💡 This post is the first part of a series talking about my experience applying to and taking part in the Sumer 2020 batch of Y Combinator with my company, Basedash. Other posts in the series dive deeper into the YC interview, whether YC is worth it, how to take advantage of the batch, and the post-batch experience.
Applying to Y Combinator is intimidating. The application is long, the interview is intense, and there’s a long list of great startups to compare yourself against.
That being said, the YC application is one of my favorite exercises to orient myself and my company. I went through Y Combinator in 2020, and I still occasionally fill out the application as an exercise for myself.
Like most YC founders, I applied multiple times—4 to be exact—with multiple ideas. I interviewed twice (with two different ideas), and was accepted to the Summer 2020 batch with my company, Basedash.
This post is a collection of all the knowledge I wish I had when I was applying. It covers specific advice on all the questions that I think are important, as well as some general advice to follow across your application.
I’ll start with some general advice, which you can find below. I’ve also included the application that got Basedash into the Summer 2020 batch so you can see what a successful application looks like.
You’ll notice that my application doesn’t follow all of my own advice—I’ve learned a lot since applying back in 2019. Do as I say, not as I did.
Notably, I don’t know anything about the inner workings of how YC reviews an application—this guide simply outlines my personal approach that led to Basedash being accepted. There are probably other approaches that work too!
Collaborative database interface for teams.
Basedash is a collaborative database interface that lets team members view and edit data directly from their production database. It's like Airtable but for your existing database.
💡 This is the most important question in the application (and also the first question in the YC interview). Your answer will form the basis for the reviewer’s understanding of the rest of your application. After reading your answer, you want the reviewer to have a clear picture in their mind of what your product is, and why it’s valuable. I’d recommend testing your answer with people who are not familiar with your product to see if they understand what you do. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you want my thoughts. If you’re making an “X but Y” comparison (like I did here with Airtable), make sure that “X” is very well known.
(List as City A, Country A / City B, Country B.)
Montreal, Canada / Unknown
💡 YC accepts companies from all around the world, and doesn’t require you to move to the Bay Area.
I managed to continue working on my company as my capstone project for school until I graduate. I also recruited a technical student as a partner working full-time hours for free (don't worry, they signed an NDA & IP agreement).
💡 One of my personal favorite questions. You can get creative here.
I cofounded Scholarly (now ScholarMe), which was part of YC S19.
💡 This video is the best place to show your relationship with your co-founder(s) if you have any. Also, not essential, but try to have a good video setup (lighting, audio, background). Check out YC’s official video guidelines here.
99% by myself
I have a friend doing some technical work for free under an NDA and IP agreement
💡 Best if it has all been done by founders.
💡 Yes, YC does accept solo founders.
MVP fully developed, launched on Product Hunt a couple months ago
💡 YC accepts companies of all stages, from idea to post-Series A.
6 months dabbling with the idea, 3 months full-time
Got a couple YC companies trying it out (ReadyEducation, ScholarMe)
Strong interest from companies using the product (Adalo)
💡 Clearly, revenue is not that important.
Just got a small grant to start focusing more on marketing over the next few months.
I discovered the need for this product after working on another startup. We found there were no good tools for managing data with teams. We really wanted to use Airtable's interface for our own database.
💡 Easiest if you have a personal need for the product you’re building. If not, give proof that others have a strong need/desire.
Combines traditional database interfaces with analytics dashboards while adding collaboration. People resort to passing raw data between teams which is inefficient and unsafe.
💡 The alternatives should sound painful.
Forest Admin, Mode, Prisma
Internal is the most similar but Basedash has a superior set-up process and interface which are key for this product.
💡 Don’t be afraid to list big companies, but give clear reasoning for why you think you can win.
Software is built by teams, not individuals.
💡 You want to show a unique insight that gives you a strong moat over your competitors. Best if you have validation around your insight through users.
Selling a subscription to companies for complete access to the product. Potentially as much as Tableau (~$1.2B).
💡 You should mention one of the nine main business models: SaaS, transactional, marketplace, hard-tech, usage-based, enterprise, advertising, e-commerce, bio. You should also include a bottoms-up market analysis with a resulting valuation between $1–10B. For example: There are 1M software engineers in the US. We plan to charge $2500/year. This gives us a market size of $2.5B.
Typical marketing to tech companies (SEO, SEM, content marketing, etc.). I'm planning to test various methods over the next few months to find the best technique. No chicken-egg problem.
💡 Best if you have traction with a GTM strategy already. Also worth mentioning if there’s a specific place (on the internet) where your users hang out (e.g. Discord servers, subreddits, niche web communities).
Corporation in Canada (registered in Quebec)
Fully owned by me
Included managed database hosting
💡 I like the idea of including an adjacent product or major feature addition to your product here. Also, check out YC’s requests for startups here to see what types of companies they’re interested in: https://www.ycombinator.com/rfs
My last name is Musing which is slightly amusing
💡 Another fun question, seems to be mostly a personality test.
Get to know what Basedash can do and how it changes traditional internal tools.
See a full app that connects to a Postgres database and external API made from scratch.
Ship your product faster.
Worry about internal tools less.
No credit card required.
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