My co-founder Wayne and I decided to apply for YC way before the deadline. We spent weeks on our application, and I think this was a Good Thing. The application basically tests three things:
- Are you a good hacker?
- Can you think through an idea?
- Are you sane?
This is the key to getting funded by YC. And, there's really only one way to prove that you are: build something at a public URL. For me, it was Majigs and QuickRef and for Wayne it was Count to Nine. For you, it could be a demo of your product. But make sure they have something to go look at.
Can you think through an idea?
This is why I'm glad we spent so much time on our application. The questions on the YC app are crucial - you will have to refine your answers to these as you go further in the program. Things like "What do other people have to do now because your product doesn't exist yet?" are great places to figure out why your product is different, and more importantly, better. Even if you don't get in, your product will be better off for having thought through these questions. They are worth your time and honest appraisal.
Are you sane?
I used to direct an improv comedy troupe in college. Every semester we held auditions and it was always an eye-opening experience. You'll never find a more interesting group of people than when you say: "Prove to me that you're interesting". I imagine YC goes through this - except we only had to deal with 60 people auditioning whereas they get hundreds of applications.
I'm not sure how to give advice on how to be sane. I guess, if this question angers you, you probably are not sane.
Better late than never?
The SFP application deadline has passed, and thus this advice comes a bit late. Hopefully it helps the next round of applicants - or helps those of you who get interviews. In any case, good luck!