right. Okay, what we're going to talk about today is how to apply and succeed at YC. In my capacity as the head of admissions, I go around the world, and I give talks, and I meet folks that are applying, and I answer lots of questions. And so I think I have a decent internal model of the kinds of questions that people have and the kinds of things that people get hung up on. And so, I'm going to do my best to anticipate what you're probably thinking about and try to answer those to the best of my ability.
All right. So why is it even worth applying to YC? People ask this question a fair amount of time, and I would argue that the very act of completing the application forces you to think about stuff that you should definitely think about, for instance, you know, what are we building? What is different about what we're doing than other options on the market? Who are your competitors? That's a good one to ask. Here's one that, sometimes, people don't talk about before filling out the application, "What is your equity split?" You'd be surprised, people often have never had that conversation.
And so the very act of going through and doing an application and working with your co-founder to answer all of these things, I would argue, is an extremely good idea. And regardless of whether you do YC again, you should ask yourself all of these questions. And if you find a bunch of murkiness where you can't answer them, that's usually a sign that you should be discussing this more. And so right off the bat, I recommend going and answering the questions, I think it's a good idea.
Another thing is, if you are watching this very presentation, there is a good chance that YC is a great fit for you, right? There's lots of people that apply and they don't really know what YC is, and they googled like, "How to get free money on the internet," or something. Trust me, I read these applications. And it's clear that they don't exactly understand what YC is and what it's all about, they just want money, right? That is not you. You are here, you have been participating in this, there's lots of contexts that you have about YC, and so that out of the gate means you're going to be much better prepared to fill out this application and that you're a great fit for the sort of company that we would want to fund, okay?
Another thing is, I think a lot about what you should be doing as a founder in terms of cost-benefit analysis on time. There's a lot of things that seem like a good use of time that are not a good use of time, and there's a lot of things that may not seem like a good use of time that are an excellent use of time. And so, I'd argue, filling out an application should really only take you, I don't know, two or three hours, and the potential upside is quite huge versus other ways you can spend two or three hours where the upside is not much at all.
So let's talk a little bit about how you create luck, and this is, sort of, like a meta point outside of the application thing. But great founders create luck, and there's ways that you can create luck in your life that increase the chances that you will get lucky. And the way you get lucky is you set yourself up to be lucky as often as possible. And so, if you can set yourself up so that every single day of your life you have a shot at something really fortunate happening to you, the odds that something really fortunate will happen to you is, like, super-high.
And I would argue applying to YC is definitely one of those things, right? I answer questions and invariably people will probably ask me questions at the end of this that are some kind of complicated way of being like...of you talking yourself out of why you should do it for some reason. That is not a great way to create luck, and the fact is, you're going to set yourself up to be rejected all the time as a founder, right? You get customers, your customers unsubscribe from your service. Your customers are not happy. You're going to try to recruit people that may not work. You know, you're going to be told no all the time.
And so, if you set yourself up so that you never hear a no and that you never get negative feedback, it's just like, you're not going to set yourself up to actually be successful. So this is an example of like when I talk to people when I'm on the road, a lot of the questions or concerns that people have are all stemmed from this, which is they're afraid of what happens if they don't get in, and so they don't even bother to take the chance. And, again, regardless of YC in this particular topic, I really think this is a good trait for you to develop as a founder. We work on this in the program with people of really encouraging people to not be so afraid of getting told no and systematically trying to set yourself up for good things to happen to you as much as possible, right? And so, this is just another of those situations.
So let's talk about some of the reasons that people don't apply. This one is very common, "I am too early." There is no such thing as too early. We fund people...sometimes in the extreme case, people have changed their idea between when they get invited to interviews and when they get to the interview. That's an extreme case. That's pretty early. We also fund people that end up pivoting in mid batch. And so that means they've been working on their startup like a negative number of days, right? That is clearly not too early also.
