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I am Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator – AMA
341 points by sama on Oct 9, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 545 comments
The application deadline for our winter 2016 batch is next Tuesday, and people frequently have a lot of questions about applying. Also happy to talk about anything else!

EDIT 11:15 AM PDT: I have to go. This was fun!




I think you mentioned somewhere that you are aiming for early-career researchers, not so much for established group leaders. Being an early-career researcher myself (postdoc), my first thought was that your program could easily turn out to be a trap. At first, it looks like a fantastic opportunity because freedom and independence, etc. However, I'm sure that you are looking for high risk / high reward projects. So there is, by definition, a very real possibility that some of your funded projects will fail. What happens with the PIs of those projects? It will be very hard for them to return to a more traditional career stream in academia because they will lack a strong publication record and teaching experience. Researchers are in this respect different from start-up founders, because a failed start-up is not the end of the world and you can start over again. In contrast to that, there are usually no second chances in academia, at least not at that career stage. So it seems that you are asking people to stake everything on one card. My question is: How are you going to manage the individual career risks associated with this approach to science funding?


Well, that's fucked up about academia. All the more reason to create alternatives. Do you really want to be part of a system that does not allow for failure?

At a minimum, I expect YCR researchers to be turning down job offers from YC companies all the time.


Speaking as a researcher, IMO you might be belittling the OP's concern. While the YC initiative is noble, it has yet to be tested. I have worked in research and tech startups, and in very many ways the two couldn't be more different. Some of the best biotech research comes from incremental and ponderous study of minutiae, not 'ends driven' processes.

From the perspective of a biotech researcher in the US, the funding model here is broken. As a result of funding levels falling for more than a decade, and universities being less willing to invest in individuals without consistent major funding, getting grants has become a very political process.

I applaud YC's efforts. We need alternatives, but I am not sure that YC is interested in the same kinds of research that the legacy funding system used to support. Science is not sexy. The results can be incredibly sexy, but you never go in looking for those sexy results.

EDIT: In addition, it's worth considering the difference in the peak talent age of a researcher as compared to a programmer. You can code in your bedroom as a preteen, but it's very difficult to get unfettered access to a molecular research laboratory before the age of 22. The best researchers are older, and that changes the equation in important ways.


Speaking as a researcher, IMO you might be belittling the OP's concern.

Speaking as someone who left academia close to two decades ago, sama hit the nail on the head.

The kinds of people that sama is targeting are ones who in the current system are going to wind up in postdocs or teaching adjuncts. With the way that universities are structured, all incentives are to have as many of these as possible doing teaching, pay them as little as possible, string them along on as long as possible, and reward as few as possible with the golden apple of tenure. These incentives have been taken to an outrageous extent. If you are a young researcher and are concerned that YCR is too risky, then you're not being honest about your own prospects.

Increased funding for research does not solve this problem. The university system structurally creates more PhDs than it can create jobs for unless the university system is growing rapidly. This was last true in the 1950s and 1960s, but has not worked out for most grad students since. Shrinking is admittedly worse than steady, but both are bad.

Therefore the YCR opportunity gives researchers a chance to do research that might or might not be better than a regular postdoc, and significantly improved job prospects if it doesn't. The best way to address that issue is to be honest about it.


I can see that. More options are always good. Industry has long been a lucrative option. However, I see the OP's concern relating to certain types of research that are largely supported in academia alone. Sam suggest that YCR is an alternative to academic research. Personally, I think YCR will represent another option more than a replacement. Which is fine. However, I don't imagine they can afford the waste needed for academic curiosity and the benefits it brings.


I see no gap between what Sam suggests and you're saying. When he says "another option" he means an alternative for researchers, and possibly for whole lines of research. It does not mean that academia as a whole gets replaced.

But I am highly confused about how the OP's concern relates to types of research that are largely supported in academia alone. If you're in a field of research that YCR is not interested in supporting, then going with YCR is not an option for you. And therefore it won't matter whether or not it is a good option.


The age aspect is interesting. Although the age of Nobel laureates has been steadily increasing, so has the 'gap' between discovery and award. [1] It's partly due to the amount of learning needed to contribute meaningfully, so starting earlier is always better.

It's not that hard to get access (perhaps not unfettered) to research labs in high school. In grade 10, I talked to a professor at UCLA and started coding physics simulations for him. Many people I know worked at research labs far before the age of 22. Zenefits CEO Parker Conrad won 3rd place at the Westinghouse Talent search for neural research at age 17. Feynman started tinkering early, and Einstein taught himself geometry at age 12.

If you're curious, you can push your way in. However, this isn't easy, and we need to make it easier for students to get involved earlier. At any rate, YCR will certainly find talent at all ages.

[1] http://priceonomics.com/why-nobel-winning-scientists-are-get...


Yes, the best most often start early. But unlike math and physics, disciplines like biomedical research are very resource intensive which leads to older talent as well. My BS was in physics, and I was coding for peer-reviewed research just over a year into my undergrad. In biotech, things are very different. It's typical for investigations that culminate in a scientific paper to take a couple of years and hundreds of thousands of dollars. We've had Seimen's Foundation Award winning high school students come out of our own lab, but these students aren't setting the course of the investigation. We don't have the money and they don't have the time. These students generally flesh out one aspect of an existing investigation. They do great work, but it would be extremely difficult for them to take a study from concept to completion.

I thought my PhD research was fantastic. It was good, but geez could I have wasted YCR's money at that point. :)


Discriminating on age is a poor strategy. Sure, it's an easy, stereotypical judgement to make, but that doesn't mean it's good.

You need to look at the individual you are evaluating. What were their experiences?


I fully agree with your analysis of the shortcomings of the academic system, but that's really a lame response and suggests that you didn't think this through. We're not talking about people in their early twenties who can invest some years in crazy experiments without fearing the consequences. Researchers at that stage have invested a substantial chunk of their lives in their careers and many of them have families to support. It would be foolish of them to take such a risk. If your attitude is, fuck them, it was their mistake to take up a career in academia, you will not attract the best people.


The world would be a better place if more people took career risks. The evidence is that the majority of interesting stuff was created by people taking big career risks, even though they're a minority of all researchers. So people who take career risks are more likely to create something great.

It sucks to lose at a career gamble but, at least in Silicon Valley, most people who fail but keep trying, end up doing pretty well.


Increasing risk alone does not increase the expected outcome of an enterprise, it reduces it. Risk is one important factor in the equations determining whether or not a business proposition like YCR's funding scheme is attractive, and for this reason the topic needs to be addressed. You are right that people who take more risks are more likely to create something great but the likelihood of a failure increases even more. Increasing risk therefore comes at a high price.


At the level of an individual increased risk does indeed reduce the expected outcome of an endeavor. However, societies where individuals are willing to take higher risks end up reaping the benefits that are only accessible by taking higher risks. One example of such benefits are scientific discoveries.

The current combination of risk-aversion and the focus on publications, tenure and positive results that permeates academia is antithetical to the uncertainty inherent in scientific research.

It seems to me that building new research institutions like YCR with a culture that resembles the one in tech which accepts and encourages risk-taking should be a priority if we are to continue to make progress in science.


Ha, the top comment was basically "not every industry is like Silicon Valley," and your response (among many others) is basically "life would be better if more industries were like Silicon Valley." Ok, that might be true, but it doesn't actually change the game on the ground today.

It's easy to say that "more people" should take career risks. It's harder to be the person who's spent their entire life striving toward a Ph.D. in the field of study they love, and face the (very real) possibility that they'll get one shot and that's it.

Even if they can land at a Silicon Valley company (not as likely for biomedical researchers, BTW), that's not their dream. Their dream was to do groundbreaking scientific research. That's why they got their Ph.D. instead of a job in Silicon Valley.

I don't think Sam addressed the commenter's concerns at all.


Amen.


Not sama here, not affiliated with YC, but my guess is that a talented researcher who spent some time on a bad track at YCR could keep working for YC as a scientific advisor or work for one of the YC companies that might need his/her skills, if he/she can't go back to academia.


Many of the best people are going to quit academia anyway. In that situation why not give YC Research a chance? Go work for a tech company if it doesn't work out.


Many people decide to drop out of the academic system. Working for YC, Intel, or the DoD has similar long term limitations and is hardly a foolish risk.


I may be missing something, but I think the person you responded to was expressing that they fear you are setting up that exact situation: that there is no room for failure.


A single alternative (your program) doesn't do much to follow up for the "fail once, fail forever" system. You'd need a healthy ecosystem of competitors to your program to accomplish that. I guess someone who failed at a project in your research program could ostensibly transition to the industry side of their field, but there's still no going back to academia once you've left.


This reminds of what Peter Higgs (of Higgs Boson fame) said "I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system" http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/06/peter-higgs-b...


Isn't academia even more risky than YCR? ~90% of grad students, at some point in their career path, will be unable to find a tenured job and be forced to leave. What could possibly be more risky than that? YCR has some chance of failure, sure, but it has to be less than 90%.


What is the selection process and how does one apply?

Here are my thoughts on the topic: http://yansh.github.io/articles/phd-distruption/


Whatever the details turn out to be, kudos for committing so much money to research.

