Y Combinator

Y Combinator is a startup incubator which, besides funding, offers its participants a structured environment meant to accelerate both their company and their personal capacity. Many of the activities focus on conveying a honed set of practices and values: e.g. interviews and dinners with successful past founders transmit cultural knowledge almost mythically; a canonical set of books and talks do likewise; the tight Demo Day timeline mandates a certain way of doing; office hours provide direct coaching in the same principles.

Y Combinator is an Enabling environment: founders regularly report finding themselves suddenly able to do much more—and not just because of the funds. It’s like a school in some shallow sense, but the key difference is that all of a founder’s activities revolve around building the startup they’re ridiculously passionate about—not around learning some abstract set of skills which are meant to enable something intrinsically meaningful later (Enabling environments’ activities directly serve an intrinsically meaningful purpose).

Y Combinator is also an Enacted experience. By structuring their lives around the dinners, milestones, talks, and office hours, founders fairly consistently absorb a certain set of practices and values, and at events like Demo Day, they fairly consistently experience a certain set of emotional experiences. But many of these experiences don’t feel “forced” from the outside; many of the experiences feel like something the founders brought about—even though they wouldn’t have been accessible outside the context of YC (Enacted experiences can bootstrap active participation in enabling environments). These activities aren’t framed as “practice.” They’re framed as doing (Enabling environments focus on creating opportunities for growth and action, not on skill-building).

Y Combinator also offers “Startup School,” a pared-down distance learning version of the same program. My impression is that it doesn’t offer the same consistency in enacted experience—but it would be very powerful if it did (see Enacted experiences have incredible potential as a mass medium).

Last updated 2023-07-13.