And so, again, there's a lot of ideas around there that, like, the right way to apply to YC is to wait until you have a certain amount of stuff. Someone asked me a question, "What's the right amount of MRR to get into YC?" And like, "Holy cow, the answer is zero," right? That doesn't mean you will definitely get in every time, clearly. But any kind of roadblock you put for yourself that you're too early, I would argue, is your own self-constraint roadblock, not something that's coming from us.
Conversely, people think they are too far along. And this one is great because there's like this ideal point between too early and too late that is like, you know, a week or something, and otherwise you're too far in either extreme. Most likely you're not too far along. We have folks, every batch that come in, we have folks that, man, had over $1 million in annual recurring revenue, folks that have had 20 or 30 employees, folks that have raised a fair amount of money.
Like, whatever metric by which you think you too far, and, again, maybe you are genuinely too far because you're, like, got 1,000 employees or something, the odds are though, most of the people that ask this question, it's because they are launched or they have a little bit of revenue and they're like, "Oh, we don't need YC. We got it all figured out." And, again, our data and the folks that we've worked with suggest that you are most likely not too far along depending on your circumstance. So if that is the idea, don't put the barrier into yourself on why you're not going to apply just because you think you're too far along.
"I'm too experienced." This is where either you just, "Oh, yeah, I went to business school," or, "I've done a startup before." Okay, that's fine, but all you're doing is limiting possibilities there and there's lots of folks that are super experienced. Justin Kan did YC three times and is now the founder of Atrium, and he gets something out of it every time. And, clearly, he's very experienced, and I would argue much more experienced than many people that think this about themselves. So, again, this is just creating barriers for yourself.
This is a common one, "There's something specific about my company that YC just doesn't get." And, usually, the way that I answer this is by listing all the types of companies that we fund. It is too long and too boring to list here so I will not attempt to list them all. But, look, whatever industry you're in, whatever you're doing, most likely, we fund something, kind of, like it or equally crazy to that and we really like crazy and weird things. And, again, what do I mean by "crazy and weird"? I don't know. We've funded nuclear fission and nuclear fusion startups and supersonic jet startups, and like, I don't know, all sorts of crazy biotech stuff. So it's unlikely that we're just going to be like, "Wow, that's too weird for us." Maybe you are that one, but most likely, this is a barrier you're putting in for yourself.
This one is also really common. People think if you do YC, you have to live in the Bay area. Forever, that is not true. A huge percentage of the people that we fund...you know, you do the program here, but that's three months, and you go and do whatever you want, right. So if you're super worried about like, "Wow, I just love New York City, that's my home. I want to be in New York City." Okay, that doesn't preclude you from wanting to apply to YC.
Okay, there's more. I'll go through these quicker. "I'm a solo founder." Okay, that's not a reason not to apply. It's just, again, maybe you're afraid of rejection or you know that we encourage you to have co-founders, that's not a reason not apply to YC. "I've already applied to YC once before." I'll address this later, but just because you didn't get in once and, "no way," means that you won't do it again. So that's, like, not a good reason. "I've already raised some money."
I don't know the stats off the top of my head, but a huge percentage of last batch had already raised a few, you know, on the order of six figures, and there's definitely some, say, seven figures as well. And so, in no way does it preclude you from applying to YC. It's, in fact, extremely common. Finally, "There's competitors." Sometimes, you know, if you're doing like a self-driving car startup, or a scooter startup, or something, there's other folks that we've funded in the space. We fund folks in the same space all the time. This does not preclude us from funding you, nor is it a good reason to not apply. Okay.
There's not many but I do think there is a couple of good reasons to not apply. One is, you have the kind of business that is either not anticipated to be fast-growing enough nor in your ambition is something that ever makes sense to raise venture capital for. And if that does not make sense for you, then, yeah, you probably shouldn't apply to YC. Like, you should not raise any venture capital, you should make the growth rate work for you and make the business model that works for you, and that's A-okay, right? So, no sweat, that's a good reason. And the other thing is, you're just not sure you want to work on this very long. All right, that's also a valid reason. We're used to working with people that are working on something for a very long time. And so if you just want to do something for a few months or put this on your resume, then, yeah, that's a fair reason to not apply.
