Kat Mañalac & Aaron K. Harris

Office hours with partners at Y Combinator

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 12, 2015

Discussion

Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
Oh, hi there Product Hunt. I'm Aaron. I'm a partner at Y Combinator where I spend a lot of time looking for new companies and working with the ones we fund. I used to work in finance, but managed not to turn evil. I also ran a startup called Tutorspree. I spend a lot of time thinking about how the world is changing and how teams of people make that happen. I really like thinking about the types of problems that don't seem like they'd be much fun to solve, because that's often where the biggest opportunities are hiding. I'm an accidental podcast host, and sometimes write as a way of figuring things out. Ask away :) Hey, I'm Kat -- partner at Y Combinator. I do a lot of outreach to potential applicants. One of the best parts of my job is talking to founders around the world about what they're building -- it's Product Hunt IRL. You might have seen me on Hacker News talking about programs like the YC Fellowship or Open Office Hours. I also have the pleasure of hosting the Female Founders Conference with the other women of YC. I started out at WIRED Magazine and then worked with Alexis Ohanian (during his in-between reddit days). AMA.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
A lot has been written about YC, by the press and founders that went through the program. What's the biggest misconception? P.S. GL to everyone applying! Deadline is tomorrow. 😊
Lauren Holliday@laurenholliday_ · Founder, hackthejobhunt.com
@rrhoover AWESOME QUESTION!
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@rrhoover @rrhoover Oh man, Ryan - there are so many. I think they mostly boil down to "YC only accepts x type of founders, I'm not that type, so why even apply??!?!" We really only have one criteria: Do we think this founder or team can build a great business. That's what we're looking for, and that's what we'll continue to fund.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@harris I'll be honest, as a solo, non-engineering founder, I didn't think I had much of a chance before speaking with @katmanalac and other YC partners prior to submitting the application.
Kat Manalac@katmanalac · Partner, Y Combinator
@rrhoover Another big one is that you have to have an introduction to the partners or get a recommendation from an alumni to get into YC. The majority of people we fund never had any prior interaction with us.
George Muresan@gmuresan3 · Software Engineer, AdStage
Hey guys, what are some of the biggest mistakes that startups make during the 3 months that they are in YC?
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@gmuresan3 Not spending enough time out in the world talking to customers. It's very easy to sit inside and build product. That's super important, but it's only going to lead you in the right direction when you've talked to users first!
Kat Manalac@katmanalac · Partner, Y Combinator
@harris @gmuresan3 Another is waiting too long to launch. Feedback from actual users is infinitely more helpful than feedback from potential users (and feedback from paying customers is even better).
Lauren Holliday@laurenholliday_ · Founder, hackthejobhunt.com
Hi Kat! Hi Aaron! Super excited to have you here today. I have a few questions about the YC application. =) 1. In the talk Sam gave our CS183C class recently, he said YC can turn some slow movers into fast movers…. How do you determine if you can do this when reading an application? 2. I read in Sam’s recent AMA that it could take 2 minutes to review an application? How’s that? 3. I also read sometimes it could take him an hour because he had to do background research… What would make you do background research? 4. He also said the ones submitted by the cut off get read by a lot of the partners… Why’s that? I was recommended by a few YC alums to submit early. Am I at a disadvantage now? 5. What are the best answers to the “Anything you would like to add?” Or What would you like to read about in that section? 6. Is it possible we’ll hear from you before the 28th? 7. How do the logistics of the application work? For instance, I’m interested in understanding how they get divvied up between partners, etc. 8. How many applications have you received so far?
Bakz T. Future@bakztfuture · Founder, StartupTimelines.org
@laurenholliday_ asking the tough questions! Haha awesome work
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@laurenholliday_ Hmmm - that's a lot of questions, and Sam should probably answer based on how he reads his applications when it comes to timing. For me, there's a lot of different factors that play into reading the applications. Sometimes you see something and you just know you want to talk to them. That's the fastest type. If I'm really intrigued, but don't know much, I'll dig more or ask some friends some questions. Not sure what you mean by 4. We read all of them, and there's no disadvantage to submitting early/at the deadline. 5 - Don't overthink it :) 6 - sure, if we have questions about your application 7 - we have some really awesome software running in the background 8 - Not actually sure at the moment. It's changing pretty fast
Lauren Holliday@laurenholliday_ · Founder, hackthejobhunt.com
@harris @laurenholliday_ Thanks for the answers! Sorry there's so many. We want to be in YC more than anything in the world so I had a lot. =)
Natalya Matyushenko@ambercamel · Co-founder/COO at Spycob
@harris: , @katmanalac Hi guys) Wanted to hear your opinion on early vs later monetisation for an early stage startup. The choice is whether we should start maximising revenue now, with 20K installs, or focus on growing user base and maintaining 6-8%/week growth and introduce paid features once we have critical mass (let's say 1M)? Our idea is discovery commerce, "buy for $1" button has been tested.
