The Launch Pad by Randall Stross

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The Launch Pad is the first book to take a really in-depth look into Y Combinator. New York Times columnist and professor at San Jose State University, Randall Stross was given access to the programme and teams for the Summer 2011 cohort. At the time there were 64 companies in the batch and Stross followed them from their interviews and selection through the three month programme and on to to the first reunion held 5 weeks after Demo Day.

I’m a bit of an accelerator geek so I enjoyed the book. For me, Y Combinator is one of the most significant innovations in technology and investment in the last decade and I’m always impressed by the way the team continue to innovate. The book doesn’t shy away from some of the problems they face though

  • How male the programme is – generally cohorts have been more than 90% male founders. It’s a problem they’d like to deal with but haven’t solved yet.
  • The difficulties of scale – growing from eight teams to 64 per cohort has been quite a challenge. During the 2011 cohort, the book hints that system was creaking a bit especially at the interviews and Demo Day. The current batch is smaller at 50 or so teams.
  • Too much money – there are hints in the book that the partners realised that the Start Fund and SV Angel money ($150,000 for every team accepted) had warped things. They’ve now renegotiated it to be $80,000 and include more time from the investors involved.

The other thing that came through for me was how different the partners are and how they’re each good at different things. It also shows how you need to be able to distinguish between good and bad advice, no matter where it comes from, even if that advice is coming from the best in the business.

If you know a bit about Y Combinator or read Hacker News every now and then The Launch Pad probably won’t contain too many revelations but it is a great introduction to how accelerator programmes differ from other types of investment or business support. If you’re thinking of applying for Y Combinator or any other accelerator programme, well worth a read.