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译文:YC孵化器都干了些什么 What Happens at Y Combinator


Y Combinator runs two three-month funding cycles a year, one from January through March and one from June through August. We ask the founders of each startup we fund to move to the Bay Area for the duration of their cycle, during which we work intensively with them to get the company into the best shape possible. Each cycle culminates in an event called Demo Day, at which the startups present to an audience that now includes most of the world’s top startup investors.

YC孵化器每年有两轮时长3个月的资助期,分别是一月到三月以及六月到八月。我们要求每个创业团队在这期间搬到Bay Area,并尽一切努力与他们一起把创业公司推上最健康的发展轨道。每一轮资助期以“Demo Day”高调收场——届时各个团队要向包括世界最顶尖的创投人士在内的一群观众进行演讲。

During each cycle we host a dinner once a week at Y Combinator and invite some eminent person from the startup world to speak. It’s a bit misleading to call these events “dinners” though, because they last half a day. People start to show up for dinners around 6 pm. We encourage founders to treat each dinner as a mini Demo Day and to show each other and us what they’ve built that week. We’ve found these weekly deadlines tend to push people to finish things in order to show them off.
每轮资助期内,我们会在YC举行每周一次的晚宴,并邀请一些创业界的实力人士来讲话。说实话叫“晚宴”略有误导,因为通常得持续半天。人们从下午六点开始逐渐聚集。我们建议创始人们把每次晚宴都当成一个迷你版的Demo Day,并与他人分享本周的进展。我们发现每周的这种赶工期有助于推动人们为了装逼而尽快完成作品。

The time before dinner is a chance for founders to talk to one another and to us in an unstructured way. Dinner itself happens around 7:15. Everyone eats together at long white tables designed by our architect Kate Courteau. The general atmosphere is like a modernist version of an Oxford college dining hall, but without a high table. 1.

The speaker usually shows up before 7 and talks informally with the founders before dinner. The actual talk happens over dessert. Most speakers are successful startup founders, and the talks are usually about the inside story of what happened in their startup(s). Talks are strictly off the record to encourage candor, because the inside story of most startups is more colorful than the one presented later to the public. Because YC has been around so long and we have personal relationships with most of the speakers, they trust that what they say won’t get out and tell us a lot of medium-secret stuff.

I didn’t consciously realize how much speakers at more public events censored themselves till I was able to compare the same people speaking off the record at YC dinners and on the record at Startup School. YC dinner talks are much more useful, because the details people omit in more public talks tend to be the most interesting parts of their stories. About half the interesting things I know about famous startups, I learned at YC dinners.
最开始我并没有意识到演讲者在公开场合会自我阉割到何等程度,直到后来我将同一个人在YC的无码演讲,与在Startup School的有码演讲加以比较。YC晚宴上的讲话会更受用一些,毕竟打码的内容通常是最有趣的。我所知道的那些创业公司的逸闻趣事,有一半都是在YC晚宴上听到的。

One founder wrote:
Most of the practical advice is redundant, but there’s value in it even as such—if you hear the same things over and over again from different angles, especially from prominent people, it tends to sink in more. The stories tend to be galvanizing though, especially hearing about the screw ups. That’s the actual beauty in the off-the-record-ness: you hear just how screwed up most of these successful startups were on the way up.

It’s a shame the only record of all the YC talks over the years is in the memories and notes of founders who heard them. It seems inefficient that only the founders in that specific batch and a handful of alumni guests get to hear each talk. We often think about this problem but there seems no way around it. If we broadcast or even recorded the talks, the speakers would clam up.

Talks end with a period of usually quite intense Q&A, after which everyone gets up and breaks into smaller informal groups, like before dinner. Nearly all speakers hang around for a while, talking to individual founders. We make a point of introducing speakers to those who particularly want to talk to them. Sometimes founders and speakers exchange contact info to talk more later. But the speakers are not the people responsible for advising the startups. They’re just an added bonus. The startups are advised by us, and sometimes also by alumni.

