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Words to avoid in your YC application

By Chris Morton on October 13, 2015

BlockScore in Y Combinator S14

I have been through YC twice, including with BlockScore, an identity verification and KYC compliance company from the Summer 2014 batch, and have informally helped many with their applications. A common thread among the applications is the use of words which detract from the meaning that people are trying to convey.

Words to avoid

Remember, the best YC application is one where an unrelated party can understand what you do and how well you have done it in the fewest words possible. The following words can detract from your message:

Buzzwords If the Silicon Valley show didn’t put you off of these words, nothing will. revolutionize, disrupt, synergy, innovate, groundbreaking, world-class, unique, advanced, cutting edge, exclusive, unique, advanced, superior, platform, leverage
Snake oil Even though YC now accepts companies where these words could be true, it’s best to try not to describe potential with trite terms. once in a lifetime, game changer, magic, best of breed, pioneering
Diluters In most cases there are better, more succinct words that could be used that are more specific to your situation. super, very, awesome, really, literally, basically, definitely, golden, amazing, honestly, obviously, great
Informal You can keep a light tone without resorting to informal language. lol, haha, btw, 😀
Offensive It can be easy to accidentally offend - do your best to remember your audience. Swearing probably isn’t justifiable. You can use your imagination!
Tropes Everyone has rockstar developers. Explain why your team is great in other words - these are meaningless! ninja, rockstar, guru
Distractors State your accomplishments and plans with confidence. These words only distract from your point. kind of, sort of, much, just

Make sure to do one final pass to remove any extraneous language. If it isn’t essential, remove it. Brevity and conciseness are more pleasing than wordiness. A good example was someone saying that they “started working towards launching a pilot beta.” The extra words made them sound tentative. I suggested they say “pilot planned for November.”

The same advice applies to your video too. Keep it simple and don’t go overboard; just be normal and follow the advice.

After you submit your application

YC will accelerate your journey but don’t let it be the arbiter of your future. Regardless of whether you get into YC, focus on metrics: user growth, revenue growth, and generating profit. I see many founders pause and then stumble after applying to YC. Don’t let that happen to you.

There is still time to apply

As Sam and PG have mentioned, it isn’t too late to apply. Some of the best YC companies are last minute applicants.

Good luck!

Additional resources

YC application

PG’s guide on how to apply to YC

Sam Altman’s AMA on HN

3 non-obvious ways to improve your YC application by Payable

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