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80,000 Hours YCombinator Application

80,000 Hours successful YCombinator application from 2015 summer batch (YC S15).

An online guide that tells talented graduates how to maximise the…
We provide research and support to graduates who want to use their careers to make a big positive impact in the world. We have an online guide that tells you new ways to make an impact, and one-on-one advice & introductions to help people take action.
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What is your company going to make? Please describe your product and what it does or will do.

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We help graduates choose careers that make a difference. Currently we provide an online career guide and one-on-one coaching. In order to serve more users, we’re building a web app to automate parts of our coaching process. It will show users how to compare their options in terms of impact, and recommend high-impact paths they may not have though of. Afterwards, they'll receive personalized advice from our career coaches. Our users get the meaningful career they want, and society benefits because more talent goes to the most pressing social problems.


Please enter the url of a 1 minute unlisted (not private) YouTube video introducing the founder(s).

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How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?

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Will and Ben met and started working together four years ago. Since then we’ve run a press campaign that was featured in the BBC, advised policy makers at the UK Prime Minister's office, fundraised hundreds of thousands of dollars, and much else. Peter and James have both been supporters since the early days. James joined our advisory board in 2013, and we’ve finally tempted him to leave his current organisation to join us full time. Peter joined the team as a freelancer in August 2014 as we moved our focus to online. He got so much done we quickly brought him up to full time and asked him to become a founder.

Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together.

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Will and I started to work together on career content the first time we met, over four years ago. Our first project was a talk on how to make the most difference with your career, which we gave as part of Will’s first charity, Giving What We Can. The first time we gave the talk, a quarter of the audience completely changed what they were planning to do with their lives. So we decided to work together some more! The (embarrassing) original is still on youtube….


How far along are you?

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We’ve written an online career guide that receives over 20,000 unique viewes monthly, up from zero in August, and up 10% over the last month. We give one-on-one advice to 5-10 people per month to figure out what users most want, and so far have advised over 200. We’ve tracked over 170 significant career shifts due to our advice. Previous users have founded 5 new non-profits and collectively donated over $1m to high-impact charities. Others have started political careers or entered high-impact research fields such as AGI safety. See examples here: Last month, we released a prototype web app to automate the first stages of our one-on-one advice. The first version was seen by 225 uniques and had 11 sign ups over a week, with an average revenue of $25 per person. It cut time per user served by 70%, and 40% of users said they changed their career plans.

How long have each of you been working on this? How much of that has been full-time?

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We started working as volunteers in November 2011. Since July 2012, we’ve had about three full-time staff on the project. The latest version of our website has 20,000 lines of code and our prototype app has 700.

What is your monthly growth rate?

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~10% (website uniques)

How much revenue?

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Since 2012, we’ve raised over $700,000 in donations. Of this, about 30% comes from 20 former users. Our donors fund us in order to place more people in high-impact career paths. Historically, we’ve been able to raise $1500 per significant career shift. We’ve also started to charge users for one-on-one advice. Last month we earned about $1000.

If you are applying with the same idea as a previous batch, did anything change? If you applied with a different idea, why did you pivot and what did you learn from the last idea?

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Winter 2014. Team: Added a hacker, Peter Hartree, and a hustler, James Norris. Traction: 173 significant plan changes vs. 20 previously. Product: Created a 40 page online career guide and prototype web app. Domain expertise: Have coached another 100+ people, further testing our key content. Distribution: Will secured a $150,000 book deal with Penguin and a column in The book is finished and will be published in August 2015.


Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you're making?

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Why this idea? It’s the advice we wish we’d had. When we graduated we wanted to use our careers to make a difference. But we couldn’t find any useful advice on what to do. So we did the research and created our own advice. People listened, totally changed their plans, and became fanatical supporters: e.g. we’ve been approached by users who want to run groups promoting us at Cambridge, Harvard, UPenn, Princeton, Bain and elsewhere. We’ve helped spark a whole new social movement: Effective Altruism. Domain expertise We’ve spent over three years doing systematic research into how to make the biggest difference with your career, and advised over 200 people. As far as we know, no-one else has worked on this question as much as us. Why will this work? 31% of graduates say making an impact in their work is “essential”, but they have little idea what to do except work in the social sector or give up (“sell out”). So most of their potential for impact is wasted. We’ve shown we can solve this problem for an extremely valuable niche: we’re advising some of the most talented young people in America and the UK, and enabling them to have far more impact. By improving our web app, we can serve a much larger audience. We can distribute widely by releasing engaging content: Will has a column and a $150,000 book deal with Penguin (already finished, to be released August ‘15).

What's new about what you're making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn't exist yet (or they don't know about it)?

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We’re the only organisation in the world that uses in-depth research to help people choose careers that make a difference. Most career advice doesn’t focus on social impact. When it does, it’s based on anecdote rather than research, and usually confined to one narrow approach e.g. just the charity sector. This means it can’t help you with the big decisions that really matter, like PhD vs. startup vs. Teach for America. Instead, when it comes to these decisions, our audience must put together their own makeshift guidance from friends, mentors and family.


Have you formed ANY legal entity yet?

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Please list all legal entities you have and in what state or country each was formed (e.g. Delaware C Corp, Mexican SAPI, Singapore Pvt Ltd, etc.).

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Charitable company, formed in the UK.

List any investments your company has received. Include the name of the investor, the amount invested, the premoney valuation / valuation cap, the type of security sold (convertible notes, safes or stock), and the investment date.

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Incorporated in 23 Feb 2012 in the UK. $700,000 of donations since 2012, primarily from 25 individual donors. Of this we’ve spent about $400,000. Donors who have given over $10,000 include: Jaan Tallinn (cofounder of Skype), Allan Gray (founder of Orbis), Luke Ding (former hedge fund manager at Brevan Howard), Tony Purnell (entrepreneur and Professor of Engineering at Cambridge), and three former users.

Is there anything else we should know about your company?

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We’re fiscally sponsored by the Centre for Effective Altruism. It provides our 501(c)(3) status and incorporation, as well as some of our operations.


If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we've been waiting for. Often when we fund people it's to do something they list here and not in the main application.

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Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered.

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The eradication of smallpox in 1973 has saved five times more lives than world peace since that time would have done. Even if we assume that all foreign aid was completely wasted except insofar as it caused the eradication of smallpox, it would still have saved a life for every $40,000 spent.


What convinced you to apply to Y Combinator? Did someone encourage you to apply? Have you been to any YC events?

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After three years in research mode, we want to scale massively. We’ve spent some time in the Bay and feel there’s a lot we could learn from other startups and the tech startup scene. We think our approach to making a difference is aligned with Y Combinator: go with the numbers and maximise scale.

How did you hear about Y Combinator?

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When researching how to go into tech entrepreneurship. When the non-profit program was released, lots of our users sent it to us.

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