Half of YC is events in which all the startups participate. The other half happens in individual conversations with us. There are 16 full-time partners: Sam Altman, Tim Brady, Paul Buchheit, Dalton Caldwell, Jared Friedman, Kevin Hale, Aaron Harris, Justin Kan, Carolynn Levy, Jon Levy, Jessica Livingston, Kat Mañalac, Kirsty Nathoo, Geoff Ralston, Michael Seibel, and Qasar Younis.
16位全职合伙人:Sam Altman, Tim Brady, Paul Buchheit, Dalton Caldwell, Jared Friedman, Kevin Hale, Aaron Harris, Justin Kan, Carolynn Levy, Jon Levy, Jessica Livingston, Kat Mañalac, Kirsty Nathoo, Geoff Ralston, Michael Seibel, and Qasar Younis.
There are also 10 part-time partners: Joe Gebbia, Elizabeth Iorns, Andrew Mason, Rick Morrison, Yuri Sagalov, Emmett Shear, Ben Silbermann, Ilya Sukhar, Peter Thiel, and Anne Wojcicki.

The individual conversations with the startups happen during office hours they book online. There’s no limit to the number of office hours they can book; startups talk to us as often as they want, which in practice varies enormously depending on the startup and where we are in the cycle. The office hour software is designed not just to book slots, but to show us if startups are getting enough time with us. The office hour request queue shows us how many founders need to talk to us; when it gets long, we schedule more blocks of office hours.

What we talk about at office hours also depends on the startup and where we are in the cycle. Usually we talk about whatever is the most urgent question right now. Sometimes, especially early on, the most urgent question is to figure out what the most urgent question should be. That’s less trivial than it sounds; we spend a lot of time telling founders what not to worry about.

(About 10% of the time we talk not about immediate problems but about the big vision for the company. You don’t have to be bound by this, but it’s good to have one. Some startups arrive with a big vision already, but most don’t. It’s a useful exercise to spend some time thinking about what the path would be from what a startup is doing now to a giant company, even if that’s not the current goal of the founders. Helping founders come up with these big visions is one of our strengths, because we’ve explored so much of the space of startup ideas that we know what’s over each hill.)

If the startup either hasn’t decided what to work on or wants to change their idea, then we talk about what the company should do. That usually means satisfying two constraints: something (1) users would want, that (2) the founders of this startup would be good at building. We have these types of conversations surprisingly often. Startups modify or even replace their ideas much more than outsiders realize. By Demo Day perhaps 15% are working on new ideas that grew out of conversations during office hours. Some of the most successful startups we’ve funded have.
如果创业者既没有决定要干点啥,然后又没打算改变思路,那么对话内容就会集中在“现在该干啥”。“干啥”通常要满足两个限制条件:(1)用户要什么,以及(2)创业者擅长干什么。这类对话的频度出奇地高。与局外人的观感相悖:创业者修改甚至更换创业目标的概率是很高的。一般到了Demo Day,大概15%的团队会奋斗在通过“对话时间”选择的新的创业道路上。这其中不乏成功团队。

If the question of what the company should do is settled, the most urgent question tends to be what to build first. Usually we advise startups to launch fast and iterate. This doesn’t apply to all startups (Clustrix, for example), but it works for most. The reason we advise startups to launch fast is that till you launch you’re designing for hypothetical or at best tame users, instead of actual ones. Once you launch you begin the conversation with real users, whose often surprising reactions to your product teach you what you should have been building.

Usually we advise startups to launch when they’ve built something with a quantum of utility—when they’ve built something sufficiently better than existing options that at least some users would say “I’m glad this appeared, because now I can finally do x.” If what you’ve built is a subset of existing technology at the same price, then users have no reason to try it, which means you don’t get to start the conversation with them. You need a quantum of utility to get a toehold.

Since there are a large number of points on the perimeter of most existing technologies at which one could push outward to create a quantum blister, what to build first is one of the most important questions we talk about. The general answer is to pick something where the product of how fast it can be built and how excited users would be about it is high. (How excited is distinct from how many would be excited.) But in practice the answer tends to be very specific to each startup. The goal is for office hours to end with the founders having a clear direction and saying “OK, we’ll go build x.” That goal is almost always achieved, though in practice about 10% of the time x turns out to be a bad idea and we have to go back to the drawing board.