How to apply. Okay, this is really straight forward. There's a website, you go to the website and you follow the instructions. It's okay to apply early or late depending on your circumstances as Jeff said. It's slightly harder to get in early or late, and that's just because that's not our primary time to be cycling through things. But if those are the circumstances you're in, you should definitely apply. This is a very common email question we get, is, "Hey, it's two weeks after the deadline, can I still apply?" Guess what the answer to that question is. It's a very quick, "Yes." But people want to ask, they want permission.
And, again, this is a recurring thing about founders. You need to learn, you don't have to ask permission for everything. You don't need our approval to do anything. You know, there's a website, if there's a button where you can apply, you should totally apply, right? You don't need to email us, have us say, "Yes," and then do it. That is an unnecessary step, right? So just keep that in mind. And you can just email us. And, again, most of these questions are just people asking, "Should I apply?" And our answer is almost invariably, "Yes." But if you want to ask us, you can. There's the email address.
So let's talk about what makes a good application. The first one, I promise this is not redundant. This matters. And it's because I read so many applications, I have a very good idea of what they actually look like. And I realized that this talk will go on the internet, and many of the things that I say will be reflected back. Like, I'm creating a feedback loop for the things that I read, and so things that I'm putting in here are actually meant... Like, I want these ideas to get dispersed and people knowing what makes a good application, because I think that will make my job easier, right? So this is very intentional.
The first thing is that you would be shocked how many people don't actually fill out the dang thing properly, like, sloppy, sloppy, sloppy, right? There's like whole areas where they don't answer the question whatsoever, they don't put in URLs, they don't fill out their bio. I don't know. Again, it's not a very long application, you'll see yourself, but it is shocking to me what a high percentage of the time people just don't fill the dang thing out or put in lots of errors and it's just not great. Think about it, about, you know, applying for a job or any other kind of professional thing, lack of professionalism here, not equated with success. So just fill it out, it's that simple. And that's why I'm leading with this, is you'd be shocked how few people follow this direction. Maybe they think it's like a lottery ticket where, if they put it in an application, even it's a bad one, they might get in. No. Humans read these things, I read these things, and I appreciate it if you fill out the application.
The second thing is the founder video. You would be shocked how many people don't follow the dang directions. There's directions on how to do the founder video, i.e., it should be a minute long, all the founders should be in the video, and people don't do that. We get the 20-minute, like, spirit-journey video where I don't even know what they're talk... You know, it's just like, it goes... Yeah. Or like sometimes, I've seen like an hour, 20... I've seen some weird stuff. But, like, the 20-minute spirit-journey video, not super helpful, and it's really hard to sit there and watch them or 20 minutes. One minute is the perfect amount of time. We give you examples.
Those examples are great videos, be like that video. It's also really good to have the entire founding team in the video. People are always like, "Hey, I'm here, and I'm in the airport, and my co-founder is in here, so here is my video." And, like, I think that's fine if that's what you have to do, but, maybe, just waiting a couple of days till you can be with your co-founder to do the video would be a good idea. Because my theory is, a lot of times when people don't follow the directions, and maybe because their co-founder doesn't know they're applying to YC, like, there's all these things under the hood where the lack of the co-founder in the video speaks volumes.
And so, maybe you have a great reason why your co-founder isn't in the video, but I would suggest it, right? And it's in the directions so I'm not telling you anything that's not in the directions. I'm just letting you know, yes, we watch these things, and, yes, it's valuable. And if you just follow the directions, then we're going to be super happy. And when it's, like, either there's no video or the video is weird... Another thing that people do a lot is they put in, like, an unrelated video of a product demo that they made with one of those free tools where there's no humans in it, and it's like...I can't even describe it. But, anyway, there's a whole genre of things that people put in there that are not remotely following directions. So please follow the directions. I swear it matters.
