What my team and I have learned in the first 3 weeks of Y Combinator

What my team and I have learned in the first 3 weeks of Y Combinator
Credit: Y Combinator (edited)

About a year ago, my team and I were just starting to build our MVP. Back then we were a small team of three and had a huge vision. Fast forward to three months ago: a team of six and an entry ticket to Y Combinator. And today, we’re an incredible team of nine, best I could think of, living in Sunnyvale, California and taking part in the prestigious Y Combinator program to accelerate our already rapid pace.

All sorts of different startups, from different stages, take part in Y Combinator. We’re surrounded by AI wizards, teams building floating emoji in AR, and people wanting to put your brains into robots.

And that’s because YC makes sense for many different startups, as they need the same thing: “make something people want.” That’s the YC mantra, but after having spent a few weeks here. I would add “make something people want and stay focused.”

I know a lot of people are curious about YC, so that’s why I decided to jot down my experience of the program!

What actually happens at YC?

Short answer: you move your team to the valley, live together, work hard, crunch your weekly goals, attend weekly “dinners” with top-notch leaders in the tech industry, and engage with YC partners. Rinse and repeat.

It’s not like you go to YC and magically your startup experiences suddenly a massive growth. Instead, YC provides you an environment where founders as well as every team member are focused. It gives you this excuse to be 100 percent involved in your startup for three months straight. You can forget about conferences, useless meetings, and other distractions.

It’s also about ambition. You have access to some of the most qualified advice on scaling and you’re encouraged to go above and beyond. The last email I received from YC’s network was titled “The path to $100B,” and the partner who wrote it knows what he’s talking about — he actually did it.

Now since growth doesn’t happen magically, how do you do everything to sustain it throughout the three months at YC? Here are the key lessons my team and I have learned so far:

Define the metrics that matter to you and follow them closely

To get clear results, you need crystal clear metrics. Find the most important metric for your growth, focus on it. It’ll ensure that every single decision you take as a team, in product or business, is directed towards improving the right goal.

YC’s advice on that: since your number one goal is to bring value to your users, the metric you choose should be the one representing the most accurately the value got from the product.

Ideally, you should start defining this metric the moment you receive the call that you’ve been accepted into YC. For us, that was a month before we packed our bags for California. When we landed we knew exactly where we wanted to be in three months time.

Most importantly, one thing I’ve been insisting on during these past weeks is that the entire team focuses on numbers. I’m convinced that every team member should understand how their daily work affects growth in order to reach our goals.

We’ve actually put up a whiteboard in our living room where our key metrics are always on display: it’s tough when numbers are stagnating but it encourages everyone to give it their all.

Work in sprints

You often hear that a startup is a marathon but for three months you have to let go of that mindset and switch to sprints. We’ve been organizing bi-weekly sprints during which we have a set of product and metric goals to hit.

We sit down every two weeks and define the goals for the coming 14 days. This helps us stay focused and keep up a regular rhythm.

Sustain energy

YC is a sprint and an exhausting period. It can also be the greatest. The key is to gather a lot of energy and inspiration from encounters with partners, batch mates, and speakers.

When I come home to the team, we always sit down and debrief about what I’ve learned. I try to make sure to transmit the incredible amount of energy that YC gives.

Stay proactive

Take full advantage of actually being part of YC. The partners are exceptional people, but you have to remember that it isn’t their job to come to you and offer help.

It’s up to us to talk to relevant partners and most of all to come prepared with specific questions and challenges. YC partners might give us insights out of the blue but if we come with the right questions, we can be sure they’ll point us towards the right direction.

Another important thing to remember is that you should take full advantage of the Valley. My team and I came in from Paris, where there’s a ton of great experts but it’s nothing compared to SV.

That’s why YC is an ideal time for the whole team to meet experts in their fields, get some mentoring and expand their networks. It should be a time for everyone to experience some personal growth.

So, when your entire team is crazy concentrated in your living room in the middle of Sunnyvale, it’s important to remind each other to go out there, talk to experts and benefit from the stimulating environment the valley offers. I sense we’ll bring that back to France, and with it a totally different level of ambition.

Talk to your users, for real

This is one of the well-known YC mantras. How do you know you’re headed in the right direction if you’re not talking to your users?

These three months are a good time to remind yourself to go back to what matters most: how and why people use your product, why some love it, and why some stop using it.

A good team really is key

Your team is going to be with each other pretty much all the time. Most teams move into a house together, fully focused for the entire three months. This means they become colleagues, roommates, and occasional travel buddies — all at the same time.

That comes with high points and low points, but honestly, if your team goes through YC, it can weather any challenges the future might throw at them. It’s pretty unique and probably one of the only times in your startup life that the whole team will be this free of distractions and with the chance to get to know each other so well — so enjoy it!

What’s next?

‘Til demo day? Four two-week sprints and two months to take full advantage of the energy and mentorship YC provides. But in reality, we intend to bring everything we’ve learned, from failures to achievements, back home.

Not to be cliché but the way I see it, Y Combinator is a rocket we’re firing up and by the end of the three months it’ll be fully loaded and off we’ll go. Basically, we’re still at the beginning of our adventure and Y Combinator is an incredible opportunity to build the foundations for rapid and sustained growth.

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