A Big Idea: Y Combinator Now Lets Founders Apply Without… An Idea

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Venture firms like to pull in experienced founders to become entrepreneurs in residence — people who typically come in without a clear idea of what they want to do, who may simply be tasked with thinking up a new company.

Y Combinator is now bringing this type of free-form entrepreneurialism to its seed-stage fund. With a twist.

If you’re a prospective founding team (or a uniquely promising individual), it is now letting you apply to join its next class of founders without an idea. This might sound contrarian at first, but it perfectly fits the early-stage startup model, where the team is what makes the company win, rather than the initial concept. Here’s more, from the description out today from Paul Graham and Co:

Why are we doing this? Partly because we realized we already were. A lot of the startups we accept change their ideas completely, and some of those do really well. Reddit was originally going to be a way to order food on your cellphone. (This is a viable idea now, but it wasn’t before smartphones.) Scribd was originally going to be a ridesharing service.

Another way to look at this is that YC now has an even lower-friction way to attract talent. Which, again, is sometimes what VCs do with EIRs. But better, because unlike venture portfolio companies in various stages of maturity, each YC class is chock full of other companies iterating on and often completely switching plans. It’s not hard to imagine that talented people without ideas of their own might become cofounders around stronger projects if they don’t finalize their own, even if that’s not the primary intention here.

If this new piece of the YC program proves to be successful — the firm is careful to describe this as an experiment — I suspect we’ll see it get adopted by the many other early-stage firms, accelerators and incubators out there.