About 90 minutes into Y Combinator’s Demo Day, my grasp on reality started to slip. In an auditorium at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum, a founder of Vinebox—a subscription-service startup that ships “wine by the glass,” packaged in cigar-sized vials—was pitching to a room of potential investors from high-profile venture capital firms. “We are in a single-serve revolution,” the founder said authoritatively, and a loneliness swept through me. Thirty companies had presented before him, including MagicBus (“Google shuttles for everyone”); Tovala (“We’ve built an incredibly smart oven”); and on-demand beautician service, StyleBee (“In the future, beauty salons as we know them today will cease to exist”). I dashed off a despairing email to my boyfriend, a roboticist, who responded immediately. “Assume genuine intentions,” he chided. I sent another email to a friend in New York, a book editor. “What godforsaken convention are you at anyway?” she replied.
Y Combinator (YC) is a prestigious Silicon Valley startup accelerator. Since 2005, it has helped fund, connect, and launch a slew of tech companies, some of which have gone on to become highly valued and culturally influential—Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, and Stripe all matriculated at YC. (Full disclosure: in 2013 and 2014, I worked for another YC graduate.) The accelerator offers three months of rigorous guidance and training, indefinite professional resources, and $120,000—in exchange for a 7 percent stake. Joining Y Combinator is a strong way to situate your startup in the tech industry. There is a robust and supportive alumni network, and people who have been through Y Combinator cannot say enough good things about it.