It'll be very exciting to see what happens.


With all due respect to Sam Altman and everything he's accomplished, this is a pretty snarky comment that does not spend the time to thoughtfully answer the very real concern that OP presented. It's a huge risk to leave academia to participate in the possibly career-destroying alternative that currently exists. Academia isn't perfect with respect to career opportunities, but it does produce results.

There are many industries out there for which failure is hard - one of them is being an athlete in pro sports. If you aren't at the top, you won't make it to the pros. Not to say that a system that allows for failure is bad or good, but that I think it requires more thought than a simple response.


Do you think the people that have signed up for YCR haven't considered the career risks?

It seems like anyone seriously interested in being a career researcher would know how unforgiving and competitive mainstream academia is.


I think that people who signed up for YCR are looking for alternatives, and who will themselves be part of a biased group. In other words, it might be people who have struggled to find tenure-track positions in academia.

I think I'm mainly echoing the opinion that it's a little quick to say Academia is "fucked up", since with all it's flaws, there are still great virtues, and a more thoughtful response would probably be more appreciated. I also see the tendency for people to quickly judge academia when they haven't been in academia.


Nobody is quicker to criticise academia than academics. Mind you, nobody is quicker to defend academia when criticised by outsiders than academics too.

Academia has misplaced incentives here and there and can certainly be unfair at times, but I've never actually run into any large system which didn't have those properties.

Still, let's not exaggerate how screwed the incentives are. Ultimately the best way to succeed in academic science is to do good work. (Also, do a lot of it, and be good at writing about how good your work is and why it should be given lots of money.)


The point is: YCR may be as unforgiving if not more. As things stand, I think YCR will attract people who are either reckless or have nothing to lose. Not sure if I would want to target that audience.


Leaving academia forever isn't career-destroying. It's closer to career making. There are so many more opportunities in industry. Nearly any CS academic, if they simply quit academia immediately and vowed never to return, that act alone would make their career more promising.


I definitely agree that leaving academia opens new doors that can make you just as happy, but I can also say that there is not a place outside academia that is like academia.


(disclaimer: I am a programmer who works for startups, but I've always admired scientists and researchers and have often contemplated a career switch to biotech.)

How can an entire discipline that is supposedly based on rational evidence-finding be such a cliquey clusterfuck? You're basically saying that if you don't follow the community rules, which more or less boil down to "hazing," you'll be excommunicated. Sounds like a cult, to me... as is any culture where "fear" is the primary motivator not to try something different.

Don't the laws of nature exist everywhere? Why can't anyone "do science," then?

I am glad I work in a meritocracy-based industry where anyone with any background can "ship" and succeed, and that has a low tolerance for bullshit.


Publications and grants are the currency of academia: if one doesn't have a recent publication record, a hiring committee doesn't have a way to gauge one's performance and capabilities as an academic; if one doesn't have a history of getting grants, a hiring committee will be (rightfully) skeptical of one's ability to bring in money. Excepting teaching schools, one is hired for one's abilities as an academic researcher to bring prestige (through publications and PR) and secure grants (along with that sweet, sweet F&A money). To get grants, one needs publications and preliminary data. One also needs grantsmanship skills, and one only gets those from direct experience.

A YCR "fellow" (or whatever it'd be called) would probably not be a competitive candidate for an academic position. It's not because they weren't in academia, it's because they will likely not have the work product used to measure performance in a academic setting. A hiring committee is not going to risk department funds on someone with a non-existent track record when there's a line out the door of other candidates.

I think OP is correct in perceiving that selecting YCR would probably close the door to a future in academia. I will also predict that YCR will have difficulty hiring top academic talent.


Reading between the lines in sama's comment - I think his objective is to replace academia, such that in 20 years, nobody will either attend or work for a university. Except he can't say that, because a.) he'd be laughed off this thread and b.) it's not to YC's advantage to alert competitors that they are, in fact, a threat.

The way it'd work out is the same way YC itself started: attract talented, smart people who have no patience for academia's politics. Let them make their own decisions. Build a brand on the discoveries they make, which attracts more people. Change public opinion about how research should be done. Eventually, the "top academic talent" realizes they've made a horrible mistake, and scrambles to join the new system that's replaced the old.


It is high time for such a change. It seems to me that tech culture is a better fit for scientific research than academia.

Scientific research is by its nature risky and uncertain. The current risk-averse culture of academia with its focus on grant applications, publishing, tenure, and positive results seems to discourage the risk-taking necessary in science.

On the other hand, the culture prevalent in tech accepts and encourages risk-taking, supports fast and easy recovery from failure and generally evaluates people on merit, not success or failure of their most recent project.


The broken aspects of academia are, it seems to me, an unavoidable consequence of needing a scalable system to determine who is doing well and who isn't, so you can give them money. I don't see how to dream up a system that gives you all the good of academia with none of the annoyances.

Think how hard the hiring problem is. How do you hire the best people? How do you assess someone's quality based on a few bits of paper and a short interview. Allocating funding in academia consists of solving problems like that, all the time.


"nobody will either attend or work for a university" -- universities will never disappear, at least not in 20 years because (a) there's too much business, cash flow, physical infrastructure, etc currently and (b) professions such as lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. will still require formal education whether you call it a "university" or not.

Those are 2 reasons off the top of my head.


What does "publication" mean in an Internet Age when anyone can publish anything?

If you mean "vetted by a tiny handful of fallibly-human organizations such as Nature and Cell who may or may not decide to accept your paper regardless of its actual merit and based mostly on how 'hip' the research is," well then we're back to the hazing/cliquey-clusterfuck thing again.

"Grants" seem equivalent to "angel investments" in the startup world... which seem a lot saner, btw.

http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2013/09/10/gre...


Publication means peer-reviewed and scholarly. Yes, a publication in Nature, Cell, Science, NEJM, etc. opens doors, but so do publications in discipline specific journals (like JACS). What matters is that one's papers be read and cited.

The system is far from perfect, but I don't think you'll find anyone in academia saying otherwise. I think of it being like Churchill's quote about democracy being the worst form of government, except for all the others that were tried.


What separates YCR from a thing like Bell Labs?

Bell Labs has produced a lot of great research and many researchers have had fruitful careers there and after.

Why can't YCR be the same?


Well, the fact that Bell Labs is/was an actual real thing, whereas YCR currently consists of good intentions and an amount of money which, while very generous on Sam's part, would fund a Bell Labs size organisation for a couple of days.


Track record of results, corporate memory, facilities, and the collective wisdom and experience of the fellows.

YCR could be the same, one day. Nevertheless, it's a very long and perilous road from YCR the proposal, to Bell Labs 2.0.


> I am glad I work in a meritocracy-based industry where anyone with any background can "ship" and succeed, and that has a low tolerance for bullshit.

Having worked in research academia, as a hospital medical tech, as a technical support bloke, and now several years across several different companies doing devops, I call hogwash. The software/startup world is replete with bullshit, more than anywhere else. Not to mention the huge amounts of time spent "chasing the shiny", where new tools are used because of fashion rather than merit. And network effects are just as strong in the startup world as in academia or medicine.

Occasionally a bedroom-based programmer can strike it lucky, but that's not the bulk of the startup world.

> Don't the laws of nature exist everywhere? Why can't anyone "do science," then?

Everyone can 'do science'. Youtube is filled with people doing science with everyday items. It's just that most human-scale stuff is low-hanging fruit and has now been 'done'. The edges of science where we're progressing with new knowledge need more expensive tools to observe them.


> I am glad I work in a meritocracy-based industry where anyone with any background can "ship" and succeed, and that has a low tolerance for bullshit.

This might be the most delusional thing I've read in this entire thread, and that's saying something. You can't take a look at founders of successful startups and sincerely tell me that anyone with any background can succeed. The whole idea of a startup excludes huge portions of the population (and I'm not talking about technical skills). Low tolerance for bullshit? The startup world is like 90% bullshit.

Your characterization of academia is way too exaggerated. Leaving academia has always been a semi-permanent move. There is no other job quite like academia, so unless you've done something truly amazing with your outside adventures then your resume is going to be inferior to people who have direct experience in the field. It's only logical.


This kind of got me fired up because academia is a hot mess. Instead of getting into a heated debate, I'll leave you with a quote...

“If you want total security, go to prison. There you are fed, clothed and given medical care. The only thing lacking...is freedom.”


People are mentioning Bell Labs, but at it's peak, Bell Labs was THE place to be for condensed matter (my area of physics) research. Academia is littered with people who worked at Bell labs during some part of their career. However, this was not really a risk. Bell Labs offered incredible funding for people and you had REALLLY brilliant people around you. In other words, it was quite competitive with academia and the only question for someone leaving who wanted to go to academia would be whether or not they would be good at getting grants (not a question of their research record). So, if you were a young researcher, starting at Bell wouldn't be a risk, it would be more like getting an offer from say MIT/Stanford without teaching or grant writing responsibilities.

