How to Survive a YC Rejection

How to Survive a YC Rejection

Thousands of aspiring startups from around the world apply for Y Combinator (YC) twice a year. According to Fortune, one of the recent batches received 7,000 applications and only 106 got accepted; that is a 1.5% acceptance rate. For comparison, Stanford had a 5.1% student acceptance rate in 2014; Harvard’s 2014 acceptance rate was 5.9%. That’s difficult.

What is Y Combinator

For those of you who haven’t heard of YC (or have been living under a rock), Y Combinator is the most successful startup accelerator program in the world. Some of its most successful alumni include Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Loopt, Heroku, Wufoo, Reddit, and many more. Y Combinator also provides seed funding for startups to help them get settled in the Valley, especially during the intensive seven-week program.

Kami (previously Notable PDF) has been rejected so many times, got our first interview last Summer ’15 batch and received our second interview invite for upcoming Winter ’16. I will talk more about our experience in another blog post. In the meantime, this list can hopefully help you go through this difficult heartbreak.

1. You wish the YC rejection email was a physical object so you could just blow it up a million times

yc rejection 01

Don’t blow it.

I know it is difficult to read it or even keep it in your inbox, but, truth be told, that is your battle scar. Do not let an email ruin your startup dreams. My co-founders and I have received so many of those and never did we think of ending our startup journey. Yes, we felt really bad, and it sucks getting rejected. But the reality is that you will be rejected many times, whether it is applying for YC or getting investment. As a founder, you need to learn how to treat rejection as a moment for you to reflect and not to end your startup. It is the time for you (and your co-founders) to go through the 4Ws and 1H:

a. What went wrong

b. Why you didn’t get in

c. Who to talk to and get some advice

d. How to do better, whether you want to apply again or not.

There's a rainbow after the rain... or something like that. You know, one of those quotes to make you feel better.

There’s a rainbow after the rain… or something like that. You know, one of those quotes to make you feel better.

2. Yout think YC is ‘missing out’ for rejecting you.

YC believes that it will miss out on great opportunities. With thousands of applications each year, the process of accepting the ‘best ones’ or ‘future success stories’ is a very difficult job. No one knows the right formula, and even YC thinks there’s room for improvement. Therefore, don’t let this ‘failure’ stop you from doing a startup.

Imagine going through thousands of applications. What would you do? What would you think of your application?

Imagine going through thousands of applications. What would you do? What would you think of your application?

You may decide on persevering on what you have or pivoting toward another product, but always remember that this is not the end of it.

It's done. It's gone. Now move on like Frodo.

It’s done. It’s gone. Now move on, Frodo.

3. My startup is doomed to fail because YC rejected us

Yes, no, and maybe… If you haven’t realised it yet, your startup’s success relies on you and your team. This is not Hollywood. Not all happy endings rely on winning something. Yes, YC is very beneficial for a startup, but if you rely on YC (or any other accelerator program) to reach your big startup dream, then you have a big problem. If you fail, don’t blame it on your product, the market, your users, YC, or anyone else for that matter. Even some YC alumni fail even before demo day. Hold on to your faith.

Get it done!

Focus on your startup

 4. You’re not alone.

yc rejection 08



The Ultimate ‘Healing the Broken YC Heart’ Kit:

1. Watch Silicon Valley marathon – it’s the chick flick for startup kids   2 What is life… right?           3. (Wo)Man up and watch at least one of the videos         4. Retail Therapy via Random Amazon Products random amazon product 5. MUST Watch YC Partner Justin Kan’s (hilarious) inspiring video Have you applied for YC or thinking of applying in the future? Share your story below. 

Alliv Samson
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Alliv Samson

Co-founder at Kami
Alliv Samson is Kami Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer. Follow Alliv at @allivsamson
Alliv Samson
Follow me