Deciding what to build is not simply a technical question, because a startup is a company, not just a piece of software. The larval product should also have a larval business model. Like the product, this can change, but there should usually be an initial hypothesis about who to charge, how much to charge them, and how to reach them.

If a startup has built something that’s ready to launch, then the conversations at office hours tend to be about how to launch it. That’s two questions: how to present it to users, and how to present it to the press and investors. If the startup has a web site, we try to ensure it’s at least above a basic threshold of usability. Startup web sites tend to be confusing to users who show up for the first time with no idea what the company is doing (and not caring that much either), so it’s critical the site convey clearly and briefly what it is. Two partners, Garry Tan and Kevin Hale, are designers who can give advice about site design. As a writer, Paul Graham can often help startups come up with a concise explanation of what they do.
通常,创业团队的网站对第一次访问的用户(往往不知道也不关心这家公司是干啥的)总是充满迷惑,所以一个简单明了的总结非常重要。YC的两位合伙人,Garry Tan和Kevin Hale将作为设计师给网站提设计意见;而作为一名作家,Paul Graham常常帮团队网站写简明扼要的说明以解释其功能。

The second half of launching, explaining the company to the press, is also the beginning of explaining it to investors. When each startup is ready to launch, they stand in front of a whiteboard with a YC partner and figure out what the basic pitch should be. The founders usually photograph this and writes up an initial draft that we help revise. On the day they launch, we turn that into an email to whatever publication they’ve chosen (most often TechCrunch). They’re free to contact the publication themselves, of course, but the reasons we usually help them with the intial intro is because (a) we help them use plain language instead of the marketing-speak even technical founders often revert to when describing their own companies, and (b) journalists know we can’t bullshit them, or they’ll stop believing us.

The whiteboard pitch is useful for more than just launching. It becomes the basis of how the company will describe itself, particularly to investors. In fact it usually helps the founders themselves both clarify and agree with one another about the vision for the company.

If a company is launched and has users (about a quarter are before they come to YC), then the conversations at office hours tend to be about the various things that happen to actually launched companies. Most things that happen to newly launched startups are bad. But paradoxically, these disasters are precisely the reason to launch fast: they all represent problems you’re going to need to solve eventually, and the only way even to find out what they are is to launch. In practice they vary from technological bottlenecks to threats of lawsuits, but the most common problem is that users don’t like the product enough.

This is normal; it’s to learn where your initial hypothesis is wrong that you launch. Now at least you have some evidence to analyze. So for companies at this stage, the conversations at office hours tend to be about how to figure out from available evidence what users want, how to get more data about what they want, and how to reach more of them. It’s similar to the initial phase when we’re trying to figure out where on the perimeter of existing technology to break out, particularly in the sense that the search space is huge. Fortunately this is an area where our experience advising so many startups is especially useful. This is detective work, and we are experienced detectives.

As the 3 month cycle progresses, conversations at office hours start to be about investors as well as the company. Some questions all startups have, like what the fundraising strategy should be. How much should they raise, and from whom, and when should they start? The answers depend on the startup. Some startups are immediately attractive, and they’ll find it easy to raise money. Others are ugly ducklings, who will grow into swans in time, but initially should try to raise a comparatively small amount of angel money and use that to get the company to a more swanlike stage. 2.

It’s important for a startup to have an accurate estimate of their fundraising potential, because raising money is like choosing an angle of attack for a plane. If you try to climb too steeply you just stall. Similarly, if you try to raise too much for the stage you’re at, you’ll not only waste lots of time and end up with nothing to show for it, you’ll even jeopardize your chances of raising a smaller amount, because your initial leads will cool as you start to seem shelfworn. Fortunately this is another area where our experience helps. We can predict based on data about hundreds of previous startups what investors’ reactions to you will be and suggest an appropriate strategy.

Once fundraising starts, the conversations about it at office hours shift from the strategic to the tactical. Raising money is, unfortunately, usually a question of breaking deadlocks. Once you start to get hard commitments from investors, more investors want in. So the most important tactical question is usually who to close first, and how to convince them. This again is something where our experience helps, because we know a lot of the investors’ personalities from previous interactions. At this stage we do more than advise, though: we also talk directly to investors to help convince them. We can often do this more credibly than the founders themselves could, because we have to tell the truth; if we bullshit investors, they’ll stop believing us.

