YC Application Peer Review

As the YC deadline is approaching, and we all try to reread and reedit our applications, I have a suggestion for optimizing the process. Why don’t at least some of us swap applications for review? In Catan/monopoly you are always better off if you trade with others – you both gain about equally but that draws you in front of the others. Why don’t we trade some knowledge and points of view?

Partners may not like that because it is essentially hacking the process by managing to present it better than it maybe looks, but a big part of this is to make it more concise, clear, and understandable – and they should love that, given PG’s post.

As a matter of fact, I think this should be a good general practice for every application window – this will raise the level of applications significantly and will make YC’s job easier and more accurate.

Maybe I am missing the drawbacks? I would love to hear about those, especially from partners.

So, if you are feeling a little stuck and you want to get an extra edge, give me a shoutout. I will read your application and give you brutally discouraging feedback based on my years of experience if you do the same for me. I am willing to do 5 at random (random will mitigate chances for exploitation) over the next 2 days for an experiment. Drop your YC username, and I will send you an email and we will kick it off from there. I will update the post when I am done with the 5 but everyone else can keep interacting with each other the same way. As much as they are willing. When you are done, just write DONE next to your post with the username (if we just delete our posts, we won’t see how much of a meaningful concept that is for the future).


Ideas 2012 Part II – High-Tech

So I wrote a list of some online startup ideas I had. Part II includes a list of ideas that require tech but are not purely internet-based. As before, feel free to discuss – I am most intrigued by your comments.

  1. iPads in Restaurants – First of all, having iPad for a menu is greatly superior – colorful, easy to navigate, update-able, exciting. iPads in a restaurant can be built-in the tables, or slide in-and-out of them. Then you could also not only look at what’s offered, but see pictures of the ingredients, how it’s prepared, watch video etc. Then you could of course order it. Orders go straight to the kitchen, no time wasted, where the chefs can mark the progress, so you could see if your food is in queue, being prepared or is ready and coming. You could also rate your food, write recommendations to friends right away, call the waiter, pay. Many many possibilities. Feels like this has to become the standard and yet I haven’t seen a place like that.
  2. Gamification For Dominos Pizza – Those restaurants that deliver pizzas and other food have accounts of people – their phones and addresses. Dominos for example always gives some promotions and discounts to users. Every time I order pizza I give one coupon and receive a different one. But no one actually tracks and makes something out of what I order. They should create a gaming concept such as “Every meal you try for the first time is 30% off.” or “Every time you order 10times the same thing you get it for free” or “You are the mayor in radius of 5 blocks, you eat at 50% discount”.
  3. Eye Helper – When you code 10h/day doctors say it is bad for your eyes, because they get lazy – they focus too long on the same short distance and the muscles weaken. You could in theory use 3d goggles (or Google’s project Glass) to simulate the same screen information to be far in the distance so that eyes can adjust and not lose their flexibility.
  4. Online Receipts – I know that exists, but in my opinion this should be the standard. Anything you buy, you receive on your email or online account. You never have to keep receipts for your clothes, toys or anything. Can be done with RFID, Proximity chips etc. All this data then can be analyzed by YOU the owner of the system.
  5. Layered Music – Most of the songs are recorded in a studio these days. What would be cool is to record each instrument, voice, sound on a different layer in a file format that supports this. Then, a tzunami of remixes and music experiments w/ music contents will be unleashed.
  6. GPSed Luggage – Would it not be awesome to actually know where your luggage is at any point? Stick a GPS, track it on your phone. Bulletproof unlostability.
  7. Electronic Party – I am a firm believer that people need to have more power and not concentrate power in the hands of a few. So I believe there needs to be a system that allows people to take active position and actions on various matters. The first steps of which is an e-party that does anything online. They promote themselves on the net, they display transparently their plans online, they create tools for communication between masses and organization towards actionable goals. Army of coders creating the tools to run a country more efficiently, more transparent, more power for the people.
  8. Species Finder – You pick up an animal you look at it and you have no idea what it is, what it does, is it dangerous or not. I would love to have a site that guides you through a wizard and displays the results. “Insect? Color? Number of legs? etc. “You are holding a rare deadly spider…”
  9. Journalism Wikiness – Every event should be objectified. Instead of having searchable texts, each event should have its own ID, so that all events and people and objects can be linked authentically to each other. Data and analysis can follow to reveal a totally different understanding of what essentially is going on.
  10. Real-Size Pictures – I don’t know exactly how, but it would have been nice to have a standard that displays on screens objects in their real size. Just like the image of the iPhone on the box is the exact same size as the phone, there should be images online that show real sizes. I guess this can be calculated with a mix of screen resolution, pixel density, focus distance when image was taken etc etc.
  11. Bike Locks – Bike locks are super heavy and expensive. Bike stands are a huge and complicated system that can’t be used always and everywhere. But lock stands would be nice.

