What It's Like To Go Through Y Combinator (The Wired Version)

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Paul Graham and Y Combinator just got the Wired treatment. Steven Levy writes a long and loving article which evokes what it’s like to go through the program (or at least what it’s like to be a fly on the wall watching startups who go through the program). A big part of the Y Combinator experience is learning from Paul Graham, who is like a Jedi master for startups. Graham is famous for his “office hours” when founders can come and consult with him. (Graham will be holding office hours onstage next week at Disrupt NYC and will also be interviewed by Charlie Rose).

Levy explains how office hours work in his article:

When the companies run into questions—and they all run into questions—they sign up for office hours with one of the YC advisers. . . . appointments with Graham are the most coveted. A few times a week, he and the other partners announce their availability in a private section of Hacker News—a news site hosted by YC—and founders can book a time slot.

Graham often conducts office hours while perambulating. He favors a quarter-mile circuit around the cul-de-sac at the end of Pioneer Way, dispensing wisdom while founders scamper alongside him like acolytes of Socrates. One day in February, he has several of these meetings, one after another.

The first group asks about its financial situation—should they begin seeing investors? Graham explains that the YC program is designed to let them create the best product possible, shutting out distractions. “Money comes with Demo Day,” he says.

“But when do the best startups raise money?” one of the founders asks.

“It’s random!” Graham says. “The best startups do things when it’s right to do them.”

The article is filled with other great details. Like the description below of when Yuri Milner and Ron Conway told the winter class that they would offer funding to each one of $150,000, no questions asked. Milner was in Davos, so he participated remotely through an Anybot robot:

A tiny screen atop the wheeled robot’s saucer-shaped “head” carries a projection of Milner’s face, allowing him to talk to the group.

“So, the surprise,” Graham says, gesturing to Conway and the Milner-bot, “is that they want to invest in all of you.”

For a few seconds there is stunned silence as 99 founders try to process this news. It’s like a denial-of-service attack on their brains. Finally, there’s a collective exhale and a round of applause. This is good. . . . The budding entrepreneurs look like an Oprah audience after learning that everyone is getting a free Pontiac.

I do have one quibble with the article. Although it does mention TechCrunch a lot (Levy is obsessed), there is not one link. Will those magazine guys ever learn?