One of many things that make Y Combinator special: They hold regular “office hours” with startups where entrepreneurs can get advice on any topic, from business strategy to design issues.
What we talk about at office hours also depends on the startup and where we are in the cycle. Usually we talk about whatever is the most urgent question right now. Sometimes, especially early on, the most urgent question is to figure out what the most urgent question should be. That’s less trivial than it sounds; we spend a lot of time telling founders what not to worry about.
(About 10% of the time we talk not about immediate problems but about the big vision for the company. You don’t have to be bound by this, but it’s good to have one. Some startups arrive with a big vision already, but most don’t. It’s a useful exercise to spend some time thinking about what the path would be from what a startup is doing now to a giant company, even if that’s not the current goal of the founders. Helping founders come up with these big visions is one of our strengths, because we’ve explored so much of the space of startup ideas that we know what’s over each hill.)
If the startup either hasn’t decided what to work on or wants to change their idea, then we talk about what the company should do. That usually means satisfying two constraints: something (1) users would want, that (2) the founders of this startup would be good at building. We have these types of conversations surprisingly often. Startups modify or even replace their ideas much more than outsiders realize. By Demo Day perhaps 15% are working on new ideas that grew out of conversations during office hours. Some of the most successful startups we’ve funded have.
If the question of what the company should do is settled, the most urgent question tends to be what to build first. Usually we advise startups to launch fast and iterate. This doesn’t apply to all startups (Clustrix, for example), but it works for most. The reason we advise startups to launch fast is that till you launch you’re designing for hypothetical or at best tame users, instead of actual ones. Once you launch you begin the conversation with real users, whose often surprising reactions to your product teach you what you should have been building..
These sessions are private, and for Y Combinator companies only. But partner Paul Graham, who will already be on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt next week, has offered to host “office hours” for non-YC startups at the event.
Six startups will be selected and will join Paul on stage on Tuesday at 11:45. Each startup will get 8.5 minutes on stage, enough for a couple of questions with meaningful feedback.
If you are attending Disrupt and would like to be considered, please fill out the form below. We’ll work with Paul to narrow the applicants to those that will benefit the most, and provide insightful content. Then, at the start of the session, Paul will select six companies from those finalists. They need to be prepared and ready to walk on stage immediately.
Y Combinator startups aren’t eligible (they can get office hours at any time). Startup Battlefield companies are also ineligible as they’re getting plenty of feedback and advice from our expert judges. Other conference attendees, and the Startup Alley startups, are welcome to apply.