The Real Reason Why Y Combinator Is Dominating The World Of Startups!

by Steli Efti

I recently talked with a guy who's about to launch an incubator in Europe, and he asked me about my experiences at Y Combinator. He wanted to know what makes Y Combinator the arguably most successful incubator there is.

Is it Paul Graham's genius? Is it the amazing partners?  The awesome network? Is it the quality of the founders and partners? The way the program is set up?

All of these things are major elements of Y Combinator's success, but my personal interpretation of what really makes YC the number one player in this game is something else...

 

When Thomas, Anthony and I got into YC, there were two things that impressed me a lot on the first day of the program.

"You're one of us."

Paul Graham welcomed everyone and said basically: "Guys, you're now all part of Y Combinator. There's nothing that you can do or say or screw up so badly that we'll change our minds. If something dramatically bad happens, come to us first - that's why we're here. We're there for you when things go down. And believe us. No matter how catastrophic things seem to you, we've seen this before. There's no way we're going to turn our backs to you, you're now part of the family."

That's a very empowering thing to hear as an entrepreneur. It gives you the freedom to stop trying to impress the YC crew, and you don't have to invest your energy into trying to hide your flaws and failures.

The Circle of Trust

At YC there's a tradition of Tuesday Dinners, where some very accomplished person comes to YC and talks about their experiences and shares their insights with the YC alumni. People like Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Andreessen... really high-caliber investors. These aren't the typical speeches you get to hear at conferences - they really let their guard down and "share it as it is". No publicity-versions of real events.

There's a rule about these talks: everything that happens at Tuesday Dinners stays at Tuesday Dinners. No tweeting about it, no blogging or other forms of sharing it. They can afford to actually share unfiltered insights and raw opinions they wouldn't share publicly. And there's a lot of value in that kind of shocking honesty shared by entrepreneurs who seem to have it all figured out. 

Why do they share it with what's basically a bunch of strangers to them? Because they know the Y Combinator network is trustworthy.

Don't be the founder that fucks it up for everyone else

And then PG said: "We've been able to maintain this circle of trust for many years. That's why these people come here again and again and share stories they never tell anyone else. And the only reason why they keep doing that is because they can trust us. Don't be the founder that ruins this for everyone else forever. Don't be the first person who breaks that trust and destroys the value."

The room went very silent. You could feel the tension - because we've all been entrusted with a heavy responsibility. Nobody wanted to be the person that fucks it up for everyone else.

We all shared these secrets, and it forged a strong bond among the group of new alumni sitting in the room.

It goes back to something I've spoken about before: trust trumps everything.