Twice a year, Y Combinator holds Demo Day to officially debut and graduate a batch of startups presenting to investors and press. An event called Alum Demo Day takes place the night before. It’s the last chance for the startups to practice and rehearse their presentations to a field of YC alums .
Next Tuesday is the 19th YC Demo Day. Mine was the 9th, in the summer of 2009 (usually called S’09). Back then 26 companies presented for about 6 minutes and YC partners encouraged us all to include live demos of our product if possible (apparently the audience pays much more attention if there is some chance of the demo going awry).
In more modern times, over 80 companies deliver Demo Day speeches lasting only 2-3 minutes, each deck running off a shared computer with screenshots, graphs, and occasionally videos and physical stage props (robots on a Segway or Back To The Future like hover boards).
Even more drastic than the format, the audience at Alum Demo Day now spans representatives from 9 years of founders (and I definitely see 05 through 08 alums in addition to my fellow S’09 batch mates). Some alums have long sold their startups and become angel investors. Others graduated only 6 months prior. In any event, a nearly standing-room only audience of founders fills the auditorium each session and I’m perplexed by a simple question: What keeps everyone coming back?
Obviously, first and foremost, we are there to help our fellow YC founders. All of us received tremendous amounts of aid from the YC community and we love giving back whenever we can. Still, with literally hundreds of founders in attendance, are there other benefits for attending Demo Day? Here are my guesses, mostly my own reasons for going, and I’d love to hear from other alums and compile some results:
1.) Mini-reunion with other YC Alums — It’s always great to see my batch mates but we’re often very busy running our startups! Twice a year is a great frequency to hold a reunion and Alum Demo Day becomes a great catalyst and rally point.
2.) Scout the latest wave of ideas – We know many YC companies pivot mid-program and others iterate and refine niche ideas into grand visions. In any case, many of the startups spent time scouting out the latest and most promising pitches. I consider the evening a tour of the newest ideas swirling around Silicon Valley.
3.) Early Look for Angel Investing – Quite a few alums make occasional angel investments. In all of my (very few) angel deals, I only invest a tiny amount in companies that happen to interest me. I probably wouldn’t have even made it into the round had I not introduced myself to the founders prior to the swarm of professionals on Demo Day.
4.) Meet with YC partners – A great YC benefit is lifetime office hours as needed. Usually that entails giving some high-level updates and asking a few specific questions about the road ahead. Demo Day is a terrible night for office hours because the partners are preoccupied, but it’s a great chance for a quick chat and follow up to get on the calendar.
5.) Watching your friends graduate – I had several close friends participate in earlier batches than me. That’s how I first heard about YC and decided to apply. Over the years I’ve encouraged many friends to follow and it’s always great to see them on stage. Don’t worry, I believe admissions to YC is as merit-based as can be, but like lines in a fraternity, the social connections between alums are quite complex .
6.) Bdev, Sales, and Networking – Fellow YC companies make great beta testers, service providers, and business development partners. By default I trust a YC company far more than most startups to do right, whether it’s going the extra mile to seal the deal on a partnership or to give excellent customer service if we try their product. Also, the event is founders-only so everyone can be sure they are talking with top level decision-makers.
7.) Excuse to visit the South Bay – Our startup is in New York and increasingly more alums are moving here. However, during the 3 month program almost every event takes place in Mountain View, CA. I have many fond memories living on Castro Street, but I’ll admit it’s a trek. Maybe the SF dwellers think the same way.
These are roughly my top 7 reasons for attending the last 4 Alum Demo Days. I’m sure others have great reasons I haven’t considered. As usual, I’ve booked my tickets and fly from NYC tonight! I hope to see many familiar faces next Monday!
 Some people hear the term Alum Demo Day and think it’s a YC sponsored event for older, previously graduated YC companies to present to investors. Maybe that’s a fine idea, but the only companies presenting in this batch is the current class.
 Fast Company once tried to create a social graph of many YC Alums, but they quickly found the web extremely complex and intertwined. They finally went to print with an infographic called Y Connector, but they had to cut out almost all of the people and some of the most interesting connections (http://infographics.