This is a different scenario. YCR is just getting started, so there is definitely a risk involved for a young researcher. In academia, it would be good for a young postdoc to have a portfolio of projects. Maybe one that's likely to result in success, even if it's not groundbreaking and something else which is more high risk, high reward. As an advisor, I would be irresponsible if I didn't try to suggest such a strategy to anyone working for me--that way, even if the risky project fails, they have something they can show that they accomplished when they look for their next position. If YCR offers the researchers the chance to balance working on risky and not so risky projects, then it sounds like a good opportunity for a young researcher--they get funding (it's not clear what the time scale is--a postdoc in physics is 2-3 years) and a chance to focus on their research and to work with outside researchers. Typically (in physics), postdocs don't teach, so that's not an issue. However, the OPs worry that they won't be able to balance their portfolio is a reasonable fear.

Finally, on the issue of publication, this varies from field to field. I have reviewed papers from PRL, Nature, etc. At least when I do it, it's not the same as just writing a comment. One paper that I refereed was a methods paper. This paper will eventually find it's way into a "black box" computer program, so I thought it was important to be correct. So, besides looking in general at the method, I went through every step of the derivations, checked the integrals, looked for sign errors, etc. This is time consuming and a much different process from just writing a comment or two. A good journal does a lot to try to improve the signal/noise ratio of material. Mistakes are still made and sometimes the process breaks down. It could be improved--but

One of the great things about YCR is that it provides another route for people and it's important to experiment with different approaches. Until it's been tried, we simply won't know if this model works or not and I applaud them for putting up the money and resources to try the experiment. Also, the grant process has become rather broken--but that's a problem of there being a lot of excellent proposals out there (I've reviewed grants before), but not enough money out there to fund many of them. Again, I've heard cases where the process has broken down based on politics, but more of what I've seen and heard is that reviewers see a LOT of things that they would like to fund, but there's just not enough money to go around. So, researchers end up spending a lot of time submitting multiple proposals to multiple agencies because the chance of success is too low....

I hope YCR works out!!! But, I do hope that they allow their researchers to do some hedging by working on some incremental projects as well as high risk projects.


Sure, you have to make a calculated decision of whether that's worth it. If you think you'd have a better expected return on staying in academia, you should just do so. I think there's plenty of talented folks who don't expect such a high return from academia for whom YCR provides a far better opportunity for success.


I know people who have worked at places like Bell Labs for awhile and then gone back to academia.

It's not easy, but if you succeed (and publish) then you can often get an academic job afterwards.


1. Would / will you ever consider opening an East Coast branch? I understand all the "stuff" about why SV is great for startups, but there will always be people who can't /won't get up and travel completely to the other side of the country for an extended period of time. And while the EC might not be the startup hotbed that SV area is, it's quite clear that there is a LOT of startup activity and some great startups being formed out here. Wouldn't you want to tap into some of that?

2. In regards to YC Research, can you tell us anything more about the (general) topic area(s) you will be interested in? And maybe expand a little bit more on what kind of mechanisms might be put in place to facilitate working with outside researchers (hopefully including independent researchers and / or other startups).


1. Never say never, but no current plans (and honestly, it might make more sense to do something outside the US next). The hardest part would be convincing some of our partners to move out there, or finding new ones we could train out here first.

2. Not ready to talk about specific areas, but I promise they are interesting ones :)

It will be super super easy for our researchers to collaborate with outsider researchers because of our IP stance!


Once you go outside of the US, it makes sense to go to the country with easiest immigration policy, so that you can work with all the smart people who can't get to the US.


Canada perhaps (specifically Kitchener-Waterloo)?


Vancouver might be better. It has less of a tech sector, but frankly nowhere in Canada has enough of a tech sector to matter much; however Vancouver has the important advantages of being much closer to the bay area (2.5 hours flying time to SFO, 7 flights/day each way), being large enough to have a tech boom without completely unbalancing its economy, and actually being somewhere people want to live.


I beg to differ. On the issue of tech sector, U Waterloo obviously puts out many great students. UBC isn't really known for it's tech streams. In addition, there's likely many smart tech people from RIM looking for jobs in the KW area.

As for the issue of where people want to live. Vancouver is likely even more costly to live than SV. KW (and southern Ontario in general) is a great place with warm weather 6 months per year and access to the 3rd largest city in North America.

In my opinion, KW would make a better YC V2 location.


On the issue of tech sector, U Waterloo obviously puts out many great students.

I absolutely agree. But YC doesn't need to be where the university is. I mean, people apply to YC from all over the world, not just from the bay area.

Vancouver is likely even more costly to live than SV.

Relative to average income, yes. But that's just because Vancouver doesn't have much in the way of high-wage industries. In an absolute sense, Vancouver is much cheaper than SV.

KW (and southern Ontario in general) is a great place with warm weather 6 months per year and access to the 3rd largest city in North America.

Assuming you mean Toronto, it's only 3rd if you take "North America" to mean Canada+USA and take "largest" to mean "population within city limits"... a definition which says that Vancouver is smaller than Winnipeg, and San Francisco is smaller than Jacksonville. Based on metropolitan populations Toronto ranks 8th, between Washington DC and Houston.

But I would say that Toronto would be my second choice out of Canadian cities. The size definitely helps; I don't think it compensates for being three time zones away and twice as hard to reach from SFO though.


+1

My team is moving to Vancouver in 2 weeks for the reasons you've listed. So pumped for cheap roundtrips to the Bay.


UBC isn't really known for it's tech streams.

No? Amazon, Google, and Microsoft hire aggressively out of UBC.

Waterloo is an awful place. Asking people to move there is a hard sell. At least people would enjoy Vancouver.


What about the ole Silicon Valley North? :) Although not much has happened in Ottawa since the bubble with the exception of Shopify.


And same timezone as SF.


I agree with 1. Especially in countries that don't have anything like this available.

I can speak from Cuba, since I am originally from there. Cuba has been closed for 50 years to America, but that is changing now. There are really smart people, that just don't have the necessary access to capital or good advice.

Creating a branch of YC there would have a tremendous impact for local economy and people in addition of being a great business venture in a market that has been closed for half a century and is finally open. It's also worth mentioning that given the current economic situation, funding a startup in Cuba would only take a small fraction of what it takes to fund it in the US, with a lot of potential ROI since almost every industry can be disrupted significantly.


Carlos, how good is the internet in Cuba? if you were going to develop a web app, do cuban developers have better access to it now?


Like I said before, Cuba has been closed to a number of things for 50 years, including internet. However, things are starting to change for good, including internet access.

A few years back, only people from universities or other "privileged" entities, had access to it. Recently there have been changes that allow other sectors of the population to get internet access.

Is there broadband? No. Is it in every home or mobile device? No. But that is where the country that has been closed for 50 years to technology is headed finally.

This on its own constitutes a great business opportunity for any company that leverages that change, for instance.

"I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been" - Wayne Gretzky (i heard it from S.Jobs first).


ahem Wayne Gretzsky ahem ... not Jobs


Perhaps Boston (it made sense at one point right?)


I'm going to suggest Long Beach, NY as a possible east-coast outpost. Lived there for a couple years, it feels like it could support a young startup scene (I've worked for startups for at least 10 years). Artsy surfer town, great boardwalk with inspiring beach (actually the entire south shore of Long Island is just one spectacular beach after another), nice nightlife, 45 minute train ride to Manhattan.

Long Beach seems to be starting to embrace the idea with things like its Bridgeworks project http://liherald.com/stories/New-startup-incubator-coming-to-...

I kind of want to start a company myself, there...


1. Europe? :)


I know YC was actively exploring a set-up in India sometime early this year. Not sure what the current status is.


Hope YC India is real some day!


By the way, you don't have to wait for someone else to do it for you. The whole point of the startup ethos is that you don't need permission to start. No YC where you are? Pool like-minded local entrepreneurs and make your own. It won't be as good at first, but so what? You'd be surprised how much you can achieve.


About point 1.: What about Nordic countries like Norway or Sweden? :) About point 2.: Hope it is something related to genomics, renewable energies and cancer research


> it might make more sense to do something outside the US next

I hope it's not UK. Both UK and France, as well as a few Nordic countries are starting to become very anti-privacy/anti-security. I don't think it would be "safe" to start there in the long term.

Go Switzerland or Germany.


Or the Netherlands?


South America?


China. And do hardware startups.


Especially in Boston. Boston has a TON of startups in the area.


This was 2007, but Paul Graham describes Boston VCs as being slow to act, so they stopped doing Demo Day out there.

http://www.paulgraham.com/startuphubs.html


TechStars hasn't had a problem. Boston cohorts have raised ~$400 million in VC so far: http://www.techstars.com/companies/


YC used to be in Boston for half of the year:

http://old.ycombinator.com/ycca.html


True, but from what I know, it's much more of an old-boys network rather than any kind of stranger to stranger demo based conversion. People trying to make it that way tend to flop here, as there aren't many venues.


+1 - I'm a person living in San Francisco who would only be interested in doing Y Combinator if it was in any location other than the Bay Area.


I'm from Brazil, my startup has 60 employees, and I would gladly stay in SV for 3 months if approved... If nothing else, it acts as a filter of "will power" and dedication for the selected startups... They give you the money and they are flexible (I've read a story of a guy who took the red eye flight every week to attend dinners because he couldn't stay away from his company all week).