The goal of course is not just to get the startup money, but to get it from the investors who will help them most. Our knowledge of investors helps us identify those as well as convince them.

As Demo Day approaches, conversations at office hours start to be dominated by questions about presentations. This is the busiest part of the cycle for us. Since the startups are at different stages, they need to talk to us different amounts the rest of the cycle. But the week before Demo Day they all need to talk to us about what to say on Demo Day. So during that week office hours run together into one long rehearsal. We’re there most days well into the night as founders come in and rehearse successive versions of their presentations.
随着Demo Day越来越近,对话时间开始被与演讲相关的内容占据。这是YC最忙的一段时间。既然团队各自处在不同的阶段,他们在资助期之后也应该各自有各自的对话安排——然而在Demo Day之前的一周,他们关心的内容都是“我应该在Demo Day上演示什么”。于是这周的对话时间就连成了一次漫长的彩排——这段时间我们总是守到半夜,帮各个创始人一遍又一遍地迭代他们的演说。

Usually we begin with a whiteboard conversation like the one before launching, during which we figure out the most important points to convey. Then the startup makes a presentation based on that, we (and whatever other founders are around) watch it, and then they fix what’s broken and try again. These sessions make the presentations markedly better than they’d otherwise have been. Startups who come to YC a lot the week before Demo Day always have better presentations than the ones who for whatever reason don’t, even if their companies aren’t actually as good.
通常我们会从之前提过的白板大法开始,并且在过程中确定哪几个最重要的点要覆盖。接着团队就基于此做一次演讲,我们(以及周围的所有其他创始人)观看,然后团队把过程中的失误纠正,接着再做一次。这样的特训使得演讲最终能达到远高于初始状态的水平。Demo Day前一周跟我们耗费较多时间的团队,往往最终演讲的水平也更高——即便他们的公司本身不一定优秀。

Office hours don’t stop after the 3 month cycle ends. In fact, the only thing that stops at the end of the 3 month cycle is the dinners. We have office hours year round, and startups from all previous cycles can book time whenever they want. (Except during interviews, and the first week of each cycle and the week before Demo Day, which we reserve for the startups in that cycle.) We still talk regularly with founders from the first YC batch in the summer of 2005.

Eventually we may hit some kind of limit on the number of people we can advise, but we haven’t hit it yet. There are only 4 weeks a year (2 each cycle) when so many people want office hours that we have to limit them to startups in the current batch. And the length of the office hour request queue shows us that, as of now at least, we’re never so overloaded that we can’t satisfy everyone who wants to talk to us.

Demo Day has become a big deal. From the first one, which had 15 people in the audience, it has grown into a day-long event for about 450 investors. The important thing is not the size of the audience, however, but who those 450 people are. We doubt there’s another occasion when such a large percentage of the top startup investors are all in one place.
Demo Day 已经从最开始的15位观众,发展成了长达一天的、有450位投资人参加的大型活动。不过重点不在观众的数量,而在于这450人都是谁。在我看来,可能没有任何其他活动能一次性召集这么多顶尖创投人士了。

There’s no specific thing startups are expected to be able to present on Demo Day. The startups we fund are all at different stages when the 3 months start, and some reset the clock by changing their idea. So the goal on Demo Day is simply for startups to present their product or service as convincingly as they can for the stage they’re at.
Demo Day并不要求团队非得展示点什么成果。我们支持的团队3个月前处于各自不同的发展阶段;其中一些团队因为改变想法而推倒重来。因此Demo Day的目标,仅仅是让团队以最令人置信的方式展示他们处于当下阶段的产品或者服务。

Between and after the presentations on Demo Day, founders and investors mingle and talk further. The goal for startups is to introduce themselves. Most of the convincing investors to invest happens in subsequent meetings.
在Demo Day的演讲期间以及结束后,创始人和投资人会互相接触并交流。创始人应集中于介绍自己。对投资人的说服工作,绝大多数发生在后续的会面中。