Soon comes Part III, the Non-Tech ideas…

Ideas 2012 Part I – Online-Based

Image by Tsahi Levent-Levi

The following is a list of ideas that I have collected on my phone. These are only the Online-based ideas. I will write two more posts for the High-tech Ideas & the Non-tech Ideas.

If you had the same idea and you are making a business around it, please let me know about it, I’d love to see how it goes! Here we go:

  1. In-app Referrals – Referral programs to invite other people through the app/mobileGame seems like it would be an awesome idea for marketing. Successful referrals will bring extra gems, virtual money, longer trials etc.
  2. Mobile Game-Dating App – You define the type of person you are looking for – city, age, ‘hotness’. Then you get a random opponent for any of the possible games/apps. You play or do something together. After each level you can chat for a bit or exchange some information. Eventually, after completing all levels the two persons get connected. By then they will have cooperated, known each other in different situations and so on. Games could be not only virtual but also in real life (go to such and such coordinates and burry this thing…)
  3. Life Advice – a site that gathers life advice and experience stories, organizes it, makes parallels, tags, groups. Knowledge and experience should not be lost when people pass away but should be transfered to young people to build on it.
  4. Chat Support – When you code sometimes there is a problem you can’t solve. Currently you can put code on StackOverflow, but it will take anywhere between 10 minutes and 10 days to get answered. If you are in the process of development, you need the answer immediately. For that purpose, if you could find someone to chat live and he can look at the code and solve it with you, that would be awesome. I will be even willing to pay for such fast immediate support, rather than spending hours being stuck on a problem. Gurus can have ratings, you can have favorite gurus, they can be split in languages and platforms they know etc.
  5. Real Life Game – there should be a site, where you record your life happenings, you get points, you level up, you get or define new targets and objectives. This way you will be more focused. Your attention will be on your life development, just like your hero in World Of Warcraft. Your character will be the real YOU.
  6. Accountant Reminder – A lot of starting businesses try to save money on doing their accounting, filing forms themselves. However, often times there are extra things that need to be filed, deadlines not to be missed. So one of the accounting companies should make a site, where you sign up, put a few details and you get reminders of when what should be submitted. Startups will be happy, accountants can then possibly service those small companies when they grow.
  7. Crowd Knowledging – This is recognizing a problem rather than a solution – there should be a site/system that is able to extract the knowledge of the masses on different topics. Example. You make a social network for kids. They sign up. Little by little you ask them what school they are in, what grade, who’s their teacher This way the information will emerge little by little. This way the full information on the entire system will show up, with feedbacks, who’s good, who’s bad, who’s doing their job right etc.
  8. Site Support – When you are supporting live a client on the screen, you can recreate their experience and see what they are doing on the site live. You can also show them things on the screen that will pop up or blink. Screen sharing not through video, but actionscript recreation.
  9. Press Play to Work – Just like farmville is a business you control your resources, purchases, you could have a system that controls your real business – restaurant, coffee place, etc. You just sit on the computer, and work out the things from there.
  10. Live Cam Porn – site with channels. People watch only live. The better girls perform, the better rating. The more people visit, the more money girls will make through revenue sharing. You can pay money to be the one to interact with the girl (tell them to do things, talk with them etc).
  11. Mindmaps online – It is amazing how many apps and software there is for mindmapping and yet no web-based solution.
  12. Mobile Mating App – You define your gender and parameters of your phone. Then you mate it with other peoples phones. They have their own connection and lives, but around them you meet people too.
  13. Discussion Board Online – Should be texts that you can comment on specific paragraphs or parts. Then those comments anew can be commented on in branched discussions. So it would become like google maps zoomable with arguments and information. If something is proved right, the whole branch becomes green etc.
  14. Your Recipes – A site where you keep your own recipes. You collect, you test, you share to friends etc. Your mom’s recipes will be there and your grandmas, and some saved from a site, others linked to your friends etc
  15. Perfect House – People often wait for man years before they can afford to buy a living place. And when the decision is taken, the house is furnished in the cheapest fastest way. However this is the place where you would spend most of the time, so it would be nice to have it as you like. There should be a site where you collect things you would like about your future home through the years. Then when time comes you would know what to put in your house, what colors it would be, what style in general, etc. You would have taken pictures of things you have seen in nice places you have been. You will be prepared because you will have catalogued many many things you like about your future house.

