Y Combinator and 500 Startups — A founders comparison

500 Startups (B8–Jan 2014)

I’ll start with 500 Startups as we did this program first, starting in January of 2014.

  • COMMUNITY — Read: “Family”. If there is one thing 500 Startups does better than anyone is engender (err, pound in) the importance of community in building a startup, and indoctrinate you in their unique brand of it. The 500S Family is real, and quite active. They value and directly selects for founders that will be active in the community. This starts with your batch but extends to the far reaches of the community. During our batch we gained everything from emotional support, to technical expertise, fundraising advice, distribution help and more. Also, the late night drinking sessions and frequent meals with other teams doesn’t hurt.
  • Physical Co-working with Batchmates — Your batch is your immediate set of tired-eyed and generally unkempt allies in traversing the entrepreneurial journey. Getting to work side by side with some incredibly bright founders with a wealth of deep and diverse experience is awesome. Being in the trenches together lets you share more openly in triumph and defeat, and helps to level out some of otherwise sinusoidal swings you and your company will go through. We would have quick, random conversations in the kitchen or hallway daily about which investors we had just pitched, how we pulled off a certain deal, or if we could get an intro to x or y person.
  • Hustla’s MentalityHustlin’ is a part of the start-up game whether you want it to be or not. Hustling for customers, users, investors, partnerships, team members, or deals on your already-cheap office furniture. This hustlers mentality comes straight from the top — grandmaster Dave McClure shouting about it endlessly. Getting this in your head as a founder, technical or non, will help you realize that you can’t just build your product and sit idly by, but need to go fight for what you want, and a bit of slyness isn’t going to hurt. 500 screens for this from the get-go by weighting references you are able to collect from alumni very highly. Knowing this ahead of time we were able to get around 5 high-quality alumni recs.

Y Combinator (S14 — June 2014)

If you’ve been anywhere close to a startup, San Francisco, or a news outlet that covers technology, you’ve heard of Y Combinator.

  • The Partners — The partners are all ballers. Almost all are startup founders themselves, and incredibly successful ones at that. Nothing parallels operational experience when advising companies. Above that, they don’t feel like hardcore investors, rather people who genuinely and truly want to help founders and startups, and to push the envelope of what companies are able to do in the world. Some of my best experiences were partners telling us exactly how they tackled a problem similar to what we were going through in their own company just years prior, with striking openness and honesty — including details about equity negotiations, litigation, and broken acquisition offers — there’s just no where else you’ll learn this shit.
  • Elite Network — Even with founders in my own class (S14) there was a sense of mutual admiration, awe, and wonder at how top-notch the other founders were in every possible way. This only seems to extend across the network — possibly one of the most elite in Silicon Valley. I have gotten help from YC alumni regarding fundraising, legal and company structure matters, emotional issues regarding team dynamics and so much more. The cool thing is, though, that even with the “elite-ness,” almost everyone I’ve interacted with has been incredibly nice and down to earth.
  • Brand / Access — While the “focus” YC provides was most helpful, the brand and access were the most valuable. Warranted or not, YC has a reverential place in the startup community, and carries an enormous amount of weight with almost all realms of the community; investors, other founders, potential employees, and partner/client communities alike. This access is nowhere better documented than during YC’s Demo Day, an exhilarating and exhausting day filled with pitches in front of an audience of hundreds of investors and hours of mingling — the result of which for us was having over 30 investors ask for introductions in-bound and another 25–30 business cards which we leveraged into a chalk-full calendar of meetings over the next 4+ weeks to raise our seed round.

YC is elite. 500 is scrappy. Dave McClure would suggest 500S “grooms ugly ducklings” while YC “farms black swans.”

500 Startups is a phenomenal place to enter silicon valley, learn the hard lessons of building a product, reaching users, and running a startup. They have incredible variance in the type of companies, founders backgrounds, and stages of companies in their programs, and they thrive on the diversity. This provides for an exciting network with a lot of breadth. They are making a big play on international companies and hammering away at tried and true business models. The support structure is core to their being, and the time you get to interface with partners and staff is unparalleled.

P.S. Coincidentally, applications for the next class for both 500 Startups (here) and Y Combinator (here) are open… Apply!

Thanks to Tristan Pollock, Nate Mihalovich, Nick Bastone, Logan Randolph and Mitali Thakor for their helpful thoughts and edits.



Growth @Lyft | Co-Founder @Unwind_Me | YC Alum, #500Strong, and proud Cal Bear | Likes basketballs, frisbees, and making an impact with technology

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Milan Thakor

Milan Thakor

Growth @Lyft | Co-Founder @Unwind_Me | YC Alum, #500Strong, and proud Cal Bear | Likes basketballs, frisbees, and making an impact with technology