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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)?

How 31 YC companies answered the "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)?" question from the YCombinator Application.

31 answers / 127 words on average / Obsolete question
Demonstrate that you know what your customers want and you have something special for them.

"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)?" — 31 answers


Full application

What’s new: A lot of our features exist in disparate open source software but there’s no one tool that a Data Scientist or ML Engineer can use to manage their whole workflow. These features individually solve annoying problems but not big enough that customers would want to pay for them. However, we think that a bundle of all these tools (Supernote) is much more valuable and crosses the threshold to something people will pay for. Substitutes: The most common DS workflow today is training a model on local jupyter notebooks or google colab notebook (for more savvy people who work at companies that allow it), testing it out with an example set of arguments and then putting it into a python script that they then upload to GCP cloud functions/AWS lambda to deploy it. There’s no good collaboration solution so people often just share screenshots in slack. The DS’ who are technically savvy and understand git sometimes use git for versioning, most just don’t save versions over time.


Full application

Currently, the only substitute is building the notification system in-house. Based on our experiences, and user interviews, it takes a team of two engineers (frontend+backend) and a designer a minimum of two months to build a basic real-time notification center with multi-channel delivery. The team needs to understand and use APIs from Twilio and Pusher, etc. Usage analytics, debugging logs, fine-tuning the UX, or performing any day-to-day maintenance and troubleshooting is even more work.


Full application

People are overwhelmed with information and stuck in "google doc hell" - the condition caused through tools that make it easy to create new notes but difficult to find existing notes. By storing notes in hierarchies and using lookup to reference them, users can find any particular note in seconds even if they have thousands of notes. Just as important, if a user is unable to find a note using lookup, they can be confident that the note doesn't exist. While the concepts of hierarchies are not new, hierarchies have never been used to their full potential in note taking tools. This is because the tooling around them sucks. All note taking tools (and even your file system), supports hierarchies. But besides holding your notes, these hierarchies do nothing but get in your way. You can't use them to find notes. They are difficult to change. They add friction to creating new notes. Dendron gives you all the good parts of hierarchies and takes away the friction.


Full application

We take the engineering out of building an online trade school so educators can focus teaching their craft. Our tool streamlines the administrative side of running an online trade school by creating an all-in-one solution for admissions, payment processing, live conferencing, and student management. Content creators are hacking together a few different tools to replicate this experience on their own: Zoom, Calendly, Facebook groups, Google forms, etc.. Companies like Lambda School, Flockjay, and Jumpcut are building these tools from scratch which requires a tremendous amount of engineering effort. Soon anybody and any organization, not just venture-backed startups, will be able to start risk-free online trade school. Yay!


Full application

"People research" is broken: Finding participants is difficult and slow and with other platforms data is biased, low quality, and incentives are misaligned. Researchers want participants and data they can trust, but they resort to platforms which provide disengaged people who signup for pennies, fraudsters and bots, leaving them crying out for higher quality solutions. We're tackling this by obsessing about trust, data quality, and "truth". We use proprietary user validation, statistical algorithms and machine learning to weed out bots and bad actors which plague the rest. Competitors have no minimum pay policies and often pay next to nothing to their participants leading to misalignment, disengagement and bias or fraud. We have a variety of incentives built in to our platform including pre-qualification for studies, two-way feedback, and guaranteed minimum pay. In addition, researchers can transparently explore the marketplace and get in touch with participants directly. As a result, both sides of the marketplace trust our platform, which means that participants provide high quality data and researchers conduct high quality research. Our platform also creates virtuous cycles for our community. Demand from researchers attracts further participants to our platform. We leverage our increased supply of participants to innovate, for example enabling researchers to collect nationally representative samples at the click of a button! This virtuous cycle powers our growth. At the moment, many use non-dedicated solutions like Amazon's Mechanical Turk (MTurk), which were not developed to solve these problems, and as a result suffer from poor quality and limited feature innovation.


Full application

So far there are a lot of platforms that do one part of the job: there are mobile apps for events, there are registration systems, there are check-in systems, but they are not all in one, they don't have compliance such SOC 2 or they are not global language, time zone and currency compatible. Today people resort to Microsoft Excel (yes, I know).


Full application

At OpenPhone, we are bridging the gap between a phone system and a CRM. A lot of small business owners rely on a phone system to communicate with their customers. Right now, 86% of them are using their personal phone numbers for business which is both limiting and problematic on so many levels. Majority of small businesses don’t use a CRM because existing solutions put the burden of data entry on the user. Who’s got time for that? We change that by owning the communication channel between businesses and their customers. This means that we can help small businesses stay on top of their customer relationships and ultimately close more deals.