Clarity of thought. This is, a good application is easy to understand what they're talking about, and it doesn't mean you write tons, and tons, and tons of words. Tons of words definitely has a diminishing return where we don't know what you're talking about and I just can't understand what the application is saying.
Also, clarity on who is building the product. It's remarkably obfuscated to even figure out what's going on and who is even building the thing. Like, you'll see who the founders are and you'll, kind of, see what they're working on, but it's really hard to tell who's building it. And so, just having it be very crisp of who's building it. Again, this would put you way better than average if you just do these things. It's so simple, right? So good applications do these.
Let's talk about clarity because this is definitely something that is worth talking about. Great applications that I read...when I read an application and I know when I read it they're going to get in, they're super easy for me to read. It does not require a lot of work, it doesn't feel boring or painful, it just reads, like, with no effort whatsoever. And it's because I understand there's no jargon, and everything just adds up, and it's a great narrative. And it's, like, "Wow, what a great application." And you move on, it's very quick.
Weak applications obfuscate. They obfuscate everything. "What is your idea?" obfuscated. "Who is on the team, who's writing the code?" obfuscated. "How does it work?" I have no idea. "What is the state of the company? Are you launched? Do you have users? You have revenue but you're not launched, what is that like?" Like, basically, it's like a puzzle. When I'm reading one of these applications, it's like a brain teaser where I'm trying to figure out what's going on. And, I promise this doesn't help. I think a lot of the times that people obfuscate is they either think that that's what we want to read, or we like buzzwords, or we like this stuff, or they're trying to hide something where the revenue is actually their personal salary but it's not revenue for the company, but they're putting it in there because they think they should have revenue, like, stuff like that.
And so, we'll ask questions sometimes to figure this out. But there's such a clear delineation for me as an application reader about someone that is clearly communicating in a very crisp way versus where it's this brain teaser and I'm trying to pull out, or it's just like tons of work for me to pull out the key facts from the application, okay? And I think this is broadly applicable if you're trying to convince someone to buy your product, or you're trying to convince someone to work with you, or you're trying to convince an investor to invest in your startup, and they don't even understand what you're talking about, you have already lost, right? Simply going for coherent understanding should always be the first thing you do before you're trying to sell someone, right?
So if I don't understand what the heck is going on in your application, it doesn't even get to the point where it's like, "Hey, should we fund this company or not?" We just don't know what's going on. And you will notice that other people will check out. Like, if you're trying to pitch your thing to someone and they can't follow you, there's no way you're getting them to, "Yes." And so I just think this is such a broadly applicable skill and something that we work on a lot in the batch, is simply being clear and making sure the other party knows what you're doing first, and then selling them comes second once they actually understand what you're doing.
So I put in a few examples here. So here are some examples of really great descriptions from real YC applications, from real YC companies that got in. And so here's a company called Remix, and this is the entirety of their answer to this question. There's not more, this is it. I don't know. I'm not going to read it out loud, but, like, it's, what, three sentences? And I read that and I know exactly what they do, and I know who runs it. And that's it, great, seems valuable, right? This requires so little mental effort to pull out what Remix is, and what they're doing, and who it's for that I'm like, "Great," like, takes two seconds to read, okay?
Here's another one for a company called TetraScience, also excellent. "We're a software platform that connects scientific tools to the cloud and allows scientists to access their lab device from anywhere, blah, blah, blah. And we make a small hardware module which connects those labs to the web." That's it. That's great. That's what we want to read. See? Super crisp, understandable, no jargon, answers all the key questions. Notice, they're not trying to sell us on any of this, they're just explaining what it is, and that's why this is so great, is it's super coherent, super clear.
