We did not care that much about the funding part. Instead, we thought that YC could be some sort of business bootcamp for us, and that’s why we applied.
During this process, I also got accepted to Startup School, a one day event also put together by YC with well known entrepreneurs and Venture Capital partners as guest speakers. This lead to me being invited to a reception at YC’s offices where I met a bunch of other YC applicants in the afternoon, and then a bunch more of Startup School attendees in the evening.
It was good that we applied. It made us think about where we were with our company and where we wanted to take it. It also made us think hard about whether we wanted to get any sort of funding that doesn’t come directly from customers.
During the first part of the YC reception, I had the opportunity to chat with many teams that had also applied. The conversations were frank and open, everybody had hopes and a tingling suspicion that they wouldn’t get accepted, something that I shared too. There was a sense of community.
The mood changed quickly when the Startup School attendees started to come. Now, these guys want to start a company, but for the large majority of them all they have done towards that goal is basically applying for Startup School. They were cocky, pleased to meet themselves and even condescendent. What a change of mood! Ah, and they all want to do a new “foto sharing app that lets you share the last party pictures with your circle of friends based on location” or something along those lines. They’ll do whatever is the flavor du jour in the hopes of getting funded.
It was good that we applied for another reason. I got to go to these YC events and get a feel of the kind of community we were applying to join, a community in which cognitive dissonance seemed to be the main currency. And I’ll tell you why.
The main theme in the speaches from the YC partners and the Startup School speakers was that successful entrepreneurs in the valley had a vision first, and created the company later. Also that successful entrepreneurs have stuck with their vision during all the long times in which doing so was against the trend. And finally that successful entrepreneurs were the odd kid in the class. They even went to say that if you can avoid it, do not take money from investors.
But then everybody that I met thought all these statements were not applyting to themselves, because their new “social network” was truly different, even though they just started it 3 months ago and they had “pivoted” 3 times already. And by pivoting here they mean “we changed our vision”.
Most shockingly, the guest speakers themselves did not seem to be aware of the irony of talking about uniqueness –when they have setup a university-like program which inevitably generates a great deal of uniformity– and vision– when founders were asked to abandon their ideas and do something else instead, thereby defeating the mantra that the vision should come first and the company will come later.
So in the end, I started thinking that we are better off on our own, event to the point of almost fearing that if we made it to the interviews, we’d get excited and join the program –even if this was not the best for us. Luck would have it that we did not have to test ourselves this time, since we did not even make it to the interview.
In any case, here are my personal takeaways from all this process (some unrelated to the above):
- It is always problematic to take all your feedback from intermediaries and not directly from customers and potential customers. VCs don’t know better than you do. They have tons of money and what they do is to lay their chips on the roulette table, but they know as much as you do which number is going to be the winner next. Scratch that; you know better than they do.
- We need to continue trusting our guts and go with what we think will make palletops win. Nobody knows better that we do.
- We have nothing to worry about other than the long hours ahead of us. We’re in good shape (compared to what I saw).
- We are the ugly duck in the valley, and so are most of the companies that end up succeeding. You know what’s not an ugly duck in the valley today? A social network, with photo sharing, and gaming mechanics, and mobile. Regardless of VCs saying that they look for original ideas, they won’t fund an ugly duck, they’ll fund a social network mee-too/wannabee instead.
- We need to live more in the shoes of our users. And we are our users. We need to think in terms of ourselves before writing pallet: would we have use pallet then?
- We should keep applying to YC; I want to turn them down at some point