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Can one beat YC in its niche? Brutally honest review of Alliance.xyz—aka "the best Web3 accelerator"
As someone who went through both, I can definitely tell that there is no perfect startup accelerator. Or is there? (Looking at 4 dimensions: Network, Money, Fundraising, Advice)
Recently Alliance presented its 10th and most applied cohort, so it's a good moment to take a step back, look at what they’ve built so far, and share my opinion which no one has asked for.
We went through the previous (ALL9) batch, so I had a chance to observe and cover not only 3 months of the program itself but also post-demo-day activity and 6 months after the program.
If you want all the answers now and don't want to read, don't push yourself, here is TLDR I give to anyone who asks me about Alliance these days:
"If you're in web3/crypto—you should apply to Alliance. It has virtually no downside since they don't take a premium for the "acceleration", and they don’t rely on anyone for the decision. As for the program itself, for us, it was even more useful than YC, because the guys are very hands-on, not only in words, but in going and doing what they need to do to help you. It doesn’t get better than this."
But if you want dirty details—keep reading. This is not promotional material, but my genuine experience shared for my friends, and considering how attentive the Alliance team is for feedback—food for them to make the program even better.
Disclaimer: My impression is based purely on my own experience working on a particular company (Slise.xyz) in a particular industry (web3 advertising) while going through a particular batch (ALL9). The impression will be different for every founder, so DYOR.
I'll stick to the exact same criteria I used in my YC review:
1.1. Network of founders, community, safe space – ★★☆☆☆
It seems we have to start from the weaknesses, so be it.
The level of founders in Alliance is extreme. Because the program is so competitive (<2% acceptance rate) and the batch consists of <20 teams, the quality of people is very high (in our cohort we had multiple YC alums, people who IPO-d, and a co-founder of Stripe), and you really get to know your batchmates well.
The program is fully remote, which means this connection will still be an order of magnitude weaker than any in-person experience. I heard with the new batches Alliance does an in-person kick-off week, which is definitely a step in the right direction, but again, will not substitute living and fighting together. The trade-off between the strength of the connection and the scope of the participants is real.
The presence of Alliance at big conferences is very limited. Maybe because the core team is small, maybe because it's not a priority, but I've seen enough VCs and DAOs in the space which necessarily organize at least one event at any decent size conference (because that's where the builders are) and facilitate the reunion of its members offline. For Alliance, it happens occasionally.
You would hope it's compensated by the communication in online channels, but I have to disappoint you. The Alliance team has its own vision of what makes effective communication and implemented very strict rules around how it should be organized, thanks to which, the telegram group and the forum are half-dead. The prior currently has 0 message/week, and the latter has 1 to 5. It's helpful when you have a serious question and want to ask other founders (very useful) or want to share something useful yourself (never happens), but everything else is pretty much forbidden. And this everything consists of many important things which create a strong support group—the ability to shill your thing and get unconditional support, sharing wins and losses, asking stupid questions, discussing what bothers you even if it's not 100% useful to others, or sometimes even just having fun. This creates an emotional and material fundament that helps to form “mafias” and win solo players. Unfortunately, Alliance chose to turn its network into a very smart consultant, which is good to have, of course, but far from its full potential.
Talking about the network, the connection to Alliance companies outside of your cohort is very laggy. You can find them on the web app and write them (just like with YC), but most likely they’ve never heard of you and you’ve never heard of them. One of the benefits of Alliance for applicants is that they have a “rich portfolio", which founders imagine will become their advantage over competitors, but in practice is very hard to tap into. You can't simply broadcast your message to all the companies in the network. And basically end up researching and treating them just as cold leads. Completely opposite to the expectations!
One example: when we launched our web3 ad network, it was critical for us to solve a cold start to not begin running in the loss. The access to the successful web3 companies who may need advertising would be an example of real business value of a good portfolio, and yet, we weren't allowed to reach out to them on the forum, and end up doing same stuff as any other company outside of Alliance would do and solved it with our own sales force.
This lack of intercompany connection is of course not “damaging” per se, but feels like an easy area for improvement with a joint real-time group for all the founders, some budget for events, or even, hopefully, one day, a place that will feel like a second home 😌
1.2. Network of clients/partners – ★★★★★
I’ll just say this: if you’re a web3 company, the Alliance team, with its extremely broad personal network can help you reach virtually anyone in web3. And by saying “help” I mean go to that person and get two of you in a 1:1 chat.
For founders without a big presence in this market, this is by far the single most important benefit of Alliance. I personally was able to get on the call with founders of the top companies in crypto, that without Alliance I would never reach myself.