Here's another example from GitLab when they applied to YC. And they explained exactly what it is, the history of the company, and they also add in really impressive facts right at the top, "Over 100,000 organizations use it including thousands of programmers at Apple." All right, that's good. Glad they put that in there, right? And it's right at the top, super crisp, right? So this is, when we read these applications, it's very clear what they do and we're like, "Wow, tell me more. Like, I understand what you're doing."
Here's an example of a bad one, and I didn't pull this from a real application. I wrote this myself, and I wrote this based on many of the applications I read, you know what I'm saying? Like, I didn't have to think too hard to write what a bad description is. And it keeps going, I couldn't fit it on the slide. It keeps going for pages. And this isn't even an exaggeration, this is what a lot of applications look like. And I understand, like, I have empathy for the people that apply with stuff like this because I think that they think that this is what we want, or they think that if they use enough jargon or buzzwords, that we will get confused and fund them or something.
You know, it's like stunning us, like, "Oh, I don't know, blockchain, okay, yes." Instead, this is arduous work that makes me, like, want to go take a break. I'm like, "Okay, well, I'm done." Like, I read one of these and I need to go, like, get a breath of fresh air. This is a really hard to read, it's really hard to understand what's going on. I read this and I've learned nothing. I still don't know what this company does even after reading the application. And so, please don't apply with stuff like this. It's not helping. Makes sense? Yeah. And do you see the crisp difference between this and the good examples? Yeah. Okay.
Great applications tell a story. So here's the things that I would want to pull out of an application that I was reading. Who's on the team? So, "This is who we are. This is what we're working on. This is why we're working on it i.e., how we got the idea," something like that. "This is what we've accomplished thus far." Even if that's, "Hey, we haven't done much," that's okay. I still want to figure that out. And, "This is why we're going to make this work." And that's pretty much it.
These are the things that, when I read an application, that I'm trying to pull out of it, and there's nothing fancy here. And if you make me work really, really, really hard to figure this out, that's a sign of not a great application. But if this just flows out without taking any effort whatsoever, then that's a good application. Nothing fancy here, right? And if you've ever hired people and read resumes before, it's kind of the same deal, right? You just look at a resume and you're like, "Okay, cool." There're some key things you're looking for and then you're like, "Sounds good," and you move on, right? A resume that takes tons, and tons, and tons of work to make sense of is probably not a great resume.
Okay, here is my number one tip to applicants on what would help. Make it clear that there's at least one person on the team who can make the thing that you are working on. And notice I'm being a little vague in that language because this is not just software, this means any kind of technology that you bring to bear, right? So if you are building a cure for cancer, you clearly are not going to have any programmers on that team, nor would you be expected to do so. But it would certainly be good if you're working on a cure to cancer to have some sort of scientist on that team.
Does that make sense? Same thing, hardware, you know, our nuclear companies, there were no programmers that were the founders of the nuclear companies, but you would hope to see a couple of folks with PhDs in something related to the nuclear field, right? So some sort of domain expertise. And the reason is we fund lots of startups, and if you have all these great ideas and no one on the team can actually do it, you're going to have a hard time. And so just having a really good sense, both in the application, and in general, I would recommend having someone on the team that can do it is highly recommended and changeable.
Sometimes there's folks where the team is not... Say you are working on something in software and there aren't folks that have the credentials or background where they're known software experts, that's A-okay. We still fund folks like this. But the burden of proof is on them to prove they can do it. I can think of an example of a company where it was, like, a self-taught programmer that was so excited and wanted to do their idea so badly that they went and built the prototype themselves. And it was in the application, like, "Here, I built this myself." Great, they got in, right?
And it's because the burden of proof, not just like, "Let me take your word for it," but you were able to show, even though you don't have a background of an established software engineer, you built a prototype, and you brought it to market, and you proved it. And so that's a good way to think about if you're in this status of having a currently non-technical team of just simply backing up the fact that you can bring the product to bear. Whether that's from a team, whether that's you learning from yourself, whether it's a friend helping with the prototype, just some evidence that you can bring the product to market is highly recommended.
