Having spun out of online broadcaster Justin.tv last year, SocialCam has managed to get a strong footing on iOS and Android. It passed 3 million downloads in December, and it’s now sending 3 million notifications a day, with video uploads and following counts up by 700% and 800% in the last few months, according to cofounder Michael Seibel.
But the three-man team is going back into Y Combinator, the early-stage seed fund that Justin.tv had grown out of, instead of taking the more obvious routes of raising venture funding or simply continuing to build on its own.
This is part of a trend within YC, that has begun to show itself over the last year or so. Previous double-alums include Steve Huffman of Reddit/Hipmunk, Patrick and John Collison with Auctomatic then Stripe, Tikhon Bernstam of Scribd and Parse, and Kulveer Taggar with Auctomatic and Tagstand.
I caught up with Seibel recently to learn more about why he and other entrepreneurs are returning.
Having been a cofounder at Justin.tv (which by the way is killing it with its Twitch.tv video game site, I keep hearing), Seibel says that first off the YC environment is helping his company get more productive. “We love the challenge of sprinting with 60-plus companies, many of which will go from idea to product launch in 3 months or less. It’s like living in a barracks with 200 Olympic athletes — it would be impossible to not be healthier.”
While YC has grown its class size over the years from a dozen to dozens, it has also managed to grow its partners to help provide more hands-on advice to new companies. “Just the other day our team was wrestling with a design/UI problem,” Seibel says, “and [Posterous cofounder] Garry Tan rolled up his sleeves, pulled out his laptop, and helped use wireframe our way to a solution. On another occasion, we were tackling the challenge of tracking users through iOS download process and Harj Taggar and Paul Buchheit offered a suggestion that ended up saving us at least two weeks of work.”
A couple more obvious reasons are loyalty, and the who’s-who speaker list. “It’s not a coincidence that a large number of YC alums come back to do YC again.” I would have never been introduced to the tech world it if wasn’t for my Justin.tv co-founders Justin Kan and Emmett Shear [alums of the very first YC class, via Kiko]. Justin.tv would never have gotten off the ground without Paul Graham’s and Jessica Livingston’s support and encouragement.”
Are we looking at a trend that will sweep accelerator programs worldwide as they mature, where each program pulls successful people from previous classes? If so, it will further cement the place these programs have in the startup ecosystem as the go-to spot for venture investors. The returning founders listed above all had successful products and exits in some form, which is evidence that they can do so again.
If they’re successful this time around, these second-time alumni could inspire other programs to bring in more past founders. Y Combinator was arguably the first modern seed-stage fund/accelerator so it has the biggest set of potential founders to re-attract, but now there are lots of other prominent ones out there, including TechStars, SeedCamp, and others variously associated with universities, large companies, cities, venture funds, etc….