It's also a much richer experience for the startups. If you want to be a top of the class founder, you better visit the "startup founder meca" to learn from the best... If they opened a branch in São Paulo, I wouldn't care to attend...


If nothing else, it acts as a filter of "will power" and dedication for the selected startups...

I keep hearing that, and I have never agreed with that sentiment and doubt I ever will. There are lots of good reasons for people to not want to go to SV for 3 months that in no way reflect on their commitment / will.


There is always a way... I have a wife, 4 dogs and a 60 employee company to take care of, in another continent, and would definitely take the opportunity without blinking...

The fact is: if you want to be on the world's best startup acelerator, you need to live 3 months in SV. Mostly because they can reproduce the experience anywhere else. But they a flexible in all possible ways... (your company can be based anywhere)

More severe commitments are required if you want to excel in other areas as well: if you want to play on the best soccer teams in the world you need to move to Europe; If you want to be a top actor you need to go to LA; If you want to be an MIT Engineer you need to live 5 years there; If you want to be the world's best tango dancer you need to move to Argentina...

But I'm sure that, wherever you are, there must be decent enough startup accelerators nearby. (There are a bunch in my country even).


Or Portland. There are lots of tech companies and startups here, as well. Obviously, not at the same scale as SV. But something like YC would be great, up here.


Or in the midwest (Chicago)?


Is there a place for Tarsnap at YC?

Applying for YC funding doesn't make sense for several reasons:

1. I want to be king, not rich; everything I hear tells me that YC pushes companies to grow fast and increase their valuations, and that's something I fundamentally don't care about. I know that I'm stubborn enough that this would just result in a lot of frustration on both sides.

2. Tarsnap doesn't need the money. It's solidly profitable, and I honestly have no idea what I would do with investment money.

3. I don't want to live in the bay area -- not even for 3 months. Granted, this seems like it may be less of an issue now that it's possible for people with pre-existing conditions to get medical insurance; but the bay area is fundamentally not somewhere I can ever imagine myself wanting to live.

4. Converting Tarsnap into a US corporation would eat a lot of time and money. I completely understand why it's necessary for companies YC is going to invest in; but it's another reason why having YC invest in Tarsnap doesn't make sense.

I think YC and its portfolio companies are doing great and interesting things, and I'd like to be part of the community... but as explained above, taking funding doesn't make sense; when I applied for the YC fellowship (I know it was a stretch) you told me to apply for funding instead; and you haven't asked me to be part of YCR.

Is there some other option here?


None of our current programs sound like a good fit.

We're considering doing something for later-stage companies that might be a good fit, though we haven't sorted out details about the bay area for example. If it does end up as a 'go', we'd probably do it next year.

It's also possible in future iterations of the fellowship we'll be open to companies that are further along.

Hope we figure something out at some point!


Thanks for coming back and replying! Sorry I was a bit late with my question.

Great to hear that there may be routes opening up in the future -- I'll keep my eyes open.


Have you thought about going the Private Equity route? I perform software/IT diligence for PE firm's targets and it sounds like you would fit that typical mold.


Why would I want to do that? It would give me what I don't want -- money -- and not give me what I do want -- to be part of a community of smart people doing interesting things.


I think YC is the wrong place for this, for all the reasons you say. I don't see any reason that Tarsnap fits in YC besides "community", and even then it would be more of an outlier than a peer. It seems like it would fit in a community of people that are interested in lower risk, slower growing, but more personally lucrative businesses.

YC companies do technically interesting things for sure, but a lot of the community is probably more about hiring, office space, fund raising, financials, and that sort of thing. These are all different for high risk startups.

I heard about this "Micropreneur" thing several years ago. This is something that interests me, and I've been working part time on projects in this vein. It seems to me that people who want slower growth and less personal risk are inherently a little less "collaborative". That describes me and there's nothing wrong with it. Still, I understand the need to bounce ideas off of others, quickly fill in gaps in your knowledge, etc.


I don't see any reason that Tarsnap fits in YC besides "community"

Yes, that's exactly it.

and even then it would be more of an outlier than a peer.

I'm not so sure about that. OK, in a financial sense sure; but I know there are lots of YC companies doing technically cool things. It's not all rapidly-growing social networks for cats. ;-)


> It seems to me that people who want slower growth and less personal risk are inherently a little less "collaborative".

Could you please expand on this? I am in the same vein as cperciva but it doesn't have any relationship with collaboration. Sometimes you have a relatively successful company where more capital and fast growth would cause more harm than good BUT because right now you can't see a path for growth.


It wasn't a very important comment, but I would say that there are some people who get a "high" from collaborating with many people on problems (working really hard with a small team), and some people who get a "high" from learning things on their own and applying them, with the help of experts.

One person you could take as an example is the Pinboard founder. If you read all his blog posts, I wouldn't call him a "collaborative" person. Is he a highly intelligent, productive, and respected member of society? Yes. Collaborative? No.

My impression is that cperciva is like this, but I could be wrong. I'm more like this too, as mentioned. But you still need community if you're in this camp.

I think there is potential for higher overall growth when you have the right team, simply because there are too many things for one person to do, requiring many different types of expertise. Though there is not necessarily higher "per capita" return.

But growth compounds, so that explains why YC prefers co-founders over solo founders. But YC also acknowledges that there is a big downside to working with teams: co-founder disputes are one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason for startups failing!


> It wasn't a very important comment...

I will reply anyway! I don't know the details about Tarsnap but in my case I work with a co-founder and several employees. We work collaboratively.

In this context we don't have the potential for higher overall growth because the specific niches where we do business are not growing enough. In the past we tried some new areas with great expectations but they never took off. This doesn't mean that we would not prefer a more favorable market sector if we "discover" it in the future.


Colin, given that you don't want to live in the Bay Area, how do you envision yourself being a part of the YC community? These propositions seem fundamentally at odds with one another. Given that restriction, however, here are some ideas:

Could you arrange to go down to YC periodically and hold "office hours" to begin relationships with founders that are doing interesting things in your areas of expertise?

Could these relationships lead to you becoming a technical advisor for some of them?

Could you angel invest in some of them?

Could you attend YC investor day?


Colin, given that you don't want to live in the Bay Area, how do you envision yourself being a part of the YC community?

Well, you see, there's this thing called the "Internet" which allows people to communicate over large distances...

Could you arrange to go down to YC periodically and hold "office hours" to begin relationships with founders that are doing interesting things in your areas of expertise?

That's something I'd absolutely be happy to do.

Could these relationships lead to you becoming a technical advisor for some of them?

If someone's interested in my advice, sure.

Could you angel invest in some of them? Could you attend YC investor day?

I don't think the amount I would be able to invest would be very meaningful. Also, I'm guessing the tax issues involved with cross-border angel investing would be painful. (Just a guess, but I find that assuming that tax issues are painful is a good default position.)


May not be a helpful comment, but investing in the US as a non-citizen is surprisingly easy. I have several investors from outside the US and they mock my US based investors who have more hoops to jump through.

The USG doesn't feel like it has to protect you, so if you want to put money here, they are more than welcome to take it. :)

(Of course, don't trust me, get a real advisor / tax advice)


I'd say there's probably not a place for Tarsnap at YC (though I'm not sama), there's simply not enough ambition, but I'd be surprised if there isn't a place for Colin Percival. There obviously already is at HN and I bet there's dozens of startups that could use your help or advice in some way.

You mentioned a lot of reasons why Tarsnap can't be in the YC community. Perhaps you could come up with some reasons why you would have a place? It's marketing man ;)


Well, it's hard to separate "Colin Percival" from "Tarsnap". I mean, yes, what I really mean is a way for me to be involved; but I have every intention of continuing to run Tarsnap for the foreseeable future, so they can't really have me without also having Tarsnap.


I just can't imagine a situation where you brought on VC funding and were still able to maintain tarsnap's ethos.

The inescapable push would be to find fast/big growth areas, and to change tarsnap in whatever way necessary to fit in those niches.


Right, and that's why I'm not going that route. As I said: King, not rich.


5. You find a co-founder CEO to run Tarsnap, Inc. from Silicon Valley. The CTO remains in Canada. Lawyers handle the messy details.

This is kind of what Oculus does. John Carmack is in Texas with a small team, while most others are in California.

You retain absolute control over the core technology, but help your co-founder turn it into something more marketable and user friendly. Some of the Tarsnap GUIs authors might be interested in helping.


The guy I'm paying to write the Tarsnap GUI is in Romania.


YC deals with lots of foreign founders but maybe it wouldn't work in this case. I still think it would be great if you had a team helping you like John Carmack does.


There is the start of a team: One employee and one contractor. There isn't a team with equity though.


How did you find him?


did you hear about YC Research announced 2 days ago?

- the link: https://ycr.org - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10347821


I mentioned YCR at the end of my comment. :-)

Based on https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10361472 it sounds like that's limited to the US for now too.


Can I ask why you're determined to be a part of YC?

Everyone on this board knows who you are, and you could probably get an audience with whoever you want if you asked for it.

