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GitHub challenger GitLab makes it into Y Combinator

Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator is widely acknowledged as the premier startup accelerator in the world. Having backed successes like Airbnb, Dropbox and Stripe, the semiyearly program is extremely selective in the teams it admits. Utrecht success story GitLab have made it into the Winter 2015 class, making them the fourth Dutch startup to secure a spot in 10 years of Y Combinator history.

Unintentional stealth

Gitlab, version control for servers, was founded by Sytse Sijbrandij and Dmitriy Zaporozhets in 2011. Since then the company has remained strangely unknown (even though they scored posts in TNW, FD and now Techcrunch), yet also increasingly successful. Both founders lacked the PR flair (and interest) which can be so (over) prevalent with other founders. Instead the two set out to build an incredible business, growing it without funding and without the regular media buzz.

The startup has so far remained bootstrapped, just like it’s big competitor GitHub used to be for a long time (before raising US$100m from Andreessen Horowitz). GitLab has grown to a team of 10, building a software version control system, superior to that of giants GitHub – at least according to the startup itself. The Utrecht challenger distinguishes itself by offering tighter security, use of internal servers and unlimited open-source access to its solutions. It monetises through a freemium model, offering a superior solution to clients willing to pay for it.

By now the startup has managed to win over clients at over 100,000 organisations. Their list of connected organisation is gold plated and includes names like NASA, Nasdaq, Alibaba and IBM.

Getting into Y Combinator

So with everything underway, why would you join an accelerator and give them a significant part of your (valuable) equity? The answer: because it’s Y Combinator. Y Combinator is seen as the holy grail among startups worldwide and gets tens of thousands of applications for its programs. A select percentage of these hopefuls make it into the class and see their values instantly multiplied because of the power of the brand. While accelerators are under tight scrutiny about their added values (at times seen as hypemachines instead of actually creating value) Y Combinator has proven its model time and again. The Silicon Valley program has been instrumental in successes like Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit and Stripe. To founders it is the surest bet on raising funding at attractive levels and increasing their rate of growth through the invaluable sessions provided.

Sijbrandij himself on their motivation:

“At first glance, it might not seem obvious for our company to join Y Combinator since we already have 10 employees and hundreds of paying clients. The reason for joining was learning more about how to grow as a company. […] [W]e want to avoid as many mistakes made by fast growing companies and to learn from the Y Combinator partners that have seen hundreds of organizations growing fast.”  

Previous Dutch startups to make it into YC

GitLab are only the fourth Dutch startup to have ever made it into a Y Combinator class. The accelerator is extremely selective when it comes to international teams. Other Dutch companies that made it in were: Newcope (closed), IXI Play (seems to be struggling/closed) and semi-Dutch Impraise (alive and kicking). Let’s hope Impraise and GitLab do well, so the door at Y Combinator for Dutch startups opens just a little wider.


Disclosure: Author is a shareholder in GitHub. 

Image provided by GitLab

Wouter Kneepkens
Startup guy, mentor & investor with finance background | fund manager @ VNT.RE | founding editor @ StartupJuncture | co-founder @ SNTMNT | INSEAD alumn | Singapore & Amsterdam | Wouter Kneepkens
  1. Sieuwert van Otterloo says:

    Well done Gitlab. Interesting to see that the coding on Gitlab was started already in 2011, so they have first built a strong technical base before ‘going startup’. https://about.gitlab.com/team/

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