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Reviewing YC Fellowship Application Videos

This post was going to be a random review of YC Fellowship Application videos found via searching on Youtube, but instead it lead to an interesting discovery in how I believe the process of selecting applicants really works. (Note, this post is theory, it has not been proven)

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These two guys are doing everything right, impressive current job titles. Connecting two specific entities in a marketplace . Aggregates produce companies for companies to purchase and streamline the process. The one small issue is that their idea is awful and there’s not actually a need for their product, but this is what YC talks about when they are looking for good founders that don’t necessarily have a good idea.

(Real Reason: These guys fit the “startup” mold created by silicon valley)

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The biggest problem here is there really isn’t any need for the idea. There’s not currently a gap between people using facebook for their personal lives and linkedin for their professional ones. Unlike the previous application where it’s clear the founders know the industry and are solid technical founders, there’s no proof that the people behind this team can pivot and be successful.

(Real Reason: Meh founders, No real market need)

Savvy Society
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Possibly the best application video I have seen out of all the ones I have searched through. The founders are attacking a very interesting market and are passionate about solving this particular problem. The biggest problem for these founders is going to be how they’re going to break into their market. While their approach to the accessory industry is unique, it’s still extremely overcrowded. As long as they gave detailed strategies on how they intend to go to market I assume this team has a good chance at receiving an interview.

(Real Reason: Passionate & Close enough to “startup” mold)

Sports Tap
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This app doesn’t have any chance of receiving funding. There are lots of companies which try to somehow improve the bar scene and the vast majority don’t go anywhere. This approach isn’t ideal due to the fact that it requires a lot of extra effort from the bartenders and offers very little benefit to them. The team behind this also doesn’t show off any strong technical skills and the video and just see the problem from a user perspective instead of a business one.

(Real Reason: They sound like two young kids with no proof behind them)

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The idea is decent and the team behind it appears to be okay, but it doesn’t have anything particular that stands out that proves they will be successful. This is something that might see moderate success, but it won’t go on to be a huge company with rapid growth that YC is looking to fund.

(Real Reason: Average doesn’t cut it)

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This guy wouldn’t have been accepted previously if he didn’t already have a proven product and he will now be rejected due to the fact that he has a proven product and it’s too far in for YCF.

(Real Reason: Solo Founder, No Technical Proof)

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After getting to this point in writing the article it’s become very clear what YC is looking for in these videos and what qualities they believe is important in founders. This team is not going to be accepted, but there’s not going to be anything wrong with their application, they have a team that has a real problem and a solution that can solve it. The potential market is huge and there’s nothing inherently wrong about the founders.

So why does Seedly have a decent chance of getting a grant while Tanto has none despite the fact that Tanto is actually a decent idea? Let’s first get a transcript of each of the videos:

My name is Matt and I work at amazon as an SDE2
My name is Kyung and I work at workday as an application developer
We’re cofounding a company called Seedly where we’re trying to bridge the gap between restaurants and produce companies by making a webservice where restaurants can discover, rate, and buy from produce companies in a more streamlined fashion.
Customers need to know where the food comes from and I believe Seedly will provide the transaction and the transparency between the producers and food buyers
So this is a big problem because there are thousands of produce companies and there’s nothing there to aggregate them there all in one place. Seedly is going to be that place to aggregate them where restaurants can discover more easily these produce companies and where these produce companies can streamline their sales process. So we hope to see you guys in California

I’m Andy, Cofounder and CEO of Tanto
I’m (Didn’t Hear), Cofounder and CTO of Tanto
Hi, I’m Emily, the COO
Tanto is an online marketplace matching businesses with highly skilled local talent looking for short term work
We have all been contractors at some point relying on the flawed methods of job boards, our personal networks, and recruiters to find work
Existing free-mass market places like (can’t understand) are not suitable because the focus is on more workers and lower prices
We know that the only way to win at this long term is making the lives of contractors as easy as possible
We’ll do this by automating things like invoicing, marketing, payment processing, by giving them a great single place to be found, kind of like an (can’t understand) store but for person skills and services
Companies are already spending 300 billion a year on contractors, market opportunity here is huge

The ideas aren’t terribly different, Seedly wants to make a marketplace for producers and companies while Tanto wants to make a marketplace for contractors and companies. Tanto has experience from the contractor side while it doesn’t appear Seedly has much experience with either side. The market for Tanto seems fairly substantial while the market for Seedly seems moderately sized.

Based from the ideas alone it seems that Tanto should be miles ahead, but that probably isn’t the case in the eyes of YC.

The founders of Seedly lead with their current impressive job titles which gives them instant credibility, the vocabulary used and the tone in which they speak shows that they are completely integrated in the current culture that is “Silicon Valley”. The decision to fund a company will be decided within the first 10 seconds a video, the remaining 50 seconds is merely a formality to give the judges a legitimate reason to either give or refuse funding to a company instead of helping aid that decision.

Imagine if both teams had made the exact opposite pitch, the two guys would have still been picked and the three others would be ignored all the same.

After watching these video’s it’s clear that the important factor probably isn’t your idea, or your progress, or anything of the like. It’s likely dependent on whether you can point to a top tier school / job and if you fit the "startup" mold.

This seems totally outrageous, but they might not be wrong with their selection criteria. Despite the fact that the Seedly guys have a lackluster idea compared to the Tanto guys I definitely still would choose to fund them if I had the choice. They will still be the ones that iterate and fail fast; Not to mention potential investors will be way more likely to follow suit and help them grow/pivot into a real company or help them find a nice acquisition offer.

If you’re serious about getting into YCF or even the normal YC program, don’t fret about every last little detail of your idea. Those details may be important for your business but they aren't likely to affect your chance of getting accepted at YC. Instead, Focus on making yourself fit the startup mold without breaking character… ever….