What exactly am I paying for?
For the opportunity to meet potential co founders? I'd say StartUp Weekend is better for that since I can meet more people and I can do the vetting based on my personality and preferences.
For the opportunity to get a startup idea? I feel like anyone who is serious enough to pony up that kind of money probably has a few ideas already.
For the opportunity to meet investors? I would much rather have a founder of my choosing and a prototype of my idea before I start doing that.
Plus this is a whopping 1 month of nights and weekend activity?
I'm not sure I'm willing to buy some mentor time for $800 but feel free to convince me otherwise.
The fee is nominal, calculated mainly to filter the applicant pool for commitment. Since it's a nights-and-weekends program and wasn't as well-known before, it was vulnerable to people approaching it more casually than they would something fulltime like YC.
Their profile is growing though, and I imagine the formula will keep evolving (Foodspotting, Spoondate are two alum projects with buzz right now, more still building steam).
As for how it affected general vibe, no one in our session seemed to treat it as something they had paid for with the fee, but more as something to contribute to and earn by making success happen.
Helps if you get referrals from previous founders /nudge!