Y Combinator Fieldnotes: How to Grow and Thrive During a Crisis

The Walk From Harvard Square to Paul Graham’s House 🏡

It took a conversation and a walk from Harvard Square to Paul Graham’s house for Y Combinator to be born.

  • 💵 They should be making more, smaller investments
  • 🕴🏻They should be funding hackers instead of suits
  • 🌱 They have to be willing to fund younger founders

15 Years of Consistent Awesomeness 💪

Remarkable results. That’s the only indicator you need to understand YC’s success. And if you’re looking for solid numbers, its business records, as presented by Michael Seibel, CEO and a partner at Y Combinator, will leave you speechless.

  • 🤯 put over 2,000 companies through its program
  • 📊 grown into around 4,000 alumni
  • 💰 reached a combined value of $100 billion
  • 📈 100 of YC companies are valued at $150 million
  • 🥇 17 of YC companies are worth over $1 billion
  • 👨🏻‍💻 The top 100 YC companies have created over 28,000 jobs

Y Combinator DNA: Successful in Understanding Failure 🙌

As Michael Seibel pointed out during his SaaStr speech, there’s one key factor that makes YC different from other seed accelerators:

Y Combinator Brands Changing the World 🌎

If we want to understand how YC operates, we should take a look at some of its brands that started as mere ideas and ended up transforming the world.

👉 Stripe: The New Standard in Online Payment

Chances are you (or somebody you know) have used Stripe at least once to receive a payment or pay for goods and services. With a $35 billion valuation in 2019, Stripe is developing economic infrastructure for businesses of all sizes. The company runs technically sophisticated financial operations in more than 100 countries and has created more than 2,000 jobs.

👉 Rappi: Changing the Way On-Demand Delivery Works

Based in Bogota, Colombia, Rappi provides on-demand delivery and financial services for Latin America. The company has created more than 3,900 jobs and raised 1$ billion from Softbank in 2019.

👉 Webflow: Preparing the World for the Age of No-Code

Even if you haven’t heard about Webflow, mark our words: It’ll be big. Focused on helping businesses and individuals build websites without coding, Webflow powers more than 190,000 sites online. In 2019, the company raised a massive $72 million Series A round of funding led by Accel.

How Y Combinator Did Its Magic Before COVID-19 📝

One of the things that make Y Combinator different from other seed accelerators is the methodology it’s developed. Even before COVID-19, YC had a bulletproof process for enrolling startups in its programs.

What changed with COVID-19 👀

The coronavirus outbreak hit the events industry really hard. With thousands of venues forced to shut their door, most events have been either postponed or canceled altogether.

So, Is This Good News or Bad News? 🤔

If there’s one thing we can say for sure, it’s that YC is taking control over the situation. Instead of postponing or canceling its programs, YC decided to find an alternative course of action and move forward.

⭕ Lower Networking Levels

One of the things that make YC so appealing is the opportunity to meet like-minded people and investors. And these in-person experiences often lead to new projects, collaborations and investments.

⭕ Lack of Personal Experiences

The entire excitement of being selected by YC has much to do with the opportunity to move to the Bay Area for three months. That experience will have to be replaced with remote collaboration, video conferencing and instant messages. And that means no fun, at least for the time being.

⭕ More Distractions and Less Focus

Going through YC’s programs requires a sharp focus and high engagement on participants’ end. When interactions move online, some founders may find it difficult to engage with the YC team and achieve the same level of collaboration as they would on-site.

✅ Startup Founders Won’t Have to Relocate

Although moving can certainly be exciting, it also means a disruption to daily routine and requires the participants to acclimatize to the new environment. Attending the YC program online may come as a big relief to some people, especially those founders who simply can’t leave their homes for three months.

✅ Brands Will Continue to Grow No Matter What

Imagine what would happen if YC had to close its 2020 program. Skipping one YC year would cut many up-and-coming startups from eventual guidance and open them up for business disruption. A 100% online version of YC programs could help remarkable brands secure investments and receive support they need to thrive during the crisis.

✅ Startups Will Be Prepared for the Future

With or without COVID-19, remote work is the future. We’ve already seen plenty of successful companies based on 100% distributed teams. Moving YC programs online will help founders embrace remote work and build their own location-independent teams in the future.

Lessons We Can Learn From Y-Combinator’s Antifragility Strategy 💡

📌 Keep Moving, Keep Changing

A few months ago, it’d be difficult to imagine that a virus could make the entire world stop. Sure, there was some murmur about a coming recession, but it all seemed too far away to matter.

📌 Experiment With and Implement New Solutions

This is the perfect time for innovating and exploring novel opportunities. Schedule online meetings instead of in-person ones. Learn how to run remote masterclasses and workshops. And, above all, be empathetic with your users and employees.

📌 Embrace the New Remote Culture

Like it or not, remote work is *the* thing that can keep your company afloat during the crisis. If you’ve never experimented with it, this is the perfect moment to engage your entire team in online conversations, manage projects remotely and launch new products and services with everybody working from home.

📌 Communicate and Be Fully Transparent

Finally, make sure to be straightforward about your strategy. Both your clients and employees need to know your next steps so that they can prepare for what’s coming. And as Michael Seibel notes, being fully transparent with people is the only way to get them to commit to the cause and accompany you through the crisis.

🎯 The Main Takeaway

If there’s one thing we want you to remember from this article, it’s this: We live in uncertain times. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us. Whether it’s COVID-19, an economic crisis or another global catastrophe, we should always be prepared.



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