One Response to Rejection
by Danielle Fong
Those who’ve spent time with me over the past few months know both how absorbed I’ve been in the catalysis of our startup, and how poor I am at concealing my admiration for YCombinator. We had poured startling effort into building our product, honing our idea, refining our pitch. But our focus was, perhaps embarrassingly, almost entirely toward a single goal. Getting into YCombinator. It was constantly in our minds. Ample encouragement followed months of work. On occasion, I could be found exclaiming my certainty to the universe. We’ll get in. We’ll make sure of it.
The letter arrived silently. I’m embarrassed to admit that my body read like a chapter on the stages of grief. Shock. My stomach churned as I turned inward. Admonishments ‘not to take rejection personally’ meekly confronted universal doubts. Egos struggled against a rethinking of everything. Hours of discussion lapsed. Plans of what to do were floated, accepted, rejected, forgotten. Night passed to sunrise before sleep. Denial. I woke up recalling a story of one rejection mailed out accidentally, to a startup later to succeed. Thoughts strayed from their success – all I could register was the possibility of a mix-up. Anger. I stewed. ‘It doesn’t matter what they think. I know where they’re coming from, I know what they must think of us. They’re wrong! And we don’t need them anyway.’
YCombinator has its own personality. Their opinions are their own. They have perspective and wisdom and the will to apply it. But they have no more dominion over truth than the rest of us, nor are they immune to the blindspots that all beings must endure, nor would they suggest otherwise. It’s taken much for me to fully understand this
For years I’ve contemplated PG’s word as philosophy. It has changed the way I think. As PG writes, heroes are those of whom you’d ask “what they’d do in the same situation,” as for years I’ve asked myself. He is a hero.
But PG isn’t my conception of him, no matter how close his words have touched me. YC isn’t what I know of it, no matter how right I’d judged it to fit. And we are not what any others, no matter how wise, can ever hope to judge us.
Once can’t come to truly know people by their writings alone. Yet in my imagination I felt I could. Upon rejection, it couldn’t feel like a group in Mountain View had overlooked our ideas in favor of ideas more compelling to them. Their judgment felt universal. It took hours to move past the looming question: ‘How are we deficient?
Our idea seemed nothing but wonderful. Yet after taking a few steps away, and looking back, there are perfectly valid reasons for skepticism. PG is even on record stating that building applications for people interested in local events is a ‘perennial tarpit’. This isn’t a YC idea, even if it was YC inspired.
It started with a question: could software help people connect in real life? Nothing we knew about was any good. Nobody sane would sift through lists of events online. Dating sites mostly sucked. Put people in the position of a judge, and romance cannot bloom. Chat rooms sucked. There are trolls and perverts everywhere. And the internet at large has no location. Rarely would you find someone nearby. Even more rarely could you expect to know someone by their online persona: my YC dilemma writ large. And we knew, or believed, or hoped. There must be a better way.
But how could they believe us? With neither users nor customers nor a finished product, we have no proof of what is perhaps best described as a social experiment. All we have is code, determination, and the belief in our hearts that we are on the right track.
That belief can only come from imagining our success as we do. But our imagination is not theirs. Without proof, others cannot take the same leaps of faith. It is so easy to take rejection as a challenge to ourselves. It is only a rejection of our rendition. We are unproven.
How were we deficient? Perhaps we don’t see the problems others have seen: traps laying in wait for us just beyond the bend. Or perhaps it is because our imagination, try though we might, could not be made to fit with our heroes, and we were so certain of our shared viewpoint that we were blind to this possibility.
Much attention is being paid to YCombinator clones of late, and there are murmurs of the movement forcast more springing up. When the first batch appeared, they pointed out that YC would eventually struggle with deal-flow. Plenty of good startups were being passed over, so why not fund those? Too little effort was invested in explaining why one might prefer them to YCombinator, dooming them to the appearance of funding YC rejects. Later attempts focussed on a different limitation: bright entrepreneurs must contend with, in addition to harrowing expense, culture shock, and commitment, an immigration system unwilling to receive those planning to work for themselves.
Seed funding is limited by a third resource. For proven teams one needn’t far sight to bet dollars on success. But to bet on the earliest of early startups, run by strangers, not friends, toiling without traction, with working, complete technology, takes more than guts. To back such a startup requires they imagine the success for themselves.