Don’t be shy, tell me what you think about any of them.

Ideas 2012 Part III – Non-Tech

Yet more ideas…

  1. house windows that change so that when light is coming from inside
    they are blocked and you cant see from outside. No curtains and manual
    moving. Guaranteed privacy without thinking about it
  2. vitamin shots. You guy and buy from anywhere this little bottle of
    100ml water and vitamins. You twist it, it mixes and you drink it.
  3. noise cancelling for building windows. If you can do it for the ears, you should be able to do it for the whole building, no?
  4. Reader Job Position – Every company should have a job position “reader” This is a person that constantly reads books relevant to operations makes summaries and gives the knowledge to those who work and don’t have time to read.
  5. Phone dating – meeting someone by swapping physically phones. You get the cell phone of
    someone for five minutes and try to smooch as much information as
    possible. Notes, emails etc….
  6. Fun in Subway – Everyone with sad or beat up face in the subway should smile. There should be papers or devices or TV that display only good and fun things every morning. Jokes, fun stuff, comedies. As a social experiment we should see how much better their day is.
  7. New currency – 1favor. Please repost this on your profile in exchange for 3favors. This item costs 5favors.
  8. carpool goodness. People sign up, make accounts, have profiles.
    Drivers and hitchhickers define destinations. Gps matches them and
    brings them together. Each of them leaves comments, ratings etc.
    Account info can be confirmed. People wont be scared because if
    something happens system knows who is involved, where they were etc.
  9. Material that holds 70 degrees C. Just like ice and water hold 0 degrees until all ice melts, there are materials with different melting points. If we have one that melts at 70 C, you could keep it under your cup of tea/coffee to keep it warm constantly. Recharges in Microwave?
  10. Problem: production of meat takes a lot of land. We don’t think about that because someone else is doing it – we just pay. But if our consumption is tied to the production (ex every body “own” their batch of land) then we would be thinking a lot more…
  11. Comparison magazine: instead of looking at prices of T-mobile, you should see all cellular providers: prices, quality, deals…
  12. Mosquito locator – enhances mosquito sound. Just like your ears can locate the position of an object, microphones can locate a mosquito and possibly display it on a screen or lighten in up in the room.
  13. spoiled food tester – a device with which you can objectively measure if the food is bad or not. Chemically or something like that.
  14. A movement in which every shop or business or craft should have at least 1 free spot for people to learn. That would be advertisement and will bring pleasure to people to try new things they might like.
  15. Rice bags – they sell rice in bags. You cook it by throwing it in the pan with the bag. I just don’t get why they don’t sell rice bags only, so you can put any rice that was purchased in bulk.
  16. community cars. 1 car for 6 people and they sign up for it when
    they need it. This way there are so many cars that arent in use.
  17. farm with cows and other animals for fun. Paid maybe. With lessons? How to take eggs, how to milk cows…
  18. Center for starting businesses. Helping everybody that starts something.
  19. Social Restaurant with “we want to be on our own” tables and “want to talk to other
    people” tables 🙂
  20. Blood is basically a transporter of oxygen and nutrients. If you inject units that hold more and release more efficiently those two, you should be able to get superhumans. Farfetched, i know. Basically new and more efficient blood.
  21. Problem center. It could research problems people come with. You come and some people try to help you out in resolving the issue. A lot of people don’t know at all how to approach issues and start solving them systematically.
  22. Shower button – a button that starts and stops water, instead of a knob that turns for hot/cold.
  23. Modular blocks that you can use to build houses. You design what you want in the internet and then it calculates what blocks and how many you build it yourself. Lego houses.
  24. Ungarbaging – at the entrances of a park there should be garbage picking sticks. You walk in, you take one, and as you walk, you collect garbage and you leave at the other entrace. walking + doing something good.