Full application

Slite replaces all the tools you use to write content that matters: Word, Google Doc, wikis, the list is long. The biggest change is that we're bringing the ease of use & access of notes to teams, and therefore giving them a go-to tool to write things down and a clear view of what exactly had been written by their teammates.


Full application

The implementation process for employee benefits solutions on the market today can be needlessly complex and expensive. Many HR/benefits solutions are cumbersome and cost prohibitive for many employers to offer. Goodly can be implemented in 10 minutes and is flexible enough to fit any budget with no setup or annual fees.


Full application

We’ve created (and are improving) an algorithm that analyses one’s paycheck stub and simulates all loans’ opportunities in a matter of seconds, allowing users to easily compare rates among different banks and get it online. Such algorithm is able to estimate information about each loan, using the paycheck stub data and combining to data found online and define a score value for that client to make an automatic proposal for users in a matter of seconds.This way, the algorithm plays a huge role in giving convenience and also transparency to our users, and also optimizing deals in our pipeline for action. For clients, without this solution, the only alternative available today is to personally visit different bank branches, bank correspondents or resort to street brokers’ advices, to get some of the information and wait days until the final approval of their loans. Plus, as users usually get up to 30 payroll-deductible-loans in their lifetime (because they have the opportunity to get money at such a low interest rate), the algorithm will also be able to help them i.) manage their loans; ii.) pay them back faster, if they want to; iii.) reduce their installments whenever the government reference interest rate goes down; and iv.) borrow more money for the best rates available, whenever they need it again.

Simple Habit(W17)

Full application

In contract to Headspace and Calm who have launched a single 'channel,' we're launching a marketplace — a platform for mindfulness, offering a continuously updated stream of meditation content from a variety of teachers. We're the first to create a meditation platform that curates content from hundreds of high-quality mindfulness professionals and charge subscriptions for access. We're also the first to introduce a Spotify-like business model to the meditation space. Mindfulness teachers are paid a portion of our subscription revenue commensurate to the number of times their content is listened to. Users get access to meditation content that is diverse in personality and topics. Silent retreats and in-person meditation studios are other alternatives, but they aren't accessible to all busy working professionals financially or temporally.

The Flex Company(S16)

Full application

What’s new about FLEX: * The distribution channel (e-commerce, direct to consumer, subscription) * Chic design, high-end packaging, differentiated branding and unique millennial voice * Product features (fit/materials) * It can be worn up to 12 hours and it is not linked to TSS * 23% more sex; it allows a user and their partner to engage in mess-free intercourse (and if her partner is male, he won’t feel much, if anything) * Environmental impact (fewer changes, less packaging and waste) This market is extremely underserved; women who don’t want to use tampons or pads have very few options other than menstrual cups. There’s are a couple of important differences between FLEX and menstrual cups. Menstrual cups block the vaginal canal (don’t allow sex), they fill up and must be rinsed and reused. This makes for an awkward experience at work or in a public restroom. Menstrual cups are also difficult to insert (there are four different ways you can fold it before inserting) and remove (mine got stuck), which are huge barriers to adoption. Finally, menstrual cups are reused for 5–10 years, and this is a huge behavior change from disposing tampons. FLEX is disposable and addresses this important concern.


Full application

What’s new? In Nigeria.. there’s still no way to accept recurring payments or one click payments. The incumbents are big co’s owned by banks and are not interested in innovating. Substitutes, creating US or UK companies so they can use UK or US payment processors and then find ways to send the money back.


Full application

We want to make it as easy as setting up an API account with us to get started with fulfillment. No one else has made it that easy to start providing fulfillment solutions for companies. Typically, start-ups go two different routes. 1. They do the fulfillment themselves. This means a large portion of their effort is taken away from product development and marketing. 2. They find a 3PL. Often times, they are overpaying and the facilities are initially misinformed about the product which delays shipments. To find warehousing today is a long and arduous process of calling individual facilities to see if they can manage a given product. Each warehouse has a slightly different pricing structure, different process of fulfillment, and different understanding of the same product.


Full application

Automated CS courses are not new, online coding schools such as Code School and Code Academy have had them for awhile now. What is unique about our platform is that it supports core programming languages such as Java, C, and C# in addition to the web based languages that others support. Also our platform is built to be integrated into schools as classroom courses rather than for individuals to casually learn online. And finally we base all of our algorithms off of machine learning so as we process more and more data, our plagiarism detection system and analytics reports will just keep getting smarter. Right now, the way a high school starts a CS program is to hire a qualified instructor, have them develop course content based on his or her understanding, and then start teaching. Through interviews with some high school administrators we have come to determine that the average cost for this is around 70k a year. This price point of this in addition to the lack of qualified instructors is what has been stopping High Schools from starting their own CS programs.


