About the talk
In this lecture, YC Partner Kevin Hale goes over how to package up your idea and communicate it to an investor. He shares his tips on how to craft your pitch in a clear and concise way that effectively grabs your audience's attention.
Transcript and lecture slides here: https://www.ycombinator.com/library/6q-how-to-pitch-your-startup
This lecture is part of YC's Startup School, a free online program and global community of founders. Register and join the community at https://www.startupschool.org/
2:09 YC application
5:08 Be clear
12:30 Example pitches
16:35 "X for Y"
20:09 Be concise
02:09 YC application
05:08 Be clear
08:06 Cofounders and other
12:30 Example pitches
16:35 X for Y
20:09 Be concise
22:50 A meritocratic decision support system
Kevin Hale was the cofounder of Wufoo, which was funded by Y Combinator in 2006 and acquired by SurveyMonkey in 2011. He was responsible for Wufoo’s much-admired design and speaks widely about UX. Before Wufoo he wrote about design for Particletree and was editor in chief of the web development magazine Treehouse. He has a BA from Stetson University in Digital Arts and English.View the profile
Please give me part 2 of a talk. I gave at the very beginning of start of school on evaluating start-up ideas. And the thing to know about both of these talks as we've been talking about them from the point of view of the investor. Basically, it was helpful. I thought to explain to Founders how investors evaluate start-up ideas and looking at that structure so that they can better understand their own ideas opportunities. And then, in this presentation, present them better to the people that they want to get excited. So quick recap
in the first part. I basically say a start of idea as a hypothesis for why your company is going to grow really quickly that hypothesis must compose of three different parts. The problem the solution in the inside and the basic parts is, your problem should be free big, pretty pervasive. Have a lot of these characteristics to make it feel like there's a very big Market. Why do people have the problem? The only thing you need to know about the solution is that you should not start with the technology. You should start with a problem. And lastly you're looking to have something that's going
to make your company unique and have some kind of unfair advantage that we call an Insight that will show while your company will grow faster than other companies. I talked about five different types of unfair advantages that your company can have and kind of water the benchmarks for meeting them. Now. The thing to keep in mind about understanding and creating the startup idea is that I don't need you to do all the work that lay all of that out in detail that stuff that you kind of want to know if you would mind. But a really good investor
will do that on their own. They'll hear what you're talkin about an extra polite. And so I'm going to bring this presentation is how do you package up that hypothesis? How do you take all the things that you understand about your company and your startup idea? And I resent it to an investor so that they can make a decision that's in your favor. This is the wifey startup application and basically business the application. All the questions that we ask that why she Partners we used to evaluate your startup. So down here, when you're filling out the YMCA application. We actually linked to
a couple of things and one of them is how to apply successfully. I can't tell because I read so many applications, but it feels like Founders are not reading that essay. It's was written by Paul Graham in 2009 and almost everything in there. Still holds to this day and people still make mistakes on it. So I'm just going to like point out some stuff. I really like punch it in here a while. I have your attention. So it was the quote from that essay. Basically, we believe for every company that we will interview at YC. We bet
there's probably another company that's just as good as them out there, but they messed up on the application and we didn't realize it, we didn't invite them and basically The reason is because they didn't Express their idea. Clearly like you might think o I didn't show off all that complex stuff about my startup idea and that's why they didn't pick me. And I want you to know that's not true. And so the first thing I want you to keep in mind, as I do not need you to sell me as a YZ partner. Write a
good average, investor, what they do is they talk to you when you tell them about your idea and it feels like they're poking holes. All the questions asked about what's all the reasons why this could go wrong. A good bastard. Doesn't hear what you say and then imagine and they use their optimism and they use knowing that some kind of rare event has to happen for you. To become a billion-dollar company in the trade. Imagine. All those rare event possibly happened to you. And then they pitch that path back to you. And so we are really good at selling ourselves.
So you don't need to do that. And the thing is you guys are kind of bad. It's only things in the beginning. And what I understand is that I'm trying to evaluate these three statements of what I'm hearing your idea. Do I understand it and I excited by it. Do I like the team and do I want to work with them? Surprise in your weekly updates? When you do your group sessions, these are the questions that we ask you to ask one. Another is basically the questions that we're trying to figure out for ourselves and withholding that, every week, when you talk with other companies, you were
practicing getting feedback and understanding whether you're able to still this in other people. So your goal is just to be clear. I will do everything else. So back to the application. These are the only two things were too focus on today. What do I put in the what's my company going to make? How do I describe my company in a very efficient manner? The first way to do this, just to be clear. The reason we focus on this is cuz a clear idea is a foundation for growth. What I mean by that is that the best companies NYC or around the world
grow? Organically, the grow by Word of Mouth? What does or does not look like looks like this. It's basically, I talk about your company. What you're doing, making it said, and I'm the most interesting person at the dinner table and I tell it to other people, and those people want to tell other people mouth is something where I remember what you do. I talked about it and Susie Astic and it spreads on its own marketing and advertising. The tax. I believe, companies paid, because they did not make something remarkable now before, anyone can remember at the dinner
table. What you do? That's a understand. And so I've been very simple rules for how to make things easy to understand. This will sound familiar. If you're familiar with an essay. I wrote on how to design a better pitch deck and I'm going to focus on basically saying that the way I talk about it actually works for ideas and lots of other things and so way I make things easier to understand on a pitch deck or a slide to make it legible and make it simple and make it obvious. Today's presentation. We're just going to focus on making your idea legible sound interesting.
