Should you apply to YC or go through On Deck? I’m asking myself the same question, so thought it would be interesting to share my thoughts on the topic on twitter. Maybe it can help you decide for yourself.
First off, I haven’t gone through either program. So this is not a view based on their quality. This is a simply a view formed by the perception I have on each, informed by hard data and gut feelings. Also note, mad respect for both programs. They are doing amazing work.
Let's start on @ycombinator. YC is severely underrated. People think they haven't scaled well, and i'm not sure why this is the case. I think they have @startupschool is incredible. All their content is golden. And every year, YC companies are crushing it and raising massive $$$.
This is the case because only a small % of YC companies find any success. The others may be about it when they aren't in the top 20%. So they tweet about their negative experience. Or they share it in their discord. Or mutter it at a coffeeshop. Perception is reality these days.
And because YC is the big player, started by @paulg a whole two centuries ago, in 2005, people like to hate on it. They are the incumbent and incumbents aren't sexy. What is sexy is to hate on incumbents. Predict their demise. Help contribute to it. I think this is lazy thinking.
If you go into YC, you have a job to do. It is to build a giant company. If you do not do this it is 100% YOUR FAULT. YC gives you funding, a credential, and a network. This is enough. If you can't take that and be in the top 20%, that's okay. It's a hard game. BUT
If you think that because you didn't get what you expected out of YC, you do NOT get to say YC hasn't scaled well. You cannot say that YC is losing its effectiveness. it is because you, the founder, did not capitalize on the opportunity. Btw, I've made this exact mistake.
I blew past $100,000 given to me by an investor you all know. I don't blame the program. I blame myself. But what I did is I got off my butt and I'm trying again. This is what good founders do. And this is what it kinda comes down to me for YC. YC truly elevates good founders.
YC's been around long enough to do a few things.

1. Learn how to start and scale startups
2. Build trust with the whole tech ecosystem, including @kanyewest.

And the #2 is the main selling point for me to do YC. They have the TRUST of the ecosystem.
@sequoia TRUSTS them. @a16z TRUSTS them. @aplusk TRUSTS them. It's a credible institution, so if you are in that 20%, lord knows you're going to get every intro you need to make your company a success. This is not sexy. It's not status games. But it's very functional.
I get:

- $125,000
- A credential
- A network
- A chance to be extraordinary, if I am worthy.

Ok, why not pick this? Duh, it's expensive AF. For all of the above, I need to give up 7% of my company, with a pro rata!!! That's a huge deal, and feels VERY expensive.
Woah woah woah. This changes things for me. Although the value prop is nice, 7% for $125,000 and everything else is a helluva deal for YC. Isn't my company worth more than that? Can I do what YC does for its co's, WITHOUT giving up 7% of my company. Well, enter @beondeck.
On Deck is the new kid on the street. Started by @eriktorenberg, @david__booth, and many others, it's aiming to reframe the MBA, and its main focus right now is its founder fellowship. For 2-3 months, go through a program, not dissimilar from YC, but keep your equity.
Its costs a couple thousand dollars, but they do have scholarships. And in exchange for that money, you get something very similar to YC:

- Credential
- A network
- Learnings from experts
On Deck's big sell here is the network. Just like @villageglobal, On Deck is a very network driven company. They batches are huge, it's the who's who from Twitter, and every On Deck Fellow already has something in common with eachother
So we'll table the network piece to compare and contrast with YC. Let's look at other parts of On Deck.

The credential: Not valuable to me. It's invite only, but it seems to be if you worked at any reputable startup in the past, you get in. So not valuable imo.
The knowledge and learnings. VERY valuable to me IF they have a session that is particularly good for me in that moment in time. If i'm dealing with an issue, then a speaker unlocks the solution for me, the while thing could pay for itself. But this is random, of course.
So, I rank On Deck's content offering as good as YC. The have amazing speakers coming in. It's very impressive, but expect nothing less from Erik & team. I rank the credential of the two, YC's is more valuable simply because of that trust we've talked about. It means more.
The thing that really gets me thinking is the network. The network is the true value of YC, and I feel like it's the true value of On Deck too. I break this down almost by old guard and new guard. It's funny, because YC is still new, but in our world it's old.
I see the YC network being deeply rooted. It touches everyone and everything. The YC network has trust. This has ruled the bay for a decade. The question for the YC network is the will have the strongest founders that will join, already joined? Meaning:
Obviously there are tons of talented people in the network. But because it's now the incumbent, will all the fresh new talent be joining another program, like On Deck? So if I join now, will I be on the wrong side of history? This is where On Deck picks up.
With On Deck, it seems to be very hyped right now. They just raised capital, they have all the momentum in the world , and it appears to me that many of my young smart founder friends are heading there, not YC. I call On Deck the new guard. This is the new class of founders.
And this is the question I need to answer. Has YC truly peaked, or is it just getting started? Is On Deck on a trajectory to be the next YC? Get in early, reap more rewards right? if I do and it doesn't turn into that, would I regret just not joining plain ole incumbent YC?
because is the value truly is in the network, cost doesn't matter to me. If On Deck can get me in room's I couldn't get in without them, its valuable. Same with YC. I don't care how expensive this access is. If this access leads me to building a unicorn, then i'll pay up.
And if the education is the same, the credential is taken out of it, as well as the investment, we're solely looking at network opportunity, who am I going to side with? The old guard or the new guard?
For me, I pick the old guard. Why? I don't want to take a risk on On Deck. I am already taking a risk by starting a company, and if I know YC is fairly proven at this point, I just don't want to spread that risk out more to something that is a seed stage company.
Even if On Deck does become a smashing success in the future, I can't spend the time waiting for it to get there to truly "cash in" on it. I only have a decade to build a a huge company, and cards are stacked against me. I just want to mitigate my risk where I can.
The fact of the matter is, i'm going to build a giant company without either program. Straight up. I look at things like YC or On Deck as tools to help me accomplish that goal faster. I may not do either. I may do YC. I may still do On Deck. Each tool has a different purpose.
And I think when others are looking at doing YC or On Deck, they should think about it in the same way. The goal is not to get into YC. The goal is not to do On Deck. The goal is to build a great company, and to use tools at your disposal to get you there.

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