Full application

We offer the a better way of collaborating on digital products ( the feature branch workflow) to organizations that prefer to work on open source tools. Open source is interesting for large companies because they can inspect and modify the code. They also can and do contribute back changes that are important to them. Substitutes are closed source alternatives (GitHub Enterprise, Atlassian Stash) or less functional open source alternatives (Gitorious, Gogs). GitHub currently has a lot of mind-share but they are under- serving the on-premises (behind the firewall) market. We can see us grow into the leading solution for those installations (which is currently the majority of the market). In the long run most software will live on some (hybrid-)cloud and we think there are many ways to differentiate our offering (open source/distributed/integrated). In the short term we are emulating the Netflix strategy, shipping DVD’s (focus on the on-premise installations) when the competitors focus on the video-on-demand (SaaS) offering.

80,000 Hours(S15)

Full application

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.


Full application

We marry the the advantages of ACH (ubiquitous and affordable) and the advantages of credit cards (fast) and put them both in the same product. Our payment system is therefore fast, secure, and affordable. Right now people are using credit cards, e-transfers, and checks. Credit cards tell retailers whether or not they are going to get paid for what they are selling. But in order to work, they require an asset-heavy and insecure process that costs merchants in the US alone $50 billion a year. To the extent innovation has existed, it has been on top of existing credit card networks. Because of these innovations, credit card processing has become faster or more broadly available. But because innovations are on top of an obsolete network, credit card processing has also become more expensive.


Full application

What is new: Our solution combines modern computer vision techniques with the proliferation of touchscreen devices. Substitutes: People either build the slides themselves manually, or pay someone else to


Full application

1) It costs at least an order of magnitude less than what is being built today. 2) It's designed to work on existing cars. Americans drive 37 miles per day on average. They sometimes drive while texting, drive while intoxicated, or simply drive while being distracted. People seem to be trying really hard to do other things instead of driving, but so far there aren't many good ways to accomplish this. Some newer vehicles have advanced cruise control systems that keep the vehicle in the lane during ideal highway driving situations, but drivers aren't supposed to do anything else or even take their eyes off the road. This seems like a band‑aid solution.


Full application

Most wait for app store approval and push many changes simultaneously. They eyeball the results and haphazardly rollback suspect changes. Desperate people resort to basic, home-grown solutions. Because of other projects, Switchboard and evolved incomplete solutions (we noticed errors: randomization mistakes that mess up the experiments, poor error handling, malformed responses that’d crash your app!). There hasn’t been much focused effort towards creating a seamless AB testing experience for native apps. AB testing for mobile is a technologically harder problem than for websites due to challenges particular to mobile devices (ie. intermittent internet, lack of cookies/iframes, users running different versions). Existing solutions ignore complexity whereas we view handling it as our core business.

Standard Treasury(S13)

Full application

When most businesses wants to do something financial they have to call their bank and talk to a person - except for getting a MID. That doesn't make sense. Getting a wire, as an example, often involves twenty minutes, a painful conversation, and $30. Even non-quant hedge funds needing to convert EURO to GBP have to pick up the phone and talk to a bank's trading desk. No one has built developer friendly bank back-end processing, so you have to deal with banks, which overcharge, are slow, and are not developer friendly. Wells Fargo, for example, does offers an API which costs more than their other options and, well, is not very good.


Full application

Our auction site emphasizes authenticity and safer selling and buying of designer items. We have a unique technique (patent in the works) to help verify an item’s authenticity and the seller’s physical possession of it. This dramatically reduces scams for both buyers and sellers. Current online auctions only rely on a feedback system. This is not adequate, especially when (for some brands) over half of all items sold are fake! (Most buyers are not expert authenticators.)

One Month(S13)

Full application

Honestly, the current online resources focused on teaching people how to code just don't cut it. There's a huge but largely unrecognized difference between the kind of skills that sites like Codecademy teach and what people actually want or need to know to build web applications. At One Month Rails, the focus is on helping someone deploy a web application as quickly as possible. Most of my students have never seen a command line before, and yet they are able to have an application live on Heroku in less than one hour. It's a magical moment. Maybe it's not defensible, but I feel as if I've discovered a better way to teach non-technical people how to code. People reach out to me every day telling me this is "the best $20" they've ever spent. Most of them have tried to learn how to code before on sites like Codecademy and never succeeded. The core of the idea is not about education, it's about getting a non-technical person to a fully-functional, beautiful web application as quickly as possible. Right now it happens through engaging video content, but slowly we're identifying big points of friction in the process (like getting the entire development environment set up on a local computer) and eliminating them using technology.

