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Jessica Livingston (paulgraham.com)
1740 points by urs2102 on Nov 16, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 307 comments



I'm delighted that this essay exists. Jessica helped out in so many different ways during the early days of Stripe that I can barely remember half of them.

(John and I became interested in startups in large part as a result of reading Founders at Work. And then, because John and I were immigrants without credit history, our residence of the Bay Area started with Jessica helping to convince a landlord to rent a place to us. Once the company was underway, whenever John and I had a major decision to make, figuring things out generally involved biking over to Jessica's and PG's place for an invariably clarifying discussion.

I recall one particular decision that John and I had been debating for weeks. We just couldn't decide. Jessica's response, when asked, was immediate and adamant. We were surprised but trusted her. John and I often remark at how differently (and, I'm confident, worse) things would have ended up had Jessica not convinced us to make that call.)


Any chance you'd let us in on what that decision/disagreement was about - even in the abstract?


I think Jessica should have become the president of YC. Then this essay won't be needed as her achievements will be very visible. Imagine a woman leading the most prestigious VC company or incubator. She will be seen as a role model by many women who wants to get into tech. Instead, she just fades into the background.


I think this essay made it pretty clear she wanted to be in the background. Gender equality is about allowing individuals choices and respecting and supporting those choices.


I'm afraid she'd still have to face speculations that she got the job by sleeping with her predecessor :-(

EDIT: of course I don't find it fair! I'm just afraid that the same misogynist reflexes, which erased her from YC's public history, would have lead to try and disparage her promotion as president.

Of course agan, that's no reason not to promote her; but it would have to be done with the appropriate PR strategy, to defuse such speculations.


Can you please share the story that led to weeks of debates but was so clear to Jessica? It is very interesting to see how insights or intuition can help make decisions.


I remember thinking to myself in summer of 2008, "YC would cease to exist if it weren't for Jessica." You could just tell she was the glue that held the whole thing together and kept things on track.

Take note world. Really happy to see this essay published.


What an amazing book, still to this day.


All the great teams I've worked on had the "family-like" property Paul Graham talks about here.

The first really great company I worked at was explicit about being family-oriented; they'd bring everyone's family to the office and cook dinners, had Christmas at the founders house, that sort of thing.

I left that company and joined a different sort of family, which was more of a bar-fighting sort of family but still had that vibe.

Then I started my first company, which cratered, and which did not have that family feel at all, despite it being largely a group of people who were friends in real life.

I felt like we got part of the way there with Matasano (at least in the Chicago office, which was our largest), but not all of the way. It's tricky to pull off!

I really only want to work at companies that have that feel, for the rest of my career. It makes a huge difference. Also: if Jessica Livingston can generate that kind of culture on demand, that's definitely a reason to be impressed by her!


Personally, I've seen companies exploit this whole family-like atmosphere.

It might work in the beginning, with younger workers, but always seems to fail.

Whenever I hear were all one big family here, I automatically go to the Manson Clan. I just can't help it.

Maybe I've seen this family-thing used by the wrong parents--too many times? In the end, when the family finds out who's really making the big money; the family plan falls apart. Of course the parents are usually the last ones to find out they don't have a tight knit family, but a group of siblings who feel exploited. (Yes, many of the exploited employees are lucky to even have a job, but that's another story.) There are a few founders who put there money where their mouths are, but they seem rare.

I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but abused by too many rich guys--in order to get their company going.

I give respect, and loyality to a parent who came from nothing, and put everything on the line to get the family off the ground. Yes--that's a family. I'll buy the family thing.

The rich dudes who are backed by rich dudes don't get the same respect. See rich boys can take chances with cheap money. It's just two different worlds.

I don't want to argue with anyone. I know I don't have the greatest attitude. I've just seen too much injustice in the financial world, and when people start up with the family-thing; it just reminds me were in a bubble, with too much cheap money only certain guys have access to.


I suppose the first rule of creating a family like atmosphere is then that one does not speak of a family like atmosphere :) ?


My first internship, while I was still in college, was with just this type of company. We did e-Learning materials; our products were basically self-contained websites, with video content and scripted subtitled text, distributed on CDs. This was 2002 or so, so it was super bleeding edge then.

It was a great company to work for. The product was really interesting. I got to learn so many random things - how tires are made, the warning signs of traumatic brain injuries, how the propellant for the Space Shuttle's SRBs was mixed, etc.

But the best part was the family atmosphere of the company. The owner was a business professor full time and this was his side project. We were always small - just a few interns, a few part-time people (mostly students) and just a couple full-time employees. Him and his wife always took an interest in everyone that worked for them. Getting a home-cooked meal and a night of poker once a week was a nice perk for a poor college student.

After my internship, I was hired on part-time, then full-time after I graduated until I left for a different opportunity. But to this day they're still one of the favorite companies I've ever worked for. It was such a positive experience for me and has caused me to continue to seek out companies with that type of atmosphere.


Entirely off-topic, but was the e-Learning stuff using SCORM? 1.1 was out by 2000 if I recall correctly


Initially no, but later versions of the product were 1.2 compliant.


For a business purposes, part of the benefit of "that family thing" is that it would tend to make employees less likely to jump ship because of a personal connection and bond.

This is also the reason why in business (the reverse example) it's important (generally and depending on the circumstances) to keep an arms length relationship. If your brother in law is, for example, the contractor doing work and renovating your home, your hands are tied more than if it's someone that you don't have a personal connection to. Weighed against the potential upside of getting a bad job from someone who has no relationship with you at all of course. (Details and the parties involved matter as with anything).


You're close to describing emotional blackmail.

>it would tend to make employees less likely to jump ship because of a personal connection and bond.

Employees should jump ship if the business sucks. It shouldn't matter how nice the owners are to you, if the business itself is no good, you shouldn't stay around and support it.


I agree.


On that note, I am convinced that the fact I started GrantTree with my girlfriend (now wife) as a cofounder (or rather I was the cofounder, since she provided the unstoppable sales energy that shoved the business into existence) was an essential building block to creating this sort of culture. When you're literally dating your cofounder, unless you're the kind of person who keeps secrets from your partner/spouse or orders them about, it ensures the kind of transparent, respectful, balanced relationship which I think is likely to lead to what you describe.

