How to Hack the YC Application

For the past two weeks my co-founder Eric and I have been hacking the YC application for our company Forecast. What follows is a brief account of our key takeaways. It goes without saying that until we actually make it into YC, these hacks, ideas, and suggestions are totally worthless.

Get all the recommendations!!!

According to everyone we talked to, one of the of the most important parts of the application process is getting a bunch of strong recommendations from YC alumni. When we started applying, we were only friends with one YC alum, so we put our network to use. Eric hacked together a script that took the list of all YC company names and got the names of founders via the CrunchBase API. We then combed through Facebook to see who in our network was connected to YC alumni. We were very surprised by the results: our 1,300 facebook friends were connected to 83 YC alums, which we were able to convert into 24 great introductions. Ultimately, we got lots of amazing, candid feedback on our application and more than half of the alums we connected with said they’d write us a recommendation.

A/B test that sh*t

Apply the build / measure / learn loops from the Lean Startup process to your application. Every day, we would write answers, collect suggestions from friends and YC alums, and incorporate their ideas. When we started, we got lots of conflicting positive and negative feedback. However, we kept iterating until the responses from new reviewers became reliably positive.

Use Olark

Dan Siroker from Optimizely suggested we add Olark chat to our demo video page, with a welcome message “chat with the founders!” This is a fun way to give props to a previous YC company while simultaneously tricking the YC partners into talking to you.

Do your homework, duh

Read everything by Paul Graham, the YC partners, and any YC alums. Basically read everything YC-related that you can get your dirty little startup mitts on. One totally dope resource we discovered is Jason Shen’s Guide to YC. Not only does Jason give insights on the application and interview process from an alum’s perspective, he also highlights especially important points from Paul’s essays.

Get noticed

As long as it’s not annoying or likely to cause bodily harm, you should do whatever you can to get noticed by the YC partners. This blog post is our long shot attempt at getting noticed.

We have no idea if any of these antics will actually work, but if we’re lucky enough to get an interview or if we get rejected we’ll post an update. Regardless, we’ve learned a ton about YC and met some amazing people.


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