A couple of weeks ago Paul Graham wrote a list of startups Y Combinator wants to fund. That's an interesting list, but I'd rather like to know what kind of startups they actually funded, and even better what kind of startups that they funded became successful. Every step on the road from a plan to a success can change the list quite significantly.
While I was somewhat interested in it, up till now I was also too lazy to do the research. Fortunately a recent thread on Reddit did it for me and provided an official list of Y Combinator startups that are considered "successful", for some definition of "successful". I'm not sure if "getting bought" is really the apex of success - it basically means you lose all control over your startup and work at a huge corporation again, exactly what you were trying to escape. At least unless they pay you enough money to buy a small island and retire, but press releases rarely mention how much money the founders got out of the deal.
So here's my list of Y Combinator successful startups with a brief explanations of what they're all about. The descriptions might be less that 100% accurate, but that's the impression I got from 5 minutes of interacting with their websites, and if an user doesn't get what your website is about in 5 minutes then fix your website, don't blame the user.
- Infogami. Wiki-style website builder. I don't see what's the big deal.
- Reddit. Just like Digg except without all the Digg users, so at least at first comments were of higher quality. Now that it got bigger it's just like Digg, except that you don't have to waste your precious time writing descriptions of your submissions and have more time to read how Ron Paul used Lisp to impeach Bush. I guess I shouldn't be so cynical as I'm using it as my main source of the news and one third of my readers come from Reddit, but cynicism is one of Terms & Conditions you need to agree to when you start a blog.
- ClickFacts. Online ads fraud detection. I don't know how well it works, but it looks the most innovative of them all. By the way isn't it kinda ironic that geeks do ad-supported startups and block all ads at the same time?
- Zenter. Web clone of PowerPoint, website died after Google bought them.
- Auctomactic. Another user interface for eBay.
- Parakey. Some sort of "Web operating system". They were bought by Facebook, but their website is dead, and it's not obvious if they actually built anything beyond buzzwords.
- Anywhere.FM. Website where you can upload MP3s you own, play on your other computer, and then pay RIAA for it. So much for "A cure for the disease of which the RIAA is a symptom".
- Omnisio. YouTube clone with a bunch of extra nifty features for cutting and annotating videos. They have nice screencasts. Too bad you cannot annotate Colbert with it, that would be awesome.
- Xobni. Microsoft Outlook plugin for social networking. Kinda client side version of what Trampoline Systems is doing on server side. The obvious problem with pure client side solution like that is that you probably already know about your direct contacts, and you won't learn anything about your second-level connections without access to your first-level connections' mailboxes. So I'm not sure how much value there is it in, not to mention it only supports one bad email client on one bad operating system.
- Scribd. You thought PDFs are bad? Now you can upload them to Scribd and make them even worse by displaying them in a shitty Flash applet. Scribd has a distinction of being the Y Combinator startup with highest chances of making the Web even worse than it is now. I seriously hope they never succeed.
- Wufoo. Online builder for web forms. Nifty little app.
- VirtualMin. Just like WebMin except on the Web. I think the main problem with most shared hosting/DNS registrars s not lack of GUIs, but too many crappy GUIs and limitted control over direct shell access or some sort of API.
- Justin.TV. Another YouTube clone. My first impression is that it's a lot less interesting than Omnisio.
- Weebly. Another website creator.
- Loopt. Let friends spy on you with their mobiles. Some people might find it usefull, but I don't get the whole mobile thing. Skype, email and IM are vastly superior for communicating with people than phone calls and SMS texting, cost a fraction of them, and most of the time people do have Internet access so they don't need mobiles. I just don't get it.
- RescueTime. A service which records your browsing habits to sell to advertisers and CIA, I mean to help you avoid procrastination. If they convince people to install it they have the chance to be the new Google and earn billions on ads.
So most of them seem follow pattern of "just like X only Y", where Y more often than not equals "online". Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that's a bad thing - most of the progress in the human history follows the "just like X only Y" pattern, and with sufficient number of "only Y"s you can create something that creators of X never dreamed of.
It's kinda proving that Paul Graham was right saying the idea doesn't really matter, as in most of these startups it was good execution not brilliant idea what made them successful. So go ahead and start your startup.
EDIT: As some people on Hacker News noticed, I was wrong, and justin.tv is for live streaming with webcams, not for recording YouTube-style videos using webcams as I guessed from looking at their website and reading their FAQ. The point of the article was not a detailed review of every startup on the list, but getting a general idea of what kind of startups YCombinator funds. Sorry if I haven't been clear about that. My conclusion that most of the startups follow the "just like X only Y" still follows, in case of justin.tv for X="Youtube" and Y="live not prerecorded".