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@ambercamel This is such a great question, but it's also super hard to answer without much more context. Some businesses can survive without charging their customers because their path to scale is rapid enough, and their funding large enough, to get them to the point of making money. Others need to make money sooner because of their costs. 6-8% a week is pretty good, but I'd generally edge towards at least experimenting with revenue so you start to have an idea of what you're going to do. Of course, if you're going to run out of money before you get to profitability...you might have to charge sooner!
Natalya Matyushenko@ambercamel · Co-founder/COO at Spycob
@harris I think, we'd rather focus on growth until we reach critical mass rather than pinching pennies from just a few thousand MAUs. In addition, we are a small team and can't really build the payments/transaction infrastructure with the resources we have and keep the growth we have at the same time...Thanks)
Zahi Darwazeh@zdarwazeh92 · Co-Founder @OrderCircle
Hi @harris @katmanalac, We are wrapping up our application for Dweller, what is the biggest mistake people make on the application?
Kat Manalac@katmanalac · Partner, Y Combinator
@zdarwazeh92 One mistake lots of people make is not being succinct. People can write novels about what they're building. It's best to be as clear and concise as possible when describing what your company does. Another mistake is not explaining what it is your company does. Many people lead with why and don't get to the what until a few sentences (or paragraphs!) in.
Lukas Fittl@lukasfittl · Product Hunt
@harris @katmanalac Thanks for taking the time to chat! Whats the thing you see on YC applications from outside the US that is the most problematic? (e.g. busy cap table, not enough commitment, etc)
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@lukasfittl Not enough applicants! Seriously, there's so many more intl companies that should be applying that aren't. It's a big world out there.
Larry@larry_lawal
@katmanalac Hi Kat! In your Startup School Radio episode with @harris, you mentioned that the Summer 2012 increase in tech startups coincided with The Social Network movie and an overall 10-year shift to where every news organization covers tech or has dedicated staff reporting on the startup scene. My question: Do you feel a similar trend is underway with science startups now that media sites like BuzzFeed, Vox, IFLScience are setting up or growing science-specific coverage? What area of science/research interests you the most?
Sydney Liu@sydney_liu_sl · Co-Founder of Commaful.com
@harris: Hey Aaron! Startup School Radio is my daily listening when I cook or run. Absolutely amazing to get inside the mind of the partners and the founders. I've at least tripled the number of users and potential users I talk to on a weekly basis now because of it. My question: This is one of my favorite posts of yours: http://www.aaronkharris.com/thin... and has been a great guiding principle for me. What would your ideal schedule (ideal, so could be in retrospect) look like for when you were full time on Tutorspree? What would have been yours in the pre-product market fit stage? What % of time talking to users, working on product, growing, brainstorming, exercising, etc.? @katmanalac Hey Kat! Really love how open you are around the community, from tweeting through YC, scheduling and putting on events, like the Female Founders conference, etc. My question: Having seen many resources (and providing many of them through YC), what resources would you say an early stage founder SHOULD look at, given there are so much content going around? What would be the "vitamins" you'd give to a newbie founder what to watch, listen to, or read to give them what they need to know to build a great startup without distracting time from actually spending time with the users and product? Thanks so much!!!
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@sydney_liu_sl I wish I knew what an ideal schedule looked like. The truth is it changed over time, and it's going to be different for every founder because of what people are good at, and what the business needs. I do know that I used to explicitly block my time on my calendar for different activities. One of my best tricks now is that I only do a real run through my email once a day, and then mostly ignore it. If I open an email, I have to respond. That's a good motivator.
Kat Manalac@katmanalac · Partner, Y Combinator
@sydney_liu_sl I'll create a PH collection with my favorite resources! Here's a great list @mattkrisiloff put together for our YC Fellowship teams: https://docs.google.com/document...
Russ Frushtick@russfrushtick
@harris No need to share names, but could you talk about the worst pitch you've ever gotten?
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@russfrushtick @qasar has given me some pretty bad ones...
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Kat! You talk to so many startups in your role. Given everything you've seen, and any patterns you've identified, what are some of the leading early indicators of a startup that is on the path to being a "success" down the road?
Kat Manalac@katmanalac · Partner, Y Combinator
@melissajoykong I love learning new things from the founders I talk to. Hearing that they have new insights about the space they're diving into is always promising. Those insights may come from personal experience -- because they're building something that solves a problem they personally experienced. Or they may come from talking to a lot of users (or potential users).
