Hi I'm Catheryn Li, product engineer at Y Combinator working on Startup School and YC's new co-founder matching platform, ask me anything!

2021-08-12
Hi I'm Cat, a hybrid PM / software engineer at Y Combinator. I work on Startup School, YC's free online program teaching the most relevant and impactful curriculum for founders based on 15 years of YC knowledge and advice. We recently launched our co-founder matching platform, which helps founders find their ideal co-founder. I previously worked at Facebook/Instagram and graduated from MIT. Ask me anything!

AMA Rules:
  • This AMA will be open for questions until midnight UTC on 2021-08-12.
  • All plain text links will automatically be turned into hyperlinks.
  • Please keep your questions specific and to the point.
  • Be chill, we're here to have fun!

19 Comments

This AMA has concluded.
tldrdan   Aug 12
Hi Cat,

Thanks for being here! A few questions: 1) What are the current things you're iterating on with the co-founder matching platform? Do you believe that you guys have found product market fit? 2) What percentage of co-founder matches are in different geographic locations (i.e. the founders would be working remotely)?

Dan
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 12
2. As of my writing this, 13% of our existing founders want to find a co-founder geographically nearby (which we define as a 50km distance), 22% want to find a co-founder in the same country as them, and 9% want a co-founder within 3 time zones. The remaining 56% don't claim to have any preference on location. This number (while possibly biased) is pretty surprising to me and indicates some shift towards remote working. Unfortunately this platform didn't exist before Covid but I would have been interested to know how much the general opinion has changed.
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 12
Hi Dan,

Thanks for having me!

1. We haven't found product/market fit yet, but the demand has been astronomical. There is clearly a need for this product, and even in its current state we've seen plenty of success stories. That said, we will keep iterating until we find something that works for the most people. Here are some things we're experimenting with, with a caveat that this list will probably change in another week or two :) - More customizable filters (e.g. tell us what industries you're interested in AND how important it is to you that someone has shared interests) - Guidance and structure around starting and completing co-founder trial projects - Real-time speed-dating sessions in addition to the asynchronous interactions from the existing platform
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Johan   Aug 12
Hi Cat. 1. Where do you (YC) stand on/ what advice would you give to international (non-US) co-founders? 2. Engineers aren't always quick to see the value in non-engineer product people. What's the market like going in that direction? Do you have a lot of engineers looking for product designers/ managers?
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 12
Hi Johan! 1. My advice to non-US founders seeking a co-founder is the same as my advice for a US co-founder: a. Sell yourself - I know many (especially international) founders are very humble but you do need to capture attention in the few words you do have available, so please write something impressive or fascinating under the "most impressive thing" question. b. Be accurate and honest with your filters. It doesn't help you nor the people you meet to lie about your experience or what you're looking for. c. Be patient. Once you've matched with someone don't rush into a co-founder relationship! Hop on a call asap and follow up asap, but make sure you really vet compatibility with a trial project before committing to anything more.

2. Totally agree with you on this. We do have tons of engineers looking for non-engineers, and in fact, each of the 3 companies that met via co-founder matching and got into the Summer 2021 YC batch are a technical + non-technical pair (two of them are engineer + PM pairs). That said, it is often hard for engineers to vet the competency of non-engineers if they don't have outstanding "most impressive thing" or employment sections. The easiest way for a non-technical founder to demonstrate that they're a good fit is by getting started and making progress on whatever idea they have even without writing any code.
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Edward   Aug 12
Hi Cat, what's the success rate for your co-founder platform?
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 12
Hi there! Our co-founder matching platform is still very young and experimental so we don't have a clearly defined "success rate" yet. If success for a user means becoming full-fledged co-founders with someone and staying together long-term, we will have to wait a few more months or even years to find out if anyone is truly "long-term". But I can tell you that 50 companies who met through our platform applied to the YC Summer 2021 batch, and 3 companies got accepted!
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davehall   Aug 12
Can you give examples of the time boxed trial projects that matched cofounders have done? What do good trial projects look like in terms of scope?
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 14
A good trial project is completable in the time frame you set out for (we recommend 2-4 weeks, but the key is really to agree on something and set expectations appropriately). Many of the good projects we've seen are either 1) defining and building an MVP from scratch, 2) defining and building a new feature for an existing product, or 3) making X number of user/customer calls and learning from it (and/or $ of sales).

Here's an example of a successful trial project someone did: https://www.startupschool.org/posts/41968
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Segun   Aug 12
Hi Cat! What's it like working as a Software Engineer at YC? How much of your time is dedicated to actual development versus maybe operations? Thank you
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 13
It's honestly amazing! We call the role "Product Engineer" and use that to mean that as an engineer, you are responsible for everything that comes with building a product. My work changes week to week, but I think 60% of my time is spent doing engineering work, and the rest is spread across product management, user interviews, data science, design, and occasionally operations.
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TDO   Aug 12
How does working at YC differ from working at a big tech company like Facebook?
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 14
The biggest changes I've personally experienced are:

1. Room for creativity/scope of responsibility. At Facebook I got to work on cool consumer products that I personally liked (Core News Feed and later Instagram Stories), but at the end of the day my team had PMs, designers, user researchers, even copy writers. At YC we have a small enough team that I'm responsible for all of those roles. This can be a plus or minus depending on what you want to do, but it's a plus for me :)

2. Impact. At a big company like Facebook, you touch users at an astronomical scale, but the actual work you do rarely moves the needle and feels almost insignificant. There is a "correct" way to do things, and you can't help feeling that if you weren't there, someone else would take over the exact same work. Furthermore, while many employees resonate with the mission, there are equally many who don't care what they're building, and may even believe Facebook is doing something morally questionable or wrong.

Working at YC feels completely different. Everyone at YC (which is about 70 people) has a deep and personal commitment to our mission (to create great startups). If you believe that startups and innovation are good for the world overall, there's almost no better place to work than YC, where we support a vast number of startups through both the core batch program and Startup School.
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scalfan   Aug 12
What surprising insights have you learned from seeing people use the co-founder matching platform?
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timm   Aug 12
What's it like being a PM / software engineer hybrid?
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catherynli ⭐  Aug 13
It's really fun and empowering! I get to a) figure out what to build, and b) actually build it. There is a bit of context switching, but it's worth getting the chance to take a product from idea to completion :)
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MichelangeloAM   Aug 12
Hi Cat! My friend and I are developing an application and have basically finished the design and analysis part together with the BP and other things. We are just missing the funds to fully develop the app. We applied to Y-Combinator and didn't get chosen probably for the missing website and other info. What do you think is the most important part of a startup when trying to get into the Y-Combinator program?
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JaredCann   Aug 12
HI Cat, I'm currently iterating through several ideas to try and quickly validate them or move on, do you have a framework that you use for validating that same or related idea in small steps. A recommended feedback loop that would let you incrementally invest more time and money into a particular design before taking it off the table completely. Thanks in advance!
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CCM710   Aug 12
Hi, Cat - What have been your most successful strategies for testing product market fit?
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