And, like, last note here is, obfuscating this doesn't help, right? So, sometimes, people make it very vague who built the product, or where the prototype came from, or who is going to build it. And, like, I don't recommend obfuscating this. I think having it be super crisp on who is making the thing that you're working on is highly recommended.
Okay, if you have an application that actually follows the directions really well, and is well written and does the video stuff correctly, and you have one or more folks that can build the thing that you want to build, and there's some evidence that you're serious about it. And what I mean by that is, like, a lot of times people apply, and it's clear they did it, kind of, on a whim, and they're not actually serious about it whatsoever comes across. If there's just some evidence that you really want to do this, that's recommended. So if you meet those things, you get about four times higher odds to get an interview, right? Like, if you're doing this stuff, getting an interview is not that crazy hard. And if you fail all these criteria, then, yeah, the odds are pretty slim. And so, it's as simple as this, that, you know, this is what it looks like to get an interview, is that you meet these criteria. I think that's pretty straightforward and transparent, okay?
Let's talk about applying more than once. Okay, about a third of last batch were companies that applied already in the past and didn't get in. And so, the reason I say this is, it's not bad to apply and not get in. That doesn't ruin your odds, if anything, it helps you. The way it helps you is that your next application shows progress. If you apply and don't get in, and you apply again and you show progress, I look at that when I'm reading the applications, and I know we all do, and we're like, "Wow, way to go. They really went and did it. Like, I'm so psyched.
Like, they went from an unlaunched idea, and then the next application, they launched it, wow, great job." You know, like we're impressed. And this is another thing to think about is, as application readers, we're, like, on your side. We're not looking at reasons to pick something apart, we're looking for evidence that, like, you're serious and that, like, things are going well and you're trying really hard. And so, when you see someone expend real effort and make real progress application, application, that's such a strong signal, right? And this is why you see such a huge percentage of the folks that do YC are folks that have applied in the past, right? Is because it is such a strong positive signal.
One thing I wanted to mention is that it's basically impossible to network your way into YC. The whole reason YC was created was to make it easy for people that had no network to start a startup and get help and raise money. And so, the idea of having this website where you can apply, and then you do a 10-minute interview, and you get funded was, like, really out there and weird. I remember when YC launched, I was not working here. So we don't expect anyone to have a network. We don't expect anyone to network with us. One note on this is, I get the sense, it's not a lot of people, but some people attempt to cold email us a lot or do other things that are, sort of, stalker-ish a lot, and that does not help.
We don't expect you to have done that, and the vast, vast, vast, vast, vast majority of people that get in are complete strangers we have never met before. That's the entire system here, is funding complete strangers. And my guess is, your time is better spent actually making your startup better than trying to, like, do some weird stuff to, like, get attention. Like, we always have these really crazy attention-seeking things that happen, and I can assure you, we don't enjoy those things. And, again, what do, I mean? Like, people, they physically mail us weird stuff sometimes, and, like, that's not great, right? So, some people put a lot of effort into this, not a lot of people, some people do. And I'm just letting you know that this is not a good use of time, nor expected in any way, and that's not how I see it set up.
Another thing to think about is, sometimes there are people that you know that are a network, say alumni or other people, and they will give you well-intentioned bad advice. For instance, "Oh, don't apply until you have $5k MRR," or, "Oh, you know, I'm really tight with the YC partners so let me put in a good word for you." Like, you should be very skeptical of this stuff. Self-appointed people that are giving you well-intentioned advice that's essentially putting up barriers between you and the process, I would just be, like, really wary of that. I'm sure it's coming from a good place, but, again, a lot of times where I answer questions for people that are applying, some of the weirder ideas come from people that are vaguely in the network. And so if someone is telling you, "You're too early, or too far along, or something, something, something," I would be fairly skeptical, right? And, again, you don't need a network to get in so expecting the network to give you all the perfect advice is not always great.
