9 – Recommendations

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Summary: YC is counting more and more on the YC network to scale their application process – leverage that via alumni recommendations

People ask questions all the time about whether YC can handle the increased number of startups it is funding. The fact is that it’s less about the ratio of partner to startup than it is the environment YC has created – there is a decent system behind YC now but what I want to focus on here is recommendations.

Make sure you try your hardest to get some recommendations.

Reach out to YC alumni. They are pretty accessible – on HN, Twitter, personal blogs, etc. Get an introduction from a friend if necessary. Write up a few sentence summary of what you’re building (like a super compact version of the YC app) and send it along, asking for 15 mins of advice on a few specific questions.

Don’t just go into the call pitching – we will see right through you. You need to truly be open and curious and open to feedback for this to work. (In general, when you ask people for feedback, you should request it not be sugar coated and as critical as necessary. Sometimes people feel weird giving strangers strongly negative feedback but this feedback can be exceptionally useful.)

Ideally you reach out as early as possible because they will get swamped later on. Be genuine and respectful. If they seem positive and supportive about your startup, then gently ask if they can write you a recommendation. Be nice about it – you’re never going to bully someone into writing something nice about you.

We had several YC alumni go up to bat for us and write us recs, anywhere from one or two sentences all the way to 5 paragraphs.In our interview, Jessica actually said “oh you guys are ____’s friend”, where ___ was a YC alumni who had written us a really great rec.

There’s also now a rating system for evaluating the strength of the recommendation. I’m not going to explain it here because it does not matter – do your best with your YC interaction and hope for the best.

PG’s comments on this section:

Actually it would be better to expend that effort on your company or the application. Don’t spend a lot of time spamming YC alumni trying to collect recommendations. They don’t carry any weight with us unless they are very strong. We can tell the difference between a recommendation that’s being made for our sake (because the alum thinks it would damaging for us to overlook the application), and one that’s being made for the sake of the applicant (e.g. because the alum is benevolent and they begged him to recommend them).


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