I recently signed up for yCombinator’s cofounder matching platform. After a week, I deactivated my profile with over 100 founders (or potential founders) having reached out to me. That seemed like a lot of responses, which might be because I had fairly flexible requirements: open to someone technical or non-technical, geography didn’t matter, and a half-dozen areas of interest. (I’m a natural lurker, so I didn’t reach out to anyone myself.)
It was a fascinating experience and there were some amazing founders out there. I thought it would be interesting to give a very general overview of what I saw, without identifying details. So I went through all 100+ emails and made a spreadsheet. Aside from how to spell “Philadelphia,” here are the things I learned:
New York will inspire you
I was delighted to see nearly 30% of founders based in NYC! (This may have been selection bias, since I’m in NYC. But still, makes me happy.) Bay Area followed with 16 founders, LA with 10, and Austin with 5. Over 20% of founders were international and almost 20% were in non-traditional US areas (e.g., flyover states, Dallas, Florida, etc). I love that they weren’t all concentrated in the Bay Area.
Heal the world
I’ve been thinking that there are two paths to making the world a better place. Option 1: become a politician and write legislation to make people do what you want them to do. Option 2: build a business and make it such a compelling choice for people that they will literally pay you to make the change you want to see happen.
I think a lot of entrepreneurs see their business as a way to do good in the world, so it was unsurprising that 10% of founders explicitly wanted to build a business to help fix global warming (or similar ESG focus).
A little less than 10% of founders wanted to work on blockchain-/defi-/dao-/nft-related startups. They did not seem to be the most <positive attribute here> tools in the shed, but it was a small sample. This had the only neg of the bunch, plus this gem:
“Working on [crypto project], if done correctly can change securities market for good—but you have to be daring enough ’cause it might just get banned.”
Thank you anyway, I am not that daring.
Bio is hot
Results skewed heavier towards biotech/healthcare than I thought it would (especially since I didn’t express any interest in these area), with over a dozen founders reaching out.
Limitations of my analysis
When people said they had an idea but I couldn’t figure out what it was, I just marked them as not having an idea. My recording of this was not totally impartial, but I did my best. For example, if someone said they were interested in making a marketplace on the blockchain, I’d file that under “crypto.” However, when someone said they were interested in making a marketplace of ideas, I didn’t know what to do with that.
Some startups defied categorization, which was kind of interesting. I don’t want to give real examples because it would be way too identifying, but stuff like, “It’s a trading platform for futures on Venetian masks designed for pets.” Um… fintech?
Getting personal: profile analysis
I noticed two extremes in the data: some people would basically be like, “I don’t have an idea, here’s my ho-hum bio.” The other end was “I have already launched my product and I have 10 previous exits and ask me about the time I wrestled a shark.”
I felt like the ho hum founders needed to at least bring an idea to the table. If you’re not technical, have no relevant accomplishments and no passions, you better at least come with some creativity. You can even say, “I’m not set on this,” if you want, just bring something!
On the other hand, the shark wrestlers need to calm the fuck down. I think that they’re much more like the people I would want to be in the startup trenches with, but I also don’t want to sign up for listening to the same “thrilling” story every day for the next 10 years.
(There were plenty of people in the middle, which was “I’m interested in <things>, I’m looking for <other things>, I bring these skills & relevant accomplishments to the table, here are a couple interesting tidbits about me.”)
I highly recommend the cofounder search if you’re interested in starting a startup! A lot of really interesting and accomplished people on there.
Let me know if there are other breakdowns you’d be interested in! And watch out for shark-wrestlers.