Right now in my essay, I talked about how at demo day when our starts are presenting to a roomful of 1000 investors is kind of an interesting audience. Number one. The audience is filled with really old people. They tend to not have very good eyesight as a result. They all can't sit in the front row. Like, you lovely people, some of them have to sit in the way back and stand up and that means if you create a legible slide, they have to be ones that even old people in the back row with bad eyesight can read. How does that apply to legible idea?
Well, basically you are designing a slide that democratize has the idea. Right? And so people who are blind or people or ignorant. You're basically designing something for everyone in the room. Not just the ones in the first row. So a legible idea can be understood by people who know nothing about your business, that will make things very clear to the widest possible audience. Dallas is super important because you will talk about your company more than anything else. It is actually the thing that we are really great at at y combinator. We have our companies
constantly practice talking about their startup startup School. Curriculum is designed around. Helping you constantly practice talking about your startup and this is because you are going to need a lot of people if you going to become a billion-dollar company, so you are trying to find a co-founder if you have to have a way of talking about your company clearly. But you're getting users or investors or employees or shareholders. You have to get really good at this and you have to be able to do it quickly and efficiently your things to avoid. That makes things not clear.
That makes your idea, muddy. The first is ambiguity. So that's like obviously the opposite of clear or straightforward something a little abstract. Something could be interpreted in two ways. And therefore it might take a question. Understand what you still come by today. So I was very specific definition of complexity. And so if you look at the root word simple and complex come from the same route and how things to do with twists or braids things, that are simple or ones that are have one braid and things that are complex have multiple breaks their
intertwined with one. Another, a simple idea is one idea, but does not fold a complex idea or ideas that are intertwined. So Simplicity means you are not trying to mix a bunch of things in your description. Mystery to. This is an odd one. I mean is anyting where it's like, I'm not going to understand what is going on. When you were talking about your company. Jargon. Is one obviously any words that I don't understand anything that's fake. Like, indefinite pronouns. So, if you just use this etcetera and you don't describe what those nouns are
and then things that you're just suggest that aren't explicit about. And the last is ignorable. And so what I mean by that is there's some language that we will just ignore. Do in ux design. People will create a sort of blindness, the things that they don't want to look at or they don't find to be of important. So for example, add blindness is a big one that people should understand. And the thing is, when you're talking about ideas, there's a way of using language, that is also easily ignorable things that just won't stick in your head, things like marketing, speak to
the stuff that you heard about that and be a speak. Weird. Kind of like puff yourself up talk that doesn't give any extra information and then buzzwords. And so when you say certain types of words that as an investor, I've heard over and over again, or I will equate with zero information or value that I will ignore them. And the result is parts of your pitch will end up being not even heard by me. And therefore, I will not remember them. What you want to do is be conversational. A great pitch is one where you can tell it to your mom and she gets it. She's proud of you.
Not going to shake her head. And that means it's got to be conversational and that's really good for word-of-mouth because we talk in normal, conversational speak. We don't talk, like an MBA. We don't talk like CEOs all the time. So it's best to talk conversationally. Again, avoid jargon words that are only you understood are used by your industry. No Preamble. Have some examples of this. But if you want to be clear, let's go straight to what you want to talk about. Let's not have a winding path to eventually getting their. Last one was a big one. Is
being reproducible. So when I hear your idea than I imagined in my mind, can I See what I would have to build create your company. I don't have that. That I've no picture in my head about what your company does and until I have that picture. I can't ask any of the questions that help me understand why men get excited about you or understand other nuances of your business. To make things. Reproducible. I need to know nouns. I need to have objects that I'm going to imagine in my head and there's three types of nouns that I should
understand from your certified. You have first one is what are you making? She really clear. What is the problem? Then who is the customer that you were kind of related to the market? Right, but I should have these kind of three nouns. In my head, so let's go shoot some examples. This is says, we are going to transform the relationship between individuals and information. The sucks. The thing is, we see this all the time. Number one, all the nouns that you have seen you down here or
abstract the ideas. I can't reproduce based off of, this has zero information about you. I still have to ask questions to answer the three nouns that I need to have. This is a bad description for a company. We will see stuff that starts like that. So we have to describe what your company's going to make. I don't even read it. But basically it starts talkin about the story of the company or basic is like in the beginning, there was this problem and we're going to go through this issue. Right? And then there's these bad guys and they showed up but then who's going to save us?
