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Lessons Learned at Y Combinator in 2019

Y Combinator
Written by MicroStartups

When Sam Altman decided to step down as president of Y Combinator, questions were being asked about the future of the program. However, any concerns were quickly alleviated as Altman was moving to another role within the company and being provided with more time to work on an independent project.

Interestingly, this announcement was “small potatoes” compared to a glaring mistake made by the company this year in which thousands of applicants were admitted to a prestigious online school by accident. In fact, this is the first of several lessons that Y Combinator was to learn this year…

Accidentally Admitting 15,000 Applicants (Mistake)

Believe it or not, Y Combinator really did admit 15,000 people to a 3,000-person online program. It was a technical glitch and a hugely embarrassing mistake that would prove stressful for the founders involved.

You see, these individuals are often considered vulnerable and the program was left with the unfortunate task of disappointing these eager founders. However, in a twist of fate, the Startup School decided to proceed with this immense number of applicants which inevitably led to great difficulties for organizers.

In case you might be asking yourself, this ten-week online program provided online lectures and discussion groups with other founders. It was also intended as a highly selective process until this mistake which essentially turned the program into an open online course. Given the prestige associated with Y Combinator, this was thought to have devalued the startups that were using the name for leverage.

What Lesson Was Learned?

First of all, Y Combinator will be sure not to make the same mistake again. Also, the pressure on those facilitating the process was immense and many aspects of the program did not work as planned. At the same time, there are now more applications than ever for the program and the size of the school has multiplied four times over. Either way, despite the critics and challenges, it would seem that Y Combinator took yet another risk and the return on investment has paid off once again.

Immense Growth and Variety in 2019 Cohort (Success and Mistake)

Y Combinator released the much-anticipated cohort for 2019 recently and the figures were nothing short of astounding. For example, there were 189 companies involved which was 25% more than the previous year and 40% of these startups are based outside of the United States.

Now, that’s not to say that everything was impressive about these statistics, for there was still a significant absence of companies with female founders. What’s more, this number had dropped by 4% since the previous summer which led to questions around the selection process.

According to that same report, when it came to companies with a male and female co-founder, 80% of pitches on demo day were performed by the male. From this statistic, it would seem that the female founder is still rarely placed front and centre in modern-day startups which seems politically incorrect.

What Lesson Was Learned?

While little attention was paid to the small number of female-led companies last year, it would seem that no real effort has been made to increase this particular number. For this reason, all eyes will be on next years cohort and Y Combinator will be aware that people are paying attention to this element of the report.

Rolling Out Y Combinator in China (Success) 

As you may know, Y Combinator moved into China recently and initial reports have exceeded expectations. Many influential executives and academics were selected as mentors for the program including representatives from Google, Carnegie Mellon University and Pinduoduo, the e-commerce giant.

After a successful winter camp and three-month training, Demo Day took place in March and was said to be a great success. As if that’s not enough, Y Combinator also established a startup school at Tsinghua University which is now the subject of interest for startup founders all over China.

What Lesson We Learned?

In many ways, the success of Y Combinator in China is further evidence in terms of the benefits of the program. That is to say, the program clearly works and expansion or global domination is sure to follow.

Success Stories for Y Combinator Startups

We simply cannot talk about the success of Y Combinator in 2019 without talking about some of the impressive startups to pass through the program. After all, these startups are the foundation upon which the company is built and reasons why the program continues to grow in stature:


More than 80 million freelancers exist in the United States alone and this number is only expected to rise as time goes on. However, most of these workers do not have access to employer benefits which leaves these individuals with a greater sense of uncertainty and stress.

Catch is a platform that facilitates personal benefits such as time off, health insurance or taxes, and ensures these benefits can be accessed and transferred whenever a freelancer moves from one role to another. Needless to say, this process is also intended to reduce stress and provide more security.


VanGo is often described as “Uber for Kids” and this app was created by a founder who wanted to create an easy way for mothers to get their children to school. As a rule, the main difference with this app is the fact that all drivers are female and fully vetted. Also, these drivers must have more than three years of experience in childcare. Although now focused on the school run, the company also wants to provide assistance to mothers for daily tasks associated with the kids such as food prep and homework.


Lumos was created by a former Google engineer who noticed the increasing number of search queries by doctors and medical professionals. In other words, these doctors were using Google to research symptoms and possibly help with diagnosing patients.

While there is no major issue with this approach, the engineer also realized that Google provides the lowest common denominator which means that the initial search results are not by medical experts. For this reason, Lumos was created as a platform that could outperform humans in terms of questions or answers from medical experts in particular.

What Next for Y Combinator?

Aside from Sam Altman stepping aside as president, Y Combinator has already committed to great changes which have seen an increase in seed investment and a bold move into China. That being said, there is also a clear move toward inclusivity as evidence in a recent conference which was created in order to tap into the pre-startup talent pool. With so many progressive moves and inspiring companies, there’s every reason to believe that this is just the beginning for the number one accelerator for startups.

Author bio: This article was submitted to Micro Startups by Chris from Pressfarm.



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