If you started it, you will make it

This weekend I went to the small village Gela, in the Rodope Mountains in Bulgaria. There was a bagpipe festival. All good.

At the top of the hill however was a small chapel. I am not religious so I rarely go in, but this past week a member of my extended family passed out, and I decided to light a candle. When I went, this whiteboard attracted my attention:

Basically, on the left it lists all the people that helped the renovation and how many days they worked. On the right are all the people and companies/institutions that donated money and the respective amounts.

Looking at this, you immediately get an incredible sense of community, drive to make it, creativity in organizing it.

It is exactly what my project www.touchsofia.bg is meant to facilitate online – finding people with common interest and donating their time, energy and money towards achieving a goal.

I asked around about this story and it turned out, the man behind it was right next to me, so I happily stole a few minutes from his time and got the following story:

His name is Nikola Beevski [Никола Беевски]. Here is an image of him in the chapel, that I stole from his portfolio page:

Nikola Beevski

His dad and him decided to renovate this chapel named “st. Ilia” [св. Илия]. There was no one to paint it and draw all the saints on the walls, so Nikola taught himself for 3 years how to do that. He read every book from every library from around on how to draw saints on church walls and icons. During the 6 years of drawing (before that was full renovation, foundations, roof etc) he would check the paint quality by testing it on weather conditions. If he wasn’t satisfied, he would ditch the crappy paint and get another one. He drew and redrew everything until he was happy with the results. Eventually it was done. Wonderful, pretty. I asked him, “Do the people around know about it?”, “Yes, all the villages and cities around know about St. Ilia”

I thought there was something extraordinary in this one man setting on a goal with no knowledge, competences, or money and achieving this full-scale renovation of a Chapel.

I mentioned to him that I was doing a web project that aims just at that – organize volunteer work and money to get a job done. I am not sure if he really understood it, but the one sentence that came out of his mouth was,

If you started it, you will make it. [ Ако си го почнал, ще го направиш. ]

Incredible person.

Where to?

By annie-a flickr user
[pic source]

I was thinking about most of my friends and how they are doing in life. Some of them have their business and are making lots of money and they love it, or alternatively have jobs that make them happy. Others are not so lucky, and have not really achieved much in those couple years out of college. I was trying to draw a pattern on the successful ones and what came out was the following:

Know what you want, plan steps to achieving it, and stay on your course

Now, this is more or less obvious, but what strikes me is that most people that don’t know what they want, or where they are going don’t put any effort in fixing this problem. However,

Knowing what you want is incredibly important, because no matter how much energy you have, if you don’t put it in the right direction, you’ll lose it.

Hopefully if I try to illustrate this in an unusual way, it will help a bit. I will use the wonderful image of the blue sea and the boat. You are the boat. The sea is your life, full of unlimited directions and long travelling to the shore (life achievements). Now there’s two things you can do:

You don’t set firm and desireable direction. The sea will take you every day in a random direction. One day the waves are going to take you north, another – south. You can be skillful with the sails, and use them every day, but if you don’t have a unified direction, all effort will be canceled out in the end by the randomness that life offers you. In real world terms, you will be getting a job, you are good at, then switch to a completely different thing, then you will decide to travel a bit and this way years will go by, and there will be nothing very permanent or meaningful. That could be just fine if you liked your life and they way it slips by.

Alternatively, you can look around, choose the best beach you want to go to through objective analyzing. You can then set your sails every day according to the wind and waves. You will won’t be going faster than #1, but every day will get you closer to the shore. It will be a long ride to cross the sea, but you will eventually, with dedication and energy, get where you want to be. In real life terms, that would mean buying a house, getting an amazing job or business, creating a wonderful family etc.

