I'm curious as to why you would put so much value in joining an incubator when you could spend the same amount of time in growing your business. Funding is not the goal, but gasoline for the vehicle that will take you to your goal. Seems like a waste of time for such little money. I know the "status" from joining the YC program is quite high there, but it does not guarantee success.
Thank you for the thorough explanation rdl.
It's also the wrong way to look at it. A better way is "what does it cost to apply" -- it's maybe 30 minutes to 10 hours of your time to fill in the application (it's more if you needed to do more thought about the business anyway). There is zero downside if you don't get in -- it doesn't prejudice YC against you at all in the future, and is confidential within YC -- and potentially high upside.
The ultimate test of "is it worth it" is to ask how many YC alums would recommend YC to someone else. As far as I can tell, that number is >80% (I can't think of anyone who wouldn't). I would recommend YC with only two reservations:
1) If you're doing a non-US startup (say, something local in China), and have exploding growth, no plans to expand to the world market, and unlimited capital, YC might be a distraction (although I doubt any company like that reads HN)
2) I think the biggest benefit to YC is to be able to launch during YC, or to have already launched. If you can't launch during YC, it might be worth doing YC later (when you're about to launch), or more likely, change your launch to something smaller that you can do sooner. There is probably 10x more value in YC if you launch before or during YC than after demo day. We made that particular mistake ourselves. OTOH, spending an extra year or two pre-YC building something no one wants is ALSO bad.
To be able to get advice from the caliber of YC's network as well as be around teams that are trying to do things that others deem "crazy" or "destined to fail" is an enlightening experience you can't just get anywhere. There's so much I don't know. YC is a great way to bridge some of my many ignorances. Certainly not the only way, though.
I'm not suggesting that wannapreneurs should just blindly shoot off a half-baked idea to every incubator and just sit on their asses waiting for someone to dump money in their laps. Are there people like that? Sure. But setting a little time aside from working on your startup to apply to a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can only help your chances of success is, I think, a justifiable use of time.
From the replies of other members it is obvious that my comment here is not correct.
Not getting into YC hasn't slowed me down one bit. I'm on my second attempt at growing a business and I'm far smarter and self-aware than when I started. I'm doing quite well on my own now. I'd still probably benefit from YC a lot, but if I never get in then so be it.
Edit to the reply below
I'm just curious as to what benefits you get. I know of the program. Though I'm not their target market.
Im not being pedantic, just genuinely interested in your POV.