Real quick point, this is not about YC, but the last topic made me think of it, watch out for predatory advisors. So in the entertainment industry, there's lots of people that want to be famous. There's lots of people that want to be a recording artists, or they want to be actors, or directors. There's a huge supply of them. And one of the things of starting out in the entertainment industry is you meet all of these people that claim to have great connections, and they somehow are going to extract value from these poor naive people. And it's really sad. And this exists, for sure, in the tech industry, where there are people that will just ask for equity or cash compensation and claim all this stuff and promise you the world. And it's, kind of, a drag to see this exists.
And so I just want to encourage everyone to be very wary of people like these and to do research. And that means googling them. If they claim fantastic things, look into that, due diligence on other people they've worked with in the past. There's just, like, a whole variety of people that claim to help you break into Silicon Valley that, I think, is pretty dubious. And there are some legit things in there, but just like in the entertainment industry, for every, I don't know, 10 people that claim they can get you a meeting with the head of all the labels to get you a record deal, you know, 9 of those are probably lying, you know? So, keep in mind, the best way to have great things happen is to build a great startup and then great folks will find you, and to be a little wary of some of the folks that are looking for people just like you that are trying to break in. All right.
So let's talk about interviews. If you get invited to interviews, they last 10 minutes. The interviews are in-person. We expect the full founding team to be there. There's usually three to four people from YC in the interview, and the questions are usually very basic. And what we're trying to do is just understand the nuts and bolts of the business. It's nothing fancy. Just like I was saying about the application process, people are surprised to learn that there's nothing too fancy here, there's no trick questions, there's no really expert stuff. We're just trying to understand really basic things like, "Oh, are you launched? Well, how are you getting users? Okay, what is the next step for the company? How do you see this getting big?" These are all very, very basic questions, and we're simply trying to understand the stuff, right, versus... Yeah, actually, let me go to the next slide.
So there's a lot on the internet about how to prepare for interviews, and I think a lot of it is a little wrong. And the reason it's wrong is I think it sets up the mentality that a YC interview is this adversarial thing that it's your job to beat, right? It's like the interviewers are your opponents, and your job is to go in there and, like, stun them and confuse them. And then if you fool us good enough, then we will fund you. And I think that that is wrong. Again, I read this whole genre of blog posts because they're entertaining to me. And I think its usually people that didn't get in that write that and so I understand how it can feel adversarial if you didn't get in.
And it's also more exciting to write a blog post about this really exciting interview, and it was like, "They were grilling me so hard and I, like, had to think on the fly." Like, that's more exciting than, "Yeah, we had, kind of, a boring conversation about my business," right? And so, I want you, this is a good thing for any kind of working with investors, I want you to put yourself in the shoes of the person on the other side of the table, which is, "What are we trying to get out of the interview?" Imagine you are interviewing a company, what would you be looking for? You'd be looking for basic answers to your question, and you'd be looking for having a pleasant conversation that this is someone that you want to work with and that you're excited to embark on their journey with them, right?
And so a lot of what I'm looking for in an interview is like, "Can I have a productive conversation with this person?" And if someone goes in there and spits out this memorized paragraph of text about AI-something, that's weird. That's not, like, an organic conversation of someone you might want to work with. That's someone going in there that clearly read way too many blog posts and spent way too much time preparing, and is, like, kind of, not understanding the context of the conversation, which is, "Hey, like, let's have a conversation about your company." Instead, they're just, like, spouting nonsense at us, okay? And I feel like that's a consequence of people reading too many blog posts about this adversarial process.
Because the fact is, when we fund a company, we are now working really closely with that company forever. The founders and your group, they get your cell phone number. They call you all the time, they text you all the time. Like, these become people that are really important member of your life. And the people that I fund, like this lasts a long time. And so, I just want you to know, from our perspective, we're just trying to get a feel of, like, "Okay, like, are we ready to really work with this company and get super involved?"
