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Protocol Pipeline
The inside story of the venture capital and startup world by Biz Carson.

Y Combinator takes on the world

Y Combinator takes on the world

Hello and welcome to Pipeline. This week: YC's global Demo Day, Dispo's VCs cut ties and the vestpocalypse.

Overheard

  • Community funding. "Traditional VC will continue to account for the majority of startup capital raised, but I expect more founders will carve out allocations for their community." —Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt.
  • Vestpocalypse. "One of the biggest shifts in VC + tech happening May 1. The Patagonia ban finally kicking in." — GGV's Jeff Richards on the end of Patagonia making that essential Bay Area VC attire.
  • Due diligence dropping? "I spoke to the previous investors of a YC company raising at a $100M val; they said they wouldn't touch anything that founder did with a 10km pole and that no one else had asked about her. Do not let the feeding frenzy shortcut your diligence process, it will not end well." —BTV's Sheel Mohnot.
  • No meeting required. One YC founder didn't want to meet investors and instead just asked for investment at a $100 million valuation.

Big Story

YC goes global

Is Y Combinator a global accelerator, a remote educational software company or a growth stage investor? The answer is: yes.

  • YC held its 32nd Demo Day this week, with more than 300 companies presenting — its largest ever batch. The firm used to have in-person meetings in Mountain View with founders; now it's fully remote amid the pandemic.

While there are clear downsides to going remote — and Biz wrote about some of the challenges that arose last year — it has many positives, YC President Geoff Ralston said. Through Slack and YC's own internal software, it makes investors more available to founders than ever before. "Companies have access to group partners literally 24 hours a day," Ralston said.

  • Because it's fully remote, more startups can apply without worrying about traveling to the U.S., applying for visas or other travel issues that might arise.
  • As a result, YC had 16,000 companies apply for this batch, which is more than double what it had three years ago.
  • The firm still did the same 10-minute interviews with finalists — but all remotely. "What I really like about doing interviews remote is it gives opportunities to give more people a chance," said Michael Seibel, managing director at YC.

That global makeup of the startups is the most significant feature of this batch. The firm had already invested in international companies prior to the pandemic, but the pandemic has accelerated that. Slightly more than half of its companies are based outside the U.S., and 41 countries — from Côte d'Ivoire to Croatia — are represented in the batch. It's a function of the economic growth and interest in startups globally.

  • Since many other incubators and accelerators — as well as VC firms — follow YC, it's likely that more and more firms will invest internationally post-pandemic, if they haven't already. Especially now that YC has shown that investing and working with companies fully remotely can work.
  • "YC is entirely comfortable investing without meeting in person — that happened during COVID," Ralston said. "And investors are more and more interested in investing in international companies."

How big can YC get? The limits are the number of quality applicants and how YC designs each batch. With quality applications from around the world rising, the firm wants to build its infrastructure to meet that demand. "Every batch we basically figure out … how to make the next batch better" in terms of software, hiring or the program, Seibel said.

  • "YC is in the business of providing opportunity for founders who want to change the world for the better," he said. "As long as founders [keep applying], we will scale. Of course we want to give every batch an exceptional experience."

While going fully remote, the firm has leaned heavily on its software, such as onboarding software, directories to reach YC alumni, an internal wiki for advice, a YC library and meeting integrations for video conferencing.

  • Working with 850 founders across 17 time zones, "there's no way to do that without software," Ralston said.
  • YC also has a Startup School, an online curriculum and program for aspiring startups. If you think of it as a sort of startup university, YC is a remote educational software company that needs to figure out the best ways to connect those 850 founders to investors and advisors.

The Demo Day itself had its usual mix of a range of startups. B2B software and services were popular, with 46% of companies, but there were also companies in sustainability, housing, fintech and health care, doing everything from autonomous street sweepers to online meditation to bioengineered kidneys to electric "boat-planes." In terms of diversity, 19% of the companies have a woman founder, 7% have a Black founder and 13% have a Latinx founder.

As for YC's plans post-pandemic, the firm says it hasn't decided yet whether it will remain fully remote.

