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"Come Sell Pickaxes and Blue Jeans With Me": The Best Gems From Y Combinator Pitch Day

Sometimes a pitch breaks through with the perfect (or perfectly absurd) mix of chutzpah and soundbite.


It’s hard to stand out when you’re one of 67 startup founders giving a three-minute presentation to an audience of hundreds of investors over the course of a single day.

After being groomed and trained for the stage at startup development program Y Combinator’s 18th demo day, every pitcher today was slick. Super slick.

Rather than pointing to unlabeled axes on familiar “hockey stick” growth graphs, Y Combinator’s presenters have gotten smarter. They now talk in second-order logic: “addressable markets,” “annualized run rates” and “week-over-week growth.” Of course, all these numbers are gigantic — even if their absolute value is just tens of thousands of dollars for a business that costs far more to operate. The curve might look good, but in reality it’s often a tiny curve.

But sometimes a pitch breaks through with the perfect (or perfectly absurd) mix of chutzpah and soundbite. Here are some highlights:

  • “Students pay us $20. We pay tutors $10. You’ll notice those numbers aren’t the same. [dramatic pause] That’s how we make money.” (Cambly, a site for finding a native speaker for practicing conversational English via video chat)
  • “Before I started Povio, I was one of the best snowboarders in the world. I won four World Cups. And when I am going for something, I don’t back off.” (Povio, a photo-sharing app where you ask friends to send you a photo, rather than sending one to them)
  • “If you want to join us in selling pickaxes and blue jeans to the miners, come talk to us.” (Rickshaw, which offers same-day delivery services to other startups)
  • “We’re proud to be hated by the leading airlines in the world.” (AirHelp, which tracks down money people are legally owned when their flights get delayed)
  • “Here is our Y Combinator-compliant traction graph.” (, a natural language plug-in for developers)
  • “How many presentations have you watched today? If you’ve lost count, it’s already 39 presentations. By the end of the day, it’s going to be nearly 70.” (SketchDeck, a service that makes presentations pretty)
  • “This is not the type of market in which you need to speak to potential users in order to evaluate it. Because you are the potential users.” (Abacus, an instant expense-reporting mobile app for businesses)

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