We're finally here to say you're like another thousand applications. That's not going to work for me. This is the description on the actual application that Airbnb. Put 2yc Airbnb, is the first Online Marketplace that lets Travelers book rooms with locals instead of hotels. It's besides, it's descriptive. I understand what they're building. Have a sense wrote they're making and then I can start thinking about my other two ideas of whether I'm excited about it. And then am I going to like this team? Do Dropbox has files across your work or your
teens computers? The thing about that says it's refreshing would also there's no pretense. They don't they aren't playing defense. I see a lot of company descriptions were there, like I'm worried about this or I've gotten this kind of feedback until they give up Clarity to make themselves look bigger and blow themselves up or make them self. Try to look more interesting. They're trying to protect themselves against something away ahead of time. And the whole problem is usually what it ends up doing, is it brings me farther away from you all
that padding that you put on yourself is a description from a company in the current batch luminize, building x-ray vision for soldiers and First Responders. We don't have to go deep into the details. I don't need to understand how they exactly do. This Etc. This. Creative foundations for my curiosity. Now. I will start from here to try to figure out. How is this the right team to do this? How far along are they? Do they have traction? Do they have customers? I start going down the route of asking all the right questions. Based off this
one description. This is a good one. Is another one in the current batch is building LinkedIn for the next billion internet users. so, Doesn't perfectly connect me to, with their sort of making. But I'm intrigued. I'm excited about someone building the LinkedIn and I know it's some kind of social network for business people. So, now, I'm curious about how I don't need you to answer how in the description, but I understand what you're doing. And then now I can start making questions in my head about like,
how would I evaluate whether this is working or successful or promising, or not? This is the right team. Do they have a certain amount of traction? Etc? Gets me on the right track. The reason I've used this example. It's cuz we have a lot of companies who try to use the excuse for why? And what I mean by that is like LinkedIn for whatever or Uber for blank, or Airbnb for blank. And so that extra, why is super useful? Because it allows you to shortcut business model and some kind of complex Behavior, right? And then attach it to some other vertical, is something that you were
trying to make work. Ask her, why is okay, but most people abuse it or do it incorrectly? Give you some tips first. Should you use extra? Why? Number one is ex a household name. There should be like a billion dollar company where you can't use your uncle's, Like Pat shoe store as the acts for this, cuz people don't know your uncle's pet shoe store. They don't know if it's successful or not. Right? So everyone has many people should know about this as possible and for an
investor should be clear that it's a billion dollar company opportunity. Everyone has agreed that it is successful. So you could have a really big X, everyone knows about it, but Infamous, right? So the people don't think it's a successful. So be careful. Does why want X really clear? Why the Target that you're going after? Want this kind of model, apply to it. This kind of solution applied to it, whether they are being before rvmb or Uber for ETC. It should be really clear. That that's a segment. That's
why they're missing it. Not being served. Well by the other one and also that those people want to have that kind of model. And then third one is why I should be a huge market. So if you're building x / Y and then the last part doesn't sound like a really big business. That's not going to work well for you. I think so we want is you are essentially saying that you are something but that's a subset and what we want to make sure that subsets feels like it could be really, really big. If you choose this up. That sounds like it's going to
be really, really small. That's just won't be as interested. It does. It mean, it means that I'm worried that you will not have enough potential Headroom to grow to become a billion-dollar company. So here's an example that doesn't work. So we are coming The Bachelorette start off by describing themselves. As a buffer for Snapchat, buffer is a nice company, but definitely smaller than Snapchat, so don't want to do that. All right. So basic summary for the section lead with what not, why or how you don't
need. All that other stuff that stuff gets in the way of your Clarity for the most part. I'll read like a thousand avocado vacations, every single batch and it's a really hard thing to do. Basically, even though it's my job. It's really, really difficult to have damaged focus, our attention across all these different applications. So I need some empathy. I need you to help me out. And what we want is that when I bring up your application, I'm looking at it. Let's make our intimate time. Really pleasurable. Right? Let's make the time that I spend on an idea.