A MESSAGE FROM GODADDY

Greg Goldfarb, who is VP of Products and Commerce at GoDaddy, admires the resilience and ingenuity of small business owners. "It is amazing to see entrepreneurs figuring out the new context really quickly to adapt and survive." We sat down with Goldfarb to talk about the rise in ecommerce, the impact of COVID-19, the major trends emerging this year and more.

Read the interview

Inside Track

  • First Round's Meka Asonye, who once managed Minor League operations for the Cleveland Indians and later worked at Stripe and Mixpanel, crowdsources advice on sales and go-to-market lessons learned. First Round has also launched its revamped Angel Track program.
  • Tech's impact, influence and responsibility to society: Michael Tubbs, former mayor of Stockton, talks with Reid Hoffman and Concrete Rose Capital co-founder and partner Sean Mendy.
  • Boulder resident Brad Feld's thoughts on the deadly shooting in Colorado this week.
  • There are no simple answers to dismantling hate, but many politicians aren't helping, writes Charlie O'Donnell.

Need to Know

  • Cutting ties. Spark Capital cut ties with portfolio company Dispo, triggered by a controversy surrounding founder David Dobrik.
  • Values exchanged. Andreessen Horowitz came out with its Marketplace 100 of top marketplace companies.
  • Transforming publishing? Medium has pivoted again. And it's doing layoffs again.
  • On Protocol: "Mulan" actor Jimmy Wong is working with Cheese, a startup digital bank for the Asian American community that's raising money for anti-hate organizations.
  • This week in VC history: One year ago: What it feels like to be laid off on Zoom during this crisis.
  • Your weekend reading: R0 can't be measured directly. So how do epidemiologists estimate it from statistical models, and why hasn't it been accurate?

Five Questions With...

Renegade Partners' Renata Quintini

Renata Quintini is co-founder and managing director at Renegade Partners. She was previously an investor at Lux Capital and Felicis Ventures, and before that was an investment manager at Stanford Management Company. She has worked with companies such as Dollar Shave Club, Bonobos, Planet and Cruise. Her firm's current investments include Coda, Syng, Built and Rewire.

What's your favorite pandemic meal?

Our Saturdays, Mexican fiesta takeout. Not sure if it's because of the delicious fajitas or the pitcher of margarita it comes with. Kids and adults are equally happy: not a single crumble (or drop) left!

What is the biggest issue that your partners are thinking/talking about at your Monday partner meeting?

How to make (good) decisions and home in on the right opportunities. We're constantly learning. It is a moment of exciting abundance: so many interesting companies getting started, and things are moving fast. It is a fine line between not letting an outlier opportunity pass and endlessly chasing shiny objects.

A startup founder's time is a scarce resource; we want to surface the pivotal questions as early in the process as we can (we call it the 80/20) — focus on what matters. One approach that has been valuable for us is to answer three questions: 1. What needs to be true for this company to succeed? 2. What would be irrecoverable pitfalls? 3. What are the things we can objectively learn in the time that we have that will better inform our views on items one and two?

What's a secret obsession of yours that most people don't know about?

Guitars. I have a closet with eight different ones — and counting! They all feel and sound unique; they all tell a different story. Also, most of them have a sentimental value to me, and I love connecting to those memories when I play them (my Fender Strat, for example, was a surprise gift from my parents when I was a teenager).

What's one way you changed working in 2020 that you plan to keep going forward?

Structuring a calendar that optimizes for "what gives me energy." By month two of the pandemic, it was clear that I needed a reboot. I had become a slave to the calendar and an endless stream of Zoom meetings. I turned the table and asked how to make the calendar work for me. I have this quarterly process of understanding how I'm spending my time and triangulating to Renegade's goals and how I best show up. We also do this at the team level on our "How are we working together?" sessions.

What company, outside of your portfolio, have you been most impressed to watch this year?

Shopify. The pandemic pushed us all completely away from the brick-and-mortar world into the digital one. Along with many other industries, commerce had to reinvent itself overnight. It is very exciting to watch what is happening at the infrastructure level. We are in the early innings of a renaissance! Shopify is an outlier to me because of how well it innovates — its pace and ability to launch products that are really needle-moving for both merchants and consumers is bar none. They built in 12 months what standalone companies work on for years.

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