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You're right in what you mentioned above. YC or any other programme shouldn't be a milestone along your journey, but a possible path of many to one of your goals. Focus on the bigger picture and separate paths from goals.
Cherish rejection, learn from it and move on. We were turned down by YC twice before we even got an interview. I think naturally as humans we're wired wrong, where experiences of rejection lead to negative emotions. We need to learn to flip this switch, as I'm sure everyone here agrees that critical feedback and rejection from users carries far much more value than continuous agreement from them. As founders, we need to learn to carry this lesson across to other situations as well.
The puzzle test is a one-off optional quiz. When I first did it over a year ago now, I thought it was an every week thing so ended up rushing to get it done before the end of week deadline. Rushing the quiz, I didn't get the best score and was a bit surprised when I wasn't given the option to do it again the next week. However, although you do get points for it, I am pretty confident in my assumption that those points are very lightly weighted. There is the illusion that these points make a difference to your leaderboard score and points, but long term, I'm pretty sure they aren't even counted. Take a look at the leaderboard for example at the end of every week: you'll see that each team on the top is only a few points from each other. If the quiz really was counted, the project I'm working on (CropSafe.io) would be much further down the leaderboard, as I doubt many others made the same mistake as me and scored so low on the quiz first time.
The reason the quest exists in the first place is to the benefit of Pioneer, who are a business at the end of the day. Essentially, Pioneer is huge scouting program to find filter and find high potential companies for investment. The more data they have on you, the better. Progress updates every week, founder tests and revenue insights from the Stripe integration are all pretty much every investor's dream. That's why that quiz is there, Pioneer is betting that the majority of the players will do it. Those tiny nuggets of information add up and give Pioneer a pretty well structured profile into the mind and thought processes of every founder. Collect enough of these and you have a gold mine of deal flow for potential investment.
Don't get caught up on the quiz. If you have the time, no harm in doing it. If not, it won't affect you long term, just ignore it.
The puzzle quest is a one-off task, so you don't have to spend 40 minutes every week completing it. It's basically a simplified version of an IQ test. There's not much benefit to you of completing it aside from the extra points, so don't worry about it too much and maybe do it when you have spare time. Don't go too depth into how many points you need to rank/win, there's no real key. You'll hit the leaderboard eventually if you focus on talking to customers and making progress. It doesn't matter if you're ranked #1 or #50, winners are picked at experts and Pioneer's discretion, not by points.
The reason the quest exists in the first place is to the benefit of Pioneer. Essentially, it's a huge scouting program to find filter and find high potential companies for investment. The more data they have on you, the better. Progress updates every week, founder IQ tests, revenue insights from the Stripe integration are all pretty much every investor's dream.
I know that AWS lets you stack credits from different referral partners but maxes out at $100k in total redeemed. You might be able to leverage this offering against GCP. The two services compete so maybe mention to GCP that AWS offered you a better deal but you would still like to explore AWS if they matched the offer.
We've been playing Pioneer for 1 year now this week and with approx 9 or so months in the top 50. Originally we heard about Pioneer through an accelerator called Patch (https://dogpatchlabs.com/patch/ ) during summer 2019. So we thought why not give it a shot? Didn't seem like any risk and we could use some extra feedback and accountability.
We've had a few expert reviews but we've yet to make it onto the Pioneer Program. However, we're hopeful for our next. One thing that I think took us a while to recognise as a benefit of the site, is the community. Every week you have the opportunity to interact with at least 20+ other projects from across the world. Take advantage of this - people here are always more than willing to share their advice, learnings and feedback. Structure every weekly update on how the community here can help you take that next step towards a milestone.
Don't focus on climbing the leaderboard, it will come with time. Focus on progressing every week with your project and learning from the previous.
I've found a lot of online templates include a lot of fluff to bulk up a document. We've been following this basic outline by Sequoia which pretty much covers all the bases.
We've spent quite a lot of time at CropSafe evaluating no/low-code tools. Mainly because of the super fast iteration speed they enable compared to building full-stack applications. Our app is entirely built with Bubble and packaged for the iOS & Android app store through Thunkable. We've spent a lot of time with other tools such as Adalo, Glideapps and Bravostudio. However, nothing comes close to the functionality Bubble offers. You can pretty much replicate most software products, websites and mobile apps with it; eBay, Netflix, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, WhatsApp, Reddit, you name it. It may not be the best tool for the job and you'll likely be looking for small tricks to get the most minor things to work, but you can have something quite substantial built in a few days.
I think one of the most undervalued benefits of Pioneer is the community and network built around it. While the Pioneer prize is often the attraction of why the majority of players join, it's easy to get caught up in chasing that prize, forgetting focus on what really matters - your project. We've been playing the tournament for almost a year now with CropSafe, and to be honest it took us a long time to realise where we could get the real value. It's not the Pioneer prize, it's the Pioneer network.
Don't play Pioneer because you want to win the tournament, it may be a motivator but it can quickly start to eat at your time in the week and flip the focus from making progress on your project, to making progress on Pioneer. Keep focus on your project, forget about the leaderboard, give thoughtful feedback to others, and always ask questions in your weekly update. The feedback you get paired with the connections you can make here are incredible. Take full advantage of this.
A few months ago I had the opportunity to join a Zoom call with Eoghan McCabe (CEO of Intercom), along with a dozen other founders in the accelerator program I'm on. While your average mentor call usually consists of the mentor's startup story for the first half followed by listeners' questions, Eoghan took a completely different approach. He didn't discuss multiple pieces of advice, take questions, or provide feedback, but focused on teaching us one thing he believed was the keystone to any startup. I remember him saying something along the lines of;
"Any piece of advice is useless to yourselves as founders if you do not completely understand your customer jobs to be done, inside out."
He spent the rest of the call explaining to us how this impacted Intercom's success and figuring out what your customers really want ultimately impacts the success of your startup. "The key to success is understanding the real job customers are using your product for." Previously, I had an idea of what ours were at CropSafe and it was something that was always in the back of my head, but to be honest, I never spent much time focused on. Our product was designed to the norm standard with a few features we thought would make us stand out. Looking back now, this wasn't the case; our's really just looked like our competitor's, with a cleaner UI and a few shiny new features.
I remember after the call, Eoghan left us with his last piece of advice, which was to read all you can about "Jobs-to-be-Done" and re-evaluate your product. Leaving us the link to a copy of the book Intercom put together. So I did what he advised and dropped everything for a few days, read his book, researched a bit more, and finally took a deep dive into what our customers were really using our product for. Turned out we were completely wrong with a lot of our assumptions. Customers logged onto our app with a simple job to be done, usually a question along the lines of, "Is my soil moisture right to harvest crops today?". The answer was simple, a yes or no, but our process originally added a lot of complexity to get such a simple answer. We thought this was the right way to build the product as this is how our competitor's products looked. It was how this type of analytics has always been done. But we never considered, what if it wasn't done right from the start?
To cut to the chase, we pretty much scraped the entire first version of our app and built out something much simpler, not how farm software has always looked, but something based strongly on fulfilling our customer jobs to be done as simple as possible. It's been the best decision we've made building CropSafe to date.
Here's the link to the free book Eoghan recommended, put together by Intercom. Take some time to read it and reflect on how it's advice relates to your startup, what assumptions you've been making and how you're probably making your customer's jobs-to-be-done more difficult than they should be. It could completely change how you build your product, I know it did with us.