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“The Launch Pad” review, thoughts on scaling accelerators, and important new Seed-DB features

Review – “The Launch Pad” by Randall Stross

What is it really like to be involved with Y Combinator? “The Launch Pad” is the newest and most complete piece to date. While other writers have penned articles about YC (notably Stephen Levy in Wired magazine), this is the first book. It follows the Summer 2011 class of Y Combinator from the applications/interviews, during the program and Demo Day, through to the successes and failures the startups have experienced to date. In addition to this class, the author has interviewed a variety of founders across numerous YC classes to provide a more detailed history.

If you don’t know much about Y Combinator, I would highly recommend this book. It’s a very thorough picture of what it’s like for the founders of the startups going through YC (including what it’s like to get accepted!) as well as insights into the YC partners’ experience. It details a microcosm of the startup experience; initial successes, technical breakdowns, pivoting business models, and debates about age and gender. I found it a nicely complete book.

For people who are familiar with Y Combinator, you will probably enjoy it but you will likely not learn much more than you already know. There were some details that I hadn’t heard before, like the exact investment splits of the early YC partnership. And there are a lot of interesting stories and anecdotes about a lot of different YC founders and YC partners. But there’s little that would be unfamiliar or groundbreaking if you’re a regular Hacker News reader.

Overall, if you’d like to get more detail and color into the Y Combinator experience, check out “The Launch Pad.”

Thoughts on scaling seed accelerators

One of the more interesting phenomenons I see in seed accelerators is how they scale, and in general I see three models. There’s the YC model, which features large class sizes (>25 startups per class) and/or continually adds more and more startups to each class. There’s the TechStars/franchise model, which keeps class sizes largely the same (5-15 startups per class), but scales by adding more classes per year and/or more franchises in different cities. Finally, there’s the quality (aka default) model, which doesn’t change class sizes or frequency, but “scales” by getting better startups through the doors. (The last model is effectively just keeping the status quo and not scaling; I’ve included it here to be complete.)

There are only a small number of accelerators that use the YC model: Y Combinator, 500startups, and Startup Chile are the top examples. They have developed programs which scale with more startups, and through portfolio theory should have a better chance of generating a solid financial return on their investments.

Many accelerators use the TechStars model; TechStars in particular has popularized it through their Global Accelerator Network (GAN) with which ~50 accelerators are affiliated. In this model class sizes are “no more than 10-20 companies at a time” involving “40-80 mentors”. By capping the size of each class, it does limit the scaling potential; instead of adding more startups per class these programs add classes or add similar franchises in new locations. Clearly the GAN has taken a stand that it’s more important to provide the in-depth, personal mentoring for all startups in their programs than it is to scale to larger numbers in a class.

Finally, a lot of accelerators are really in the default model; these programs either don’t have enough quality deal flow or cash to invest to expand the number of startups they fund. In this case, they need to scale the quality of the startups they do fund by continually marketing their program so they can raise the bar for admission.

Which is the best of these models? There’s no definitive answer. I’ve discussed this with a number of people and currently believe it depends on the startup.  Susan Cohen, a founder of and a PhD researcher of seed accelerators at the University of North Carolina, was particularly helpful and shared with me her thoughts from her research to date.  If you’re coming into a program with just an initial idea, the programs that provide in-depth mentoring can help founders iterate on their ideas and business models faster because of the intense mentoring. But for startups going into a program with a well-established seedling business, the YC model can provide the time/space to hack and iterate on a product because of the lighter-touch mentoring. I’d be interested in your thoughts; please send me an e-mail with yours!

Seed-DB three big new features

I’m very happy to officially announce three big new features in Seed-DB. Some of these have been live for a while, but together they make the site much more useful.

1- Accelerator ownership

I’m proud to announce that accelerator owners can now get access to edit the entries of their accelerator and the startups they fund on Seed-DB! Access will be granted manually to verify that only program partners/administrators are given access. But once granted, you’ll be able to edit your own information, add startups you’ve funded, and provide information on when your program is open for applications. To get access to your program, follow the instructions on the guide page for accelerators.

By doing this, I’m hopeful that the data on Seed-DB will be even more up-to-date, since the program administrators will be able to make any changes without me (Jed) being a bottleneck.

2- Application dates

Accelerators can now provide information on application dates to their programs! Simply provide the date applications open, the date they close, and a link to the application page. If your program currently is open for applications, it will be highlighted on the list of seed accelerators. And if you’re a startup wondering which programs are currently open, just check out a single page:

I hope this will help accelerators better market their programs to interested startups, and it will help startup founders discover and apply to as many programs as they fit.

