A few weeks back, I wrote about what it means to be at Y Combinator on a pretty practical level: how the weeks are organized around YC dinners and office hours, the importance of focus and goals, and the resources YC has to offer.
But I omitted one of the biggest effect of YC: the roller coaster feeling. This is something classic for any entrepreneur. Your motivation and certainty oscillate at a super high frequency between bulletproof optimism and feeling like everything is going against your best efforts.
And to be honest, coming into YC I thought I might have gotten used to this roller coasteresque rhythm: I started two companies before my current one, and already experienced these entrepreneurial highs and lows. Their effects were becoming easier and easier to handle, so I didn’t think I would feel so affected by the YC rhythm.
But man was I wrong. The rhythm driven by the team, the partners, and the emulation of batch mates made me go through it all over again. Your rhythm increases dramatically, so much so that every week you have more ups and downs crunched together in a shorter amount of time, and the level of expectations and pressure simply multiply their impact.
This is an incredibly challenging experience, but also amazing. So if you’re interested in participating in the YC roller coaster, here are the ups and downs you can expect to go through.
Visibility and credibility
Taking part in YC means you enter an elite network of startups and this comes with visibility and credibility. You get press coverage when you launch as a YC company on a top tech website and the through demo day press coverage. You also get featured on the YC blog and get to the front page of Hackernews. 100,000+ other startups would dream of this kind of visibility at an early stage. It’s brought qualified traffic to our website and just being part of Y Combinator gives your startup a stamp of credibility when you’re talking to potential users and/or hires.
This does not mean you’ll gain traction overnight or that journalists will come running at your door to cover your startup. These are short term ups and in no way should they become part of your long term strategy. Enjoy it while it lasts, but start preparing for the future.
Being an early stage startup often means being “default dead.” You’re looking for product market fit, have new ideas constantly, and must be agile enough to iterate on those. Sometimes though, ideas are not aligned with your goals. YC forces you to avoid this at all costs and to stay focused on what matters. We’ve never before talked to our users so much, we’ve managed to re-evaluate our value proposition, and we now make sure that we take product decisions based on cold hard data.
When you drift off, YC partners are the first ones to bring you back to earth. We experienced this first hand a few weeks back. we decided, with lots of excitement, to kickoff a really big new product. Two hours later I had an office hour with Jared, a YC partner.
In 20 minutes, using the right words, he made me realize the impact this work would have had and rethink why we wanted to do it. We were looking for virality so badly that we were actually about to start building another product (in parallel to ours) which could have worked, but which wouldn’t have driven users to our core product! He suggested we let go of the idea and go back to it in a few years. It was a key lesson for the whole team: Always align ideas to goals.
I’ve discussed this in my previous article, but it rings even more true two months into YC. The level of expectation and ambition we have for each other in the team is at the highest it’s ever been. This is a huge up because there’s a feeling of “anything is possible” and intense motivation.
But as we know, nothing is without it’s downsides. However, I can’t really say that the ‘downs’ of the YC roller coaster are bad, at least not all bad. That’s why I’m calling them ‘challenges,’ as all the points below are two-sided.
It can get pretty lonely
YC W18 is the largest batch ever but still, it’s pretty much you and your team. A huge misconception around YC is how much startups in the batch actually interact. Some people tend to think Y Combinator provides an open space to work and everyone is there and networks for three months. The reality is that all teams are so focused, there’s little time for creating really tight bonds and connections.
On the other hand, you have 100+ talented entrepreneurs and YC partners that are now part of your network. In addition, the dinners are an incredible time to connect, and during those the quality of interactions with batch mates make up for how infrequent they are.
The demo day goal
Don’t get me wrong on this one, goals are great because they align your team and makesyou focus on the things that really matter.
However, setting the right goal is the hard part. The first piece of advice we had about that was to focus on one clear indicator of the value we bring to our users. If you stick to this, you can’t go wrong. Otherwise, the rest of your strategy will suffer for it.
Strain on you and your team
And finally, living with your team for three months is not a piece of cake. Sure, there are many laughs and lots of team bonding, but it’s hard for any human being to live and work 24/7 with one group of people. It’s not exactly a time where you master work-life balance and that can be hard on everyone.
The solution is to encourage everyone to take the right breaks, work out and so on. And the discomfort is 100 percent worth it, after two months, our team is closer than ever, the newcomers are already super close to all the pillars and this is the best thing you can hope for in an early stage startup.
Applications for the summer session are now open and I’d strongly encourage anyone to apply! I hope my account has given you a better idea of what to expect for you and your team. I actually published the application that got us in if you want to take a look!