This letter is part appreciation and part reflection. Having lived, studied and worked in three different continents expanded my worldview and cultural understanding. All of this acculturation led to a single principle: find or create a collective (people, organizations, affiliations etc) with common beliefs balanced with least contradiction. For instance, I was born in India and am proud to be Indian. However, there are many points of disagreements between how the country is progressing and my own belief system. Similarly, Hinduism was my birth religion and I identify myself as Hindu. This does not mean I agree with everything contained within the tenets of the religion. This is to say that all of us identify ourselves in a certain way while mentally isolating points of contradictions. We are if nothing else but a “bundle of contradictions” and uncomfortable truths set conveniently aside. This was until I found YC and it found me. For most of my life, I thought finding this collective, my collective, was a mirage.
In my first tech startup, GoLorry, I raised the first institutional round prior to applying for YC. I was a single non-technical founder with no roots in the Bay Area or tech pitching a trucking-focused startup for India. For someone reading that previous sentence, it would seem impossible if not idiotic that someone would invest in those conditions. Despite my limitations at the time, it seemed obvious that I should apply for YC, but I didn't. The reason I finally ended up applying to YC might be hilarious to some and sad to others. In my fundraising adventure as an outsider trying to raise in the Valley, I was introduced to an investor we will call “Harry.” On the day of meeting Harry to pitch for GoLorry, I was ghosted thrice by him - on the same day. Finally I did manage to wiggle and squirrel my way into a fancy residential lounge in San Francisco where I found him chilling with friends having drinks. In retrospect, this should have annoyed me far more than it did. But what came next probably made all this worthwhile. During the pitch Harry was obviously zoned out, surprised that I managed to find my way to him and more interested in chilling. After finishing the pitch in this lounge, Harry said “Sanjay I love investing in India but I only invest in Indian startups backed by YC.” This meeting was the turning point for me. When I repeat this story today, I often say that, because of this investor I went through YC - twice. And this investor to his credit did invest but only after paying 6x the original valuation offered and that too after I declined his first offer coming out of YC. To circle back to YC application, I applied as a single founder, non-technical, pre-revenue, pre-product and pre-launch to Y Combinator. Shortly thereafter, I found my two co-founders that I continue to work with today after 7 years. I also applied to two other renowned accelerators and got accepted into all three including YC.
After admission, I interacted actively with Michael Seibel (my partner at YC during GoLorry), who was far more influential in my journey as startup founder than probably even PG today. First, he recommended making the most important decision of my startup career (something I cannot disclose). Second story of interaction between Michael and I is probably not even something he might remember. Having been accepted in multiple accelerators (in 2016), I asked Michael if I should participate in another accelerator simultaneously. He didn’t try to talk me out of it and instead dropped a truth bomb: “Sanjay there are exactly 8 startups in the world that have gone through an accelerator and are now unicorns, all of them are YC.” Boom!
There are two more important stories of Michael and myself that were deeply impactful are not for today or this topic. Perhaps at some point, I’ll share those.
YC as a game-changer
YC was a game-changer for me more so than even for GoLorry. I learnt the importance of shipping, shipping fast, user-centricity, unimportance of fundraising as a milestone of achievement, importance of product-market fit (PMF) and saw that everything they taught internally was in alignment with how they branded YC externally. How they treated founders in the program was no different to how they spoke about founders publicly. Despite all the resources and assistance from YC, I was unable to take GoLorry where it deserved to be. But YC welcomed me back once more.
PG’s letters. Michael’s advice. Other YC Founder’s I met. No contradictions. My collective. So I set out to create my own collective, that was GoLorry and today is Landeed. My country is next.
YC invested $120k in each startup that participated in its program in 2016. The funding from YC was not a game-changer for GoLorry back then since we had already raised a larger capital round prior to entering the program. After a couple of years, we also received funding from YC Continuity Fund. By the time of Landeed (YC S22), the check size had now increased to $500k. Significant capital but not a huge amount in the grand scheme of things. The point of mentioning this is that capital is not the main reason to apply to YC. It is all the other things. But if we were to strictly restrict the conversation to funding, I’ll provide below an example of how YC funds without funding.
At first Landeed was just an idea we were exploring as a warehousing expansion at GoLorry. During this time, GoLorry was also going through potential acquisition discussions. It was therefore spun out as an independent project. While I was just randomly discussing this with another set of YC founders, they offered to invest on the spot. The original and earliest 6 investors were all YC founders - Pawan Gupta, Vivek Kumar, Vijay Kumar, Saurav Gandhi and Amit Bansal. At this point in the journey, I had not met or interacted with 4 of the 6 founders that offered to invest. All of this was again prior to YC admission the second time. After their investment, they all opened their investor network and at least one of their investor introductions invested in Landeed.
As of today, I have invested in at least 10+ YC companies. This is my collective.
In our world today, many of our heroes have shown to be fallible. I don’t have heroes but I do have inspirations, one is Lee Kuan Yew and another is Paul Graham. People often discuss GOAT's in tech and mention founders such as Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. PG has a seat at this table. No questions asked. Data proves it. Founders will vouch for this.
Notably, some YC Founders who no longer run companies continue to achieve amazing things. And then there are YC founders that shake the foundations of the past to build the future. Today that is encapsulated by Sam Altman at Open AI. Tomorrow that could be Landeed and myself. What’s missing between the lines is that before Sam, YC had funded numerous founders working on search engines to compete with Google, Neobanks that compete with JP Morgan, productivity tools that compete with Microsoft. YC is not an investor, institution, university, organization or charity. It is a way of life. Life of a Founder. It is a collective that fosters the generation of tomorrow for tomorrow.
No contradictions. This is my collective. All love.
Acknowledgement of all YC Founders that backed us:
Post by Sanjay Mandava