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Friday, January 11, 2008

Y-Combinator Tech Startup Seed Funding


We think hackers are most productive when they can spend most of their time hacking. Our goal is to create an environment where you can focus exclusively on getting an initial version built. In any startup, the first couple months tend to be the most productive of all. Those first months define the company. So anything you can do to maximize their effects is probably a good idea.

We seem to have succeeded in creating a good environment, because many founders have told us that the first ten weeks of Y Combinator were the most productive period of their lives.

We try to interfere as little as possible in the startups we fund. We don't want board seats, rights to participate in future rounds, vetoes over strategic decisions, or any of the other powers investors sometimes require. We offer lots of advice, but we can't force anyone to take it. We realize that independence is one of the reasons people want to start startups in the first place. And frankly, it's also one of the reasons startups succeed. Investors who try to control the companies they fund often end up destroying them.

One concrete consequence is that Y Combinator funding lets you sell early, if you want to. It can sometimes make sense to sell yourself when you're small for a few million, rather than take more funding and roll the dice again. Google likes to do early-stage acquisitions, and we expect them to become increasingly common as other companies learn what Google has.

If you take a large amount of money from an investor, you usually give up this option. But we realize (having been there) that an early offer from an acquirer can be very tempting for a group of young hackers. So if you want to sell early, that's ok. We'd make more if you went for an IPO, but we're not going to force anyone to do anything they don't want to.

Why are we so flexible? Not (just) because we're nice people. We realize that, as it gets cheaper to start a company, the balance of power is shifting from investors to hackers. We think the way of the future is simply to offer hackers the best possible deal.

Our goal is to be the preferred source of seed funding, and to be that we have to do right by everyone. The good hackers all know one another, so if the groups we fund feel they're getting a bad deal, no one will want funding from us in the future. And later stage investors (especially VCs) also tend to know one another, so if the companies we seed end up being broken in any way, no one will want to invest in them in the future.

So far we seem to be on track, because both the startups we've funded and their next round of investors seem happy with us.

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