The Mountain View investors are the partners of Y Combinator, an organization that can be likened to a sleep-away camp for start-up companies. Y.C. holds two three-month sessions every year. During that time, campers, or founders, have regular meetings with each of Y.C.'s counselors, or partners, at which they receive technical advice, emotional support and, most critical, lessons on the art of the sale. There is no campus, only a nondescript office building in Mountain View — on Pioneer Way, around the corner from Easy Street. Founders are advised to rent apartments nearby, so that they can run to the office in minutes should an important investor pay a visit.
Michelle Crosby, an energetic 37-year-old lawyer in Boise, Idaho, applied for a loan last November from a local bank, Western Capital. She proposed to use the money, $10,000, to help start a new business, Wevorce, which could be described most reductively as an H&R Block for divorces. The bankers liked the idea, and Crosby was a strong candidate. They had even given her an earlier loan to open Wevorce's first office. But after four weeks, the bank was stalling and Crosby had yet to receive a cent. At the height of her frustration, she received an e-mail from a small group of private investors in Mountain View, Calif. They invited her to an interview and, after listening to her story, promised her $100,000 in exchange for a 7 percent stake in Wevorce. Crosby accepted on the spot. The next day, she found a condo for rent, at $2,500 a month, in Mountain View, and left Boise, and her boyfriend, behind.