Rollercoaster photo: Creative commons license

By Laura Lorek
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Building a startup is like riding a roller coaster of emotions for most founders.

Monday it was a particularly difficult ride for more than 15,000 founders because of a technical glitch by Y Combinator.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based accelerator created a free online Startup School to pair startups with advisers and those selected to participate in the 10-week program would then go on to qualify to compete for $10,000 grants.

Early Monday, about 11,000 startups worldwide received emails notifying them that they had been accepted into the program. Another 4,000 received rejection emails.

The ones accepted into the Startup School happily shared the good news with spouses, investors, team members and many posted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on other social media channels about the great news.

Then two hours later, those 11,000 startups received rejection emails from Y Combinator with a do-not-reply email address.

“We are deeply sorry to have to send this email, but unfortunately an error occurred in the software that triggers acceptance emails. The acceptance email was sent to you even though we are unfortunately not able to include you in the Startup School Advisor Track.

Although you are not in the Advisor Track, you have, in fact, been accepted to audit Startup School and will have access to all of the content just as soon as it is made available.

Again, we regret having made this error and raised your expectations unnecessarily. We hope you continue working on your startup and that Startup School is a huge help,” according to the Y Combinator rejection email.

Many startup founders were upset.

In Austin, several startup founders posted in the Female Founders ATX Facebook Group about their delight at being accepted into the program, only later to reveal that the offer got rescinded and they got the rejection email.

Dozens of startup founders posted on a thread in Hacker News about the incident. They made jokes, created Slack channels to provide feedback to each other, wrote words of encouragement and commiserated about the bad news.

“I think you can use this as a teachable moment for the course. Lesson 10: when a launch goes wrong – the YC Startup School Story” – ModernMech posted on Hacker News.

“Pretty certain I incorrectly received the “Ooops, you didn’t actually email” Please confirm this bug. My company is basically a unicorn” – HelloJebus on Hacker News.

“My cofounder and I were cheers-ing about our acceptance an hour ago and now we’re texting about this y-combinator screw-up–we’re not accepted after all!,” Callend6 wrote on Hacker News. “For all the other founders and teams who had that momentary confidence of outside reinforcement — remember how unstoppable and brave you felt in that moment! That glow doesn’t have to go away with a retraction email. Hold onto the feeling. Go make great things, go make a difference.”

To add to the confusion, the 4,000 startups that had been originally rejected, were in fact accepted into the program. They were elated but still in shock and disbelief. Y Combinator staff responded to posts on Hacker News asking those in doubt to email them and provided a correct email. Y Combinator staff apologized for the technical error.

And Monday night, Y Combinator decided to accept all those startups that applied to the program, more than 15,000, into the Startup School.

Y Combinator wrote a blog post “Startup School: All Applicants are Now Accepted.”

“We messed up and sent acceptance emails to many Startup School applicants who we didn’t previously have a place for,” according to the post. “We’ve decided to use this error as an opportunity to try something new: we’re going to let in every company that applied to Startup School.”

“Many apologies for the back and forth – to be clear: you are in.”

The startups accepted into the program get access to all the course materials, the private community forum in which advisors and YC partners will also participate and they’ll be able to compete for one of the $10,000 equity free grants if they complete the eligibility requirements.

“The most important thing is that you will have a group of fellow founders to connect with so you can support one another,” according to the post. “Unfortunately, we’re still constrained by number of advisors who volunteered to lead each group, which means your group won’t have an advisor. But having peers in a batch is what founders tell us is truly special about YC. We’re going to give you instructions on how to organize the group yourself and get nearly the same experience.”

Y Combinator is a highly-selective startup that accepts a tiny percentage of the companies that apply to its bi-annual residential program. Its investments include Dropbox, Airbnb, Coinbase, Stripe, Reddit, Instacart, Twitch, Cruise Automation and many others.