A new trend in Y Combinator applications is that an increasing number of applicants have already been through some sort of accelerator or “pre-accelerator” program. As we’ve dug into this trend, we’ve found that many of the applicants did these programs not because they needed the money or advice but because they thought it might help them get into YC (and specifically that some programs market themselves as a "way to get into Y Combinator).
Actually, it's much harder to get in to YC if you’ve already been through another accelerator. We assume that a group that has already been through an accelerator should have been accelerated, and that if they don't have impressive progress something must be wrong. (A smaller issue is the extra dilution on the cap table.) We now have enough data to know that the track record of companies that go through multiple accelerators is much worse than companies that just do YC.
We fear that there may be cases where groups are hurting themselves by participating in bad accelerator programs that don't accelerate them and yet also raise the threshold they'd have to get over to get into YC. It’s certainly not a deal-breaker—and we are extremely sympathetic to the need to raise money in any way possible—but it does increase our expectations quite a bit.
So we want to remind everyone explicitly: if you want to get into Y Combinator, just apply to Y Combinator or the YC Fellowship. In both cases, we like funding very early-stage companies. You don’t need to “prepare” to apply to YC in any way. You should only do an accelerator if you need the money to survive or think that the resources of the accelerator will help you be more successful; you should never do one as a way to get into YC.
Speaking of that, since we can’t yet fund every good company in the world, here is some general advice about evaluating accelerators:
*Talk to the alumni and ask how strongly they recommend it. This is the best possible data you can get.
*Look at the accelerator’s track record (it’s important to distinguish between companies that went through the accelerator and cases where the investment firm made a small late-stage investment in the company). This will give you a feeling for how good the accelerator actually is, and also a sense of how much external validation you’ll get by participating.
*Look at the strength of the alumni network. You want to join an accelerator that has (1) eminent alumni who (2) really care about helping other companies in the family. You’re joining a network, and more than anything else except perhaps the advice, this is where you’re going to get value.
*Pay attention to how an accelerator treats you before you join, when they should be on their best behavior—it’s likely to be an indicator of how they’ll behave later. Doing founder-unfriendly things like presenting exploding offers does not correlate with good behavior down the road.