Probably not a surefire way to achieve this - and certainly not the only one - but I thought I'd share.


Working together is the ultimate test in a relationship.


My first encounter with the concept was the PeopleWare book that described such teams with principles for how to attempt to create them. Stories like the Black Team of bug hunters terrorizing half-assed employees at IBM were great. Way later on, Pirates of Silicon Valley... the only one Woz endorses as accurate... portrayed that Steve Jobs used an extreme version of that strategy to make Apple what it was.

Not to mention, the few places I've worked like that were the only ones where I looked forward to going to work and gave it that extra percent of effort. Didn't even feel like work. Wonder if that's the experience for everyone else. All employers should at least to attempt to create such an environment as good things just seem to emerge from it.

And as this excellent post show, it can work wonders in startup incubators too.


> The first really great company I worked at was explicit about being family-oriented; they'd bring everyone's family to the office and cook dinners, had Christmas at the founders house, that sort of thing.

This sounds horrid. I don't want to spend Christmas with my boss, and I definitely don't want to have dinner in the office, ever.

"Sorry Grandma, can't make it for Christmas, have to go see my boss instead"?


Argh. Nobody was required to go to the Christmas party, which was not actually on Christmas, and nobody was required to eat dinner in the office.


Ah, "had Christmas", to me, implies being on Christmas, i.e. "we had Christmas at Aunt A and Uncle B's last year".


Sorry. Not my most carefully-worded comment ever.


I had the exact same reaction - if you told me a company was family oriented, I would imagine that means they foster a good work/life balance so that you can spend time with your family.

That's not to say that companies shouldn't provide opportunities to bond with your coworkers, but I think I'd want to work for companies that appreciate people have lives outside the company.


... which they very much did as well.


I see that you clarified in another comment.

However, it's not uncommon for tech companies to say that they're like a "family", but what it really means is that they want you to long hours, weekends etc, because you know, family obligations.


Unrelated - I was unaware that you had left Matasano, just checked out Starfighter, it sounds like an incredibly interesting idea!


Speaking of which, I think it's about time for another gentle nudge. 'elptacek, 'tptacek, 'patio11, how's Starfighter going? ;).


Thomas told me that our final beta starts at the end of the day today. Go Ptaceks go! (My stuff is sitting on AWS chilling behind a basic auth barrier.)


Fingers crossed!


I would guess that (almost?) all successful startups have a lot going on behind the scenes that doesn't make it into the press.

My company isn't even particularly successful, but it's incredibly difficult for us to get anyone who writes about us to mention that I'm a co-founder (not the founder, let alone the fact that the community that does most of the important work) and that there's an entire team behind what we're doing (that it's not "my" thing).

The single-man myth is just a lot sexier, even if false. There are great founders, to be sure, but every time you talk to the person who is the "single man" they talk about how the company is successful because of a fantastic team. In fact, a lot of the work of a founder is assembling a great team and making them work well together. I don't think I've ever seen an exception to that - even Jobs, Musk, etc.

In fact, the real moral of the story is that the tech press is almost entirely bullshit, and that is mostly to be avoided.


Yup, as an early employee of a very successful company, I know the opposite side of this. The ratio of key contributions between founders:early employees is probably between 2:1 and 1:1, while the ratio of tech press is about 1000:0. And you are dead on with the co-founder and founder thing. The tech press really has a founder and "single-person" fetish in the way they write their stories.

Basically, don't value yourself based on what the tech press writes about you. If you are the one getting the press: you actually aren't that great; if you aren't getting the press: who cares.

I understand that PG is writing this article because he feels it is unfair he gets written about too much and Jessica not enough, but the real crux of the issue is that the tech press is so stupid it doesn't matter. I mean just look at that article that was written about Jessica...


History books are as bad or worse than the tech press.

Taken to extremes, you get https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Man_theory


> if you aren't getting the press: who cares.

Unless you're applying for certain types of visa. Then USCIS cares.


Yep! This was the first thing I took away from the post, too. Like, more people know about me than about Dave Goldsmith or Jeremy Rauch, but of the three of us I was the least important to the kind of success Matasano found.

"Because I'm a writer" is a kind of highfalutin' way of saying "because I'm super noisy". :)


HN may be noisy, but PG is all signal


I think the word "noisy" can have multiple meanings :-)


For the companies you've heard of, the median number of names you remember of people who work there is zero. For some companies you pay attention to, it might be one (typically the CEO), or two, or maybe more if you have a deeper relationship with them. If you work there it might even be hundreds. But once a company gets to a certain size nobody remembers everyone's name.

Similarly for bands or movies. The lead may be male or female, but either way, nobody except the most obsessed fan or people who worked there is going to remember more than a few names. The closing credits give you a more accurate picture of how many people it takes to make a movie, but that's not the story anyone can remember.

The press knows this already. If you're going to interact with them, you need to understand their need to tell a good story, or nobody's going to read the article.

So I think we can't blame the press for this (much). They could tell slightly more complicated stories, but they're still going to be inaccurate, and you won't remember all the names anyway.

If anything, blame how human memory works, and keep in mind that no matter what stories you read, the world isn't really story-shaped.


> In fact, the real moral of the story is that the tech press is almost entirely bullshit, and that is mostly to be avoided.

Any interaction I've had with the tech press from the "written about" side of things (or reading about close friends) has given me less and less faith in what I read about those I don't know.


I'd venture that's valid for any interaction with journalism these days. You read a story and if you are part of the story you realize how wrong and/or skewed the whole thing really is. Then you start to question how many other stories or articles are the same. Eventually you realize you can only take them with a grain of salt.


As a notable aversion, The Economist's coverage of computer topics seems pretty good, so I trust their other reporting more.


It's probably wise to enjoy "business biographies" as lying somewhere on the floor closer to the fiction aisle than the non-fiction.

Most stories are pitched by PR firms (or the other side of the same coin, attempted take-downs). Either way, they're ready-fire-aim -- finding facts to fit a conclusion.

First and foremost they are stories -- written by someone attempting, under deadline, to fit messy, complicated reality into a simple, entertaining narrative to hold your eyeballs.

