What No Means



Twice a year, Y Combinator has to say no to lots of people. Though we’ve done it 5 times already, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. Selecting a small number of investments from a much larger pool is just the nature of the business. It's particularly hard the day after we have to reject people and Hacker News is filled with woeful posts.

The top story on Hacker News yesterday was advice from someone who’d applied in the past: #1 on his/her list was not to take the rejection personally.

It’s not personal

Please don’t take a “no” from us to mean anything more than there happened to be other applications that interested us more. We get a lot of applications and it’s always difficult to choose who we’d like to interview in person. We admit that our review process is “fraught with error.”  I’m sure there are many people that we’ve passed over for funding that went on to start promising companies—and there will be many more.

Work on your idea anyway

So much of startup founders’ success rests in their attitudes. The founders we’ve funded that have been successful (so far, at least) always seem to be the ones that radiate a conviction that they will succeed no matter what. They are an elevator going up; do you want to come along for the ride?

I hope the Y Combinator application process is at least the ground floor for everyone. You’ve already accomplished some useful things: gathered commitments among cofounders, brainstormed ideas, fleshed these ideas out with some thoughtful answers, etc. But what you may not realize is that you’ve already made it through one of the toughest hurdles for startups: by applying to Y Combinator, you’ve agreed with yourself that you can start one.

So why not keep going? Even if it means just working on your startup on weekends. It’s OK if you want to keep your commitment low risk. The point is just to keep it somehow, some way.

Rejection is part of being a startup

OK, you may not have the same structure, advice, networks and extra cash that Y Combinator provides, but maybe that shouldn’t stop you. The painful reality is that if you do move forward with your startup, the YC “no” will be the first of many—even harsher—rejections you will face.

In the introduction of Founders at Work, I wrote that one of the most surprising things I learned from the interviews was how often the founders were rejected early on:

    I’d say determination was the single most important
    quality in a startup founder. If the founders I spoke with
    were superhuman in any way, it was in their perseverance.

However tomorrow turns out for you, remember why you applied in the first place: you want to start a startup. Don’t let us stop you.

Robert and Paul reviewing applications for the summer '06 funding cycle. (In the old days we used to review applications printed on paper.)