Both cases look similar in that the amount of energy put in sailing was the same. However, couple years down the road person in #1 will be right about where he was, while person in #2 will have already gotten some or all of the targets set in the beginning.

So I talked to people and I ask them what they want and where are they going. Often times, the ones that seemed lost to me did not surprise me with the answer. Here are a couple answers I get often and the problems with them:

I want to go to grad school
That could be a good answer if you knew exactly what you wanted to study, and what you will be doing with it. Most people go just for the idea of grad school, or because they can’t get a job. They also don’t know exactly where and why to go, nor how to actually get there

I want to travel
That’s another of the top choices around. Essentially it’s another thing you can do to pass time when you don’t know what you are doing. Travelling is fun and gets you awesome experience, just like grad school, but it doesn’t build you a stable life to keep doing it for a long time. It also gulps huge amounts of time/money.

I don’t know
I also get the honest “no idea” answer. Those people usually have a collection of things they could “maybe” do, but they are never good enough to be done. This answer I usually get from people that have always been like that. In other words – It’s okay to not know for a short period of time exactly what you are doing, but if you get stuck for weeks/months in this mental state, it means you are not making effort to figure it out. No effort is put into finding the answer.

I am doing X, and Y, and also Z…
That’s more or less the opposite of the previous case. I have friends that are always, always up to something. One, two, three projects. And each time I meet them for a dinner, their projects have changed and they have new ventures they are so excited about. After a while, you stop being interested in their things, because you know you’ll most probably never hear again about it. This case is not as bad, because it means at least that a person makes short term plans and a couple small steps towards them. Those get-rich-quick schemes or temporary desires are quite useless if not pursued over long term.

Do you know what’s your direction?If you can’t answer right away, you’d better sit and brainstorm on paper for life, or else you’ll be floating only where life takes you, which is usually not too far and back.

Purging Brain Resources

[pic source]

I take long morning showers. I get many great ideas under the running water. Sometimes though, I catch myself thinking about useless stuff. That is, stuff that doesn’t make me happy, doesn’t make me feel any better, doesn’t improve my life or anybody else’s life. Here are a few recognizable examples:

  • Worries: “worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum”. You achieve nothing when you worry, unless you start solving the problem constructively
  • Past: Dwelling on past events [without analyzing and applying it to current situations] will help you with nothing. Whether something good or bad happened, won’t matter if you keep looping it in your head.
  • Future: It is good to plan ahead, and try to predict situations, but creating in your mind an array of possible outcomes and analyzing it becomes quite useless at some point, when it takes more energy thinking about it than actually asking someone or simply doing it.

Engaging with those thoughts is a process that needs to be recognized on the spot and cut out. It is not always easy to do so, since it is a habit that needs to be unlearned. But with the right energy and effort, it can be achieved and the result should be a more focused, meaningful and purposeful life.

Here’s what I purged today:

  • Thinking about an ex-girlfriend.
  • Worrying about a client not liking the current design
  • Imagining a billion different scenarios about this client never liking anything and the problems arising from there
  • Worrying about why someone I care didn’t return my call for almost the whole day
  • Imagining a creative assortment of reasons that this person couldn’t or didn’t want to call me back
  • Things that are not important or urgent or relevant at least for another year. Example: What will I do when my computer is outdated?

I urge you to start doing the same. Or at least for once note down the free flowing thoughts and objectively grade their usefulness/uselessness.

You Slurp The Soup You Make

[pic source]

I am beginning to see a certain pattern across the people I know. Hitting the first years of settled life (late twenties), I notice that over long term everybody gets what they deserve. Whoever really wanted a certain job got it, whoever wanted to be at a certain location is there and whoever didn’t really care or put effort in something, failed at it.

There can only be 1 conclusion: In the long term it all depends on you.

So if you came to me and told me about a problem you had, I’d say….I’d say nothing. But in my mind I will think, “You really want that problem solved? Go fix it. And if you can’t or don’t know how, ask someone explicitly for help!”

Bad grades. Have you thought of of learning in a different way?
Bored with my job. Find another one, or make it yourself.
No money. Have you ever planned on making a lot of money and followed the plan?
I am hungry. Go eat!

