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Applying to Y Combinator Q&A Part III – About Co-Founders

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If you’re thinking about starting a company and applying to Y Combinator, you may find this article useful, as it will talk about how Y Combinator views startups with solo founders and offers some tips on finding cofounders for your startup. The post is based on the Q&As during the Codementor Office Hours with YC Alum Ashu Desai, who is the founder of MakeSchool.

Going Solo

Can Startups with a Single Founder Get into Y Combinator?

Single founders have occasionally gotten in but it’s rarer because startups are hard and it’s really difficult to find a good cofounder. Generally speaking, if you’re a single founder, you have to have proven something before. You have to have traction on your company or have done a successful startup before. If not, your idea has to be really, really phenomenal, where you’ve clearly built it and have a lot of domain expertise or experience in that area before.

Other than that, it’s going to be difficult to get in as a solo founder because it’s just already tough to start a company alone.

Finding a Cofounder

Is it possible to meet your future cofounder at Y Combinator?

You don’t go to a party looking for a wife, so don’t go to YC looking for a cofounder. It’s one of those things that just happens when it happens. You’re much better off looking at the people you’ve worked with before, people who are really smart and who you believe in.

Just look back into the pool of people you know and ask yourself, “Who can I pull into doing a startup with?” And once you’ve picked out some candidate, tell them: “Hey, I’m applying to YC. I need a cofounder before this. Can you for example come and do this with me? If we get into YC, join me for this company and we’ll build a team around it.”

The Cofounding Team

Friends vs. Talented Strangers

A lot of times founding teams kind of fall into two categories: people who were existing friends, and slightly more calculated teams where there will be, for example, a designer from Google and a back-end developer from another big company. If it was the latter situation, would YC still want to see what have you guys built together as opposed to just an impressive individual collection of resumes?

Absolutely. They care a lot more about what you have built together than an impressive individual collection of resumes. It’s the same thing with sports teams. Do you want a group of superstars or do you want a team that gels really well together?

Generally you want a team that gels really well together. And again, cofounder breakups will happen, especially when you have a lot of people who’ve really good backgrounds and who’ve done really impressive things. These people are likely to get into territorial wars where I say, “Hey, I want everything done my way,” and the other person says, “No, at Google we did everything this way, we should do it this way,” the other person says, “At Twitter, we did everything this way, we should do everything that way.”

If YC doesn’t see you are collaborating and communicating really well as a team, then that’s a really bad sign for them. Generally, before you jump into a startup, you’d want to have a cofounder who you’ve worked with on some sort of project before.

Something interesting to note when you’re thinking about picking a cofounder is: don’t tell them you want to be their cofounder immediately. That’s like getting married before you have a date.

Say, “Hey, let’s work on a project together, let’s work on something simple. Let’s date a little bit, let’s see how this works, see how we communicate, and if things go well, we’ll try out starting a company.”

Equity Structure

In terms of cofounder equity structure, you typically want to give all cofounders equal parts because if one person had the idea and worked on it for a couple months before the other person joined full time, startups are built over ten years—they’re not built over one year. Therefore, ten years from now, we’re going to look back and all cofounders have worked on it the same amount, you generally want everyone to have equal stakes.

Of course, this might different in some situations. If one person has invested their personal money into the company and the other person hasn’t, or if one person raised the investor money before the other cofounder came on, that’s a way the startup suddenly becomes de-risked.

Generally speaking, however, just go for equal equity amounts and YC helps you a lot in terms of what the right corporate structure is, how to set up equity, and so on. They have a lot of answers about this stuff.

 

 


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Ashu Desai
Ashu Desai
I'm the founder of Make School
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