And so, you know, have that compassion for the people on the other side the table versus making it really, like, a strange situation where it feels unnecessarily, I don't know, memorized and painful for us on the other side of the table. And, again, like I think sometimes people try to manipulate the process and I don't... If we get any hint that you're trying to do something weird, again, that doesn't engender trust. I think that's the word. We're looking for trustworthiness in a sense that we're getting to know the real you and those things.
So let's talk about a successful interview. Interviews do go really fast and they're intense. And the reason they're fast and intense is we're trying to pull all the information out of you quickly, and there's not a ton of time. And so it's not an attempt to trip you up, it's simply that that's how much time we have and we're trying to learn as much as we can. Successful interviews, the founders demonstrate a mastery of their own business.
They can talk about what they're working on. They know their own numbers, they know how many users they have, they know what their plans are, they know what their equity split is. Like, all the things that are in the application, they are, like, "Yeah, I can talk about that," you know? Like, "Oh, I have a question. When you said this is about that in your application, what did you mean? " "Oh, yeah, I have an answer to that," right? Like, we're just looking for you to clarify things that we may not have understood from the application. And so, there's no such thing as a correct answer, right? This is not a quiz show, this is not a, "Beat the Interviewers at Their Own Game." This is a legit, "We're just trying to understand what you're doing."
Another thing is, we know how risky this is and we know how slim the odds are in an interview are to succeed. And so, if you come in there being like, "Everything is great, everything is perfect. I have it all figured out, I'm confident." Like, "We're definitely going to be successful, I promise." Like, okay, that's not actually good. Like, it denotes lack of self-awareness. And so, again, if you over practice for these things and you think your job is to come in there and tell us how you have everything figured out, and you're a genius, and your whole team is geniuses, and, like, it's like, you cannot lose, not a great sign in an interview, right? So a good idea of what is hard about the business and what the challenges are is expected and recommended versus the things where you do know what you're doing. Does that make sense? So, yeah, like, overconfidence, not necessarily great. You don't see this in successful interviews, you see self-aware founders.
If you are interviewed and not selected, we send an email with some feedback. Usually, the feedback is focused on a single thing, which is what we are most concerned about or not convinced about in the interview, and it's pretty transparent and straightforward. And if you take that feedback, and you go work on it, and you apply next batch, and you show how you either disproved the feedback or addressed it, that is highly recommended and that's totally a great way to get into YC. You see what I'm saying? Sometimes people get these emails, and then you never hear from them again, or they get really angry or something and argue with you.
But you can either prove it and show that the feedback is invalid. Like, "Hey, we're worried about your growth strategy, blah, blah, blah." Well, go prove it. "Yeah, we did grow, here's what we did." We'd love that, we'd love to be disproven. Or, "Hey, you were right about the growth strategy, and so here's the changes we made." That's great things to hear too. And so that's a great way to take this feedback into account, is demonstrate either why it was not valid or that you've addressed it.
Applying to YC is actually really straightforward and well-documented, and intentionally so. So there are not a lot of secrets, and we're not looking for people to do too much tricky stuff. The more you can just, like, stay, make it super clear, tell a super-clear story like I talked about earlier, then you're going to do great. And I would also argue, the skills that you need to successfully apply are broadly applicable to what it takes to be a great founder, right? If you're going to talk to reporters, if you're going to be talking to other investors, if you're going to be talking to employees, you're going to talk to customers, having all the skills that we mentioned earlier that you would want to see in an interview or an application, I think, are extremely useful, okay?
And then, final point, if you have questions and the question is of the form, "Should I apply dot, dot, dot?" Most likely the answer is, "Yes." And just always think about it and reflect on it if you're being the barrier to setting yourself up to being lucky or having unfortunate things happen to you and optimize towards saying yes to things like this. I think it'll help you, in general, as a founder. Great. Thanks so much.