So every time you catch yourself whining about something, figure out if it’s worth fixing, and if it is get your ass on it. Otherwise, stop wasting energy and time by whining.

Help Me Not

Pic By vtdainfo flickr user


Some furious people got in touch with me to let me know how much they disagreed with my post. After conversing with some of them, it turns out they actually agree with the points I make, but were thrown off by my *cocky* tone. So here are the points in a more humble version:

1. I am suggesting that sometimes there might be a reason why someone might have a problem, and this reason is lack of flexibility in the approach to solving it.
2. I am noting to myself: I should probably stop helping people that have not asked me explicitly for help, since I might be doing the opposite of helping.
3. I am noting to myself: I should probably think about problems in which I am on the side of the inflexible thinker.

I also learned something very important from one of the comments – The fact that someone shares their problem with you DOES NOT necessarily mean they want help. They might be just venting out, or they might just not be ready to tackle it.

I have this incredibly strong urge to help people. Occasionally I see a friend who has serious troubles. And I am not talking about a temporary problem, but a generally flawed area in their life such as, “I never have any money” or “I don’t have any friends really” or “I have always wanted to do X but I don’t know how…”

Sometimes, when I feel I am doing much better in an area they are complaining about, I try to explain what I have done to get where I am. I give tips, I even sometimes go as far as trying to draw a step-by-step plan for them. Usually those are simple things, but need time and consistency. Sometimes they just need to be reminded of a fact or be turned in the right direction so they can get the “aha!” moment.

I have noticed though there is a certain type of character that is impervious to such help. Sometimes they argue and fight back, defending their vision. Other times they say, “Yes, totally, of course!” and then go on doing the same old thing. Helping both of those types is like pouring water into a leaky bucket. You pour all your heart in them, and give them all the possible help, and you just see how it goes wasted. Naturally, you then try to fix the bucket before you continue, but that itself turns out to be another endeavor of pouring water in a leaky bucket.

3 different friends have been really bothering me, because I just can’t seem to find a way to penetrate the shield that keeps them from improving. And the most important thing I realize is that it is no random occurrence that they have this major long term issue. It is just the outcome that has been fed through the years exactly by this inflexibility to listen to others, to take new points of view, to give up on their wrong beliefs, and to change strategies in life, when it hasn’t work out till the moment.

And so:
1) I give up trying to help those people for the sake of my peace and theirs. At least until they start their own process of taking down the shield.
2) It’s now time that I myself think of things in my life that have been going wrong, and think of what I have been told over time again and again…

Good *luck* to all of us.

The Zebra Crossing Dynamic

Zebra Crossing by Flickr.com/heiwa4126

It was very interesting to see that in small US towns as soon as a pedestrian approaches the zebra crossing, cars slow down, stop and wait patiently.

In Sofia there are now zebras painted too, but signs of stopping nowhere to be seen. Cars swoosh by and people stay forever waiting for cars to run out.

And this is a problem. People stay forever waiting for all cars in sight to go by and only then walk. What bothers me is another problem i notice around – no one does anything to change that. Instead of waiting, all you have to do is put your foot on the asphalt, and make 1 step. This comes as a reminder to the cars, that pedestrians actually have the right-of-way and they stop. All you have to do is one step to claim your rights, and yet no one does it and all I hear is “Cars never stop, we’ll wait forever because of those assholes…”

If you put yourself in the shoes of the drivers, this makes sense again, “This pedestrian doesn’t look like he is ready to cross, he is not on the move, i can squeeze by and save time” vs “Oh, he is crossing, I gotta stop”

And it seems to me that everything in life follows that same dynamic. No one is going to give you anything if you don’t ask for it. It might be yours, you might be entitled to it, but you have to ASK for it. To get what you need, you need to start walking, to do work, and make an action statement that you are claiming your rights and you are about to get what you are after. That’s when people notice you and are willing to trust you and give you an extra push. If you are entitled to the thing, they give it to you. If you are not, they support you in getting it. No one is going to give you financing/help for the startup, if you don’t firmly step on the ground, get moving, show ambition and determination on that zebra path…