How to build Startups that get in YC

April 14, 2023

How to build Startups that get in YC

When I was first starting out, my goal was to ship a product, get 500 daily active users, and hit 80% retention.

One year later, I rolled up to the YC interview with those stats, and they told me, “That’s the wrong way to think about goals. How much revenue do you have?”


One month after receiving that feedback, I got 40 paying customers. That led to getting VC money, 10k MRR, and a kick ass team.

Your goal should be to get revenue as quickly as possible.

As an early stage founder, your goal should be to validate your startup idea. And the best way to do that is to get users to put their money where their mouth is 😀

Most startup ideas have no customers. Be the one with $100k ARR.

A ton of members in my founder community — Chine, Yansen, Luigi, Vaibhv, Rishi, Nemo, etc. — all got in YC.

What was the one trait they shared? Having revenue.

Once you get traction, you’ll be able to get in YC, raise from top tier VCs, and attract any talent you want.

If you don’t have revenue, something needs to change ASAP.

I find that when founders have lots to do, they CHOOSE easy and known over hard and unknown. I run a community of 180 founders from Stanford, YC, and more, and my biggest takeaway is that everyone says you should talk to users, get early paying customers but founders hardly ever follow the process. Technical founders put off marketing/sales, and instead, code an app. Business founders put off marketing/sales, and instead, make a pitch deck. Product founders who put off marketing/sales, and focus on product.

This practice makes you confront the reality of your business, so that you stop avoiding the hard thing, because it’s right in front of you.

The Goal Grid

I spoke with Ben Sand (x2 YC, member of FC), read Traction (method used by 80k companies), and developed this goal system I use to hit my weekly revenue goals.


Let’s suppose I’m trying to sell my new $200/mo emailing tool.

I’ll set my week’s goal to be to talk to 10 customers, and close one at $200 MRR

Week 1

After the week ends, I sit down and reflect.

“HOLY SHIT! I actually closed a person. Next week, I’ll try to close two people!”

In the grid, I create a new column with today’s date (Sept 1), and set a new goal for the week.

Week 2

A week later (Sept 7), I go over my results that week.

“FUCK I didn’t hit close 2 customers. Only closed 1.”

Because I didn’t hit my goal, I’ll write a paragraph explaining why, and what I’ll do differently next week. This prevents me from falling in the same trap over and over again.

”Here’s my reflection: POOP! I didn’t hit my goal. Right now I’m just Dm-ing people on Reddit. Looks like I need to try to do more methods this week. I’ll post in 2 facebook groups, Product Hunt, and 2 slack groups this time! Let’s get 15 users on the phone!!”

Week 4

Over time, your goal grid should look something like this:

As you evolve, you can also more important weekly metrics to the grid. I started adding customer satisfaction & engagement in because if 100% of my customers have a 10/10 experience, then I can expect to get more referrals and grow faster.

Once you start making revenue, you’ll likely start hiring people. Write their name on the board. Now, they will be the ones checking in each week and being accountable for their number.

Example of mine (10k MRR):

How to stay accountable to your goals

I used to set ambitious goals and go hard for 3 days. A month later, I’d check my progress and be like, “What happened?” I found it SO HARD to look at the numbers because if things weren’t going well, a part of me felt like “I’m not good enough.”

No one likes looking at their goals and feel like they are making 0 progress…

I invented a practice that helps me relieve this trigger “I am not good enough” and force me to track my goals each week.

Heres what helped

I make sure to block 90 minutes in my Google Calendar every Monday morning to update my board. Even though part of me hates it, here’s what helped me stick the practice. I tell myself:

  • If I miss the meeting, I know I’ll delude myself into doing easy stuff over again. For example, when I was stuck at 6K MRR, I did all the marketing/sales manually, got the same number of calls and number of people joining. My product never grew because I didn’t change my methods. And why would I? I was unaware of this issue, and too scared to confront reality.
  • If I make the meeting, I get to reflect on why my numbers weren’t being hit. Because of this reflection practice, I’ll improve and hit my goals much faster. When I started using it and I was immediately like FUCK, I’m off track. I need to change something or I’ll never hit my goal. Hires sales person, tries a new marketing tactic, * checks back next week HOLY SHIT I ACTUALLY HIT MY GOAL!!

Since I’ve used goal grid, I’ve increased MRR, experimented way more, hired new people… Now, I make this weekly meeting 10/10 importance. Meaning, the only reason for missing this is vacation or death. I haven’t missed a single week since :)

I have no revenue. What goal should I set for my goal grid?

Set a revenue goal. (try $30 for consumer | $5k for enterprise)

I recommend using it for the first week, and seeing what happens. It has worked for me, and many other YC founders. YC makes everyone to set a revenue goal for their cohort.

Before, I set non-revenue goals, and it amounted to nothing substantial. I spent months hours getting waitlisted users, talking to users, and building website — basically everything except optimizing revenue. One year later, I realized no one would pay for what I was building.

Now, I set revenue goals. It has led to finding real pain points and value much more quickly than talking to random, non-paying users.

If I’m stuck at 1K-10k MRR, what should I optimize?

Optimize leading metrics (# articles written, # DMs sent, customer feedback score) to help you achieve your lagging metric: Revenue.

For example: If I’m at $1k MRR and all I do is write 1 article a week, maybe I can get to $10k MRR much faster if I optimize number of articles made per week.

At this point, you’ll be able to raise from YC 🙂

Most people applying have $0 revenue.

What if I run out of money?

The bottom columns “$ money in” and “$ money out” tells if you’re spending more than you’re making.

If you’re optimizing profitability:

A good ratio (money in : money out) is 3:1

A great one is 5:1!

Imagine getting $5 for every $1 you spend. Sounds good to me :D

If you’re optimizing growth:

Use this metric to calculate how much runway you have left

Generally 18 months is a good amount of runway


I’m running a community to help founders build businesses that get into YC. We’ll teach you how to talk to users and get them to pay you. Then we’ll help you prep your pitch for VCs and intro you to them :D

Many of our founders raised $1M+ or got in YC after joining. Recently Chine, Vaibhav, and others got in YC W23 after joining (They all had revenue). Also Orri raised $2M, Calum raised $800k, and Shirley got her first few angel checks closed. They’re all heavily involved within the community 😀

Check it out


If you want to download the Goal Grid, feel free to grab it here:

Maddie Wang founders of founders cafe solo founder
Maddie Wang
Gay / Solo-Founder / Stanford Dropout

I'm building Founders Cafe because as a solo founder, it can be very isolating. Last year, I lost 4 co-founders and a best friend on a previous startup.

Previously built a Minecraft Server ($61k), Amazon Store ($120k), and Queer Chart, where I met my girlfriend & close friends.

If you're interested in joining the Founders Cafe, let's talk and if it's a good fit, down to invite you!

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