Think of them as professional fan (or anti-fan) fiction.

Even long-form articles and books that interview many people, while admirable efforts, present a pretty small slice of reality.


With any article, if the PR firm doesn't sell a story, the writer has no interest in the plain give-my-client-press-for-free request.


It's kind of like that "overnight success, ten years in the making" thing. People want the clickbait, the sensationalist stories, even though they are almost never representative of real life. That's because the media's incentives are to get a lot of eyeballs, and not necessarily to provide an accurate retelling of events, which means they'll take the divisive, explosive angle whenever they can, whether the tone is negative (woman being harassed) or positive (mythical superhuman Steve Jobs accomplishes mythical feat all by himself), because that's what gets people clicking.


I'm not convinced that it's because the single-man myth is sexier. It's probably just easier to not go into detail (make that as short as possible) on that part of the story because it isn't the most interesting part to the layperson.


One would think that the truth would be most interesting to the layperson, but it seems that contemporary journalism knows better.


I would think most founders who've been through YC would recognize Jessica's importance in the equation, so it's interesting that it is some sort of secret in the industry at large. Even early on, before her first book was published, she was obviously on top of, and involved in, everything. She was the primary point of contact for damned near everything for founders.

So, it's an interesting phenomenon that even with such a preponderance of evidence, the story that gets told and re-told mostly leaves her out. Our industry has so many internalized prejudices that are invisible unless and until you're looking for them, it can seem perfectly normal for the story to be about a lone man building an empire with a few supporting characters. If the story were framed as building a "family", rather than a business empire, would Jessica's role be more prominent in the telling? I think one could tell it either way, but the tech industry doesn't have language for that, even though I think some of the best companies were as much a family as an empire (early HP, for example).

Gender roles are weird, is what I'm trying to say, and the tech industry is more rigid than many.


Just from PG's essays alone, I've always known how important she was. I remember him making it very clear, so it's sad that the media hasn't really given her proper credit. I don't blame her about not wanting to deal with journalists, though, after all that. I wouldn't either.


I have not read all of PG's essays, but the few things that I have read here, talking about Jessica Livingston, including this essay, set her up as a magic oracle, sitting in obscure silence, judging everyone (on which basis, it is never revealed, except for appeals to "character", through a Social Radar).

I don't disbelieve that is how it happens, but to me it just seems all a bit too magical. Like, founders should be betting their entire business that this person who won't talk to you can correctly divine your entire past and future trajectories just by watching you talk to her husband? Otherwise, they won't accept you into their family?

It's a bit of a turn off and vaguely cult-like.


It's not cult-like, but it does seem arbitrary. What if Jessica gets a "bad vibe" from someone who happens to genuinely be a good, smart, honest person? All forms of radar have false positives and false negatives. Even if she does happen to have a very high success rate, she or anyone else can't always be right.

Of course, that's what all job interviews are like. If they get a bad vibe from you or think you're not a "culture fit", they can quickly reject you based on a short impression. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

What bothers me is the reptition of the idea that any one person can be some kind of magical oracle of character judgment, bordering on having psychic properties. Especially without strong scientific evidence. I'd rather PG use less black-and-white language.


What I'm seeing a lot of is discomfort with the seemingly arbitrary nature of social interactions and making judgments based on them. We nerds (and I am among this bunch) don't really like the fact that popularity, "emotional IQ", and social influence are not quantifiable, but we are judged on them, anyway. When someone wants to be judged on very clear metrics, being told there is a mysterious "other" metric that seems to reside in the head of one person, is uncomfortable, maybe even frightening.

The thing is, however, that everything you do will also have this metric applied to it, by everyone you interact with, and it is a metric that impacts success. Any sales interaction you have, any hiring process you implement, any investor meeting you have, etc. All human interactions will be judged with this metric in addition to the other metrics. Is it "fair"? I don't know. But, it is reality. Given that, having someone who is good at it, on a team that is otherwise not good at it (and having read pg on nerds and popularity, I can surmise he considers himself not terribly good at it; nerds in general are famously socially inept), is worthwhile.

Which raises the concern that the social ineptitude of a technically brilliant founder might prevent them from getting into YC (and I think that is the fear being expressed in this thread). I can say that most YC founders I know are charming people; nerdy, mostly, but still charming and socially adept, at least when interacting with similarly nerdy peers. Is this a prerequisite for startup success? And, is it actually what is being selected for when we talk about this "social radar"? I don't know. I don't think I have this particular skill strongly enough to recognize a hit and a miss on these metrics, though I can spot technical fakery a mile away (and there's a surprisingly high number of applicants who are technically incompetent trying to pass for competent; I suspect few make it past the application process).


Where are you seeing discomfort in this thread?

>We nerds (and I am among this bunch) don't really like the fact that popularity, "emotional IQ", and social influence are not quantifiable, but we are judged on them, anyway.

It's not exactly that such things are not quantifiable, but that PG is unable to express what is being judged other than in the same few, undefined words, at least in this essay. An example of such judgement is never given, it is only asserted that correct judgement can be dispensed by Jessica. That is a magic oracle. No basis is provided for the judgement (other than its source), only the judgement itself.

Now, as others have pointed out, I doubt this is exactly how it happens. Most likely Jessica brings to light some contradiction, however, the essay doesn't go into what those contradictions have been, or might be. The essay really only provides the view that the contradictions are blessed and therefore automatically accepted.

The concern here is that PG is propagating concepts like "character", "Social Radar", etc., without being able to define what they are. Others may try to replicate this and start their own cargo cult, which has applied its own secret definition of those words, in order to work the magic sauce.

What is so hard about the concept/metric being applied here that it can't be put into words?


"Where are you seeing discomfort in this thread?"

In every one of your responses, for starters. ;-)

"Others may try to replicate this and start their own cargo cult, which has applied its own secret definition of those words, in order to work the magic sauce."

As I mentioned I would like for more investors to try to behave like YC, even if they're unsuccessful in the attempt.

And, there are already many investors cargo culting the YC process. I don't think that's a bad thing; they aren't as successful (I guess TechStars is the nearest analog so far), but they're trying to replicate the winning formula. They may fail in a variety of interesting ways, because it is cargo culting in many cases, but by trying to do things more like YC they're likely making the world a little better for early stage founders.

