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Y Combinator Archive
On Saturday I wrote a post titled, “Why Every Startup Should Complete the Y Combinator Application.” In just a few days, it’s become one of the most popular posts on CN this year. The conversations I’ve had about the post and the application on the various chat networks have been educational and uplifting. The most interesting discussions come from entrepreneurs who have been working on their startups for more than a couple of years — they have found the exercise to be a very important one to get them grounded again as to what product or service provides.
Today Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian posted their Y Combinator application — they were part of the first class of the startup incubator. Just like the Dropbox application, the Reddit app is also worth a read. Oh wait, the app isn’t actually for Reddit. It’s for a mobile food ordering service (see end of this post). Alexis notes that the team was rejected by Y Combinator founder Paul Graham. But Paul called the team the next day and offered them a slot in the initial Y Combinator class if they could come up with a new idea — that idea became Reddit.
The best part about these apps is reading the portion that details how the company plans to generate revenue.
I’d love to hear more about why the application was rejected because I still think it’s a huge market opportunity – even more today than back when the Reddit team submitted the application.
Startup incubator Y Combinator began operations in 2005 and they have funded over 200 startups since the launch. Y Combinator provides a small amount of funding (they note the average is $18k) and over three months the new startups get space to work plus mentoring from some of the top entrepreneurs in the tech world. You can view a list of all of the Y Combinator startups (plus a number of the other startup incubators) on Google Docs.
Earlier this week Dave Winer shared a link to the application Dropbox founder Drew Houston submitted to Y Combinator for the Summer 2007 session. I found the application very interesting to read because it provided insight into where the vision for Dropbox was headed. Artic Startup’s Antti Vilpponen also found the application interesting and has additional insights worth checking out.
I saved the link to the application and started to think about how I would complete the application for CloudContacts.
I soon realized that every startup should spend the time to complete the application. No, I am not actually applying to Y Combinator and am not suggesting you should actually submit the application. Naturally you should already have these questions answered but it’s a good way to get the answers into a usable format — portions of the document could easily be shared with prospective employees, partners and investors.
Some of the questions in the application include:
- What is your company going to make? — I would add a second part to this question, “Explain what your company does in one sentence” – I find this is a very difficult question for many startups to answer
- What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
- Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
- Why would your project be hard for someone else to duplicate?
Even if you never share the answers with anyone except the founders, it’s still a very worthwhile exercise. With the long weekend here in the U.S. – take a few hours and start working on your Y Combinator application.
Last week NYC Seed announced the launch of the SeedStart 2010 program. It seems very similar to the Y-Combinator and other similar programs. The program is described as, “NYC SeedStart is an 8-week summer program designed to provide seed funding for technology teams to build a product and launch their company. We will give up to 10 teams a small amount of funding, space, and mentorship in exchange for a small piece of equity in whatever they build.”
The selected startups receive $20,000 and give 5% equity to the NYC Seed group. Companies partnering in the program include: Contour Venture Partners, IA Ventures, NYC Seed, Polaris Venture Partners, RRE Ventures, Fish and Richardson, Manatt, Phelps and Phillips and SVB Financial Group.
Teams must have at least 2 people and no more than 4 people to apply. Applications for the SeedStart program are due by February 28, 2010.
Bloomington, Indiana-based SproutBox has launched this morning and hopes to provide a startup incubator that provides talent and services to the selected startups rather than a cash-investment from a typical angel investor. SproutBox is currently seeking applications and hopes to work with four startups this year. Kevin Makice has a recap of the SproutBox launch event last summer.
The model is a similar but different to the popular Y Combinator incubator. It looks like SproutBox will provide more hands-on management over the startups. Sproutbox notes, “The SproutBox team includes full-time coders, creatives and business experts who provide a range of essential services for start-ups — from software development and marketing to administrative assistance, HR, and accounting.” Basically SproutBox looks like a full-service Web shop that helps to get an entrepreneur’s idea from concept to initial launch while taking an equity stake in the company.
“The current start-up culture is simply failing entrepreneurs. The traditional model ramps up expenses and de-emphasizes revenue during early stages — meaning these companies must find additional funding just to keep their doors open. And today’s economic climate and severe illiquidity further exacerbate the problem. We founded SproutBox to change this model and remove the obstacles that prevent entrepreneurs from turning their idea into a money-making reality,” said Mike Trotzke, co-founder and managing member of SproutBox.
SproutBox is looking for web-based applications with subscription-based revenue models to work with. The initial timeframe is three months with a three month transition period afterwards. It will be interesting to keep track of how SproutBox does this year with their incubator-model along with their physical location.
Despite the proliferation of social news sites like Reddit which aggregate popular content and social bookmarking sites like Delicious that archive it, social browsing still remains a largely open market. It’s in this market that Y Combinator-backed startup Socialbrowse seeks to make its niche.