Your personal brand and network is probably way stronger than you give it credit for.


you could probably get an audience with whoever you want if you asked for it.

Maybe, but I'd need to know who to ask. Being not part of the YC community, I don't know who is doing interesting things; nor do I know who to ask if I have a question about something.


Aren't you going to get bored of Tarsnap one of these days?


Probably at some point, sure. But I doubt it will be any time soon.


If you don't know what you'd do with seed capital, then I'm not convinced you know where your company is going.

You don't want a top-notch dev team? You don't have dreams to reach more enterprise customers? You don't want a world-class marketing campaign? You don't want a research team dedicated to the "next big thing"? There are tons of ways you can improve your offering.

Stubbornness is a desire to remain the same, persistence is the willingness to constantly change.


You don't want a top-notch dev team?

I think I already have one. ;-)

You don't have dreams to reach more enterprise customers? You don't want a world-class marketing campaign?

Hell no. Those sound like a lot of work.

You don't want a research team dedicated to the "next big thing"?

Not really. I mean, research is great, but Tarsnap is a backup service. It shouldn't be a backup service which also dabbles in self-driving cars, or a backup service which also hosts minecraft servers. If I decide I want to do something new, it will be something new, not part of Tarsnap.


I think - based on his posting history, which dates back all the way to the beginning of HN - that Colin knows exactly where his company is going. He has very specific opinions about how security should be done, the expertise to back that up, and a customer base that's (mostly) on board with those choices. Tarsnap's used by a number of prominent companies and individuals here, notably Stripe [1], patio11, and steveklabnik [2].

It may not be what the rest of us want, but remember that there are some companies that simply know what they're good at and want to own that particular niche.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7514618

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7523953


You're talking about where his company is. I'm not saying he's not already doing great - he says it himself above.

My point is, if you're creative, directions to grow your company are not scarce. Resources to do-so are. If he is actually flush with cash, and doesn't know what to do with it, that's a fundamental problem.


It's not always a good idea to grow your company outwards - if you're good at what you do, it's better to do it even better than to start doing other stuff you're not good at. Oftentimes, bigger teams and more resources don't help with that.

History is full of companies (eg. Lotus, Evernote, Clinkle) that lost focus and floundered because they had too many resources available, and also of ones (eg. Apple after Steve Jobs's return) that took off after they cut their product lines and laid off people.


Let's say I have a fantastic sushi bar. I'm the main sushi chef and after a multi-year on and off frustrating search I finally found an assistant / apprentice. We have also have a waiter and a cleaner / busser.

I have lines out the door for the limited hours I'm open, even after raising prices three times. All my employees are well paid, including profit sharing and benefits.

Sushi Combinator wants to give me big multiples of annual earnings to take a minority stake in the business, but in exchange he wants me to try to increase revenue dramatically. Any of the ways I can think of doing so I believe, even if successful, will leave me less happy than running the business I have now.

Should I take the money?


First, I don't believe YC's only goal is to dramatically increase revenue.

Though, to entertain your analogy: Why not develop the next-level sushi fish? One that not only dazzles your exclusive audience in texture and taste, but is a delight to work with and more satisfying to cut.

> Should I take the money?

If you want to do big things, then yes.

If your happiness relies on staying a sushi chef, you are a sushi chef, not an entrepreneur.


I have absolutely no problem with saying that I'm not an entrepreneur.


Hi Sam,

I'm a graduating college senior, and I've accepted a job at a very big company in the tech industry. Right now, it makes the most financial sense for me to join a big company and pay off my debt quickly, but at some point in the future I'd love to scratch that entrepreneurial itch and apply to YC.

How do I maximize my time at a big company to gain relevant skills to keep the possibility of a startup open in the future?


The best things you can do there are meet great potential cofounders, and get better at writing software.

Also don't get sucked into living an expensive lifestyle when you get that high-paying job--this has killed many people's once-promising futures.


This is good advice! First came my love for sushi, then the condo, then the BMW, and now I can't live poor anymore.


Which begs the question - how does one avoid living an expensive lifestyle in the bay/SF?


Cook all of your own meals. Don't buy drinks at the bars if you go out. Don't buy expensive shit, you don't need the newest iphone every year or name brand designer stuff. Get a roommate. Not rocket sciene


If you can get very efficient at it or you find the activity a source of leisure, then cooking your own food is a great cost savings. However, for someone in the tech industry the opportunity cost of not investing in themselves (i.e. coding, reading about code, meeting people, etc) for the same amount of time they are cooking (grocery shopping, food prep, cooking, cleaning, etc) usually isn't worth it.

To me cooking your own food seems like a penny-wise, pound foolish thing. Of course eating out healthily multiple times a day gets insanely expensive, so that's not really an option either. That's why I'm a big advocate of soylent.


Most meals aren't actually a huge time investment if you do them right. Make one trip to the grocery store a week (or two if you really need perishables like milk or fresh fish, but if you do that, just go in & out with a list). Make sure your apartment has a dishwasher. Get a (dishwasher-safe) food processor for chopping & dicing. Clean up while the food is cooking in the oven or on the stove. Cook big batches and have leftovers during the week.

My wife and I spend maybe 3-4 hours/week on cooking, but the key is that it's usually all batched up on Sunday (and maybe Wednesday) nights, so it doesn't interfere with work during the week. On weekdays, it takes 2 minutes to pop a tupperware into the microwave and dump it onto a plate. That's actually a lot faster than ordering Munchery or preparing Blue Apron.


And you lose one of the best things in life... love for food! Sometimes I think some americans have never known how good food tastes like.


In that vein, a friend once calculated whether the time saved by not brushing his teeth would be offset by the cost of dentist visits later.

I don't remember the conclusion, but after I reminded him that female attention would likely drop off in proportion to bad breath, he decided against testing the idea.

Seriously man, it's food. We all have to eat, what is so important that you can't give up a couple hours a week towards cooking good food and leisurely eating it. Your entire life doesn't have to revolve around the almighty Opportunity Cost.


    However, for someone in the tech industry the opportunity cost of not investing 
    in themselves (i.e. coding, reading about code, meeting people, etc) 
    for the same amount of time they are cooking (grocery shopping, food prep, cooking,
    cleaning, etc) usually isn't worth it.
I would argue that the time spent away from the technical side doing other things is a bigger investment in self than a few extra hours a week writing code.


Is this Soylent advocacy just a running joke? I can't imagine eating all my meals via a plain, liquid, meal-replacement.


It's an efficiency tool. Does every single one of your meals have to be "the best meal ever" where everything is made from scratch from ingredients you sourced yourself from the farmer's market? Of course not. There are definitely times where you don't care to enjoy your meal and just need some nutritional sustenance. Traditionally in those cases your options were fast food, or maybe some kind of protein bar. Soylent is a better alternative in my mind to those.

One pleasant side effect of the "blandness" is that it has made me really enjoy the meals that I do eat. I've noticed that the flavors pop a lot more. So now I have the best of both worlds.


Not to mention making your primary source of fat canola oil.


If it isn't, it damn sure ought to be.


It would be wrong to write off cooking as an opportunity cost of not investing in yourself. First, you have the opportunity to put high quality food into yourself. Second, the tasks of recipe creation and cooking are very, very similar to software creation tasks. You start with a language (raw ingredients, characters) and combine them into your final product.


Rent first: maybe SF doesn't have any places with cheap rent, but the South Bay does. There are outliers in the market: $800/mo for a room or $1200/mo for a studio.

Car second: if you get an old car then the repairs + depreciation can be ~$500 / yr.

Services third: look at your most expensive purchases (Are there things that could be bought cheaper?) and your monthly bills (Do I need Netflix and Comcast cable? Do I need Costco and Amazon Prime? Do I need that EC2 instance? Do I need the deluxe laundry service?).

Food fourth: budget $5-$20 / day, leverage free food from your employer if possible.


REKT


Im not Sam but I was similar to you (planwise) when I graduated. I would urge you to be very careful if that is your long-term plan, it is very easy to develop a lifestyle around a comfortable low-risk paycheck and say, "I'll do it down the line". 5-10 years can fly by very quickly in those situations, still at the same place doing the same thing. You will never have as much free time as you do right now, and if you have an idea you should pursue it with vigor. -Signed, an old man


To add to this: try to live like you are still in college as long as you can stand it.

If you have very low interest student loans, pay them off at the minimum rate and save the cash - you will need it to launch the startup. And if then your startup makes you poor, you can usually do income adjusted deferment on remaining loans.


Speaking as someone who has watched those 10 years fly by, this is excellent advice. It can be very tempting to get comfortable; you have plenty of time for that later in life. Struggle while you're still at your peak, take risks now. And for the people in my shoes...don't let those 10 years stop you anyway, we're dead when we're dead.


I had been a software engineer for 2 years when my friend and I got a year's worth of money to build a startup for an idea I had. The timing ended up not being right due to family reasons, so we ended up not doing it. It was really disappointing, but I knew it was the right thing for my family.

