Why Not All Great Hackepreneurs Get Picked By Y Combinator

April 5, 2007

This week (Monday, April 2nd) was the deadline for startup founders to apply to be selected for the upcoming batch of startup companies to join Paul Graham's Y Combinator group.  If this year is like past years, YC will likely have received lots of applications (which means Paul's going to be a busy guy for at least a week).  And, if this year is like years past, then not all great hacker-entrepreneurs will get selected.

If you applied, and didn't get selected, this could be because of one or more of the following reasons:

1.  You lack a co-founder:  YC leans heavily towards startups with at least two co-founders.  It's possible you tried to find a co-founder, but couldn't.  Or that you found one, but it didn't work out.  Or that you just don't believe in co-founders just yet.

2.  The idea doesn't fit the profile:  YC seems to lean towards consumer internet ideas, or ideas for which an early user community can be built quickly and monetization can be done later.  If your idea is to develop enterprise software for the steel industry, chances are, you're not going to get picked. 

3.  Your application didn't stand out:  Paul's an awfully smart guy, but he's still not clairvoyant.  If your brilliance and passion didn't come through in the application, it's possible he just fundamentally missed it.  It happens.

4.  You really don't have what it takes:  It's possible that you simply are not particularly suited for a startup at this time and the smart folks at YC were able to figure this out.

Lets assume for a minute that you didn't make the cut at YC for reasons #1, #2, or #3.  So, what now?

I'm going to make you an interesting offer:  A chance to show off your hackepreneur skills.

Basically, what I'd like to do is find exceptional individuals that are really committed to building cool technology and are determined not to go work for "the man" and want to do something entrepreneurial (if you applied for YC in the first place, chances are, you fit this profile).

Here's a high-level look at what I have in mind:

1.  You don't necessarily have to have a co-founder.

2.  You'd still have to be move to Cambridge (or already be in the vicinity).

3.  I'll give you $15k to work for the summer and impress me with your talent.

4.  You have to be willing to work on an idea that is not your own (we have a few laying around).

It's basically an opportunity to join a small, highly entrepreneurial group working right on the MIT campus and work on an interesting project -- and get paid a bit of money for it.  After the summer is done, either we talk each other into doing something more permanent, you talk me into funding your original idea or we part ways as friends and hopefully had a shared positive experience. 

This is the first time I've done anything like this (but everything worthwhile I've ever done, started as an experiment).  To get  a sense for the kinds of things we're working on, you can visit some of our alpha (in development) projects at http://www.websitegrader.com, http://www.dailyhub.com, or learn more about my current startup at http://www.hubspot.com

If you're intrigued and think you might fit the profile, send a detailed email to hackepreneur (at) onstartups.com.  Ideally, you'd send me the same kind of information you sent in for your YC application (you can get an old YC form here, if you need it).  If you're worried about revealing your idea, leave that part out.  I've got the capacity to accept three or four of you (assuming there is enough interest and we can work out a deal), but chances are, I'll only pick one or two.  I've got really high standards too. 

Hope to hear from some of you.  But in the meantime, I wish you the best of luck with your Y Combinator application. It would be great if you are one of the select few that make it in to Paul Graham's Gang For The Gifted.  But if not, perhaps I can provide an interesting "Plan B".

Void where prohibited, no purchase necessary, your mileage will vary and all the other usual disclaimers.

Written by Dharmesh Shah


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