What is better, apply early to accelerator programs, as a single founder, or wait until I have a team?


7

I am in a conundrum. Accelerator programs such as YCombinator and TechStars advise entrepreneurs to apply as early as possible for additional consideration. However they stress out that they are relentless to accept single founders.

I am a single founder. What is the best path? Apply early as a single founder and hopefully they pay enough attention to my application to consider recruiting a co-founder as part of my progress (when it happens) or wait until I have a great team and then apply as early as possible.

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asked Oct 14 '11 at 04:03
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Rjgonzo
157 points

3 Answers


4

The short version. Don't wait until you have a co-founder. Apply now. If you are not accepted you can always apply later when you find a co-founder. Plus the practice you get from filling out the applications is valuable.

The long version. Although I agree with @Robin that you should apply to these incubators because there's no real drawback, my experience is that most of those bullet points don't apply in practice.

Our startup applied to both YC and TechStars (we were rejected by both). This has been my experience:

Both YC and TechStars get tons of applications for each class. We are talking high hundreds for TechStars and probably close to 1000 for YC - I don't have exact numbers. This means they can't spend a lot of time on each application. You have to grab their attention within the first few questions they read. They do not read every single answer on every single application. The point is that you most likely will not get any feedback from them.

  • They will not "point out issues and adjustments you need to make before trying again."
  • They will not say "Its not our profile, but I know someone keen on that space".
  • They will not put you in contact with "others they know of who can join you".

A few startups may be lucky enough to get that kind of feedback, especially if they make it to the in-person interview portion. However, most startups will get nothing more than a rejection email with no specific reason. It's possible that smaller, lesser known incubators will give you that kind of feedback, but don't expect it from these two.

With that said, I do agree with Robin that you should apply to these programs now. In my opinion, the real benefit of applying is forcing yourself to go through the exercise of answering their questions. They ask some good questions that you need to be able to answer. We found that answering the questions on the applications was a very helpful exercise for us.

As you mentioned, they are very clear about the fact that single founder startups have a slim chance of getting accepted. One counter-example is Drew, the founder of Dropbox, who was accepted into YC as a single founder. Paul Graham has talked about how they accepted Drew into YC because of how impressed he was with him. So, as a single founder your probability of getting accepted isn't 0%, but unfortunately it is fairly close to that. I'm not saying this to discourage you from applying, I just want you to have realistic expectations.

Lastly, not getting accepted means absolutely nothing! They see a lot of great startups, but unfortunately they can't accept every one. Keep working on your startup, continue looking for a co-founder, and continue to apply to these programs.

Good luck!

answered Oct 17 '11 at 09:11
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Zuly Gonzalez
9,194 points
  • That is interesting, I think the size and stage of the accelerator is a key factor. The ones I deal with are only just getting established with their first and second intakes of startups. I think they have more time to spend and their model of engaging a lot of "advisors" from the industry to help is a key difference. I think the if you look at the profile of the accelerator, what they look for / are good at will guide you as to who to approach for help. – Robin Vessey 9 years ago
  • @RobinVessey: Yes, I think you're right. The size of the incubator is definitely a factor here. The more applications the program gets, the less time they will have to dedicate to each applicant. That's the nice thing about small programs, like the ones you are involved with. (The downside is that you don't get as much publicity as you do from the big ones.) YC and TechStars don't have that luxury. TechStars also uses the model of engaging a lot of industry advisors, but the advisors come in after the startups have been selected. They are not involved in the selection process. – Zuly Gonzalez 9 years ago

2

Start talking to them now, there are lots of benefits and no real drawbacks.

  • They may have others they know of who can join you. They may have people who can help or companies (like mine) who can incubate.
  • They may point out issues and adjustments you need to make before trying again.
  • You get into the community early and its easier to say "Hi remember me, I have covered off what you said and done so much more ... what do you think now". This is a very important qualifer for an investor that you stick at it.
  • They may say "Its not our profile, but I know someone keen on that space".

A "No" early can be a good thing:

  • You can test your idea out early.
  • A no with a reason will help you pivot
  • A no with "not yet" means you have to find others
  • A no with "seen it, if failed because ..." means you drop it OR pivot OR refine your pitch OR ignore them because your right but they still have a limited view of your idea. (Last 2 I have added after Mihaly's comments.

If they are worried about the single founder thing, you could approach them from a "just testing the water now" standpoint which they normally won't mind giving you some feedback, and you have taken the first step.

answered Oct 14 '11 at 10:40
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Robin Vessey
8,394 points
  • I'd add that none of the above comment types should mean that you automatically have to pivot. Most ideas face at least 100 negative feedback before getting investment, and even if you are not yet looking for investment, you shouldn't get discouraged by the first few "professional" opinions. The key is finding balance between stubborn ignorance and pointless adoption of advice. – Mihaly Borbely 9 years ago
  • Agreed, it depends on who you are talking to, their background and their views and your ability to present the full picture ... – Robin Vessey 9 years ago
  • Robin, I'm curious, have you applied to these programs in the past? My experience has been that most startups will not get feedback as to why they weren't accepted. See my answer. – Zuly Gonzalez 9 years ago
  • @ZulyGonzalez, I'm actually starting to be a mentor at an incubator here in Melbourne. They are pretty good about the feedback and telling people where the issue lies, but I think your milage my vary depending on the particular company. – Robin Vessey 9 years ago
  • @RobinVessey: Cool, thanks for the response. – Zuly Gonzalez 9 years ago
  • @RobinVessey what is the address of your program robin? You gave me advice on my dating startup, i would love to have some more, if possible. – Herr K 9 years ago
  • @HerrKaleun just contact me on twitter we can take it from there. – Robin Vessey 9 years ago
  • @RobinVessey thank you! I'm re-writing (a totally simplified version) my code and will contact you for feedback, after it's done! – Herr K 9 years ago

1

I wouldn't get a co-founder for the purpose of being accepted into a program like these. If a co-founder makes sense, adds value and you want one, then by all means, but do it for the right reason.

I can't help but feel like the goal here is to get into one of these programs rather than to build a successful product and/or business. Keep in mind what your actual goal is and take steps towards it.

Getting a co-founder for the sake of having a co-founder would be worse than going it alone.

As for when to apply, I agree with Robin's answer, why not apply.. you have nothing to lose.

answered Oct 14 '11 at 10:42
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Joel Friedlaender
5,007 points
  • I agree. I am not looking for a co-founder for the sole reason of getting accepted. I have been networking and looking for one long before considering/knowing about these programs. So it is for the right reasons. But up until now I was able to keep moving forward (steady) without a partner. – Rjgonzo 9 years ago

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