Four years later, I'm incredibly glad I didn't do it. I'm convinced I would have made bad technical decisions and doomed the company. I'm not a perfect software engineer now, but I'm worlds better than I was. Writing and deploying software on someone else's dime has given me invaluable experience, and I'm certain it's prepared me to be successful in my own company some day soon.

While at a big company, I'd still encourage you to work on side projects and see where they go. Doing that will give you even more experience in building an MVP.


I think the most important thing is to keep learning. Expand your skills, try/work on a lot of different projects (because bigger companies usually have dozens or hundreds of different products, teams, and roles), which means you can probably find an interesting problem and learn new things. Pick the brains of the more experienced engineers. Be curious. Don't really know how something works? Ask and learn! Meeting people and network. Who knows, maybe they'll be a cofounder with you or be apart of your team at your startup in the future. Work on side projects and expand your interests! You usually have the time to work on side projects or explore interesting problems. I think it's important to do them, experiment with different ideas. Don't have ideas? Keep a notepad with the problems you face everyday. Discuss your side projects and ideas with your peers/coworkers. Most startups usually come from a side project


Couple questions regarding YCR:

1. Will the model be group-based where there's a head PI setting the research agenda for a group and researchers working under the PI? If so, what level of independence do you expect individual researchers within a group to have? I.e. is it more like the academic model with postdocs enjoying a fair degree of independence, or more akin to national labs where the research agenda is reasonably fixed and everyone is expected to contribute to the same research program? Or, are you coming up with an entirely different model?

2. In general how hands-on will YCR be in terms of intra-group management?

3. Do you expect to subscribe to all the major publishing houses so that YCR researchers have access to journals like they would at a top-tier university?


1. Great question, we've spent a lot of time cycling on this. There will be a "PI" for each group, but the sort of PIs we will bring on will be people who will give large amounts of autonomy to their teams--ie, each group will have a goal, and everyone in that group will be directed to work towards that goal in whatever way they see fit. But given the quality of the PIs we are planning to bring on, if they think a particular direction is really unfruitful, it is likely worth considering.

2. Not very unless asked.

3. Whatever the researchers want.


Hi @sama, I'm From Brazil and CEO of an EdTech startup. We're profitable, with 60 employees and a lot consumer traction/revenue, but didn't raise a Series A yet. Questions:

1) What advice would you give to applicants from Brazil and other large countries (India, China, Russia), whose products initially target their local markets?

2) What advice would you give to post-Seed and pre-Series A applicants? When (if at all) would you consider them "too big for YC"?

3) If you select a post Seed startup, would YC invest at their latest valuation, or would it only offer the standard deal, even if it would be a "down round" for current investors?

Heard you are visiting India and know you've been to Mexico not long ago. Ever thought about coming to Brazil? Best regards, Bernardo


1) No specific advice--we fund lots of companies whose products target far-away markets and are particularly interested in doing so. The only different question we might ask you is "How will you handle being away from your users for 3 months?"

2) We have funded companies that have raised more than $10 million, and they've said they still got a lot of value out of YC. If anything, it's usually the existing investors that have a problem with it.

3) Standard deal, BUT we buy common stock, so it doesn't trigger any anti-dilution stuff. Most investors understand that YC is mostly "sweat equity" anyway.

I might come to Brazil for New Years!


Wow, that would be great! Please, let us know if we can help in any way during your visit. Lots of interesting things for you to see in the Brazilian startup ecosystem. We are close to São Paulo (where Embraer, the 3rd largest airplane manufacturer in the world is located). Regards


That is my home town! What do you guys do? I currently live in Campinas but would love to know Startups in SJC!


Plz, come visit us: http://redealumni.com

My email is bernardo ARROBA redealumni PONTO com


Minor nit on #3: Doesn't the new YC stock agreement come with pro rata rights...? Doesn't that mean it's not really common stock? (In the sense that those rights aren't explicitly given to employees and founders.)


You can still have pro rata rights on common shares.


When are you visiting India? Which cities would you be visiting. I strongly recommend visiting Powai Valley(Mumbai). It is a very small area highly dense with great startups. The ecosystem is insane here as almost 90% of the start up are founded by IIT-Bombay alums (I am also one) which is just 2 km away from the area. Many people from SV who visited here have said this is better than SV in terms of eco-system.


If you come to Brazil and you can spare a couple of hours it would be very nice to have you in one of our meetups for our local community http://meetup.com/Germinadora/ we are fans of YC.


Hey there. Do you mind if ask what's your startup?

Just out of curiosity; I'm Brazilian too :)


Our product is here: http://querobolsa.com.br

What's yours?


Nice.

I have some colleagues adventuring in entrepreneurship, but right now I'm a typical 9 to 5 enterprise employee (at http://aec.com.br).


The cost of rent in the Bay Area is getting really high, both SF and down south. The archetypal startup in a garage in Palo Alto is not as affordable as it once was. For various policy reasons it's really hard for new people to move to the area without paying an arm and a leg in rent.

Do you or YC have any thoughts on things you could do to help this, if any?


The bandaid is we increase the amount of money we give to teams.

We do have some longer-term thoughts if the area can't get its act together and fix the problem.


Pre-YC startups could benefit from the Bay Area ecosystem while they are still building their MVP and getting initial traction to the point where they have something that they CAN apply to YC with.

I know very promising founders personally that were stuck working in parents' basements in the midwest because they did not yet have the resources to move to the Bay Area.

How can YC help during this critical "early development" (or should I say, exploration) stage for founders building companies? Is there a way it can help insulate early founders from learning the hard lessons the hard way? Traditional VCs would call these bets way too "risky."


This is sort of what the YC Fellowship sought to address, or at least addressed as a byproduct. There's a few companies in the current batch from the midwest/east coast at the 'early development' stage who moved to the bay. If YC can scale YCF up, it should help.


I see a YC Campus with dorms in the future!


BoostVC does this already by providing housing at Draper University.


What if you relocated YC to somewhere that was both a nice place to live and had sane urban planning? Does YC have enough momentum of its own now to turn that place into a startup hub?

I don't know if such a place exists though. Seems like everywhere nice to live is rife with NIMBYism.


Is there anything YC could do to help YC companies with housing? It's not trivial for teams during YC to get housing in SFBA, but they have enough upside to put up with a lot, and usually figure out something.

It's really hard for employees 1-N, especially at sub-market salaries, but without 10% equity stakes, to move to SFBA. It pretty much restricts you to people already-here, people who will live college dorm style, or people who are already well off. Too much of the money raised goes out the door in salary (taxed) to pay for housing.


Yes, I think we will have to do something here. I keep hoping the local governments will fix this and keep being disappointed.

I was really excited by Campus, and hope we see a lot more startups with similar ideas.


As a non-YC founder living in SF, I'm really disappointed by this answer.

Above, you mentioned a "bandaid" solution of increasing funding for YC founders to account for skyrocketing rent - but this only exacerbates the problem for everyone else, including YC companies' employees and the entire ecosystem that supports them.

Tech workers' willingness and ability to pay ever-increasing rent, underwritten by salaries drawn from irrationally exuberant venture capital investment in tech (low interest rates elsewhere), is driving a housing bubble that, in a vicious cycle, is then further fueled by property investment justified by ever-increasing rents.

I guess I was looking more for YC to take a leading role here in proposing solutions, rather than passively hoping for a fix. The simplest, as it seems to me: open a bleeder valve by providing incentives for successful YC companies to "settle" other startup hubs, or even just acting as a broker for bidding by those locations. I'm sure there are smarter fixes, but I can't see the harm in enacting these.


Those are good ideas. (I'm a YC alum; I'm looking forward to applying and doing another YC startup at some point in the future, and I personally dislike SFBA.)

YC has done a little bit of this informally (Alexis as "Ambassador to the East"), and a lot of YC founders are from other places and retain hiring/offices/etc. in those other places. There are lists, support networks, etc. I know of for YC companies resettled in Seattle, and probably in other places.

There are also some YC companies which are explicitly "X for India", "Y for Brazil" where they obviously are based in those other places.

There ARE a lot of YC companies which want to remain in SFBA, though, so looking at options like Campus (RIP; wonder what happened; would love to talk to the founder for a post-mortem) makes sense, too.


I think everyone agrees that a fix at the root cause (local governance) is better but YC can only do so much, so what Sam said about increasing the funding for their startups is really what's directly under their control. I suppose they could join up with other VCs and do some lobbying to propose better solutions though.

Startups aren't going to move, like you suggest, although the bigger companies are willing to open offices elsewhere.


Very broadly speaking, fundamental research can be divided into two categories: (1) developing techniques to accomplish some very difficult, but useful task; and (2) answering questions which are intrinsically interesting.* Research in fusion and developing self-driving cars are examples of the first category. Finding exoplanets and the Higgs boson are examples of the second. Will YC Research be funding research in both categories, or just the first?

* (I know some people like to call the second category "pure" research, but I think that betrays a bias against working on more practical problems.)


Honestly it will mostly be category 1 to start, but there is at least one category 2 project we want to pursue.


Hi Sam,

the YC Research announcement got me very excited, particularly as someone who experiences the pain points you described first hand on a daily basis.

First question, would YC Research be limited to the US or would you consider other countries (e.g. Canada in my case)?