"What is so hard about the concept/metric being applied here that it can't be put into words?"

Again, I would guess pg doesn't understand it, and so can't quantify it, but trusts that Jessica's correct more often than not. It doesn't seem like pg was even trying to show everyone how to do what Jessica does, just to clarify that she does many things within YC and that she has often been forgotten in the telling of the YC story; explaining that does not require him to explain how it works.


> "What is so hard about the concept/metric being applied here that it can't be put into words?"

> Again, I would guess pg doesn't understand it, and so can't quantify it, but trusts that Jessica's correct more often than not. It doesn't seem like pg was even trying to show everyone how to do what Jessica does, just to clarify that she does many things within YC and that she has often been forgotten in the telling of the YC story; explaining that does not require him to explain how it works.

I can have a stab at an explanation here. I'm sort of straddling the border (being a "socially inept" nerd by nature, and having invested considerable amounts of time over the last 15 years in getting better at the "social stuff") and know enough people who are on the other side, and have spoken with them often enough, to have formed some ideas about this.

First, most people who are really good at this tend to be at a stage of unconscious competence. It's not really something you teach to others very frequently, so it's rare to find someone who spends the time to analyse their own analysis of others, which helps explain the "mystery factor" here. As they say, if it takes 10 years to get good at something, it takes another 10 years to get good at teaching it to other people!

In my experience people who get very good at this tend to be (like Jessica is described in this article) people who have a strong discomfort around conflict and/or other people's distress. I don't know what the chicken/egg situation is - which comes first, the sensitivity to other people's distress, or the skill in reading other people's emotional states? Either way, the two combine and lead to someone who spends a lot of time being aware of how people around them are feeling, what they're thinking about, etc, so that they can detect potential conflicts very early and head them off before they cause distress. Like anything else, you get good at what you do a lot, and someone who spends a lot of time thinking about what's going on in other people's heads is, over a few decades, going to naturally develop an incredible (from the outside, almost magical) skill at reading people from what are almost unnoticeable cues like tone of voice, body language, the content of what they say, what they don't say, etc.

Ultimately what this boils down to, imho, is building a model of the other person in your head. Think of your best friend, the one you understand most - you probably have a model of them in your head. You could have a conversation with that model and, if you have known them for a while and are not totally insensitive to people (which is possible... don't beat yourself up about it!) you can probably predict how they would react to a given situation with a fairly high degree of accuracy. Sure, you'll get it wrong from time to time, but you'll get it mostly right. People who are good at this "social stuff" just build those models much, much more rapidly, and much more accurately, than you do, through practice and habit, and they do so constantly throughout the day with everyone they bump into, so they get to practice that over and over again, and keep getting better.

Does this help a little?


This is a good explanation and probably close to how it works. However, the "build a model of the other person in your head" method isn't foolproof. In fact, the longer you consider it, the less sense it seems to make. Your model can never be accurate to what that person is thinking (might as well not even have the person if you can already simulate their entire mind in yours). It would be dangerous to think that you have an actual model of someone's mind (as opposed to a model of your own perceptions of someone's mind).


Resuming:

This social radar is the ability to spot people that would "stab you" if needed.


I know an upvote should be enough, but I got an aha moment.. So thanks :)


There's no black and white language on this though. The brain is composed of parts that sort of compete and work differently. A simplistic view might say you have a rational brain that thinks in terms of logic and facts. There's another, intuitive or emotional, that detects patterns in raw data from the senses, makes approximate models of the world, and triggers instinctive responses when seeing them again. This is the part of the brain that pulls your hand off the stove before you've recognized it's burning. This is how soldiers have described being compelled to dive to the ground for no reason just before a bullet hits where the head was. An input comes in, matches a model, a response is selected, it's activated, and this all happens in an instant.

That intuitive part of the brain represents the vast majority of what we do day to day. Our rational brains activity feeds into it, too. However, cues about people's speech, behavior, emotions... these are naturally all picked up best by the emotional brain. Jessica may have been doing what Paul describes for much of her life with that part of her brain soaking in details she can logically spot and some that are unconscious impressions/feelings. Trial, error, and external observation correct inaccuracies over time if one lets them. At some point, the models in her mind were honed so well that they can spot significant positive or negative traits very reliably.

So, there's nothing wrong with Paul's description and it's likely Jessica couldn't fully explain her mental model because she doesn't know it. She will certainly, with introspection, have elaborated out many specifics that she could explain and you could train yourself to work with. However, as I said, this is mostly a subconscious process that can at best only be partly elaborated. Like any black box, you can only assess its reliability by looking at the quality of outputs that come from inputs.

There will always be false negatives, false positives, and occasionally WTH!?'s from intuitive decisions about people. What's good in this space is quality of results whose accuracy is consistently good with relatively-low, error rate. Paul's statements indicate her emotional/intuitive brain uses very-effective models of people far as their character goes. The results speak for themselves. That's all you should need.

Note: Only way to learn such skills is experience. A job where you deal with lots of people in ways that makes their ethics show can accelerate the process. Still takes years and years, though.


>It's not cult-like, but it does seem arbitrary.

To be clear, I did not say it is cult-like, only that it is unclear.

If YC does operate on a magic oracle, then I might argue that it might be a cult.

>Of course, that's what all job interviews are like. If they get a bad vibe from you or think you're not a "culture fit", they can quickly reject you based on a short impression. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

I'm not sure what it means that a YC interview may be thought of as a job interview, but I share your concerns. I'm also concerned that the essays may encourage such behavior. While the teams of the sort YC are organizing may benefit from such a selection process ("culture fit"), without any logical explanation of the process, the essays essentially encourage people to go out to start their own cults.


In a world of extroverts, people who STFU and listen often acquire seemingly magical powers.


Very well-said. And hilarious. :)


There is huge value in observing and listening.

Unfortunately, none of the descriptions demystify the magic. Maybe I am reading the descriptions incorrectly, but the actual logic behind the magic is never explained. The descriptions only contain an appeal to a magic oracle power.

