Y Combinator Secret Tips for Successful Startups

by Helen Whelan

Y Combinator, a top accelerator for startups, shared some not so obvious tips for startups at a recent Alley co-working gathering in NYC.

Figured I’d get your attention.  Got mine too.

Y Combinator’s CEO, Michael Seibel and three of his partners shared advice based on their experience helping 1600 startups grow over the last three years. YC has helped launch the likes of Airbnb, Dropbox and other successful game changers.

Y combinator tips for success

Now for the advice:

  1. Do things that DON’T scale. Seibel says this is a “super-power” entrepreneurs can use to learn directly from customers. He said Airbnb, which enables people to rent their homes, realized they needed to meet with customers because their growth had stalled. The founders flew to New York from California to take high quality pictures of  apartments they found advertised on other websites. This allowed them to talk to customers, create loyalty among them, and gain key insights to grow their business. Seibel said this was much more hands on and smarter than taking out Google ads to find customers.
  2. Go for the really big ideas.  YC says really big ideas – like making super-sonic airplanes, kid you not, attracts key, top talent. Great teams make for great companies and are usually more important, and more fundable, than the idea.
  3. Stay away from a focus on partnerships when you’re just starting. The YC guys said the initial focus should be on building a product that people want and getting that right.  Otherwise, effort and resources are spent on trying to establish partnerships and, most likely the technical requirements to implement them.
  4. Don’t ask customers about what features they want. This isn’t sexy but may be the most profound advice offered.  If you ask customers about what features they want in your product, you’ll wind up with expensive product creep and something customers don’t wind up using or, paying for.  Instead, startups need to find the problems customers want solved.  

The following quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein but may not be from him. Regardless, the point is well worth noting:

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions

Helen WhelanHelen Whelan is a serial entrepreneur and consultant. She has 15+ years experience creating strategic partnerships and designing new business ventures. She focuses on assisting start-ups and established companies innovate successfully through design-thinking and good leadership. Follow her blog at SuccessMedia or on Twitter @SuccessTV.


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