Dartmouth Alums Share Their Experience with Y Combinator

Four Dartmouth alumni spoke with current students about how their start-ups were shaped by participating in the accelerator.


Four alumni from Dartmouth College and the Tuck School of Business met virtually with more than 100 current students to discuss their experiences participating in the Y Combinator accelerator. Y Combinator President Geoff Ralston, D’82, also joined the event and spoke with students.

Ultimately, the premise for participating in Y Combinator is simple, Ralston said.

“I think YC helps companies be more successful,” he said during the event, which was sponsored by the Magnuson Student Leadership Board.

Although Y Combinator is among the most prestigious and best-known start-up accelerators, Daniel Bilbao, TU’13, CEO & Co-Founder of Truora, a digital fraud prevention service, said that the real value of the experience is in the skills founders develop through the accelerator, not just the prestige of being a YC company.

“YC has a whole process that makes you smarter, quicker,” he said.

Bilbao is the rare founder who has participated in YC twice – although he joked that he’s a cautionary tale, not a celebratory story.

“It’s like repeating a grade,” he said.

With his first company, he learned what not to do during YC.

“Every time I wouldn’t follow YC’s advice I would regret it,” he said.

When he had the opportunity to repeat YC with his current venture, he knew he had to do it again. Although he and one of his cofounders had previously participated in YC, the two other cofounders had not, and Bilbao felt it was vital that they have the experience.

“We would be doing them a disservice if they didn’t do it,” he said.

People with MBAs often come in with a hubris, Bilbao said, but participating in Y Combinator can help break that down and provide the real-world experience that can make a startup successful.

“First time founders, for the most part, don’t have a clue what we’re doing,” he said.

Matt Marcus, D’16, CPO & Co-Founder of Modern Treasury, a payment solutions system, agreed that participating in YC is about gaining skills, not a prestigious badge or the $125,000 investment that YC makes in companies.

“We could have raised the seed round without YC, but that would have been the wrong move,” Marcus said.

Marcus applied to YC with an idea, and developed Modern Treasury through the accelerator. Although the mentors at YC weren’t on hand to address the foundational questions of the business – “You still need to talk to your customers,” Marcus said – they were very helpful at helping Marcus maintain the large-scale picture for maintaining growth and momentum.

“That’s the 10,000-foot view,” he said. “I think that’s where investors are more useful.”

Terren Klein, D’17, CEO & Co-Founder of College Pulse, which provides data-driven insights about college students, participated in Y Combinator right after graduation. When leadership at Y Combinator first asked what the key metric for College Pulse was, Klein admitted that he had no idea what a metric was. The guidance from Y Combinator helped him identify the key metric for his start-up, and transform is from a student business to a viable company. Klein enjoyed that the accelerator focused on providing skills, instead of prescriptive advice.

“They give you the tools to build a company, rather than [saying] turn off your brain and do this,” he said.

Eddie Zhang, D’13, CTO & Co-Founder of Fam, a group live-streaming platform, is unequivocal about the value of Y Combinator.

“It was life-changing for us,” he said. Although he and his cofounders worked together at Facebook before launching their own social media platform, they benefitted from learning about the business side of launching a company at Y Combinator.

“Whenever my founder friends ask me if they should do it, I say it was one of the best decisions we could do early on,” Zhang said.