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YCombinator companies don't die. They become Zombie Startups.


Stashed in: YCombinator, @daniellemorrill

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Danielle Morrill talks about how many YCombinator startups don't die:

My greatest fear as a startup founder isn’t to fail, it is to become a zombie startup. Kind of like in the 6th Sense when Bruce Willis doesn’t realize he is dead and tries to have a nice dinner with his wife, there are startups out there who are still “operating” but might as well not be.

It can take a long time to die. I’m not going to name any names, but you could simply cross reference yclist.com with alexa.com, and any company that shows little to no growth in web traffic in the past year that claims to still be operating is probably a zombie. Yes, even companies that focus on mobile or enterprise sales should see healthy growth in web traffic at the early stage.

With just the $150,000 each of my Y Combinator batchmates received last summer, many can continue to work on their company or change direction several times. It has been 6 months since Demo Day and I don’t think anyone has officially died. So I’ll say it. Referly died. It’s not the kind of dead where the website goes dark and everyone gets jobs somewhere else. But the idea that we started with turned out to be the wrong one, so we killed it and yesterday I acknowledged publicly to ourselves and everyone else that we have to change our course.

Over the summer when the seed market was hot and we were raising money pre Demo Day like gangbusters I seriously considered raising our Series A, or some kind of Series Seed style equity round. To feel out the situation, I spoke to some investors who had already put money into Referly and asked them what they needed to see from us in order to raise the equity round we were contemplating. I’ll never forget this feedback, which I will paraphrase since I didn’t write it down:

“The biggest problem we see with early stage companies coming out of YC, or really any program, is that they’ll approach a year or two after they’ve graduated to raise a seed round. It’s exciting to see they’re still alive and pursuing their vision, but then we ask about the growth of the team and the ways they’ve been capturing the opportunity of the business in the time they’ve had… and discover everything is the same. The same 2 or 3 people, the exact same idea, very little growth around key metrics like engagement or revenue. So why should try raise a series A? What have they proved?”

How can a company go YEARS without growth? I agree with the unnamed investors above.

P.S. Over the summer the seed market was not hot for all startups.

It was just hot for YCombinator startups.

Still, I'm not sure I understood the point Danielle was making.

If no YCombinator company from her class has died yet, does that mean a lot of them are zombies?

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