Socialbrowse combines in page icons and the ubiquitous activity feed to add value to pages by emphasizing content shared by friends, and pushing content to the user they’re likely to find interesting.
Here’s a brief rundown of some of the features available today as Socialbrowse leaves its 3 month private beta and goes public.
Sidebar – Users can use tabs in the sidebar to filter which types of feed items they wish to view, or to display them all at once. There’s also a "hot" tab that lets you track which content was most popular among your friends recently. The hot tab scores each feed item according to how many of your friends shared or discussed the link, then decrements the score over time to keep it fresh.
Site – Socialbrowse seeks to emphasize the most important content, providing separate tabs for each type of content each person has shared. This allows you to easily toggle between each user’s shared links, their comments, their messages, or to see them all at once. The search feature lets you recover any link or comment for each user (or yourself). The side menu shows user’s social points, their personal information, the users they are following, and their fans.
Enhanced, embedded icons (embed_and_hover.png) – Socialbrowse’s bread-and-butter feature is the in-page embedded icons, showing you what content your friends liked and how many of them liked it. Hovering over this icon shows a menu detailing which user(s) shared that link, and some of their other recent activity.
In-page commenting – The in-page commenting allows for users to toggle comments open and close in the top corner of the page, letting you quickly view all comments or submit your own.
Categories – In tandem with Socialbrowse’s filtering technology, categories allow you to set the categories you wish to receive or ignore.
Having used Socialbrowse for over a month, I’ve found that sharing content while browsing comes naturally, the conversations are more stimulating and varied than on sites like Digg where groupthink prevails, and the discovery aspect inherent to using the application is a great way to not just find interesting content, but to connect with interesting people.
Socialbrowse has gone a long way towards living up to Co-Founder Zachary Garbow’s stated goal of bringing "a novel, social aspect to every day web use," it’s going to take adoption for Socialbrowse to really live up to its full potential.
Rick Kenney is a sometimes contributor to CenterNetworks. You can find him online on Twitter.
There are things in life that baffle me. Some examples:
- How the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004
- Why the British drive on the left
- Why Rachel Stevens won't date me
And today I add a new one. Why Paul Graham changed his Y Combinator Startup News to "Hacker News." If this was football, I would pull out the "WTF" Yellow Card.
I called Y Combinator Startup News a better Digg in April. Today, they have changed focus and are now a Hacker News rating system. Paul Graham defines this as, "The focus of Hacker News is going to be anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes a lot more than hacking and startups. If you had to reduce it to a sentence, the answer might be: anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity."
Considering that Y Combinator is all about the startup, this makes no sense. They have a couple other updates to the app as well. First, they will be looking for trolls on the comments for each post which is a good move.
Second, they have some new algorithm as Paul defined, "We're going to have a group of human editors who train the system in what counts as a good story. Each user's voting power will then be scaled based on whether they vote for good stories or bad ones. This should protect us against the arrival of users who vote up dumb stories. The worse stuff a user upvotes, the less effect their future votes will have. And vice versa: someone who consistently recommends interesting stories will be rewarded with a louder voice."
Maybe if enough of us speak up, they will leave the content area as-is. It will be interesting to watch what stories are considered "Hacker News."
So it seems yesterday that Digg lost control over its user community over a story about HD-DVD keys. Since a take-down demand was received, Digg removed the story. Which they should have done. And when this was done, the Digg loyals (not the entire community as Mashable reports) went loony. They started posting hundreds of stories about this key in every way, shape possible. Pete also has a good pbp of the events with screen caps.
Why is removing this story so bad? First, all it was is a link to the story itself. Second, I am guessing that the decryption codes are probably against the terms of the agreement when it comes to the HD dvds. Third, the codes are available everywhere now.
So what does this show? This shows exactly the core users on Digg that I have spoken about so many times. A group of young males who have plenty of time on their hands to do something like this. It is disturbing because I found Digg to be quite useful lately. I hope that the site can get back to some sort of order today. It is critical that this issue is dealt with quickly and correctly. I also bet that if Digg lost everyone who participated in the codes issue, I bet they would still survive and might even be stronger in the long-term.
Of course, Kevin Rose then went too far I believe. He basically "abandoned ship" by saying, "You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying." Did he check with his VC firms before saying this?
Remember what Michael Arrington said back in March, "no, we don’t care that much about digg traffic actually. it’s far less than 10% of our total traffic, and when we aren’t on digg the comments are much more intelligent. digg is good for a quick traffic spike, but it isn’t a useful way to build an audience. I like digg as a business, but don’t really care about the links. most of our revenue comes from our sponsors, who pay a flat fee per month regardless of traffic. they want quality readers, not quantity. And digg basically sends a never ending stream of angry 16 year olds. not something the sponsors are that interested in."