3- Funding over $X

Have you ever been curious how many startups have raised more than $X in funding, where X is a value that you care about? Well now you can.  To get the information, use the URL in the form: where X is the funding level you care about.

For example, as of today there are 237 companies in Seed-DB that have raised >=$1million in funding: 64 companies have raised >=$5million and just 28 have raised >=$10million.

Finally, to see data on all the companies that have achieved an exit (currently 102 startups), simply check out this page:

Please remember that the “H” / “M” / “L” letters next to the exit value column represent the Seed-DB confidence level in that particular value. “H” is reported/verified information, “M” is rumored value, and “L” is an educated guess.


Thank you for reading to the end of this post. I really value feedback; please send me a short note or comment below on what you liked, what you didn’t like, or what you’d like to see more of in this newsletter. And if you liked it, please forward it to a friend!

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Three new features in Seed-DB

I’m pleased to say that Seed-DB now has three new features!  Some of these come from direct feedback; others are features I’ve been planning to add for a while.  I hope you find them useful.

Median + Average funding

Brad Feld got in touch with me to refer me to his post where he discusses the differences between average and median funding in venture capital.  Brad’s post makes a lot of sense for Seed-DB, too.  I had previously just listed average funding for the startups in an accelerator; I have now added a column for median funding of the startups in that accelerator.

There is a slight hitch in how this is implemented because some accelerators have very few startups with Crunchbase profiles.  In these cases even the median figures would be inaccurate because only the startups with solid funding rounds were typically shown.  So if a startup doesn’t have any Crunchbase funding listed, I calculate the median using a combination of Crunchbase profiles (where available) and the average funding per startup (for each company that doesn’t have funding shown).

The result of this is that median values are accurate where most startups in an accelerator have up-to-date Crunchbase pages.  TechStars in particular excels at this.  As usual, if you have questions or concerns about this e-mail me directly.

Application Dates now available

There are over 120 seed accelerators listed on Seed-DB; this is a lot of choice for entrepreneurs around the world!  As of today, Seed-DB will highlight seed accelerators with open application windows and direct visitors to the accelerators’ application page.  These windows can be entered well in advance.  On the day applications open a bright yellow button will appear next to your accelerator.

Only a couple of accelerators currently have entries.  If you’d like to add information on the application open/close dates for your accelerator, enter them in this form.  (I’ll check this link periodically and add what is submitted.)

I hope this helps startups learn what programs are open for immediate application, and helps accelerators generate additional application/deal flow.

Significantly improved updating

While not directly visible by users, the automatic updating of startups and accelerators has been drastically improved.  Most changes in Crunchbase pages should be reflected in Seed-DB within 24 hours.

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Seed-DB: a month of changes

Seed-DB was launched on July 25th, and since then it’s been a fascinating ride.  Here is the latest news on everything related to seed accelerators and Seed-DB.

Follow Seed-DB on Twitter

Seed-DB now has a Twitter account: @GoSeedDB.  Follow it to get all of the latest updates and announcements on the site.  Like this newsletter, it will be low-traffic with just important updates for startups, accelerators, and investors.

Y Combinator Demo Day – public/stealth analysis

Some accelerators (like TechStars) publicly announce all of their companies at their Demo Days; while startups in other program (like Y Combinator) only publicly announce when they’re ready.  Y Combinator’s Demo Day is taking place on Tuesday, August 21st.

In this years’ Y Combinator Summer 2012 class, there are 84 startups.  As of today (Monday, August 20th), 50 of these startups (60%) have already gone public.  I would expect another 10-15 startups to go public on Demo Day, leaving 20-30% of the startups to go public at some point in the future.

This past month on Seed-DB

I’ve focused effort on Seed-DB in the last month on two main themes:

  • improving breadth and quality of data
  • bug fixes in the application

In less than 30 days, the number of companies in the database has increased 25% to over 1600 companies.  VC funding tracked has also increased by about 25% to over $1.28billion.  And the number of jobs also increased 25% to over 3700 jobs created.  Thanks to lot of feedback from accelerators and startups, I’ve cleaned up the data sources to improve the quality of data on Seed-DB, too.  (There’s a link on every page where you can get in touch with me if you have data to correct!)

