Everyone is thinking this, so I’m just going to write it.
The best companies don’t do accelerator programs.
The best companies don’t need accelerator programs.
Now before I continue, I should note that I don’t believe YCombinator falls into this category. YC is in a league of their own and not structured like most accelerator programs. Not all, but many of the best companies actually WANT to do YC because of the structure (office hours and great speakers/dinners). It is pretty well documented that some founders do YC twice, even when they have tremendous exits in their first go-round. This post is for everyone else.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Foursquare, Snapchat, Pinterest, Spotify, Evernote, Gilt, Zocdoc, Zynga, Groupon, Palantir, Path, Vine, Uber, Lyft, WhatsApp, Square, Yelp, Box, Kickstarter, Dwolla (shout out!), Shapeways, Makerbot, Braintree, Singleplatform, Buddy Media, Warby Parker, Fab, Etsy, and more.
What is the common theme?
They all didn’t attend an accelerator program.
The list of companies that went through an accelerator program and are looking like wins is very short. Seatgeek, SCVNGR/Level Up, Onswipe, SendGrid, Gumgum, and a few more mentionable startups. Even the ones here are mostly still maybes (depending on how they play the next 18 months).
What the best founders and teams know is that when you do an accelerator program, it actually decelerates any momentum you have for the most part. You get a lot of advice, you take a lot of meetings, but at the end of the day there are diminishing margins/benefits in taking 3 months to attend an accelerator program.
I’ve been hearing more and more from founders considering accelerator programs and founders who have gone through accelerator programs, that it just isn’t worth it. That if they could do it over again, they wouldn’t have given 7% of their company for what they received. That demo day was great 2-3 years ago, but now you are just labeled an accelerator startup, probably not to exist in 2 years time.
Now, what about the people who don’t have the deep network to pull from? To them, I say, there are typically a handful of folks in every startup hub who know everyone. They are the pillars of the community. As a startup founder, instead of going to an accelerator, you need to identify and connect with those pillars. They will help you get in front of everyone you need to.
Bottom line: Accelerators actually decelerate your growth because of the meetings and talks you need to take or be in. You get meeting disease. At the point where you need to be heads down on product, these disruptions of daily work become the bane of your company. The best founders know that when you are heads down on your product, you don’t need an accelerator to make things happen.