I don’t have much to add here, when things work—they just work. 10/10
2. Knowledge and Alliance’s advice – ★★★★★
I can’t go too deep here on the crypto aspect of things because we are not a typical crypto protocol. We are a marketing company, helping projects reach web3 natives on dapps, while most of the program’s curriculum and expert knowledge is definitely around tokenomics, smart contracts, on-chain data, and execution layers.
And yet, when I pitched to the Alliance they were able to see the grain of truth in all the rubbish I produce out of my mouth, which eventually made us pivot to our current strategy much faster than we would do otherwise, and it’s fully merit of Qiao and Imran with whom I had long and detailed discussions about that.
On the same note, Will sat with us three times (!) and re-wrote the pitch with his own hands, and was able to produce a sounding story from mere ideas floating around after all our customer development. As a result, it felt like we got a script for the movie! And talking about the movie, Roberto relentlessly gave feedback after feedback despite us being on the edge of a breakdown, to produce the most perfect pitch recording we ever made.
Was it the right time to present at the demo day as Alliance expects you to? I believe not, we’d be better off waiting till the next one, because now with the product and the revenue we are in a much better position to raise a seed. Oh, and the aforementioned demo day video:
After the program ended, the density of communication decreased and turned to “pull” rather than “push” mode, but what’s the most valuable— it didn’t disappear: each core team member is still reachable and always replies in the chat / offers to book a call, even months after the program ended.
As for the “lectures” part—it’s decent. It’s focused mostly on the crypto-specific side of things (tokenomics, community, legal) rather than your generic startup education, and consists of presentations from Alliance DAO members as well as invited guests—the top founders and builders in the space whom you can have a fireside chat with and ask any questions you want.
In this way, we had calls with Ryan, CEO at Messari, Ryan and Urvit from Polygon Labs, Mounir, CEO at ParaSwap, Toly, Co-founder of Solana, and others. Really unique opportunity to meet such industry-leading folks!
On a bit of unrelated note, Imran and Qiao also have a podcast called Good Game where they discuss insights into different hot topics in crypto, which helps me personally to stay up-to-date with the industry. You can also check it out to get a sense of the way of thinking of these two.
Take a deep breath, subscribe, we’re 75% done
3. Fundraising – ★★★★☆
The Alliance demo day attracts really big fish in the space. We definitely got a lot of value from the demo day, including the intros to tier-1 crypto VC, a TechCrunch article, and ~50 inbound messages from curious investors. This is better than what we received out of YC demo day, so it’s definitely a big achievement.
On the other hand, a lot of this inbound turned out to be low-quality (an article about investors’ bs is coming), while some asked for a meeting → got a reply → never replied back 🤷♂️
And with how I hate to admit it, we could feel that even though Alliance provides a very positive signal, it’s still not at the level of YC or Sequoia/a16z in the eyes of other investors. Acceptance to Alliance will not close your round with a snap of the fingers. And the amount they invest will not be sufficient to lead your round…
Apart from demo day, they really help with the strategy and intros. Imran personally became our trust person for the fundraising question for the few months of the process until we closed the round, and played a significant role in it.
4. Money – ★★★★☆
Here is the best part—Alliance doesn’t try to fuck you with their terms. Period.
7% for 100k or whatever it is? Forget about it. Their terms are flexible, and if you raised some money already they will follow the round terms.
As far as I understand, participation in the program is free, and you can even participate without the investment part. So it’s definitely not one of those “we’ll give you 2m valuation” accelerators that turn off most people with more than an idea. In fact, we had a lot of teams in our batch who already raised 4-5M before Alliance, and still decided to participate.
Another strong point is that just like YC they make the decision pretty quickly and do not rely on your “rOuNd DyNamICs” 🙄 to decide whether they want to invest or not. So it can become a really life-saving capital when everyone else said “no”.
For us, Alliance was the first real “yes” we received, which helped us to build out our product, and not dilute like crazy at pre-seed with just an idea, so now we have flexibility when raising a proper seed with a product and revenue.
So in the end, the capital they provide, I guess, 250k on average, could be substantial for very early stages (especially on the bear market), while not being burdensome for later stages. But do not expect that it alone will fill your seed round.
Would I prefer 500k like YC gives these days?—Yes, I would.
So, returning to the initial question, did Alliance overcome YC in the Crypto space? My intuitive answer is a strong “Yes”—YC has almost no experience in crypto, and has very few successful crypto companies in the portfolio, which makes it difficult for them to provide any value, while Alliance is exactly the opposite.
It’s still a small venture with limited resources, tho I believe we are in the early days of something great. I’m where I’m today only because of Alliance, so whatever good or bad I say comes from the feeling of gratitude. And hey, unlike YC we didn’t shut down our company right after going through Alliance, so I guess it’s a good outcome.
If you want to learn more about the Alliance’s application process, I got you covered! And if you want to reach out for a referral—please, don’t.
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