Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How to hack together a Y Combinator application

Tipjoy was funded by Y Combinator. The program is excellent, mainly because of the quality of the people accepted. The alumni network will prove to be the most valuable part of the program.

The YC applications are due and you should apply. The application will help crystallize your ideas because it is actually an excellent product design tool. I liked it so much I did it twice.

The deadline is fast approaching. I've been told that the best a surprising number of good people apply late - that's you. Here is how to hack together an application very quickly.


Write the answers to all the questions quickly. It should take 20 minutes or less. Get anything and everything on the page. Then the important part happens: EDIT.

Editing is a very under-appreciated writing skill. I think this stems from the way we think about writing in school - a '5 page essay' is due, and so quantity is mistaken for quality.

Once you've written down everything you could possibly want to say, whittle it down by removing all extraneous phrases. Often you can remove the first few words of paragraphs, which are usually statements like 'in my opinion' or something equivalently useless. Don't use obscure words. Don't use marketing language - just plainly describe things like you would to a friend.


Build a demo.

They're looking for real hackers: people that have built things. In the application, write about the cool things you've built.

Haven't built anything yet? Build a demo. Now.


Talking through an idea is a fundamental product design tool. Make a pitch, one that involves walking through a demo, and give it to your friends. This is primarily for the interview, but it will help you application in the same way writing helps.

Expressing ideas in different modalities makes them better. This is like trying to learn something. If you have a set of vocabulary words or chemical formulas, it helps to first read them, then read them aloud, write them on note cards to practice, etc. That's sight, sound, and touch. I've been told adding an association to some smell, for example an orange, also helps.

So write about your idea, talk about your idea. Smell your ideas. If they stink, throw them out.

We made this pitch into a fun night. We invited a few friends over, bought them some pizza and beer, and pitched to them. This practice was absolutely invaluable. Our pitch changed 180 degrees from the first time we practiced in front of friends to our interview.


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