Fear of Rejection when Applying to Y Combinator

You’re probably reading this post because you want to apply to Y Combinator. If you’re thinking of applying my best advice is: Just do it. You may get in or you may not, but at least you’ll have tried. Being scared of rejection should not dissuade you from applying — if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you’re going to have to put yourself in many situations in which rejection is a real possibility, so this is a great place to start.

I’ll be honest: When we applied to YC, I was so scared we wouldn’t get in that I almost didn’t want us to apply. I felt that if we didn’t get in, we’d be so demotivated that we’d feel like failures before we even got our company off the ground. Plus, we were Silicon Valley outsiders. None of us had worked at a start-up before and I didn’t think we had a great chance of making it.

Luckily, my co-Founder Nick was more persistent (and more courageous), so we decided to go for it. But we also talked about how we’d feel if we didn’t get in. Our motto when applying was simple: “It would be great to get in, but if we don’t, we can’t let it get us down and our company will be a great success either way.”

This attitude served us well and I recommend it to anyone applying to YC now. On the one hand, we tried our best to create a great application and devoted a lot of time to it. On the other hand, we didn’t think it would be the be-all end-all if we didn’t get in. We really thought our idea was good and we were committed to succeeding even if YC didn’t let us participate in their program.

This attitude also served us well in building our company in the years since YC. We did get into YC in 2012, but we’ve been rejected countless times since then by clients, investors, and users who didn’t like what we do. To be a founder, you have to stop caring too much about external validations.

Recently, I’ve met a few founders who told me they were only going to start a company if they got into YC. If this is how you feel, then you should not apply. YC helps you tremendously and I am so glad we had the chance to do it — but it doesn’t guarantee success, nor does being rejected by YC guarantee failure.

Applying will help you clarify your idea and will strengthen your relationship with your co-founders. It’s a good thing to do either way. If you don’t get in, don’t worry — just go build your company and show the YC partners that they were wrong.

If you’re a founder and want someone to read over your application before you send it in, feel free to send it my way to elli@hireart.com. I may not have time for everyone, but I’ll try to give any quick comments I can.