John Reynolds@reynolds_wrap · director
what are the 3 techniques, mindsets, skills, etc. new/first-time entrepreneurs have that result in large part 90%+ of their success? ( mentors/books/sites/social media feeds ect)
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@reynolds_wrap I think there are two really important things for all founders, not just first timers: refusal to accept the world as you find it, and the tenacity to keep trying to change it to be better. Fundamentally, this what building a startup boils down to. If you have that, you'll be able to identify problems other people miss, and you won't let anything stop you from fixing those problems.
Ben Rahnema@brahnema · Co-Founder at Returnbase
Hey @harris and @katmanalac! Any advice on how to best capitalize on way more users and engagement than expected at launch? What can we do to scale up quickly enough to take advantage of early explosive growth while not sacrificing on experience for our users?
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@brahnema That's a good problem to have, but there's no silver bullet to solving it. You'll have to keep balancing the two sides, and, when in doubt, over communicate what's going on to your users (especially if and when things break)
Josu San Martin@josusanmartin
@harris Hey Aaron! I love your podcast and I think that you are a great host. My cofounder and I have a very early stage startup, and although we complement each other fairly well neither of us are technical. I can code at a very basic level and I can take technical decisions, but I can't really build the platform we need. So we feel like we have 3 choices: 1. Find a technical cofounder. We have tried this, but we haven't found anybody yet. 2. Outsource the development, at least until we can raise some capital and hire engineers. We are based in Mexico, so this is relatively cheap. We have also found a pretty reliable firm in order to do so. 3. Hire an engineer. There may even be more options that we haven't thought about. What would be your advice at this stage? Thank you!
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@josusanmartin Tough to actually say without knowing a lot more about your product, market, and customers. You did, however, leave out the 4th option - get good enough yourself to be the CTO! That would be the best.
Nicki Friis@nickifriisw · Entrepreneur. Former Partner @ Ideanote.
@harris Hey Aaron and Kat, why is focusing on customer experience a good idea - from your point of view?
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@nickifriisw Here's one way to think about that: why are you building what you are building? My guess is so that it changes the way someone does something in their lives. If they're not happy making that change (because you make their lives painful), then they're not going to want to use your service very much. That just gets more important if you start to charge money, or if there are viable alternatives to your service.
Rohit Goyal@imrgoyal · CEO, PaxPlay
Hi Aaron, Thanks for doing this AMA. My question is... What have you found the better strategy among the below 2 in your time at YC. 1) Completely focus on building the traction first like setting a target of x% MOM growth and put unit economics for the later stage. 2) Focus on unit scale first with lesser traction (good enough to work on) and focus on the growth in the later stage once you reach the right unit economics. I understand this might vary from startup to startup so let's focus on products/startups which can have revenue from starting days itself.
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@imrgoyal Check out my answer to Natalya Matyushenko at the top.
Rohit Goyal@imrgoyal · CEO, PaxPlay
@harris Thanks for the answer. But i feel it is a generalised answer and as you said the answer depends more on context. Is it possible to give you more context on the same? Thanks.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Hi Aaron! What company do you think *doesn't* exist yet that, if it did, might significantly spur the growth of revolutionary new startups?
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@melissajoykong Either one that solves visa/immigration issues around the world or one that finally makes telepresence work as well as being there.
Jake Crump@jakecrump · Community Team with Product Hunt
What would the you of 2 years ago think of yourself today?
Teresa Hammerl@colazionearoma · Socialmediapreneur
Hi Aaron, you mentioned writing as a way of figuring things out. Do you ever get negative comments and what's your approach on dealing with them? Hi Kat, what's the most exciting part of being able to talk to many founders from different cultures? I guess you learn a lot. Does this also help you with including more people from different parts of the world at the Female Founders Conference? Thanks!
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@colazionearoma All the time. There's an important difference, though, between negative comments and critical comments. Negative comments are mean spirited take downs. With those, I try to remove the emotion from them and see if there's a valid critique underneath. Sometimes there is, and sometimes there isn't, but it's important to learn wherever you can. Critical comments are typically far more constructive. These help me learn and get better, so I love them. This isn't to say you should only ever look for criticism, because it is really nice to hear you did a good job, but it is valuable when you get it.
Tom Calabrese@tomcalabrese · Cofounder of Quill
@harris thanks for Startup School Radio! As part of being in YC, and being a founder in general, you receive a lot of advice. What would your recommendation be in trying to figure out which pieces of advice to implement or ignore?
Aaron Harris@harris · Partner, YC
@tomcalabrese For sure! Glad you like it. Such an important question. You need to evaluate each piece of advice you get in context. You have to know that anyone giving you advice doesn't have nearly as much context about what you're doing as you do. Use that framework, but make sure you're not discarding feedback simply because you don't like it. You'll also learn, over time, who gives you good advice, and who gives you bad advice. This isn't the same for every advisor/advisee pair, so don't look exclusively to other people for your indicators. Of course, now you have to apply this set of rules to this set of rules. So now we're a bit stuck in a recursive loop.