Fred Wilson invented Embedly: How we got a Y Combinator Interview.

Fred Wilson didn’t _really_ invent Embedly, but there was some causation involved. I’ll explain.

It’s coming down to the wire to submit a Y Combinator application for summer 2011. This session I thought I would share how Embedly came about and how we got a Y Combinator interview. We applied on the last day, so it’s rather fitting for us to talk about it. First the genesis, then the Y Combinator app.

Back in the May of 2009 Fred posted a tweet:


I was having a similar issue and was playing around with different ways of organizing my stream. So two days later (dead link) was up and running. It simply took a user’s stream, followed every link, and displayed them on one page. Fred was even nice enough to put my site in the followup post he did.

Over the next few months I worked on the project on and off in my spare time. I tried to create a richer experience by adding video and image embeds. It was a pain in the ass. Each one had a different response type and there was no easy way to do it. At this point I got frustrated and decided there had to be a better way. I shot off an email to Art explaining my plans for this new service called Embedly. I added it below for your reading pleasure. 

Two days later was the application deadline for Y Combinator. We had applied to Y Combinator before and didn’t get in. We spent weeks on that application. It was filled with tons of information about what we wanted to build and how we were going to be the next most awesome new social media gizmo that made everyone’s lives so much better. This time around I spent a half an hour and rewrote the email below into the application form. It was like throwing up a hail mary at the end of the last quarter, but it worked. For the record I actually put the bash code in the application. I wish I had the original application but sadly it’s gone.

A few weeks later Jessica sent us an email asking us to attach a video. This is required now I think, but before it was optional. Again I have embedded the video below. It’s kind of embarrassing to see yourself in front of the camera that close, but enjoy.

A few weeks later we got an interview.

There is only one important lesson in this whole post. Make your application simple. I have seen a few of these now and have learned that people over think it and throw more words at the problem. We used a tag line, stated a problem and showed how we were going to solve it. My advice: for every field start off with the clearest, simplest answer and back fill information from there. You write a book, it won’t get read.

PG has said this before, but use alumni to review your application. We are all pretty easy to find:!/boctor/ycombinator and generally happy to help. You can find me at

Embedly now serves 5.5 million URLs a day to over 1,100 sites. It’s funny to think that a whole business can be started with 140 characters. Hit Tip Fred Wilson.

YC Application/Email: Make any URL Embeddable.

The current state of embeddable content is horrible. When I say embeddable I’m talking about sites that offer an open API that allows 3rd party apps to embed content in their sites. Think YouTube videos in blogs or content in CubbyScott.

oEmbed is the technology that tried to standardize this process, but there are relatively few sites out there that use it. People that do video get it, it makes sense, Flickr gets it, but others don’t. Twitpic and Yfrog are two obvious candidates to offer an oEmbed api, but still nothing.

So let’s take a different look at it. oEmbed is just an API. standard, nice and pretty, but not implemented a lot. On the flip side lots of sites have APIs that are just as nice, but don’t match on URL. There is an obvious gap here to fill a service that allows developers to pass any url and receive content back for each site’s API.

This service would take the URL and match it to an API. So lets look at some examples:


URL: This is the project landing page in github. Mapping it out we get<username>/<project>. This can be mapped to the Show Repo Info API explained here: API Call:<username>/<project>

$ curl
{"repository":{"description":"Distributed Task Queue","forks":15,"pledgie":1,

That can then use a simple template to turn that into html content:

<div >
      <li>Homepage: {{repository.homepage}}</li>
      <li>Owner: {{repository.owner}}</li>
      <li>Forks: {{repository.forks}}</li>
      <li>Fork: {{repository.fork}}</li>
      <li>Private: {{repository.private}}</li>
      <li>Watchers: {{repository.watchers}}</li>
      <li>Open Issues: {{repository.open_issues}}</li>

Again the json response can be mapped into html. Other sites include Twitter, Meetup, Tumber and many, many more.

Making this into a Platform:

Crowd Sourcing. Allow anyone to submit URL mappings with APIs. Will greatly speed up the development time.

Business Model

  1. Allow any developers to use the API free of cost. Giving them back JSON or the default HTML template
  2. Pay. Allow developers an increased number of calls and allow then to customize the HTML templates to their look and feel.


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You can follow us at @embedly and me at @screeley.

Posted 3 years ago by embedly-team
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