Summer Founders Program
Y Combinator's first project is to fund a crop of new startups this summer.
The Summer Founders Program preserves many
features of a conventional summer job.
You have to move here (Cambridge) for the summer, as with a regular
summer job. We give you enough money to live on for a summer, as
with a regular summer job. You get to work on real problems, as
you would in a good summer job. But instead of working for an
existing company, you'll be working for your own; instead showing
up at some office building at 9 AM, you can work when and where you
like; and instead of salary, the money you get will be seed funding.
What happens at the end of the summer? That's up to you. If you
want, you can mothball or dissolve your startup, and no
harm done. If you want to keep going and we think your company is
promising, we'll probably be able to help you get more funding.
Succeeding as a Summer Founder does not imply dropping out of school.
If this summer's experiment works, we may fund promising groups
through several successive summers. Perhaps one day, instead of
working at a series of unrelated summer jobs, ambitious undergrads
will spend their summers building themselves a company, which they
can then plunge into year-round when they graduate.
But even if your project fails and you give up at the end of the summer,
you'll be better off than if you'd taken most summer jobs. It will
be difficult to get into this program, so being able to say on your
resume that you were a Summer Founder should carry more weight than
an ordinary summer job. You'll learn way more than you would in
most summer jobs, and you'll probably meet more interesting people.
If you're accepted, we'll deal with the paperwork for you. We'll
incorporate you, if need be, get you a corporate bank account,
supply simple, generic employment agreements for you to use, and
so on. We can give some advice about patents, though you don't
have to deal with that in the earliest stages; you have a year after
making a discovery to file a US patent application for it.
We'll have some smart people who are willing to talk over your plans
with you, and suggest pitfalls and new ideas. We may also have
connections to companies you'd like to do deals with. But how much
you want to take advantage of our advice and connections is up to
We'll organize some kind of dinner once a week for all the Summer
Founders, so you can meet one another and compare notes. We'll try
to get some expert in technology, business, or law to speak at each
dinner. But beyond that we'll be hands-off. We don't plan to
interfere in your company the way ordinary VC firms or "incubators"
do. We won't insist on being on your board of directors, or that
you get a business guy to be your CEO, or that you work in our
building. We expect you to work out of whatever apartment you can
find to live in. It is probably no coincidence that so many
successful startups have started in apartments; it is the ideal
setup for the initial phase.
(We have some space you can use in emergencies. But only dire and
temporary ones, like the death of your Internet connection, or the
people in the apartment downstairs having a three-day party.)
Though this program is designed to be convenient for people still
in school, any group can apply. Indeed, the ideal startup from our
point of view would be mix of some people still in grad school and
some who've finished. But while the mid-20s is probably the ideal
age, we'd consider betting on a team of college
freshmen if they seemed smart enough.
The people are what matter most to us. We plan to use the animal
test I described in How to Start a Startup, plus, for technical
people, the first two of the three tests we used for hackers. (We
don't care about the third, so long as you can stand one another.)
We consider the technologies you plan to use an indication of
your ability. If you plan to develop software in
and we see no reason the application demands it, we'll wonder if
it's because you can only think in Blub.
Likewise for OSes. If your project has to be a desktop app (question:
does it?), you probably need a Windows version. At least
till Google crawls down the pipe onto the desktop, and makes the
OS underneath irrelevant. If you're developing "enterprise" software,
you might even want to write server-based apps on NT. But if you
propose to write a server-based app for the general public (e.g. a
dating site) on NT, you should be prepared to explain what you know
about servers that Yahoo and Google don't.
We expect you to have some definite plan for the company you want
to create, but we also expect you to modify this plan as you go.
It would be a bad sign if you didn't. If at the end of the summer
some group is still doing precisely what they said they would, it's
probably because they're out of touch with the market, not because
they scored a perfect bullseye with the idea.
We don't expect you to have a formal business plan yet. All you
have to do is fill out an application. If you're accepted, we'll
write the initial check to you personally, so you have enough money
to get here and rent an apartment. (I always wished companies
hiring me for summer jobs realized how inconvenient it was to wait
for that first paycheck.) If you aren't already incorporated--
which we greatly prefer, because it's simpler if everyone's paperwork is
the same-- we'll incorporate you when you get here. The remaining
checks will go to your company. Since you'll be the officers, you
can spend the money however you like.
We want to fund as many startups as possible, so we're not going
to give each one much more than you'll need for living expenses.
We estimate living in or near Cambridge for the summer to cost about
$6000 per person, including travel. If you need expensive hardware,
we'll consider it, but the odds of being accepted are lower. It's
in your interest to take little money in the earliest stages, because
you give up less of the company for it.
