How to get onto Y Combinator's prestigious accelerator program, according to two founders who succeeded three weeks after launching their fitness gaming startup

  • The team behind fitness gaming startup Quell won a place on Y Combinator's prestigious accelerator program only three weeks after launching the startup.
  • The program at Y Combinator is notoriously competitive, and only around 1.5% of applicants get a place.
  • Quell founders Cameron Brookhouse and Lorenzo Spreafico shared their top five tips for applying with business insider.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Two master's students from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London won a place on Y Combinator's prestigious accelerator program just three weeks after launching their fitness gaming startup. 

At the beginning of 2020, Cameron Brookhouse and Lorenzo Spreafico started Quell, an interactive fitness game that uses a low-cost wearable made of smart resistance bands. The idea was part of Brookhouse's first-year solo project for RCA's innovation design engineering course, but soon grew into something much bigger.

"The endgame was always I want to make something, I want to build a company with friends," says Brookhouse. "The plan was to do this whole masters and then do that, but we had this idea and Y Combinator ran with it."

The accelerator program at Y Combinator runs twice a year, in January and June, and provides new founders with expert support and guidance as well as seed funding. After around ten weeks it runs a Demo Day where the startups pitch to potential investors.

The application process is super competitive — only about 1.5% of the startups that apply win a place. But the Quell team were successful after pulling together their application in a matter of weeks.

Brookhouse and Spreafico shared their five top tips for getting onto Y Combinator's accelerator program with Business Insider.

1. Focus on your team more than your product

"I think, honestly, Y Combinator backed the team here, not the not the product," says Brookhouse. "We didn't even have a physical prototype [when we applied]. We had a render and a team and I think that we have exactly the right people in the roles with exactly the right background, and that's what they backed."

The Quell team currently comrpises four people. As well as CEO Brookhouse and CPO Spreafico, serial entrepreneur Doug Stidolph is COO and Martin Tweedy, who has a PhD in sensor technology from Oxford University, has taken on the role of CTO.

"What really matters is like a core problem that you all want to solve together as a tight smart team — and that you're equipped to solve," adds Spreafico.

2. Focus on the user 

"The market is king here," says Brookhouse. "It's all about being user-led. The idea for Quell was really born out of —  like most things — us having a pain, which was exercise is terrible, and then going out to interview people to understand the scope of that pain and the specifics of it."

When developing the product, the Quell team got rid of any preconceptions about what customers wanted. They talked to more than 100 people about exercise to understand what aspects people enjoyed, and what kept them motivated. 

"We built on a lot of that for Quell. [Considering] how can we bring the things that make people love stuff like team sports at school into your living room," says Brookhouse.

3. Apply even if you don't think you're ready 

Y Combinator's accelerator program is notoriously competitive, which may discourage many new founders from applying. But Quell's success shows it's never too early to try. 

"Companies apply to Y Combinator after years, [after] two years that they've been in the market already. We applied in three weeks," says Spreafico.

Brookhouse adds that it can be a valuable exercise for your business, even if you don't succeed.

"Yes, we have a cool idea for a product, yes we love the idea of playing it, but we almost applied to Y Combinator as a forcing exercise to put some structure and rigor against the business plan," he says.

4. The problem is more important than the solution

The first idea for Quell was an interactive boxing bag that connected with your phone, but the founders soon realised that it was expensive, cumbersome, and difficult to glamorize, so they pivoted the product. 

"I'm glad that we were comfortable enough to switch, and that feels like a massive thing in terms of what we learned from YC," says Spreafico. "They tell you [that] if the idea is not good, if the product-market fit is not there, just change." 

He adds: "We had a problem that we wanted to solve. The idea per se, as in the solution, sure it's good but you can always it and you will at some point."

5. Don't waffle in your pitch

"What Y Combinator does really well is they just have this this all-consuming drive for clarity of thought that needs to be reflected in what you're saying when you apply," says Brookhouse.

"I think a lot of people waffle, and they go on these long tangential things about what they expect or believe to be true.

Focusing on clarity when pitching will help you concentrate on what's important for your startup, says Spreafico. "It's good for us as well because it makes you not lie to yourself about how the businesses is."

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