There is hope for new players in the global seed funding game. But none will succeed as YCombinator does, winning successes from strange ideas with unproven players, unless like YCombinator, they cultivate a personality of their own, and call upon their imagination to see as the bright minds applying dream.
I posted an article this morning on YC and young entrepreneurs, hope it helps.
Thanks for the link.
Keep working on it — if you build something of value, it will be undeniable to everyone soon enough.
That was an incredibly well written post. I sympathize.
If it’s any consolation, your name anagrams to “Flanneled go I”, “Lifelong Edna”, “Finagled Leno”, “Loafed in glen” (also, “Foaled in glen”), “Folding an eel”, “Feeling Nodal”, “Defoe align LN” (Robinson Crusoe author’s D&D alignment?), “Leading Felon”, “Feeding on all”, “e log(n) ideal f(n)”, “Leafing node L”, “Falling on Dee” (and “Falling, O Eden”), “Fading Noelle”, “Flailed on Gen”, “Genial fondle”, “Enfold a Nigel”, “Felling Anode” (yow!), “Finland, O Glee!”, “Feigned all done” (that’s what SHE said!), “Flannel Diego” (and “Flannel Ego Id”, “Flannel Geoid”), “Golfed in Lane”, “Legend of Lain”, “Denial of Leng” (Lovecraft Mythos revisionist?), “Fallen doing ‘E'” (clubber’s bane?), “Flagon Leiden”, “Define gallon”, “Ill-fanned Ego”, “Elfin angel, do!”, “Fennel dialog”, “Genie of Land L”, “Fling an old E.E.”, “El Niño Flagged”, “Fiend Galleon” (a ghost ship?), “Fiend ogle LAN” (he’s after me Gigabit switches!), “Fiend all gone!” (after calling Ghostbusters), “Foiled Glenna”, “Adolf Gin ‘n Eel” (my favorite restaurant! It’s attached to the Adolf Glee Inn), “end if all_gone” (iterator pseudocode?), “Feline no glad” (lolcat-ism?), “O Final Legend”, “Flange Leonid”, “Golden finale” and, when all else fails, “Deafening Lol” ;-)
Now make your YC application public (right here, right now), some private angel (without the sexy YC network and “connections” and all that fluff) might still be interested. There are so many flavours of seed funding. Keep on walking!
Usually I go by No Glad Feline.
I’m sure they will. We’re concentrating on the next step: building this thing, and we’re definitely pursuing funding from other sources. As noted, we might not be a YC company with a YC idea, but we believe in it.
Have you guys thought of a name yet? Just keep hacking away and evolving your ideas and you’ll be fine.
Yes, we have, but if I mention it here our URL would be flooded. It’s not quite ready to show publicly.
Dalhousie! Great to see another graduate, sinc I also hang around news.ycombinator.com. I’m mostly known for digg.com.
In case you didn’t pick up my (late) response on HN:
“In high school, I got rejected by McDonalds, Taco Bell, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I really wanted a job at one of those places for money for recording equipment for my band. They all rejected me.
I finally got a job at Roy Rogers after a year of searching, and the rest is history. I got over the rejections, and you can too. Of course it’s pretty funny looking back, but only given the proper perspective. You have to look at things for what they are.”
Keep your head up, don’t sweat the small stuff, you’ve got a world to change.
Thanks for the link.
[…] I did come across an interesting WP Blogger that was/is a YC groupie. Her blog is pretty well written (much better than mine). […]
Nice article. I just started my own venture capital along the lines of YCombinator.
Funny when I first saw YC I thought it was a joke and a waste of my time. It was due to the ridiculous so called process from my stand point. If I recall correctly they use to send me updates form time to time or maybe it was some other group I had no interest in.
The concept YC has is cool, but I do not like their methods.
thanks for sharing this, really insightful and helpful. i hope it works out whatever it is you’re doing. we’ll see if i make it in the summer 09 program.
I know this is an old entry, but, since it seems that you managed
to get your project started anyway, I think those blog entries below may provide some extra motivation and helpful insights on your way:
Expecting and embracing startup rejection
Passion and the creation of highly non-uniform value