Jessica Livingston (Y Combinator) on Getting People to Care about Your Business

"People didn't care what we were doing," Jessica Livingston, partner and co-founder of Y Combinator (YC), noted in the opening minutes of her Startup Grind 2014 interview. The growth trajectory and brand awareness of YC since its simple origins are an important case study for other startups and a confirmation of Edison's adage: "Success is 1 percent in inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

Keep executing and delivering and people will care too --- just as YC discovered and shows. 

From investing in 8 startups in its initial batch in 2005, chosen from 400 applications when startups weren't a mainstream thing to do, YC has become a premier accelerator of its kind and the startup sector gained a mainstream boost because of 'The Social Network' movie in 2010 and Facebook's IPO in 2012. During that time, the stage of the startups that apply to and are accepted by YC has evolved from "just an idea" to those doing their Series A. 

Founders should be encouraged by Livingston's comments, "Remember, at our stage (angel/seed), it's so hard to pick the winners. There's no way when we were looking at Drew Houston and Arash's application that we said, 'Dropbox is going to be the next big thing!'" Moreover, she observes that a degree from a top school like MIT or a Rhodes scholarship is no guarantee of startup success. 

Furthermore, increasingly, the diversity of startup teams isn't just about academic credentials, it's also about cultural origins and different demographics. The latest cohort includes founders from Bulgaria, Slovenia, Sudan and Egypt with the oldest founder being fifty-six whilst the youngest is seventeen and there's a father+son team. Regardless of team make-up, they're all working on and solving global problems. 

It is, though, not all rosy for founders. For example, international founders are confronted by having to deal with immigration issues, post-YC, which Livingston says is "so distracting and can kill a company." To help solve some of these issues, Livingston advocates for US startups to get involved in making immigration issues easier for foreign founders because some of them are also potential hires for US startups.

In terms of qualifying the team dynamics of applicants, two of the most important factors in YC's decision processes are: firstly, how founders get along with each other and, secondly, how they deal with being challenged about their ideas. Getting angry isn't a plus.

Another thing she points out founding teams should avoid are inappropriate equity structures where one party gets 90 percent whilst the other gets 10 percent because "bitterness can set in" with the latter party. It's also preferable for founders to have known each other for a longer time period prior to applying to YC because then they understand each other's personalities and how to resolve conflicts.

So the key takeaways from YC for startup founders can be summarized as: keep caring about your team diversity, keep caring about solving global problems with your products, keep helping other founders in the community and, in time, other people will care too.