Startup News & Analysis

A technical glitch at Y Combinator’s Startup School meant every application was accepted — and it’s rolling with it

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

Y Combinator co-founder founder Jessica Livingston and president Sam Altman.

World-renowned Silicon Valley startup accelerator Y Combinator has unexpectedly admitted 15,000 startups into its Startup School program — about five times the usual amount — after accidentally sending acceptance emails to everyone who applied.

The accelerator, which counts the likes of Airbnb, Reddit and Weebly in its alumni, sent acceptance emails to every applicant to the Startup School Advisor Track, leading founders to celebrate their success, only to get another message retracting the offer.

The second email, sent to unsuccessful founders and shared on Twitter by Cheryl Clements, founder of crowdfunding-for-food startup PieShell, blamed a software error for the glitch.

“The acceptance email was sent to you even though we are unfortunately not able to include you in the Startup School Advisor Track,” the email explained.

However, Y Combinater later U-turned, announcing that it would, after all, invite all 15,000 applicants onto the program. By comparison, last year about 13,000 startups applied for the program, and 2,800 were successful.

In a message to the applicants, shared on the Y Combinator blog, Steven Pham, who is heading up the Startup School program, and Y Combinator partners Adora Cheung and Geoff Ralston explained they have “decided to use this error as an opportunity to try something new”.

“We’re going to let in every company that applied to Startup School,” the letter said.

“Many apologies for the back and forth — to be clear: you are in.”

The Startup School Advisor Track is a 10-week online course for founders that are currently working in, or actively pursuing, a startup.

Startups are assigned a Y Combinator alumni advisor, who each work with groups of about 25. Virtual lectures from accelerator partners and industry leaders cover areas such as how to gain users, how to use PR for growth, and fundraising fundamentals.

Participants have virtual advisory sessions and are responsible for updating their advisors on their progress, week by week.

This year, for the first time, 100 of the startup participants deemed the most promising will also be given $10,000 in equity-free funding.

While there is no specific cap on the number of startups that can be accepted, the Startup School has previously maintained that it can only take in as many as they can manage with the number of advisors, without reducing the quality of the experience for individual founders.

Founders who were not successful have been eligible for the alternative Audit track, allowing them to follow the lectures and receive class content.

The program is still “constrained by the number of advisors who volunteered to lead each group”, the message from Y Combinator to the 15,000 founders explained.

“But having peers in a batch is what founders tell us is truly special about YC. We’re going to give you instructions on how to organize the group yourself and get nearly the same experience.”

NOW READ: What the director of admissions at Y Combinator looks for in a startup

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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