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When it comes to startup accelerators, Y Combinator really needs no introduction.
After all, Y Combinator, or YC, broke new ground when it was launched as a founder-centered boot camp back in 2005, when more attention was paid to a company’s business model and its overall performance than the people who led it.
Since then, the seed money, mentorship opportunities, and extended network offered by YC has helped founders get a number of well-known startups, including Airbnb , DoorDash , Coinbase , Dropbox , Stripe , Instacart , Cruise , and Brex , off the ground.
Core Component: Founder Video
YC currently accepts applications from startups twice a year for their summer and winter cohorts, known as batches. A key component in the application process is the short founder video, which gives you and any co-founders an opportunity to pitch your startup idea to YC.
Pilot’s Founder in Residence Gillian O’Brien recalled how she and her co-founder/sister spent hours and a number of attempts to get their company’s introductory video just right leading up to the application deadline for YC’s winter 2019 batch. Their company, Cherry, ultimately made the cut.
“We applied on the night of the deadline and we had to get it done in a certain amount of time, so we couldn’t worry about it being too perfect,” Gillian said.
In addition to following YC’s application video best practices for applicants , having a script or at least some talking points during the filming process can help you and your co-founders stay on point.
“It’s an opportunity for the YC partners to observe the relationship between the founders a little bit, so it’s really important for people to just be really comfortable with each other and not talk over one another,” Gillian said. “Beyond that, we just tried to come across as very determined and serious.”
It’s also best to avoid stunts or filming strategies that can be too distracting for anyone who’s reviewing your application.
“Don’t try to hack the application by doing something hokey that will ultimately bring attention away from your business. In most cases, I think you can accomplish showcasing more of your personality through a few simple words,” Gillian explained.
Still, there are a few YC founders who successfully used small windows of opportunities to highlight the products that their company created or built. A good example, Gillian said, is the YC application video for Embark Trucks , which shows all three founders riding in a self-driving golf cart.
“YC suggests you try to ‘show not tell’ where you can. The founders did this, and managed to keep the rest of their delivery clear and straightforward,” Gillian said. “If you want to find a way to stand out beyond your verbal delivery, pick one thing to do. Time is limited, and the video needs to be short.”
With that being said, watching the introduction videos of founders who were accepted into YC can help you come up with a game plan for your own application.
Here are a few introduction videos that Gillian and her sister watched before they filmed theirs:
Getting into YC is tough, and although the application process requires a lot of time and effort, there are undeniable benefits that come with getting accepted into a batch.
“YC is an accelerator in more ways than one,” Gillian said. “Getting into YC gave me the exposure that I really needed at the time to other founders and other people who were like me. It introduced me to a lot of investors who I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I think it legitimized me to help me in my career beyond YC.”
Resources for Founders
Want to know how your YC application stacks up against the competition? Check out our
webinar on the YC admissions process
in which Gillian and two other fellow YC alumni —
Co-Founder & CEO
Co-Founder & CEO
— evaluate and provide feedback on real applications from founders.