Launch Pad: Inside Y Combinator, Silicon Valley’s Most Exclusive School for Startups, The,Genova, Lisa

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Number of teams that applied to Y Combinatorƒ??s summer 2011 batch: 2,089Teams interviewed: 170

Minutes per interview: 10

Teams accepted and funded: 64

Months to build a viable startup: 3

Possibilities: BOUNDLESS

Investment firm Y Combinator is the most sought-after home for startups in Silicon Valley. Twice a year, it funds dozens of just-founded startups and provides three months of guid??ance from Paul Graham, YCƒ??s impresario, and his partners, also entrepreneurs and mostly YC alumni. The list of YC-funded success stories includes Dropbox (now valued at $5 billion) and Airbnb ($1.3 billion).

Receiving an offer from YC creates the oppor??tunity of a lifetime ƒ?? itƒ??s like American Idol for budding entrepreneurs.

Acclaimed journalist Randall Stross was granted unprecedented access to Y Combinatorƒ??s summer 2011 batch of young companies, offering a unique inside tour of the world of software startups. Most of the founders were male programmers in their mid-twenties or younger. Over the course of the summer, they scrambled to heed Grahamƒ??s seemingly simple advice: make something people want.

We watch the founders work round-the-clock, developing and retooling products as diverse as a Web site that can teach anyone program??ming, to a Wikipedia-like site for rap lyrics, to software written by a pair of attorneys who seek to ƒ??make attorneys obsolete.ƒ?

Founders are guided by Grahamƒ??s notoriously direct form of tough-love feedback. ƒ??Here, we donƒ??t fire you,ƒ? he says. ƒ??The market fires you. If youƒ??re sucking, Iƒ??m not going to run along behind you, saying, ƒ??Youƒ??re sucking, youƒ??re suck??ing, cƒ??mon, stop sucking.ƒ??ƒ? Some teams would even abandon their initial idea midsummer and scramble to begin anew.

The program culminated in ƒ??Demo Day,ƒ? when founders pitched their startup to sev??eral hundred top angel investors and venture capitalists. A lucky few attracted capital that gave their startup a valuation of multiple millions of dollars. Others went back to the drawing board.

This is the definitive story of a seismic shift thatƒ??s occurred in the business world, in which coding skill trumps employment experience, pairs of undergraduates confidently take on Goliaths, tiny startups working out of an apart??ment scale fast, and investors fall in love.

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