Inside Y-Combinator

Many people have been asking, “What is this Y-Combinator thing?” Today we are hoping to answer that question without breaking the Y-Combinator vow of secrecy, which rivals that of the Priory of Scion.

Y-Combinator is a company that starts companies. Although the name sounds like “incubator” Y-Combinator is not one. Y-Combinator functions as a support structure for fledging companies. Yes, they do provide investment, but more importantly the investors give a blend of valuable advice and industry connections that only comes from years of hard work and gray hair.

Possibly more important is the support and interactions each team has with the other Y-Combinator teams. They are great people. Paul, Trevor, Robert, and Jessica have effectively assembled 20 of the brightest and most motivated people from the top engineering departments in the country. There are a few non-engineers interspersed among the companies, but after talking to them I’m convinced they too could have successfully aced courses in stochastic control, differential equations, and machine learning.

Y-Combinator has two offices: one in Cambridge, Massachusetts and one in Mountain View, California. The Cambridge office building is unassuming from the exterior; actually it is unassuming from the interior too. But it’s cool! Once the home of an orchid botanist, the gray cinder block building has a bright solarium suspended over a huge great room that is perfect for our weekly meetings.

Every week we have a meeting consisting of dinner and a presentation. Last week’s meeting was truly inspiring. I was unable to attend the meeting, but I was able to watch the meeting via webcam from DC. The speakers were Y-Combinator funded companies from the past. It was great to see how well they were all doing. Some companies were profitable (a web 2.0 rarity), some were probably being flown around in private jets, and all seemed to be on a vector towards success.

The speakers were unique because they gave specific tactical advice on things like web security, hiring, negotiations, investors, and web hosting. Often speakers give grand visions and cliché advice – MBA speak. We appreciate the sincere and actionable information they shared with us.

I would like to share more details of what was said, but Paul has sworn us to secrecy. If you want to learn the secret Y-Combinator handshake, join the upcoming Winter Founders’ Program.

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