>But after the interview, the three of us would turn to Jessica and ask "What does the Social Radar say?" [1]

The footnote for that quote says:

>...

>"She was always good at sniffing out any red flags about the team or their determination and disarmingly asking the right question, which usually revealed more than the founders realized."

I'd be interested in reading or knowing more about the questions which were asked, instead of a direct appeal to authority (right question), what the questions revealed, and what the founders actually realized.

As far as I can tell, these details never get discussed publicly.


I don't get the impression there's much magic. She's highly socially skilled around people who are less so.

Imagine if Jessica ran a VC firm with two other people like her, plus Paul, and they were trying to fund companies that required immense social skills. The founders would all be excellent conversationalists and promoters, and could probably fake the tech talk enough that Jessica couldn't tell. PG would be able to spot the buzzwords and call them on it, and it would seem magical to the rest because they don't know SQL from C++.


>I don't get the impression there's much magic. She's highly socially skilled around people who are less so.

I try not to believe in magic as well, so I assume there are reasons why a particular founder was judged unsuitable. It's just that those reasons are not explored and all the language used to described the YC process is essentially an appeal to a magic oracle.

>Imagine if Jessica ran a VC firm with two other people like her, plus Paul, and they were trying to fund companies that required immense social skills.

I've never been inside a VC firm, so it's difficult for me to imagine precisely what that would be like. Are you saying that the scenario in this hypothetical is different from YC?

>The founders would all be excellent conversationalists and promoters, and could probably fake the tech talk enough that Jessica couldn't tell. PG would be able to spot the buzzwords and call them on it, and it would seem magical to the rest because they don't know SQL from C++.

It sounds like a decent strategy. Certainly not foolproof, but at least you can filter out the people who understand the language, but not yet the technicals...I think.


Instincts matter.

My grandfather was a pub owner -- he could talk to anyone about anything, and was often able to de-escalate people and situations. I remember him being a fluent reader of body language... he could size somebody up and immediately & accurately tell you that the person was trouble.


"Unfortunately, none of the descriptions demystify the magic. Maybe I am reading the descriptions incorrectly, but the actual logic behind the magic is never explained. The descriptions only contain an appeal to a magic oracle power."

Which says, to me, that pg doesn't understand it, either. He just trusts it based on historical reliability.

I'd also be curious to know what some of those magically insightful questions were, but I don't think it nullifies the point of the article to not include them.


You're inferring more than I think is intended. Jessica is the primary point of contact for founders (or, at least, was when we were in YC)...she talks to them a lot, on a one on one basis. Moreso than pg or others, generally speaking. The interview is mostly pg talking, or was for us, with some interjections by rtm because we work on systems issues where he had more experience, but that's not the whole picture, at all.

She is not a silent Oracle, she just isn't particularly outgoing when it comes to press and such, and so she is not seen when looking in from the outside. She is extremely friendly, entirely sincere, and not at all judgmental (unless, of course, there is something negative to judge...character of founders does matter, and if pg has noticed Jessica has better skills in judging character it would be silly to ignore her opinion). pg and the boys seem imminently capable of spotting technical fakery, but maybe are weaker at spotting character fakery. I dunno. They've obviously had great success with the way they operate. I would be unwilling to bet against them, and I know they do it while adhering to pretty high ethical standards.

So, call it a cult if you like, but if I had my druthers, more of the industry would imitate YC.


I know I am missing things (I can only read with PG and others write and post) and your version sounds plausible and is much closer to how I imagine reality actually is.

However, your claim nearly directly contradicts this essay:

>PG: One of the things she's best at is judging people.

>You: She is ... not at all judgmental ([exception])

So, yes, we have this exception where the key value is all in the judgement of individuals (I'll put aside the seeming contradictions in this line of thought for now), but the basis of the judgement is never given. Instead all the descriptions just refer to generic "negative character attributes" (my own paraphrasing). There is never a description of what a negative character attribute is (other than the very vague, "faker"), how it was determined that a person possesses such a character, nor how the decisions are followed up to see if the judgments were accurate.

The essays also make it sound like Jessica's feedback is never given to those who are interviewed. From the descriptions, it sounds like Jessica either gives you a thumbs up or a thumbs down. If you get a thumbs down you just get the boot, but likely no feedback on how your character was judged.

>call it a cult if you like

I didn't call YC a cult. I said that some of the descriptions given in this essay, and others, are vaguely cult-like.


Being a good judge of people and being judgmental are not anywhere near the same thing.

Being judgmental is usually meant as someone who is quick to criticize even mundane things and who focuses on the negative. Its a filter that ignores the positive and amplifies the negative - someone who blows things out of proportion. It often is driven by a desire to feel superior to another and comes from a place of insecurity.

Being a good judge of someone is being observant and weighing the complexities of what someone presents of themselves. Think lady justice with the scales - taking a whole picture before making judgment, and avoiding bringing in one's own motivations, emotions, or concerns in the process. Lady justice's blindfold is the symbol for this objectivity.

As you can see they're totally different in how they filter data, when they make judgment, and their relationship to the other.

You're right, the criteria used doesn't seem to be visible. While feedback on particular aspects of an interview NOT related to social cues would be helpful, feedback for social cues & character is just not something anyone owes you - no matter how emotionally difficult an interaction may be to participate in.

There are likely ways you can get feedback on these kinds of things - friends or coaches - but ultimately its not the kind of thing that one studies directly for. If it were, everyone would come in an actor, rather than themselves (and lets face it, the psychopaths would be the winners). You can try all you want to study how to project the right microexpressions and whatever but that's endlessly complex and you'll lack sufficient data to optimize, not least of which is because every person and situation is unique. This may go against some notions of fairness but lack of visibility and feedback is just part of the domain of social interactions.

Fundamentally the character & social cues you give off are an output of what you do with other inputs - how you view and treat people, what you're motivated by, the time you take to strengthen your own observational skills (such as through mindfulness practice) and how well you know yourself, etc. If you're concerned about giving off good social cues, you'll get a heck of a lot farther focusing on building an awareness of whats going on in your mind, in the conversation, and with the other person that is triggering those cues. That's the best way to be genuine, and in turn the best way to come across as genuine.