The Muse(W12)

Full application

Members of our target demographic are currently finding jobs primarily via personal connections and occasionally via high­-touch recruiters who charge 20% of starting salary per hire; a small minority uses sites like the Ladders and an even smaller percentage turns to, SimplyHired and the like. The skewed ratios of men to women on these sites is reflective of the research on transactional vs. relationship-­based networking, which is why the content arm of The Daily Muse is extremely important towards attracting and retaining a large pool of qualified women. No one is currently tackling the "smart content for women" space, and it's one we can begin to capture with front runner advantage. Marie Claire is releasing a special issue on career, which they are consulting us about, and sites like ForbesWomen and Excelle at are desperately trying to capture the younger demographic. We have it and we're growing quickly.

Make School(W12)

Full application

We will grow our catalog of games faster and at a lower cost than anyone else in the industry. We don't claim to be able to separate the gems from the duds, but we can rely on metrics to provide merit-based promotion to promising games in our catalog and the gems will carry us to success. Artist and engineers can find each other on freelancing sites, but to navigate a site like Elance one needs money and knowledge on how to write a contract. Additionally, few publishers will talk to small, independent first-time developers. Thus, engineers resort to self-publishing lower quality games without great production value or effective means of promotion.


Full application

What's new about our product is that we plan to build in social and viral mechanics from the very beginning and focus on maintaining a search-friendly database for athlete data. Older and existing solutions would be much more useful (and more easily monetized) if the data they collected was searchable and organized. Also current website-builders for teams do not allow athletes to create their own profile without a team - we will allow for that and make it extremely easy and beautiful. Along with using eTeamz, coaches currently send forms to players for profile information, get the information emailed back to them, then enter the data into MS Word templates, convert those into PDF's, upload each of them to the web, and manually link a player's name to the URL of the PDF.


Full application

Uncaught program bugs are expensive, and for this reason, good developers take care in testing their code. However, even the best test suites will not catch all program bugs. Taazr will identify such bugs earlier in the development cycle, and companies will save money that otherwise might have been spent on code maintenance and customer support. We believe that statistical debugging is uniquely suited to web applications, due to the relative ease with which web apps can be instrumented through lightweight and unobtrusive javascript. While statistical debugging has succeeded in a research context on desktop software, automatically finding bugs in live web applications remains an open industrial problem. However, our ultimate aim is not just to find bugs in web applications, but also to fix them. This will likely require tighter integration — server-side — between our tools and a developer’s code.


Full application

Newspapers have been operating under a failed business model for 10 years. We're rebuilding newspapers by creating profitable web products and optimizing their sales process with online tools. This both makes money and cuts costs. What's novel is that we're saving the newspaper for their relationships with millions of local businesses, and showing them how to make money again. What are newspapers doing without us? They are dying: and that doesn't include weeklies. Our products make newspapers money and bring local communities together.


Full application

Mixpanel is going to bring the competitive advantage data-driven companies like Facebook and Slide have to everyone. Instead of just tracking page views and referrals, Mixpanel will let people learn about their customers by tracking interactions and engagement. We’re also going to help them identify and track their conversion funnels — the paths visitors take to registrations, purchases or any other goal page designated by the company. Today, companies have to spend their most scarce resources, time and money, to build out internal analytic systems specific to their application. These homebrew systems are less robust and insightful than the service we are offering.


Full application

Most small teams have a few basic needs: (1) team members need their important stuff in front of them wherever they are, (2) everyone needs to be working on the latest version of a given document (and ideally can track what's changed), (3) and team data needs to be protected from disaster. There are sync tools (e.g. beinsync, Foldershare), there are backup tools (Carbonite, Mozy), and there are web uploading/publishing tools (, etc.), but there's no good integrated solution. Dropbox solves all these needs, and doesn't need configuration or babysitting. Put another way, it takes concepts that are proven winners from the dev community (version control, changelogs/trac, rsync, etc.) and puts them in a package that my little sister can figure out (she uses Dropbox to keep track of her high school term papers, and doesn't need to burn CDs or carry USB sticks anymore.) At a higher level, online storage and local disks are big and cheap. But the internet links in between have been and will continue to be slow in comparison. In "the future", you won't have to move your data around manually. The concept that I'm most excited about is that the core technology in Dropbox -- continuous efficient sync with compression and binary diffs -- is what will get us there.

"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)?" — advice from YC partners

Jason Shen (Co-founder & CEO of Headlight, YC alum)


Show YC you understand your users. One question we and many other startups hear at office hours again and again is “Who needs this? … No, who really needs this?” Your first answer is rarely good enough. You’ve got to convince the YC partners that you truly know who your users are, how to reach them, what their problems are, why this product fits into their life/workflow and solves their problems.

Zain Shah (Data Scientist at Opendoor, YC alum)


Present your problem as a hair on fire problem, one that people would use immediately if they knew existed because the switching costs are negligible compared to their existing suffering.

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