Very efficient house. Look at it. I understand really clearly. I'll move around your application. Be like I'm kind of excited. Maybe there's going to have this and I'll look at that part of my called. They do have it. That sounds awesome. What about this? That sounds awesome to. What? We don't want is me to go, like, Then I have to go to your website and I don't know what they're talking about. I don't know how this would have worked. If I go back to it. I try to figure something else out. I try to see if like some other partner might understand what
you're doing. It's super inefficient. Where is there going to be room for me to get excited as a result to be efficient? We need to be concise concise the best way. I want to keep this in mind is to use some examples. And so here's some things I need you to keep in mind. Yes. I want you to be concise use as few words as possible. And what it wants you to understand is the concision is actually gives me secondary information about you as a team and lets me one know that you have thought deeply
about your idea because you thought so deeply about it. And because you've practiced talking about it so much and you've gotten really good at getting people excited and understand everything really quickly. You probably have figured out how to do it in a short amount of time. So let me know that this is a Founder that is stopped deeply about the idea. The other thing about being concise and shows me that you are efficient. And if you are efficient with your words, then you probably efficient with your thoughts. That means you're probably also efficient with your actions. And what that
means is that I will start to believe that. You understand what is most important about your business? Understanding communicated clearly, and you might actually know how to always figure out the most important part of what to do about your company, to make a etcetera. I doubt, it's a minimum stuff that we want to have, even though we're trying to be as concise as possible again, I want to understand the nouns. So if we're so concise that I can't understand these, then your condition is too much. The other is, I want to get to
this point when I read the incision, or the short version of whatever it is, you're talking about. Cuz again, I know there's like a hundred thousand reasons why your company is great, but when I'm eating your application, I'm only going to remove you remember, two to three of them. And so we have to try to make sure those most important come up to the top. This is a real start of school company description. It's an online e-commerce store. I can picture what it is. But again, it's not a description that helps me get excited about. It doesn't help me lead you out all the other
things I have to do. Now more work to understand why this is fast-growing and its potential. I also don't know based on this. So now I don't know exactly who the customer is. Is it people that is selling stuff to are they making an e-commerce store for other shop owners ambiguity? It Security Services. This is most of the trip scriptures that we see on start school and makes a really, really hard for us to understand it. America, credit decision support system. The thing is, I want to know for what? I don't even understand what the problem is, that they're solving based off of
this and so, Is it fun? Is it? Because a lot of people have non of my head figure out. Why did they get to the sort of description? Learn and sharing knowledge about data science and artificial intelligence Mission. I can't tell what the product is and how this way to go about it. Like I couldn't reproduce it. If I had 10 companies, build date of this description. You have 10 very different products. The only thing that's good about the descriptions as you guys tend to capitalize and make proper nouns that weird words and phrases. You should not do that. It's not like a
magazine title and it makes me think sometimes you're a size in the wrong things. Like you were thinking the data science and artificial intelligence is Athena's going to make me excited. And the thing is like, those are the passwords. Those are the solutions and makes me worried that you haven't started with a problem. What's an example of like, how to adjust a longer one to our company will make low cost and low power consumption medical devices based on artificial intelligent and I would be suitable for sub-Saharan communities
relatively clear. I can understand it reading it, but it's not the most concise form of this. And I feel like there's a lot of things get in the way when I work with companies to help shrink and reduce and improve their descriptions. So that I will get the most out of it. When I talk to you, the process. The first thing I want to do is figure out what are the nouns. And the description our company, medical devices for substandard Community associate. We're almost done. Right. Everything else that gets added on here, whatever, verb adjective
or adverb. She want you want to be really careful. You want to know like is it getting maximum punch for this? Right? And so, Really, the verb is going to be using, just your making something Etc. But usually it's going to be whatever the product like the verb is like, the thing that we're making everything about this active voice structure, the subject, the verb and then. Ject the customer. The market, the people were going after everything else. If we add anything back to this. I really want to be really careful about why we're going to head back to it. Is
that going to be the stuff that makes me excited? So the artificial intelligent iot suitable stuff. That's like how they're one years with the technology and I'm more worried that they're wanting to do is Buzz words to describe it. Hopefully that's like a secret weapon that you have. But I bet it's not the defining characteristics or whether this company successful or not. And then up here, right to choose modifiers for medical devices, low-cost low power consumption. The low-cost I could definitely see. That's super interesting. Give me a low-cost device and sub-Saharan community
and I'm like, wow, that's really interesting. Cuz that's like it's hard just to make something, you know, for developing countries with the make it to actually affordable for them. That be interesting. The low power consumption. I can give or take their, I'd have to know more about the company or know whether that's actually crucial to understanding why this company has an unfair advantage or not. So if I was a redo this come out to recreate it for the medical devices for sub-Saharan Africa. Some people are going to be very squeamish about this. A lot of Founders are worried. It's like you're
putting me in a box man. Productive. My business is complex. I do a lot of things and a lot of things make me great. I want to tell you all of them. And the thing is like you don't have time and I know it as an investor. There was no one that showed that thinks any business is like simple and easy. I just don't think that from the default. So you shouldn't be worried that I'm going to think something small of that. But I got you want to be careful of the defense on your once, I get to this, then I'll start asking the other questions at
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