>Its a filter that ignores the positive and amplifies the negative - someone who blows things out of proportion.

Isn't this basically the feature that is being claimed here? PG relates that even when the other partners are all go, Jessica has an amplifier that finds the negatives and blows it up? The only thing left to determine would be whether the proportion was correct. Unfortunately, the aftermath of the explosions aren't really discussed in these essays, so we can only speculate.

>Think lady justice with the scales - taking a whole picture before making judgment, and avoiding bringing in one's own motivations, emotions, or concerns in the process. Lady justice's blindfold is the symbol for this objectivity.

It sounds fine in theory, but unless this lady can put down the logical argument that connects the premises to the conclusions, and which can be argued against, I wouldn't want such a lady deciding justice for anyone.

>Lady justice's blindfold is the symbol for this objectivity.

I think any time objectivity is being symbolized, you need to be very, very careful. As far as we can tell, true objectivity cannot be attained. Fetishizing is dangerous.

>There are likely ways you can get feedback on these kinds of things - friends or coaches - but ultimately its not the kind of thing that one studies directly for. If it were, everyone would come in an actor, rather than themselves (and lets face it, the psychopaths would be the winners). You can try all you want to study how to project the right microexpressions and whatever but that's endlessly complex and you'll lack sufficient data to optimize, not least of which is because every person and situation is unique. This may go against some notions of fairness but lack of visibility and feedback is just part of the domain of social interactions.

I agree. The problem is that this essay essentially describes YC's process as being exactly this situation. Jessica sits and analyzes the situation, then brings down judgement and it is decided. No details given (so, one must assume that the decision could be based on such things as microexpressions, though PG labels it character, and Social Radar).

>Fundamentally the character & social cues you give off

And here is the problem. People don't give off character and social cues, those are entirely constructs in the perceiving mind. Assuming that people are communicating some thing that they may not be is a recipe for problems. Relagating an oracle to interpret such communications (which may or may not exist) is something that is difficult to comprehend.


> PG relates that even when the other partners are all go, Jessica has an amplifier that finds the negatives and blows it up?

He also gave at least one example (Airbnb) where they didn't like the idea, but funded them because they liked the founders. Who do you think was the primary judge of "liking" the founders in that case?

> unless this lady can put down the logical argument that connects the premises to the conclusions, and which can be argued against, I wouldn't want such a lady deciding justice for anyone.

What if the logical argument doesn't exist? You seem to be ignoring that possibility completely. We have to make choices all the time with insufficient information; in fact the situations in which we actually can articulate a logical argument for doing or not doing something are rare. The fact that you appear to be very uncomfortable with this does not make it false.

> People don't give off character and social cues, those are entirely constructs in the perceiving mind.

"Character and social cues" just means "information about what the person will do in situations other than the one they're currently in." All of us do give off this information, whether we like it or not. Everything you say and do is information about the internal processes that determine what you say and do, and therefore is information about what those internal processes will output in other circumstances. It's certainly not complete information, but complete information is unattainable anyway.

> Assuming that people are communicating some thing that they may not be is a recipe for problems.

People aren't consciously communicating character and social cues; in fact they might be consciously trying to hide them. That doesn't mean they can't be valid information.


>He also gave at least one example (Airbnb) where they didn't like the idea, but funded them because they liked the founders. Who do you think was the primary judge of "liking" the founders in that case?

This only really shows that Jessica (assuming your implication of who the primary judge was in that instance) may also advocate for particular founders, not just veto some.

>What if the logical argument doesn't exist?

Then lady justice should not make a decision.

>"Character and social cues" just means "information about what the person will do in situations other than the one they're currently in."

The problem is that this is nearly equivalent to tea reading. What theory allows you to accurately predict what I will do, purely based on your observation of me, or even under cursory verbal examination? I don't think that there is one. That people in this thread believe that there could be one is strange.


> This only really shows that Jessica (assuming your implication of who the primary judge was in that instance) may also advocate for particular founders, not just veto some.

Unless you are going to accept everybody or reject everybody, there are going to be valid reasons to advocate for some founders and advocate against others. I don't understand why you insist on focusing on the latter but ignore the former.

> Then lady justice should not make a decision.

So you only make decisions when you have a logical argument that justifies a particular choice? You must lead a very...interesting life.

Also, your use of the word "justice" is not, um, justified. Whether or not someone gets funded by YC is not a matter of justice. Nobody has a right to YC funding.

> What theory allows you to accurately predict what I will do, purely based on your observation of me, or even under cursory verbal examination? I don't think that there is one.

You're right; there isn't one. So what? Do you have a theory that allows you to accurately predict how a food you've never tasted before will taste to you? How a color or material you've never seen before will look to you? How an experience you've never had before will feel? Yet somehow you manage to taste new foods, see new colors and materials, and have new experiences.

You don't need a theory of how something works in order to do it. People accurately threw spears long, long before anyone discovered Newtonian physics. People ate nutritious food and got energy from it long, long before anyone had a theory of how metabolism works. And people make accurate judgments about other people even though nobody has any very good theories of how the human mind works.

> That people in this thread believe that there could be one is strange.

That you believe that you need logical arguments and theories in order to do anything at all is strange.


> I don't understand why you insist on focusing on the latter but ignore the former.

I don't think I have focused on either. I'm primarily just responding to the points others are bringing up. I made my main points in my OP's.

>So you only make decisions when you have a logical argument that justifies a particular choice? You must lead a very...interesting life. >Also, your use of the word "justice" is not, um, justified. Whether or not someone gets funded by YC is not a matter of justice. Nobody has a right to YC funding.

It's not my use of justice. It is the word the other person in this thread brought in. If you read the thread, you will see that they were making an analogy of this situation to "lady justice". I agree that it is a rather inept analogy.

>People accurately threw spears long, long before anyone discovered Newtonian physics.

And sometimes they failed. The essay treats Jessica as fail-proof.

>That you believe that you need logical arguments and theories in order to do anything at all is strange.

Complete strawman. Show me where I claimed, or even implied as such.

If you wish to convict someone a la the lady of justice, then yes, I do believe you need logical arguments and theories before you can do anything (in regards to punishment).


> The essay treats Jessica as fail-proof.

