What 377 Y Combinator pitches will teach you about startups

What 377 Y Combinator pitches will teach you about startups

I spent this week, along with a group of other TechCrunch contributors, laser-focused on one event: Y Combinator. The top accelerator has published the names of 377 startups that will be part of its summer 2021 class. We went over every single on-the-record startup that made an appearance and selected a few favorites:

  • Part 1 of our favorite startups from YC’s summer 21 Demo Day
  • Part 2 of our favorite startups from YC’s summer 21 Demo Day
  • All of the firms from Y Combinator’s summer 2021 Demo Day, Part 1 are listed here.
  • The businesses from Day 2 of Y Combinator’s summer 2021 Demo Day are listed below.

Spending literally hours listening to founder after founder sell their ideas with one minute, a single slide, and a whole lot of optimism has a certain sincerity and charm to it. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy covering demo days: I get a bird’s-eye view of where innovation is headed next, which industry behemoths are ripe for disruption, and what entrepreneurs believe is a clever competitive advantage vs a simple baseline. With that said, there is one caveat I’d want to make. While YC is an ambitious picture, it isn’t exactly representative of the next generation of decision-makers and leaders in startups — particularly in terms of diversity.

From a diversity standpoint, the ave of decision-makers and leaders within startups, the number of women and Latinx founders in the accelerator’s batch increased somewhat, but the number of Black entrepreneurs declined. The need for more diverse accelerators has never been greater, and some claim that Y Combinator’s largest blind spot is this.

With that in mind, I’d want to leave you with a few takeaways from hundreds of pitches. 377 Y Combinator pitches taught me the following about startups:

  • Edtech aspires to revolutionize the arts. When it comes to disruption, edtech innovators frequently flock to disciplines like physics and mathematics. Why? From a purely pedagogical standpoint, a service that answers questions with only one correct answer is easier to grow. Arts, on the other hand, may demand a little more human touch. While math may fit into a box that works for a tech-powered AI tutoring bot, arts may require a little more human touch. This is why I was pleased to see a number of edtech businesses, ranging from Spark Studio to Litnerd, include humanities in their pitches. Rethinking how a bookclub reads is a refreshing milestone for edtech, as surprising as it may sound.
  • Instacart took a walk so that YC startups could take a walk. Instacart, which was recently valued at $39 billion, is one of Y Combinator’s most successful graduates, making it all the more interesting that a number of businesses in this summer’s batch want to take on the giant. Instead of focusing on the obvious — speed — entrepreneurs are focusing on premium fruit, local recipes, and even ugly vegetables to improve the supermarket delivery experience. It suggests that grocery delivery may be entering a new era, one in which convenience isn’t the primary competitive advantage.
  • The pre-seed world of cryptocurrency is quieter than that of fintech. YC feels more like a fintech accelerator than it has in the past, although there aren’t as many crypto moonshots as I’d expect. We talked about this on the Equity podcast, but if anyone has any theories, I’d love to hear them.