Also, would you ever consider partnering with existing Public/Government institutions? There are lots of very good people already working on some really interesting projects (yes, even in the public sector :) ), and I believe they need support and direction (and some actual business sense). So to re-phrase my question, would YC Research ever consider some sort of support/consulting platform for existing (possibly public) organizations?

Thank you very much for taking the time!


Limited to the US for now but maybe not forever. Someone in Canada should start something similar!

Yes, very happy to collaborate with outside orgs.


Thank you Sam! Follow-up question: would you be interested in helping me start something similar in Canada, or know people who would? :)


TandemLaunch (www.tandemlaunch.com) is a close proxy, though still oriented to ultimately build technology companies (but still very deep tech focused). We are obviously not in the same scale league as yc, but we are in Canada :).


Hey hey - another Canadian here. :)

Just sent you a LinkedIn add; I'm working on a product designed to accelerate tech transfer and generally would like to support scientific research in any way I can. Can we connect?


A similar YC Research location related query so I'll file it here.

How about the EU?

The cynic in me would love to be proved wrong by YC Research. I don't agree that academia is as broken as many here contend but I am intrigued by the re-imagining.

What I think people overlook is that academia is a blend of education and research whereas YC Research and other research-only institutes don't have to worry about educating the next generation so it's apples and oranges folks. Still... I genuinely wish the venture well, very exciting move.


If YC research is a success, would you consider establishing a website onto which researchers can publish the data and the analysis they did to reach their conclusions?

Often I see people say what they used to take the data and then the end result of the analysis, but never do I see any details whatsoever about the specific techniques or steps they took to transform the raw data into what ends up being published.

It's a very frustrating thing for me and I don't see a mainstream or more easily accessible way for me to post my raw data + analysis other than making a blog for myself, which I have no easy way of promoting in a paper.

I think it would be great to be the ones that set the tone for transparency and it would be a fantastic way of teaching others how to analyze data, or how to catch errors in someone's analysis.

Right now there's a huge wall of obscurity in that we have to take the author's word for it. I know many things cannot be reproduced in experimental science, but the analysis of the data should be. I can't see a reason why people would not want to share their data in academia since most people are funded by DOE, NSF, NIH and DOD and hence by the taxpayer. I think it would be great for pedagogical purposes, it would encourage best practices and it would help us be honest.


@Sama,

So my question is about YC Research. You said in that earlier thread you will be hand picking the people. How exactly do you intend to do that if you don't me asking? Are you partnering with schools? Are they going to be recommended? Do you already have a database?


Mostly the algorithm was to ask very smart people "who are the top 3 smartest people you know in area X" and then go after the people whose names kept coming up.


This approach won't work if you are looking for academic diamonds in the rough. The names that will get mentioned are probably already scoring big grants and pumping out well-received publications.

If you are really actually looking for long-shots by talented people, you're going to have to access the people nobody is going to mention for fear of marking themselves as a radical or an urchin-lover. Science is packed with these humble types, but they are invisible because of how brightly the superstars (who frequently stand on the shoulders of the more humble) shine.

As an aside, smartness is certainly helpful for research endeavours, but pridelessness is actually what separates the people jousting against windmills and people traveling the hero's journey. The smartest are frequently targeting windmills thinking that they'll be the ones to finally succeed, whereas the prideless are more interested in understanding and exploiting molehills or anthills. Pridelessness allows for maximum flexibility in following reality, preventing ego-driven attachments to incorrect interpretations.


@Sama,thanks for the answer.


Not a complete answer at all, but it looks like the former CTO of stripe, Greg Brockman, is going to be involved[1]. I assume to start they're gonna look at people close to the YC network?

[1]https://twitter.com/gdb/status/651825359340507136


@Tristanho, thanks for the answer and the link.


Hi Sam I've used this site forever it's cool. But I'm not like these other guys who want a job or to make a startup I just like tech news so my question is what is the best kind of coffee, as in what's your favorite kind.

My top pick is called "Black Cadillac" it's from a local shop and also reminds me of the modest mouse song of the same name.


Philz Philharmonic, made into espresso.


Hi Sam, I read a post of you guys saying that a lot of founders think they're too early to apply to YC. That's my case. We're just in our first thousands of dollars in revenue, and honestly when I think of YC - no matter how much confident we are with our business - I believe we don't really stand a change against other applicants. Any specific advice/thoughts on this?


Many of our most successful companies entered YC with little more than an idea. Slope is more important than Y intercept - https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-most-profound-life-lesson...


Every batch, we fund some people with just an idea. And lots and lots of people with just a prototype. The bar is higher but it's clearly possible.


Glad to hear that. Thanks!


I would be more concerned that you would think that vs that being your situation.


What would be the right time for an idea that involves some technical depth to apply to YC?

In other words, hypothetically, if YC had existed during the 90s, at what stage should Google Guys have applied to YC (Between 1995-1998, A) when the idea struck (mid 1995) B) When it started crawling the web (around 1996), or C) when they bought the domain (1998). Thanks!


Some idea that is (a) technically complex enough to baffle most PhDs but (b) practical enough to constitute the core of an amazing demo.

An idea with technical depth, plus practical feasibility does provides an all-important barrier to entry, a shield against execution


A or B.


Any advice on differentiating such idea in the YC application, from the herd, building services (an app/website where good design, paired with user traction stands out)?

Shall we focus on? A. Research side (the actual research ideas, tough to explain in 300 words, can be discussed in brainstorming session) B. The product it will enable. (UI based concept demo, with product/market fit that will it will enable)


Is there any intention of adding a new type of incubator that isnt so location specific?

For instance, I would love to be in YC- But just like many older (30+) folks, I have a family and simply cannot move to SF. The 'move to SF' restriction is the one thing I hate about YC- Its also why I think some competing incubators are picking up steam, who focus on global teams.

This may be disagreed upon- But I truly feel the 'move to SF' restriction is almost prejudicial against older folks. I get there is immense value in being in the valley (I just moved from SF), but I just dont think thats a reason not to find a way the system couldn't work either remotely or satellite based.


We know moving is hard, but startups are hard. So much of the value of our program comes from in-person interactions. As you said, there are lots of other options for people who don't want to move, so I don't feel that fixing this is our most urgent problem.

That said, we are trying remote teams in the YC Fellowship, and we'll evaluate how they worked at the end of this first batch.


You may be interested in the YC Fellowship.

https://fellowship.ycombinator.com/


Looking at who you accept now and some of YCs biggest hits, its seeming like your earlier investments (Dropbox, airbnb) probably wouldn't make it through today's YC filter. Do you guys think this is an issue, if so how are you working to correct it?


Disagree. No one at YC could interview the Airbnb guys and not fund them. I didn't know Drew back then but I expect it would have been the same thing for him.


I think he is not referring to the interview process, but rather to the "skimming through the application" process.


Yeah, I am sure having met them they would have gotten in, im talking purely getting to interview.


Hi @sama, you've been outspoken about the potential long term side effects of prolonged 0% interest rates. What do you think will be the worst side effect? Do you have any general advice for individuals to avoid the bad effects?


A few weeks ago I submitted this article https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10213547 about one of Peter Thiel's biotech investments and the top comment asked "How does someone very intelligent like Peter Thiel make investment decisions in an area where he lacks a huge amount of background knowledge?". I'm curious how you personally and Y Combinator as a whole goes about making investments in areas where you don't have great expertise. For example, how do you evaluate biotech markets and the YC biotech companies? How did you evaluate your energy investments?


Recently a plethora of startups working on new nuclear energy technology have been created: Transatomic power, Flibe, Helion and UPower (to name a few). These startups, respectively, have technology based on molten salt reactors (MSR), new fuels (Thorium), or new modalities (small distributed scale and fusion). Most of these startups face a huge challenge (and capital requirement) to go from idea/concept to pilot/demonstration plant. As Chairman of Helion and UPower how do you see these new startups commercializing their technology? Will they require partnerships with existing utilities and what is the expected timeline?


I think they should just try to raise large amounts of money rather than partner with large companies for development. However, they will need to partner with utilities for pilot plants.

I can't speak to the other companies, but my hope is that UPower and Helion have prototypes in ~3-5 years.


Nuclear energy faces a challenging PR environment.

Letting the public perception get so bad should be considered one of the costliest PR mistakes in recent history in terms of human and environmental cost. The problem is highlighted by the fact that many will disagree with this statement.

How do you see the way out of this?


I sincerely hope these endeavors are successful!


Regarding the research program, what sort of research projects are you looking at? While you are putting a considerable amount of money into the project, it obviously won't be able to fund experimentally expensive projects.

Also, many research projects (like bioinformatics) require enormous amounts of difficult to obtain data (e.g. Hospital records, blood samples, etc...). Do you have a plan to help those kinds of labs build collaborations, or do you expect to bring in researchers who will be able to "figure it out"?

Finally, are you looking specifially for trained PhD researchers, or is this open to anybody?


View my donation as seed capital. I expect we'll commit $100M+ to some projects over time.

We do have plans for collaboration with some institutions for our first group.

Open to anyone great! No PhD required.


