Y Combinator is the world’s most famous startup incubator in the world. Based in Silicon Valley, they have launched stellar companies such as Loopt, Reddit, Clustrix, Wufoo, Scribd, Xobni, Weebly, Songkick, Disqus, Dropbox, ZumoDrive, Justin.tv, Heroku, Posterous, Airbnb, Heyzap, Cloudkick, DailyBooth, WePay, and Bump.

From their website, “Y Combinator developed a new model of startup funding. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money (average $18k) in a large number of startups (currently 43). The startups move to Silicon Valley for 3 months, during which we work intensively with them to get the company into the best possible shape and refine their pitch to investors. Each cycle culminates in Demo Day, when the startups present to a large audience of investors. But YC doesn’t end on Demo Day. We and the YC alumni network continue to help founders for the life of their company, and beyond.”

I have a friend now applying for the June-August program with an interesting idea. By the way, applications close March 20, in 2 days, so get your app in if you want or forgot the deadline!

I think it’s a good exercise for people  getting into startups to answer a set of questions to structure thoughts or think about things you didn’t otherwise think about. And what better questions to answer than the ones from the Y Combinator application questions? So here they are (I will skip the basic ones):

  1. What is your company going to make?
  2. Please tell us in one or two sentences about the most impressive thing other than this startup that each founder has built or achieved.
  3. Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.
  4. Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together. Include urls if possible.
  5. How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?
  6. Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you’re making?
  7. What’s new about what you’re making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)?
  8. What substitutes people currently resort to?
  9. Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
  10. What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
  11. How do or will you make money? How much could you make? (We realize you can’t know precisely, but give your best estimate.)
  12. If you’ve already started working on it, how long have you been working and how many lines of code (if applicable) have you written?
  13. How far along are you? Do you have a beta yet? If not, when will you? Are you launched? If so, how many users do you have? Do you have revenue? If so, how much? If you’re launched, what is your monthly growth rate (in users or revenue or both)?
  14. If you have an online demo, what’s the url?
  15. How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won’t be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?
  16. If you’re already incorporated, when were you? Who are the shareholders and what percent does each own? If you’ve had funding, how much, at what valuation(s)?
  17. If you’re not incorporated yet, please list the percent of the company you plan to give each founder, and anyone else you plan to give stock to. (This question is as much for you as us.)
  18. If we fund you, which of the founders will commit to working exclusively (no school, no other jobs) on this project for the next year?
  19. For founders who can’t, why not? What level of commitment are they willing to make?
  20. Do any founders have other commitments between June and August 2011 inclusive?
  21. Do any founders have commitments in the future (e.g. finishing college, going to grad school), and if so what?
  22. Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC?
  23. Are any of the founders covered by noncompetes or intellectual property agreements that overlap with your project? Will any be working as employees or consultants for anyone else?
  24. Was any of your code written by someone who is not one of your founders? If so, how can you safely use it? (Open source is ok of course.)
  25. Are any of the following true? (a) You are the only founder. (b) You are a student who may return to school when the next term starts. (c) Half or more of your group can’t move to the Bay Area. (d) One or more founders will keep their current jobs. (e) None of the founders are programmers. (Answering yes doesn’t disqualify you. It’s just to remind us to check.)
  26. If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we’ve been waiting for. Often when we fund people it’s to do something they list here and not in the main application.
  27. Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered. (The answer need not be related to your project.)

@the last question – maybe Y Combinator likes laughing after reading each application to keep it interesting? They must receive a lot! Does anyone know how many?

Also, does anyone have any experience applying and can share their outcomes?

Good luck if you are applying!

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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