Jason Freedman via TwitterJason Freedman has started multiple companies and gone through Paul Graham’s world-renowned startup accelerator program, Y Combinator.
Y Combinator offers startups a lot of benefits: an amazing network of alumni, famous founders who share advice, weekly dinners and peer presentations, a $15,000 investment, and access to tons of investors at Demo Day.
When one of Freedman’s companies was failing, he and his team tried a mental trick: they pretended they were back in Y Combinator and gave themselves the same kind of schedule. When their work ethic changed, the business changed too.
Freedman and his colleagues re-read essays by Graham to get mentally prepared. They presented weekly progress reports to each other, batted around ideas and pressured themselves to launch something great, quickly. They recited popular YC mantras including “Make Something People Want” and “Be a cockroach, impossible to kill.” Lastly, they set a Demo Day for themselves. Their Demo Day involved mastering a pitch and presenting to potential big-name customers rather than investors.
When the “Demo Day” hit, Freedman wowed the travel agencies he was trying to win as clients. The newfound interest from the agencies led to newfound interest from investors. Eventually, interested acquirers came along and one of them bought Freedman’s company.
“While there are definitely a lot of advantages to being in the YC program, the fact is you don’t need them to succeed,” Freedman writes of the experience. “You can get a huge chunk of the value of YC without actually being in the program.”
You won’t get access to YC’s network or cash, but Freedman suggests using Hacker News for advice instead, a site where smart founders frequent. You can also watch a lot of famous founders share advice with the YC community online; many of the keynotes are posted in YC’s startup school archives. As for the money, $15,000 isn’t life changing. It probably won’t make or break your startup.
“I was amazed how simply adding some YC-like structure to those several months made everything we were doing feel better,” Freedman writes. “Before that, we had been pretty lost. But once we pretended to be in YC, we were motivated because we had a schedule to hit.”