The exact application that I used to get into the first-ever remote batch of Y Combinator
Well, I guess it’s just that time of the year.
Days are getting shorter. There’s a bit of a chill in the wind. And founders all over the world are burning the midnight oil to get their Y Combinator winter application done.
My Y Combinator journey was not a straight forward one.
For the record, I applied six times. Was offered an interview four times. Interviewed twice. Got in once.
This post publicly shares the exact application that I used to get into Y Combinator’s first-ever remote batch.
I’ve gone ahead and added some notes and commentary as someone who’s graduated the program and, now, knows a lot more about how YC functions.
But before I get to that… I’d like to offer some advice that I wish I had known three years ago:
1) Don’t try to hack it
Many people ask me what’s the “trick” or “hack” to get into YC. The hack is to build a great company.
Many of the YC applicants that I’ve spoken with spend hours trying to perfect every sentence of their application.
This is most certainly the wrong approach. This time can be better spent by trying to improve your company.
Instead of trying to sell a mediocre product, build a better product.
2) Don’t use jargon or try to sound smart
Just put yourself in the shoes of someone reading a YC application. Each YC partner is reading hundreds of applications each day.
They don’t have the energy to dig through a dense block of text to determine if your company is a good fit or not.
If a partner doesn’t understand what your company does within 15 seconds of reading your application, you won’t get called in for an interview. Period.
It’s your job to make it easy for them. Don’t use buzz words or jargon. Simple language works best.
3) Don’t write a novel
The more words you use, the higher chance it is that the person reading your application sees something they don’t like.
Explain your business in the fewest words possible. No more. No less.
Concise writing requires tremendous skill but will make you a better founder.
4) Don’t do what you think will look good
For so long, I tried to fit a mold of what I thought YC was looking for.
For example, I used to think that all YC companies were made up of 2–3 ex- FANG employees who have been writing code and starting businesses since they were in pre-K.
This couldn’t be from the further from the truth.
The YC founder community is incredibly diverse. When I finally got into YC, I did it as a solo founder.
You’re much better off just telling it as it is.
5) Don’t give up on your company
If you’re applying to YC, then you probably have a great idea that you believe in.
If that’s the case, it really shouldn’t matter whether you get in or not. The best founders have absolute conviction in what they’re building.
As an entrepreneur, you will hear many ‘no’s. Not getting into YC is not the end of the world. I, for one, was rejected five times (across three companies) before I was admitted.
The beauty of the world of venture capital is that you only need one yes to get started.
With that said… here’s Virtually’s YC S20 application.
Company url, if any:
If you have a demo, what’s the url? For non-software, demo can be a video.
Describe your company in 50 characters or less.
A virtual classroom builder
What is your company going to make?
We’re building tools to power online trade schools. With our software, anyone can build a “Lambda School for X” business.
Primarily, we bring together the most important components of any modern online school: admissions, live conferencing, payment processing, student/community management, and income share agreement tracking.
Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC?
New York, NY / New York, NY
Please provide the email addresses of the other cofounders in the startup. No need to add yours again. Founders must have at least 10% equity in the company. We will send an email to each founder to fill out additional information about themselves.
I’m a solo founder.
What do you know… YC does accept solo founders after all!
Please enter the url of a 1 minute unlisted (not private) YouTube or Youku video introducing the founder(s). This video is an important part of the application. (Follow the Video Guidelines.)
Which category best applies to your company?
Education / SaaS
How far along are you?
We built and launched this software in mid-November of last year. Since then, we’ve become the host for five online training programs.
In total, these programs have generated $1,570 in revenue with over 200 student participants.
The recent COVID-19 virus has created a surge of interest for this product and led to a large amount of interest from instructors and professors looking to build their virtual classroom. We’re doing our best to onboard them onto our software.
How long have each of you been working on this? How much of that has been full-time? Please explain.
I’ve been full-time since leaving my software engineering role at Facebook in March of 2019. Since then, the company direction has changed 2–3 times after valuable insight from customers until eventually settling on this iteration in mid-November, 2019.
Are people using your product?
Yes, five different training programs are using Virtually as their primary hosting platform. In total, over 200 students have participated in these online training programs.
These programs are largely being led by online creators with large online followings.
Do you have revenue?
Yes, we’ve generated $1,540 in income from these programs.
If you’ve applied previously with the same idea, how much progress have you made since the last time you applied? Anything change?
We’ve applied before with different iterations of the same company.