I don't see that at all. It says she contributed something important to the YC evaluation process that none of the other founders could. It doesn't say she never made any mistakes. Nor does it say that her input was the determining factor in every choice. I think you are reading things into the article that aren't there.

> It's not my use of justice.

You didn't use the word first, but you are treating YC's process as though the word was appropriate. See below.

> If you wish to convict someone a la the lady of justice, then yes, I do believe you need logical arguments and theories before you can do anything (in regards to punishment).

But if you believe the justice analogy is "inept" (your word), why would you buy into someone else's interpretation of YC rejecting an applicant as "punishment"? It's not. As I said before, nobody has a right to YC funding. Their money, their choice. They don't have to give a logical reason; they don't have to give a reason at all. They could choose among applicants by throwing darts, and nobody would have any right to complain.

Of course, choosing by throwing darts wouldn't work well, which is why YC doesn't do it. But what they do do, including the "Social Radar", does appear to work well, even if no one can construct a logical argument for why it does. Since it's their money, and it's working well for them, nobody else has any right to complain that they're being "punished" if YC rejects them. They certainly don't have a right to do so on the basis that there isn't a logical argument backing up YC's choices.


>As I said before, nobody has a right to YC funding. Their money, their choice. They don't have to give a logical reason; they don't have to give a reason at all. They could choose among applicants by throwing darts, and nobody would have any right to complain.

Who is complaining? Obviously YC can do whatever with its money. It doesn't even need to be said, let alone, twice.

>Of course, choosing by throwing darts wouldn't work well, which is why YC doesn't do it. But what they do do, including the "Social Radar", does appear to work well, even if no one can construct a logical argument for why it does.

Right, so as far as anyone on the outside can tell, YC operates on a type of magic oracle.

>You didn't use the word first, but you are treating YC's process as though the word was appropriate.

My only point here is that the essays describe YC as essentially a magic process. The person I was responding to tried to make an analogy to the "lady of justice", while simultaneously making a claim to objectivity (in addition to others). My sentences with containing or referring to "lady" (including my comment about punishment) were only in response to that person's claims. Those sentences contain no information about what I think about YC's process (or rather, it's description in this essay).


I think illustrating it might let you see the difference between family-like (see essay) and cult-like. Jobs ran Apple like a cult. According to Woz, Pirates of Silicon Valley is only movie that represents he and everyone else accurately. It a budget movie but great at showing key figures and moments in Apple vs Microsoft. It also depicted his ability to brainwash and control people in cult-like fashion.

Best example https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yG4DvM0wxdk

So, maybe the scene above will illustrate the difference between cult-like leadership and leadership that's more like a family. If anything, the essay just describes a down-to-earth, genuine, tightly-knit approach to business and evaluating business partners. There's many companies like that albeit not as famous as YC. You don't see people suing them, writing exposes, and alleging all kinds of abuse like with the cult-like companies. Huge difference.


I don't think there's any "magic" to it, just careful observation.


> I don't disbelieve that is how it happens, but to me it just seems all a bit too magical.

I agree, so let me try to rephrase for you. For a bunch of people (YC et al) who actively promote making decisions with data, resorting to some ill-defined intangible such as "Social Radar" as being the secret sauce for success just seems noticeably contrived.


Even put that way, having someone skilled at observing people do so consistent with operating on data. If they hadn't listened to her, they'd have missed AirBnB, for example.


I will say that no prospective YC founders ever really asked me about Jessica. They all asked me about Paul, and I told them to worry less about PG and more about her.


I don't think "gender" is the best separator to use in this case. The post reads like the typical "fate" of an introvert (I guess it's fueled by "gender roles"). I wish pg would have used the term "introvert" instead of the dreaded "shy". In fact it perfectly matches some of the chapters in Susan Cain's "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking", a pop-sciency book that investigates the introvert/extrovert divide (intorverts are cast a bit too much into the hero role but overall a very good book).


I'm never sure how to reconcile PG's stance of "our founders are good people" / "X-ray vision for character" with some of the things that some of the portfolio companies do.

For instance, the vigorous, long-lasting and constantly denied spamming that AirBnB did off CraigsList with fake names, or some of the early Reddit fake accounts and general puffing-up (which was, to be fair, less bad.)

Maybe business tactics are explicitly not part of what PG and Jessica consider "good character"? It seems increasingly clear that they mean something different by it than I do.


This could be the distinction you're looking for in pg's own words: https://twitter.com/paulg/status/665962369890123776


IOW: Step on toes and throw elbows, but don't smash kneecaps. Know the line.


Yeah. Makes me very curious where they draw the line. Because it is not obvious from outside.


The ways I could imagine reconciling it:

1) "Good people" is relative, and even good people still sometimes do bad things.

2) No detector is perfect, and so a metric of "no YC company has done anything bad" seems strong. Something like, "YC companies are less bad on average than others".

3) Their definition of "good" is not 100% congruent with yours.

4) The high-pressure environment of startups is a double bind. If you don't do at least some bad things you fail, or at least lose out to non-good people.


She did also miss Live Coding[0] - or maybe she didn't interview the founder. After reading that thread, it's hard to believe that YC has a magic filter of bad people, which is basically what PG claims when he mentions the "Social Radar".

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10486476


Another possibility: she's not the pope, and while her hunches might be right a good majority of the time, she's not infallible.


Or everyone just misunderstands the concept of intuition and how it works. Which is funny given neural nets that get lots of press here have overlap in what they do, strengths, and weaknesses. Here's a summary of a lot of research I did on it long ago.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10578474


Easy. It's not considered bad if the founders are good people. All humans are exceptional at rationalizing.


I would define "Good People" as people who care more about giving to their users than taking their money.

There are predatory founders who are short term thinkers and there are long-term-create-value types of people. The type of people that understand and appreciate that serving your users is your most important goal and the reward comes as a result of that.

The examples you have of spamming, etc... is still in the spirit of serving their customers with a better experience and more value.

You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.


Footnote #3 is worth pointing out, I think:

> The existence of people like Jessica is not just something the mainstream media needs to learn to acknowledge, but something feminists need to learn to acknowledge as well. There are successful women who don't like to fight. Which means if the public conversation about women consists of fighting, their voices will be silenced.

