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Taking part in Y Combinator from Europe: is it worth it?

Sifted | Anh-Tho Chuong | Sep 16, 2021

Anh Tho Chuong - Taking part in Y Combinator from Europe: is it worth it?Precious days spent working on our application, labouring over every word, filming our one-minute video over and over. Hundreds of pages of paperwork to register the company in the US, tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees. And the biggest sacrifice of all: 7% of our company.

These are all the things we had to give away to have a chance at participating in the world’s most famous accelerator programme, Y Combinator.

We breathed a sigh of relief when we got the email telling us we had a spot.

But what’s Y Combinator really like for a European company? And is the intense programme really worth it?

YC or not YC: our rationale

Capital has become increasingly abundant in the European ecosystem, especially for experienced operators like my cofounders and myself; I was the first employee and VP Growth of Qonto, a European fintech unicorn. So naturally, we considered taking a term sheet for a pre-product seed round when we created the company in March 2021. That would have given us a secure runway for the next two years so we could focus on building.

On the other hand, joining YC meant investing time and equity, both precious commodities for founders. But we believed Y Combinator would give us global exposure from day one.

What was it actually like?

Our batch was fully remote and included 400+ companies. Less than 10% of the cohort were female founders. It officially started in early June and ended with the Demo Day at the end of August, where each founder gave a one-minute pitch to 1000+ investors.

Here are our main learnings:

1/ The sooner you adapt to the new rhythm, the better

YC organizes two to four sessions per week: all-hands sessions, some featuring YC alumni, group office hours and individual office hours.

It’s easy to get overly excited and spend a lot of time listening to shiny alumni stories, rather than focusing on what really matters: building something people want. That’s why we quickly split up and had only one of us — we are three cofounders at Lago — attend each session based on who would benefit the most from the insights.

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Juggling creating value from the programme and the network, committing to bi-weekly goals and leading the Lago team on a daily basis completely disrupted our existing rhythm. This pushed us to iterate faster. We were constantly held accountable and challenged by our YC partners, but this at times stretched us and our employees very thin. Be prepared to adapt fast.

2/ Leverage Bookface

We also quickly learnt that we had to be entrepreneurial in the way we built and got value out of our YC experience. Don’t expect any hand-holding, especially now that the batches are massive and 100% remote. So be prepared to leverage Bookface.

Bookface is YC’s knowledge base, and it answers 80% of the questions a founder can have about building and selling a product, be it to clients, candidates or investors. It’s the most valuable content I’ve ever read. I spent my first nights at YC crunching every article on my own, selecting insights and defining takeaways from them for our team.

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Bookface also offers a YC investor database that pulls together information on relevant investors, ticket size, specific interest, and curated reviews from other founders. This enabled me to build an extensive list of relevant target investors, prepare for pitch meetings — based on YC alum advice — conduct due diligence and have a complete fundraising battleplan in a few hours. We only used our partners’ time to review the preparatory work we had done on our own, practice pitches, and get help to negotiate the term sheets we got.

3/ Seek support outside the official program 

YC offers a wide support system outside the official batch programme, especially from alumni. We had our technical infrastructure reviewed by a CTO who scaled his company to unicorn status, for instance. Before Demo Day, female alumni also offered ‘fundraising as a female founder’ specific coaching as well. As YC is more a ‘buffet’ than a predefined experience, it’s easy to get lost in the sea of support that is offered, and not spend enough time actually building the product or talking to users. We constantly fought to find this balance.

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NCFA Jan 2018 resize - Taking part in Y Combinator from Europe: is it worth it? The National Crowdfunding & Fintech Association (NCFA Canada) is a financial innovation ecosystem that provides education, market intelligence, industry stewardship, networking and funding opportunities and services to thousands of community members and works closely with industry, government, partners and affiliates to create a vibrant and innovative fintech and funding industry in Canada. Decentralized and distributed, NCFA is engaged with global stakeholders and helps incubate projects and investment in fintech, alternative finance, crowdfunding, peer-to-peer finance, payments, digital assets and tokens, blockchain, cryptocurrency, regtech, and insurtech sectors. Join Canada's Fintech & Funding Community today FREE! Or become a contributing member and get perks. For more information, please visit: www.ncfacanada.org

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