Hi sama,

First of all, thanks for the 10 million dollar donation for YC research. That's an amazing gesture, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the scientific research model get completely disrupted - it's in a terrible state and it needs a big shove.

- Given your donation, what are your thoughts on philanthropy?

- Most of your advice is for founders, however, what should an employee look in an early stage start up when deciding whether to join? Obviously, the decision is much easier if the company has started growing exponentially, but before that?


1) I generally believe in trying to find the most-impactful areas to donate, and also concentrating on areas that are important to me personally, and also areas where I am uniquely suited to make a difference. This seems like a good intersection.

2) A controversial thing I believe is that unless you are getting multiple percent of equity, it's usually a bad deal to join an early-stage startup that hasn't yet found product-market fit and the resulting growth (there is a big exception here for hard tech startups that will take a long time to produce a product but be incredibly valuable if they're able to).

We've noticed that the best startups tend to not hire employees for awhile. One of the reasons, it seems, is they are able to convince much better people to join once things start working.


Your talks and latest actions suggest that YC is now more dedicated to making a better future, rather than helping individuals succeed. (thank you for that)

Our startup is a for-profit company. However, as a part of our strategy we are making a lot of medical data open sourced. Even if we completely fail, we will move the leave an extremely positive footprint on traditional Chinese medicine industry. Q: 1. How would you suggest balancing good intensions for the industry with making money? 2. Should we reflect this in the application and how?

Thank you!


Sounds interesting. Link?


Not finished yet, but I'm happy to show sketches and explain everything. Ping me any time at d@spaceherbs.com or just call 415.960.9373 (Dan)

First versions are: http://spaceherbs.com/client/old/client/index.html http://spaceherbs.com/herbs http://spaceherbs.com/client/new/client/index.html


I am a solo founder with strong technical and design chops. I am a high-level thinker, and I spend much of my time with big picture problems, establishing the vision, and figuring out a practical plan to get there from where we are now. But I can also execute on that vision, and build the entire system end-to-end. And I have an abnormally high level of standard. I strongly believe in quality software that just works.

I am torn about submitting an application. I have a list of 20+ customers waiting for the first beta release and who are actively asking about progress (and willing to post payment!) The idea and particular niche market has been churning in my mind for several years, and over the past 18 months, the vision has materialized into a real product. Market trends are pointing upwards, it is ripe for disruption and could be a winner takes all game.

I am weeks away from private-beta depending on my productivity (this has been a side project). I have a wife, 7 month old daughter, and a cushy full-time salary with little work demands. I have been in two long-term employer relationships (4 and 5 years) and at each made huge impacts on molding the product, despite not being hired for that. But I am bored and want the freedom and flexibility to work on my own ideas. But one thing I have always lacked is a talent network. Is this something being accepted into HN would help with? I honestly get the feeling that most applicants are searching for direction and help with flushing things out, things that I am already confident in. What do you make of a solo guy like me, with a solid product that is almost ready for market? I'm a proud guy, and there is that part of me that wants to just continue being a Lone Wolf.


I'm not sama, but here are some thoughts anyway.

If this is really something you think could be big (a "winner takes all game" as you say), you're going to have to grow a company to address the opportunity -- which will mean giving up the lone wolf thing. That's a choice you have to make personally. I'm sure being the lone wolf is more comfortable, and it's entirely possible that you could build yourself a nice little business that way, but you won't be able to own the market.

Once you decide which way you want to go, applying to YC or not will be an easier decision. I do expect that YC could help you with your network.



If you have people willing to pay for your product and a clear go to market strategy then why do you particularly need YC?


Name the most influential person in your life! I'm really curious!


No huge surprises here, but probably Paul Graham, Peter Thiel, and Elon Musk have done the most to influence my thinking about investing and technology.


You obviously interact with PG quite a bit. Does the influence from Peter and Elon come from working in person, or from what they've done/wrote/speak about?


It seems like YC had done a great job on standartizing YC startup documents that protect both founders and investors from each other and promote cooperation. Are there any plans to do the same thing to standardize contracts for early employees?

(i.e. shouldn't early employess, investing their under-market salary/time receive the same conditions/protection of their investments as VCs?)


For stock compensation, yes!


Thanks for the answer! I'm glad that YC is paying attention to that area.

I hope that any under-the-market-salary investments from employees would start getting the same treatment as any other investors money (e.g. dilution cap, not vesting cliff).


Hey, Sam! You recently announced HN is being split off from YC. What changes will we see to the site/community in the next 6 months?


Well, per the announcement, this is a question for dang not me :)


Hi Sam, you have previously mentioned in an interview that University of Waterloo comes to mind when you think of a school that produces great YC alums. As most of these founders were unproven and untested individuals at the time of applying to YC, what qualities do you feel has made the difference for them throughout the program?


They seem to get trained well to think of new ideas. They also get a very solid engineering education.


Not a YC applicant or alum, but as a Waterloo CS grad - the co-op program was invaluable. 4 months study alternating with 4 months work in a real job = 6 different workplaces to learn from, and coming out of the degree with 2 years real experience. A lot of students, especially on the CS side, are getting jobs at startups for their co-op terms.


Anyone aware of well-regarded US-based computer science programs with similar co-op programs? They seem pretty sparse when I google...


Hi Sam! Random question but I've read in a couple articles that your mom said by about 10, she would have been comfortable dropping you off alone in NYC.

As a new parent, I'm intrigued by this. What kinds of things did your parents do with/for you to foster this level of independence? What had the biggest effect on you, personally?


I really lucked out big-time on the parent lottery.

My parents were and are incredibly supportive of anything I was interested in. But they were never "hovering". That's a great combination.


Funny side story: When I was 13, I flew from Pakistan to Australia by myself, changed the flights in transit, etc.


What are some of the biggest pain points you see early YC companies struggling with (esp. during batches)?

Are there any unsolved problems for growing companies you wish someone would apply to solve?


The biggest problem is failing to make a product that some users love, but then thinking they will solve their problems by doing everything else well.

The second-biggest problem is probably cofounder fallouts.

Internal communication and management structure are always big problems for growing companies that I wish someone would solve.


Hey Sam, re: solving internal communication, you should checkout a non-profit called http://www.helloinnerspace.org/ funded by this group called YC ;)

Seriously though - after attending their cofounder communication workshop, we invited them to do it for our whole team. I think Innerspace is the best tool I have seen to prevent cofounder fallouts and improve internal communication.


Hi Sam,

I'm not on the shortlist of anyone for "smartest people in the field", but I have a keen interest & passion for research. I suspect there are many people like me. Do you anticipate that YCR will have a track for people like me to participate, or will it be aiming for the creme de la creme as a rule?


I'm interested in your opinion on the potential for the disruption of the academic publishing system, and what role YCR can play in that. For example, making it easy for 3rd parties to reanalyze data generated/published by another group, then make that available so that others can easily compare different analyses of the same data. This is already happening to some degree, but getting raw data can still be quite difficult.

Will YCR researchers' publications be required to be open access?

Should it be possible for the peer-review process to happen in a more open forum than the judgment of a couple of handpicked reviewers? Some fields (such as mathematics) have seen this happen already, but it's not very common in other fields, such as the life sciences.


Any advice for single founder applying? Most of the people I talked to advice me to find a co-founder to increase my odds of getting in.

I don't necessarily agree with them. I have been doing this startup for over an year now. It has growth with a strong potential for more.


This sounds obvious but "have a good startup". If you can show us you're making great progress as a solo founder, we're much more willing to believe you can handle it going forward.


I was wondering about the new open ip effort for the r&d lab. I work in the air force research lab and am working to do the same for us and other gov agencies. How do you plan to release/license ip... Marketing strategies, etc


Hey Sam! A question about your career path. Can you think of a specific point in time when you made the decision to focus more on the business side of things and less on writing code? If so, can you describe why you made that decision?


In the very early days of Loopt, I sat down with @kogir and Alok and said "ok, who is going to do what?" I was definitely not the best coder for large projects on the team, although I can crush either of them in topcoder competitions 10 times out of 10 :D, and I seemed the best at the 'business' stuff, so I focused on that.


>although I can crush either of them in topcoder competitions 10 times out of 10 :D

Them's fightin' words.


What is your topcoder handle?


Hey Sam, given your position I imagine you see numerous unique, novel ideas and the trends that drive them. Having said that is there any particular trend that you're seeing today that has you particularly intrigued or excited?


The relentless progress of domain-specific machine learning over the past year.


How far do you think new Silicon Valley companies (and YC companies in particular) have progressed in providing fairer equity grants to employees? In particular I'm interested in what the norms are for "if you leave the company you must exercise in 90 days" type terms.

I know that you've been working on this problem personally and a few high profile companies have publicly announced changes. But what's going on with new small companies? What are the current norms?

I know that YC takes care of a lot of the legal work when setting up new YC companies. What do you currently recommend for employee option grants?


I mostly only know about YC companies other than what I've read in the press about large companies, but it seems like this has gotten much better.

We want to create a new employee option plan with all of our recommended fixes. We've been busy, but we'll hopefully get to it soon. We'll open-source it, of course.

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