I’m building a theory on how Y Combinator gets such amazing results. I’ve concluded that it has nothing to do with the usual suspects

Ask most startup gurus what they think is the basis for a successful startup and they may start talking about a great team, a great idea, a great visionary, or to a lesser extent a great product, great new technology, or even an exceptionally conducive working environment.

I’m starting to believe that none of the above are what Y Combinator’s exemplary track record rests upon. Sure, these elements must figure somewhere in what contributes to any startup success. But the whole process that Y Combinator goes through as it ‘incubates’ a startup seems to be pointing to something else.

It is doing something which has more than a passing resemblance to enlisting carefully selected ‘tough cookies’ in the Marines and putting them through a brutally punishing ‘Basic Training’ regime. Instead of the usual startup incubation nostrum of ‘giving fragile fledgling ventures room to breathe’, these not-so-fragile startups are ‘hothoused’ and put on a ‘total immersion program’ so that they come out the other side with a whole new set of skills essential to innovation success: they emerge knowing as much as intensive training and supervision by acknowledged world class experts can teach them.

The result is a startup who has already been through heaven and hell (Y Combinator can also be serious fun) and is passed fundamentally fit, not just to succeed, but to bounce back from any potential failure into another promising startup venture. What Y Combinator is doing is not just incubating startups. It’s developing founders with exceptionally durable and effective innovation capability.

‘Toleration of failure’ makes local culture ‘startup friendly’. Y Combinator’s ‘combat-ready’ graduates are equipped to survive in  far less favourable conditions.