- Y Combinator is Silicon Valley’s most prominent startup accelerator, known for its exclusivity.
- Only about 1% to 2% of startups that receive more than 20,000 applications per cohort per year are accepted.
- Stephanie Simon, director of admissions at YC, shares the qualities she looks for in an application.
For early-stage founders looking to grow their startups in an accelerator, few names are as exciting as Y Combinator.
The startup accelerator is known for its exclusivity, accepting only 1.5% to 2% of its summer and winter cohorts of more than 20,000 applications.
Stephanie Simon, head of Y Combinator’s admissions team, screened all of those applications. She joined the team in 2016 and took over in November 2020. Simon has read thousands of applications during his tenure and offers her best advice to emerging startup founders looking to be accepted into the accelerator’s exclusive program.
A Y Combinator spokesperson told Insider that while the summer 2022 program deadline has passed, the admissions team will still be reviewing all late applications until the June cohort begins.
Simon said the process of applying to Y Combinator is straightforward. Once the founding team submits an application, it is reviewed by the admissions team and even a handful of executives.
If the committee decides to interview the founder, they schedule a 10-minute video interview and then make a decision on the founder’s application shortly after.
“I’d say 99 percent of the time, you’ll have a 10-minute interview and we’ll give you an answer within a day,” Simon said.
She also stressed that no startup — no matter how trendy — is automatically selected.
Sometimes Y Combinator sees a surge in certain categories of apps, such as cryptocurrency In recent years, it has been the “chatbot” of 2016. But more important is the strength of the team. “The shot is ‘What are the smart, impressive teams doing?'” Simon said.
Having a technical founder on the team is key
One way for a startup to stand out is to have a co-founder and a team member from a technical background, Simon said.
“Basically, we’re looking for a founding team that can build a product, or at least an initial version of the product from the team itself,” she said.
Simon explained that by having a technical founder, a startup will be able to solve problems faster and more creatively because they already have the technical knowledge. Tech founders will also make it easier to recruit engineers, which can be one of the hardest things a startup has to do, she said. Tech founders often have networks they can hire.
Startups should solve a real problem
Another key quality of the most successful YC pitches is that the problem the startup is trying to solve feels real.
“When it’s an issue felt by the founders themselves or someone they know well, it just feels more reality-based and more likely to be successful,” Simon said.
She says she can see from the publicity that the problem the founder is trying to solve is honest and real, not just a good startup idea.
Domain expertise is also important in some cases, Simon said. For startups in specific fields like insurance and biotech, being an expert is even more important to the admissions team when it comes to reviewing applications.
Only a few qualities can completely disqualify a company
Simon said the biggest distaste for YC admissions managers is “unauthentic.” In each batch of applications, they receive startup ideas that seem unreal.
“When the idea is considered fictional and they [the founders] Haven’t experienced it firsthand, or don’t know anyone who has experienced the problem they’re trying to solve,” she said.
Simon did, however, point out that there is only one criterion that can completely disqualify a startup: “I think the only absolute negative for us is whether, when we imagine this company is successful, it has a net negative impact on the world. ”