After Demo Day what the startups usually have is a bunch of great contacts. If a startup plans to raise money after YC, these contacts are a great place to start. Our default advice is to do a breadth first search, weighted by expected value. For example, an angel who will decide quickly but will invest a small amount might have the same expected value as a VC who would invest a lot, but could take weeks to make up their minds. Whereas an angel who will only invest a small amount and will take weeks to make up his or her mind has a lower expected value and should be put on the back burner. Fortunately because we not only know many of these prospective investors but can predict their reaction to each specific startup, we can advise startups what the weight should be for each lead. There are a few investors for whom it should be zero, and we can tell startups about those too.

In the weeks following Demo Day we keep in close touch with the startups as they negotiate the fundraising maze, and help them decipher the real messages in investors’ sometimes deliberately ambiguous responses. Often we talk to the investors ourselves, to find out what they’re really thinking about a particular startup.

Because YC-funded startups are a known quantity to investors and get introduced to enough of them to create serious price competition, companies tend to get higher valuations than they might otherwise. One founder wrote:

I would bet any day that my cap was significantly higher (probably 2x) as a direct result of being part of YC.

Though probably more important than valuation is that startups get the investors they want.

We’re in favor of startups raising some angel (size) money during YC if they can do it without taking too much time away from working on the company. Though it might seem great to raise series A before Demo Day, we don’t encourage most companies to try. It’s risky to get into series A negotiations too early, because these draw the founders’ attention away from working on the company and often end in a no, whereupon the company would be screwed on Demo Day because they’d have neither a deal nor impressive progress on its product or service. But if VC interest crosses a certain threshold, we’ll often advise a company to risk it and seek series A.
我们乐于看到团队在YC期间融一小笔天使资金,如果团队能确保不在这上面消耗太多时间的话。虽然在DD之前就拿到A轮听起来很屌,但我们通常不建议大部分团队去尝试。这么早便宣布A轮,会不会让人感觉是钦点:创始人将为此消耗大量工作时间,而失败的概率也非常高,等到Demo Day时就悲剧了——既没有拿到融资,而自己的产品或服务也没有太大进展。当然,如果风投的兴趣超过了某个给定限度,我们其实也常常建议某些公司冒险试试A轮。

We have several other events during each cycle. The first, Prototype Day, happens about 2 weeks in. At Prototype Day all the startups present to one another for the first time. The goals are (a) to make sure everyone knows what everyone else is working on, in case they can help, and (b) to get the founders to start thinking about how to present what they’re doing. At this stage, though, the founders should still be focusing more on building than presenting, so we suggest they not spend too much time on their presentations, and to keep the pressure low, no one except the current batch of startups gets to see them.
每轮资助期还有一些别的活动。 首先是“原型展示日”,大概在过了两周的时候举行。在原展上,所有团队将第一次作互相演讲。活动的目标是(1)保证每个人都知道其他团队在干什么,以促进互相帮助,以及(2)让创始人开始思考:如何跟他人介绍自己的工作。当然,在这个阶段创始人应该集中精力做产品,因此我们建议大家不要花太多时间在演讲上,同时也不要有太大压力,毕竟除目前这批团队以外,不会有其他观众。

A week before Demo Day we have another event called Rehearsal Day. The format is just like Prototype Day, except now the presentations are supposed to be the first drafts of the startups’ actual Demo Day presentations.

Towards the end of the cycle we bring in 5 or 6 of the best fundraisers from among the alumni to talk candidly about their experiences and give advice to the startups about what they should do. There is a certain kind of brutal candor only peers can deliver, and if there’s one topic where it’s warranted, this is it.

The day before Demo Day we run an event called Alumni Demo Day, which has the same format, but is for an audience of just alumni. The goal is to iron the last bugs out of everyone’s presentations in front of a friendly audience.

Now that there are so many alumni, we can have entire conferences where the speakers and the audience are all YC alumni. This makes it possible to talk about controversial things without worrying they’ll be repeated. These are not part of any specific cycle, but when one occurs during a cycle the startups in it are of course invited.