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Why is Y Combinator so defensive lately?
September 22, 2023

Why is Y Combinator so defensive lately?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Y Combinator has been on the defense as of late.

This past weekend, leaders from the popular accelerator were vocal on X (formerly known as Twitter) in their reaction to a comment made by the CEO of another accelerator at an event.

Ali Partovi, who founded Neo in 2017, was the keynote speaker at HackMIT on Saturday, September 16. During his 15-minute speech, Partovi says he mentioned YC once, saying: ‘The mentor ratio: we have as many mentors as Y Combinator, except they’re serving 20 startups rather than 250 startups.’

The comment seemingly infuriated YC CEO Garry Tan, who took to X on September 16 to write: ‘Competition is good. What isn’t OK is when competitors like Neo slander Y Combinator by saying ‘YC does not offer personalized advice’ as they did recently on stage at MIT. YC has 12 group partners including me: When we fund you you get 1:1 advice for the life of your startup.’

I was surprised because I did not say what Garry accused me of. I felt threatened, because Garry accused me of slander, which has legal ramifications,’ he said. ‘Comparing yourself to an industry leader isn’t slander…They haven’t experienced real competition in a long time, if ever — and it shows.’

Partovi said he didn’t know that at the time he gave the speech that YC was HackMIT’s sponsor. Neo was not a sponsor, he added, but Partovi had been invited to deliver the main keynote address.

He reacted to Tan’s comments with his own post, which he ultimately took down, before posting another stating that people should judge the situation for themselves.

When asked his honest opinion about YC, Partovi pointed me to another X post, in which he wrote that he ‘loved’ YC founders and that some of his best investments were YC startups, adding that he admired YC as ‘one of the best ideas of the 21st century’ and that he ‘didn’t say YC sucks.’

Still, he maintained that his accelerator, Neo, is different from YC and ‘the better program for early-career technical founders.’

For context, Partovi describes Neo as ‘a mentorship community that supports the next generation of founders and tech leaders with a startup accelerator, recruiting platform, and VC fund.’ Earlier this year, it raised $235 million across two new funds, and is backed by Bill Gates, Reid Hoffman, Sheryl Sandberg, Satya Nadella and other founders from Airbnb, DoorDash and Dropbox, among others. Since its 2017 inception, Neo has funded 175 companies valued at over $33 billion.

By contrast, Y Combinator was founded in 2005 and has since funded at least 4,000 startups with a combined valuation of $600 billion, according to its website. Among those funded startups are Airbnb, Coinbase, Cruise, DoorDash, Dropbox, Instacart, PagerDuty, Reddit, Stripe, Zepto and Twitch.

Neo Accelerator, in Partovi’s view, offers advantages over other accelerators in that it has 30 mentors and offers a ‘better mentor-to-founder ratio.’ This viewpoint is what set Tan off.

During the increasingly heated exchanges on X about Neo, Y Combinator Managing Director Michael Seibel also chimed in, writing on September 16 that he’d ‘heard so much dirt’ about Partovi.

Specifically, he posted: ‘I’ve heard so so much dirt on Ali Partovi @apartovi from YC founders over the years… anyone thinking about working with him or Neo needs to be careful and do their diligence. Ali – the fact that you’re calling @garrytan a bully is laughable. You should check what’s going on in your own backyard…Founders are so afraid of getting sued by this guy. He bullies them into silence. But the stories always get out @apartovi – the startup world is a small place.’

He said: ‘As they know, I’ve known exactly who made each of these false claims for years and just ignored them. I’ve never sued, threatened to sue or been sued by anyone in the tech industry. I’ve never asked any founder to sign an NDA (I’ve often offered founders without lawyers that I’d sign an NDA).’

It’s not the first time in recent weeks that YC has gone on the offense with its defensiveness.


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