The ideal company would have two or three founders. We'll consider
those with four or five. We're unlikely to accept one-person
companies, because (a) it's too much work for one person, and
(b) if you can't talk any of your friends into starting a company
with you, your idea is probably not viable.
You don't have to have all the founders
here for the summer, but you should be missing at most one. You
can of course leave town whenever you need to. It's your company.
I've been writing as if all the startups had to develop software.
That's because that's what we know about, and where a lot of the
opportunities are now. But we'll consider startups in any field.
We are looking for winners, though. The original motivation of
this project was benevolent, but this is not a charity. If our
investments pay off, we can invest in more startups, and if they
don't, we can't keep doing this indefinitely. We're looking for
startups we believe will succeed according to the classic metric
of making money.
So take care to avoid a common trap founders fall into: starting a
company you think will be amusing. Getting rich is hard but doable.
Getting a fun job is hard but doable. Trying to solve both problems
simultaneously approaches impossible.
Startups can be fun at times, but you're doomed if you design one
with that in mind. The function of a company (as opposed to a
nonprofit) is to make money. If you stray too far from that, it's
easy to cross over into losing money, at which point any company
has to stop. So we will have a stricter filter for groups with the
default ambition of CS undergrads (multiplayer games) than for those
who plan to build some unromantic but very definite piece of
technological plumbing. Propose games if you want, but you'd better
be ready to explain what makes you unique.
This is not a contest. This is actual venture funding. So (unlike
the MIT Entrepreneurship Competition, for example) we won't publicize
the companies that get funded, unless for some reason you want us
to. Startups should keep a low profile during the seed stage.
Before you have a product you want customers for, publicizing your
plans helps competitors more than you.
We don't care if you're US citizens, but you have to be in the
country already. We can't get visas for you. We know India and
China are full of smart people who'd like to come and contribute
to the growth of the US economy, but our government won't let us
bring you here to do it.
We know you have to decide about summer jobs soon, which is why
we're announcing this program before we even have a name. So here's
- Choose the people you want to start a startup with. You apply
as a group. It could be April 10 before you get an answer, so
don't include anyone who can't change their summer plans that late.
- Fill out the
and send it as a regular ascii
text email (no attachments please) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
email address may change. The deadline for applications is 11:59
PM EST on March 26. You get extra points for applying early;
people who move quickly are more likely to succeed in startups.
Your from email address = your identity at this stage. If you want
to change something, don't send us corrections; resubmit your whole
application. You can resubmit up to 2 times (total 3) before the
deadline, but only from the same address. Your application will
be credited with the time of the first application. One
person can appear in multiple applications, but in that case at
most one of them will be accepted.
- A few days after March 26 we'll reply with one of three
responses: yes, no, or come to meet us.
Yes answers will include the valuation at which we're willing to
invest. It will ordinarily be in the low to mid hundreds of
thousands, but may occasionally be higher.
Unless you've told us about specific hardware you need,
the total investment will be about $6000n, where n is the number
of people you'll be sending to Cambridge for the summer.
No answers won't be accompanied by a reason why we didn't invest.
Don't take it personally. All selection processes are fraught with
error; we wish more would admit it.
Come to meet us means we want you to come to Cambridge on the weekend
of April 9/10. We'd like you to bring as many people as you can,
but we'll only reimburse you for up to $300 for travel, so you don't
need to bring everyone if you can't afford it. A few days later
we'll reply yes or no (see above).
- If you accept our offer, we'll send you an initial check to
help your group get here and/or rent an apartment. We recommend
you get an apartment together, but it's up to you. Greater Cambridge
is the easiest place in the world to get summer sublets.
- If all the people in your group aren't here by June 6, we
reserve the right to pull out of the deal. We'll make exceptions
for people who have to attend graduation ceremonies.
- If you aren't incorporated, we'll help you do it when you get
here. After that checks go to your company.
- We'll meet for dinner about once a week during the summer.
We'll try to bring someone experienced in startups or technology
to each dinner, so you can pick their brains. We don't insist you
come to the dinners, but if we don't know you well, we'll be less
likely to help you get more funding at the end of the summer.
- During the summer we'll help you write a business plan, try
to introduce you to people who could help you, and so on. We can't
make definite promises because we don't know how busy we'll be, but
once we've invested in your company, we obviously want you to
- If you look promising during the summer, we may invest
more, or help you find someone who will. Of course you can at
any time get any
further investors you want; it's your company.
- We're setting this up fast, so the application process may
change. Hit reload before you submit your application.
- Send all email about
the Summer Founders Program, including questions about this page,
If there had been something like this when we were in college and
grad school, we would have jumped at it. Start our own company together
in Cambridge? Or go individually to big, boring companies
where everyone was older than us, and show up at 9 AM every morning
to work in a cubicle on random projects created to keep us busy?
Hmm, difficult choice...