Our biggest learning has been that just selling online courses doesn’t cut it for most content creators. In order to attract high-ticket customers, online educators must turn to provide premium options to their students which includes real-time support either in 1-on-1 or group setting rather than just pre-recorded video.
On the consumer side, we learned that for consumers to pay high-ticket prices ($1,000+) for any online educational program, it has to have very high ROI, often meaning transformational for their life and/or career. We’ve decided to double down on empowering career education, specifically mid-career education.
If you have already participated or committed to participate in an incubator, “accelerator” or “pre-accelerator” program, please tell us about it.
Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you’re making?
For the past year, I’ve built intimate relationships with 30+ influential content creators and online educators. From them, I’ve learned the pains of building an internet business.
We originally built this software to power our own training programs, but over time we had clients reach out and ask if they could use it to host their own classes/memberships.
As such, we’ve generalized the software so that it can be used by any individual/organization.
They’re asking why are you the right person to be working on this company
What’s new about what you’re making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn’t exist yet (or they don’t know about it)?
We take the engineering out of building an online trade school so educators can focus teaching their craft. Our tool streamlines the administrative side of running an online trade school by creating an all-in-one solution for admissions, payment processing, live conferencing, and student management.
Content creators are hacking together a few different tools to replicate this experience on their own: Zoom, Calendly, Facebook groups, Google forms, etc..
Companies like Lambda School, Flockjay, and Jumpcut are building these tools from scratch which requires a tremendous amount of engineering effort.
Soon anybody and any organization, not just venture-backed startups, will be able to start risk-free online trade school. Yay!
Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?
We’re not seeing majors players in this space, but companies that are most equipped to take on this space:
- Mighty Networks
- Lambda School
We fear Teachable the most due to their access to a rich pool of online creators.
It’s important to note here that online courses don’t cut it for career-changing education.
What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don’t get?
A few things really:
- Online trade schools are the future. Online courses are a generally ineffective medium for job training as only 13% of those bought are ever finished. For career-changing education, students need a project-based environment with direct access to the instructor and peers (for accountability and social pressure).
- Mid-career education and job retraining will continue to become increasingly important. Only 27% of college graduates land a job related to their major. This along with a host of other factors is leading to record job dissatisfaction rates; however, students aren’t willing to enroll in expensive 2–4 year-long programs to fix this problem. They want a more lightweight solution that helps them pick up new skills without the high cost of traditional universities.
- Income Share Agreements are essential for any mid-career educational programs to work. Unlike undergraduate programs, which can be financed through the support of your parents and/or student loans, the risk of transitioning to a new career after undergrad is drastically higher. ISA’s help de-risk this transition by requiring students to only pay the institution back if they are successful.
How do or will you make money? How much could you make?
It’s free to accept the first ten students. From there, we charge $25 / month for every additional cohort of ten students.
There are about 5.3 million active online educators, creators, and organizations that we think could leverage this technology to create virtual classrooms. If we, specifically, target online mid-career education, our total addressable market is $6.36 billion with room to grow if we expand to enterprise or government training opportunities.
Don’t draw this out… just answer the question. This number needs to be in the billions. If it’s not, you should really consider is it makes sense for you to build a venture-backed business. VCs need to know that there’s a big outcome in mind for them if you’re successful
How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won’t be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?
Most of our initial users have come from my pre-existing relationships with creators. We’ve generally found that content creators are vocal about the software that they enjoy using and for that reason we expect they will be our biggest engine for growth.
Have you incorporated, or formed any legal entity (like an LLC) yet?
Yes. We’re a Delaware C-Corp
Please provide any other relevant information about the structure or formation of the company.
Are any of the founders covered by noncompetes or intellectual property agreements that overlap with your project? If so, please explain.
Who writes code, or does other technical work on your product? Was any of it done by a non-founder? Please explain.
I was a previous Software Engineer at Facebook and write all our code.
Technical founders for the win 💪
Is there anything else we should know about your company?
If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we’ve been waiting for. Often when we fund people it’s to do something they list here and not in the main application.
Talk about conviction!
Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered.
What convinced you to apply to Y Combinator? Did someone encourage you to apply?
We want to access the mentorship and network that comes with Y Combinator brand as we think it would greatly accelerate our trajectory to become a massive technology company.
I won the YCombinator hackathon in 2018 (Astral Trade); also have attended Startup School the past three years and have experienced, first-hand, the value in the YCombinator community.
YC Partners ❤ Startup School grads
How did you hear about Y Combinator?
YCombinator hackathon + Startup School + YC Podcast
That’s all I got! Best of luck. And connect with me on LinkedIn if you have any questions.