One problem with articles like Jared Konczal’s in Forbes is that the data in Seed-DB is still very preliminary; there are many gaps.  I’ve tried to make these clear; users can now see what startups are associated with Crunchbase pages (and thus I’ve able to get funding/employee data) and which startups don’t have this data.

Finally, by launching and getting valuable feedback from a number of people I’ve identified and fixed a number of bugs in the application.  Thank you to everyone that’s reached out to me with corrections.

Important upcoming feature

The biggest upcoming feature is an application deadline tracker.  I’ll be adding a column to my list of accelerators to highlight programs that are open for applications.  I hope this will help startups find accelerators that they might not otherwise know about.

Seed accelerators in my list will be able to send me the date applications open and close, as well as a link to their application page.  If you run a seed accelerator, please e-mail me and I’ll add you to my announcements list once this functionality is ready to go.

Advice for seed accelerators

There are a few recommendations I have for seed accelerators everywhere:

  1. Make it easy to find your startups; a portfolio page or something similar.  (You’d be surprised how difficult it is to find startups from some programs.)  If you can’t promote your startups on your own website, why are you doing it?  Ideally categorize them by class.
  2. Get startups to create a Crunchbase entry, and at least ensure they add the funding they got from your accelerator.

Thanks for listening; and be sure to follow @GoSeedDB!

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Introducing Seed-DB: a database of seed accelerators and their companies


I’m pleased to announce Seed-DB, a database of seed accelerators and the companies they have accelerated.  I originally started assembling this data in the summer of 2009 as part of the research paper I wrote for my MBA thesis at the University of Cambridge: “Copying Y Combinator: a framework for developing Seed Accelerator programs.”  Ever since, I’ve been keeping it up-to-date in a number of Google Spreadsheets.

Seed-DB puts all of the best information I have and puts it in a much more digestible format for easy viewing and comparison.  I have integrated Crunchbase data to get up-to-date information on funding rounds, number of employees, and more.  I believe that Seed-DB is the most useful and comprehensive resource on seed accelerators around the world.

Economic impact

One of the clear things that stands out to me is the economic impact of seed accelerators.  Even though the data is far from complete for some programs, these are some key statistics as they stand today:

  • >100 programs world-wide
  • >1300 companies have been accelerated
  • ~65 companies have already exited for an estimated $930million
  • >3000 jobs created
  • >$1billion in angel and venture capital funding raised
In particular, as the data becomes more complete I estimate that the number of jobs created could easily double.  And as the companies mature and have exit events for investors, the exit values will be much, much larger.  (Paul Graham has publicly stated that just the top 21 Y Combinator companies have a combined value approaching $5billion.)

Key disclaimers

Incomplete data

As hard as I’ve tried, the information on Seed-DB is NOT 100% complete.  There are three reasons for this:

  • Missing startups.  Some accelerators have made it very difficult to find lists of startups that have gone through their programs, so there are many startups missing in less visible programs.  Please contact me if you can provide me with any details.
  • Missing data in Crunchbase.  Many companies have not entered any information in Crunchbase.  That’s where I get details on funding and number of employees, so if you want this information to be accurate please update it there.  (If you run an accelerator, it would be ideal if you could encourage your startups to do this.)
  • Missing accelerators.  I believe I’ve tracked down all of the seed accelerators world-wide, but please let me know if I’ve missed some.  Note that I’m using a pretty strict definition of a seed accelerator.  I hope to eventually track other types of programs, too.


To use a buzzword, this is a minimum viable product.  Reid Hoffman has been quoted as saying “if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”  Well, I’m at that point.  There’s a lot that I still want to do, some of user-visible projects and tasks are on the roadmap, but what’s launching today is the core of my vision.


Please note that while exits are often publicized, the price paid for most companies is NOT public.  So for the vast majority of companies I’ve simply had to guess.  I’ve put a confidence level by each guess, with the highest-level confidence reserved for the cases where the price was public or widely reported.  These values do not come from any of the companies involved.

Final word

If you’ve made it this far, I’d ask you for three things.

  1. Sign up to my seed accelerators newsletter.  (It’s very low traffic, and I don’t share or sell e-mail addresses… ever.)
  2. Send me feedback.  I want to make this useful for startups interested in accelerators, people founding/running accelerators, and investors interested in companies from accelerators.
  3. If you’re interested in collaborating with me on the technical side of things, please get in touch.  I’m new to web applications, and could use an experienced partner.

Thanks for your attention!