Y Combinator application advice for Indian Founders

Our company, ClearTax helps Individuals and Businesses e-File their Tax returns online. We were the first India focused company funded by Y Combinator (YC) in summer of 2014. Subsequently YC funded Razorpay in Winter 2015.

Sam Altman (President of YC) recently in an interview said that India will have multiple $10B companies starting up. I strongly agree with him. Its an exciting time to be a founder in India.

We think YC is fantastic. I highly recommend going to YC to every founder who asks me.

Every application cycle, we get founders asking us for advice on how to get into YC.

I have summarised common themes from (mostly) Indian founders:

  • Some founders think that you need an introduction to the YC partners. You don’t need a warm intro to YC. We didn’t know any of the YC partners prior to acceptance. They are truly looking for exceptional founders around the world. You have an equal shot.
  • Some founders think YC only accepts late stage companies. Again this is not true. They accept companies at all stages. We were launched and had thousands of users when we went to YC. However, our friends at Razorpay had launched recently when they went to YC. Each startup is different. Going to YC is like Turbo-boost. Both of our companies have had trajectory changes since joining YC.

There is no secret to getting into YC. You just need to work on your company (Talk to your users and make something people want).

We routinely help founders with their YC apps. I have reviewed quite a few applications recently. I am keen to pay it forward as a lot of founders have helped us and continue to help us.

Common mistakes I see in YC applications (in especially Indian founders).

  • Poor writing: You must write the application with extreme clarity and brevity. If I cannot understand your application, it is unlikely that a YC partner sitting in California would understand.
    • When I give the feedback to founders to write with more clarity, I sometimes meet with resistance. They ask me to review their startup / idea / traction & the substance of the app. I understand the resistance because it feels like you are being judged on your writing ability and not your startup. That’s not true. You just don’t want your writing to come in the way of a partner reading about your startup. I understand English is many a times a second language. Still try very hard.
  • Too much local context: While writing the application, you need to make the application easy for a US person to read. The YC partners are very smart but may not understand local nuance. Your job is to make it simple for them to see your world view.
  • Founder profiles and something you have achieved: Again, I see too much local context. How would you explain to a US person your achievements?
  • Some founders mis-interpret my feedback that this is a college essay competition. It is not. Your startup is being evaluated. You can lead with metrics, traction and the magic that your startup does. All I am saying is write these facts clearly!

Writing well will help you win customers, investors, employees, build and sway opinion, so this is not futile.

Start early on that YC app. Ask non-technical friends to review and see if they understood your application. Lets go!

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