A Low-Key Launch Can Still Bring Long-Term Success. Y Combinator Is Living Proof

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Trevor Blackwell reviewing YC's first applications in 2005

Blackwell reviewing applications for the first YC class in 2005

“Launch day” can be a pretty big deal in the world of tech. Some people define a successful launch day as getting written up by as many tech news sites as possible, hitting the top spot on the App Store out the gate, being upvoted on Reddit and Hacker News, and throwing the fanciest launch party that (investor) money can buy.

But it’s worth remembering that a splashy launch doesn’t always bring long-term success. In fact, some of tech’s strongest startups, apps and organizations started out pretty quietly. Take Y Combinator. YC Demo Day is now one of the buzziest events in Silicon Valley — but in a really fascinating onstage interview with Derek Andersen at the Startup Grind 2014 conference earlier this month, YC co-founder Jessica Livingston discussed the more humble early days of the seed accelerator when it first launched in 2005.

Livingston said that at the first YC Demo Day back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, eight startups launched to a room with only “15 to 20 investors” in attendance. “Some of them were legit, and some of them were just rich people we knew and said, ‘Can you please come?’” she said. “But we knew we were on to something.”

She went on to explain how they knew they were on to something, and the key that kept Y Combinator growing from those early days (this bit starts at around 9:45 in the video embedded below this post):

“It wasn’t that hard because some people cared. And that’s an important thing to remember… the eight people we funded cared, you know, and some of the investors who funded them cared, and it was slowly growing.

Paul Buchheit, who’s one of the YC partners who invented Gmail, gives this great advice which is, ‘It’s so much better to make a few people love you, than a lot of people just like you.’ And that is just so true, with whatever you’re doing. And that’s what it was for us. A few people loved us, and we just sort of just grew from there. So even though reporters didn’t love us, they wouldn’t return my phone calls and could care less that we were doing this new way of funding, we just moved on. We didn’t need them.”

Livingston’s comments are a great reminder that while launch day can be an important milestone, and getting early press can be valuable, it’s not everything.

You can watch the entire interview with Jessica Livingston and Derek Andersen in the video embedded below — it was a great conversation. The comments excerpted above start at around 9:45.



Featured image of YC co-founder Trevor Blackwell via YCombinator