> There's a sort of Gresham's Law of conversations. If a conversation reaches a certain level of incivility, the more thoughtful people start to leave.

I imagine that this idea applies to many situations. Replace "feminists" and "[successful] women" with something else.


"There's a sort of Gresham's Law of conversations. If a conversation reaches a certain level of incivility, the more thoughtful people start to leave."

If there are equations that describe the net, since the mid-1980s, this is one of them.

A lot of the commentary here is about "shyness" or "introversion," which, I don't know J.L.

But I think the point of PG's Gresham comment is it's not only personality. Analogy: What professor of physics is going to wade into the hyper-bullshit environment of a typical online physics "discussion?" As soon as they see the word "photon" or "rest mass" I'm sure they run for the hills. Introvert or extrovert, it's a waste of time. Just get out in one piece before it gets any worse.

It's a trap!


I'm scared for the future of Congress. What thoughtful person would want to enter that environment?


It's like everything else though. If you don't normally interact with a field you're only going to get the dramatic content. If you're a web developer you won't see the 99% of times Linus Torvalds is normal, because that won't be relevant to you as you don't do kernel development. If you go look up pretty much any feminist icon (e.g. at TED) they are usually very thoughtful.

It would be interesting to see him elaborate on that, because he normally has a quite "hard" debating style himself. He has repeatedly spoken out for not having to limit what you say and against things like political correctness, and also approved things like hellbanning and 'downvote to disagree' on Hacker News.


[flagged]


It would take a horribly misogynistic person to think that's the message of PG's post or what happened.

The message I'd take out of it: a woman is one of the most influential and successful people in tech. And she does it all behind the scenes while being kind and compassionate.


That's the narrative.

This is the real misogyny:

>And she does it all behind the scenes while being kind and compassionate.

So:

1. Women should fuck men.

2. Women should stay behind the scenes.

3. Women should be "kind and compassionate" (are you one of those people that tells women they should "smile more" as well?).

If this blog post was a book or a movie I wouldn't read it or watch it because even if the female co-star is an actually impressive character it would be so annoying that she was shoehorned into a love interest role and doubly annoying that she was constantly shoved into the background.

Humans remember narratives, not facts, and so this isn't really a feminist story.


1. If they want to.

2. If they want to.

3. Everyone should be kind and compassionate. Many are sadly not. This industry glorifies the Steve Jobs type far too much.

It's misogynist to assume that her relationship with PG somehow makes her achievement lesser. One does not assume that of PG, hence it's a double standard. You're assuming (despite having just read an essay by PG to the contrary) that he's the one with the talent and she's just along for the ride.

It's the same sort of backwards gender feminist bullshit that criticizes women for choosing to stay home with their kids. If a guy chose to stay out of the spotlight you wouldn't consider that misandrist, but when a woman does it's misogynist?

Sexism is a double standard, and you're applying one here in some sort of odd, backward attempt to be an SJW.

If you knew Jessica you'd understand, she's as impressive as PG in her own right. It might not make a good movie but it made for a damn good seed funding organization.


>It's misogynist to assume that her relationship with PG somehow makes her achievement lesser. One does not assume that of PG, hence it's a double standard. You're assuming (despite having just read an essay by PG to the contrary) that he's the one with the talent and she's just along for the ride.

I tried to be explicit in saying the facts of this particular situation don't really matter. It pattern-matches against a narrative structure that isn't feminist, so it isn't feminist.

Personally, I think it's always inappropriate to mix one's professional and personal lives, and my opinion is that in a situation like this, one of the partners should have dropped out of the company to ensure that there was no appearance of impropriety and to ensure that the remaining person was taken seriously. If Jessica was more valuable to YC than Paul, it should have been Paul that left.

>It might not make a good movie

s/good/feminist and this is my entire point.

Further,

>1. If they want to

It's laughable to handwave away literal millennia of compulsory heterosexuality into "if they want to." Most women don't have a choice in this matter and globally, women that attempt to choose otherwise are usually killed for it. I know lesbian women that avoid traveling entirely outside of the US, and limit where they go in the US heavily, because of this.

Not seeing this is an expression of both male and heterosexual privilege. This isn't a thing you should take negatively, but it is a thing you should meditate on and maybe recompute some cached thoughts.

>2. If they want to

Similarly, most women don't have a choice about whether to be in the background or not. Especially in technology, where the assumption is that only men are technical, so men talk to other men and systematically exclude women.

>3. Everyone should be kind and compassionate

Telling a woman to "be kind and compassionate" is a macro/microaggression because women are only seen as either compliant/motherly/etc., or bitches. Men and women acting exactly the same ways tend to be viewed as assertive and confident on the one hand, but bitches on the other hand.

It's for these reasons that this doesn't make a compelling feminist narrative. The facts of the situation don't change the narrative structure. And since human memories decay to the prototype of the neural network over time, it doesn't really matter what the details of this situation are, because they decay to an anti-feminist prototype.

>If a guy chose to stay out of the spotlight you wouldn't consider that misandrist, but when a woman does it's misogynist?

Well, misandry isn't real, so no, but if a man decides consciously to take up less space and possibly use his male privilege to ensure that women in (say) his company have more space, that is a feminist act. This is a good practice for men and I encourage any men reading to try this at the next meeting. Keep track of who talks when, and ensure that you A.) talk less than every woman present, B.) redirect the conversation to women when they're interrupted by men, and C.) point out when women's ideas are restated by men as their own.

When a woman chooses not to take up space, it could be for a variety of reasons, and this in itself is not anti-feminist, but a mere lack of anti-feminism doesn't make an action (or here, a narrative) feminist. Most often, the reason a woman will chose not to take up space is because she is being oppressed when she attempts to do so (and this is true whether she recognizes the pushback from men around her, or if she merely reacts non-consciously to social cues to take up less space and "be less of a bitch").

Your example is ill-conceived also in that it attempts to derive valid feminist statements by switching genders. The only reason feminism exists is because there are tangible power and status differentials between the gender roles delineated by patriarchy, and specifically, that women are oppressed by men. The point of feminism is to do away with this difference, but until this happens it's meaningless to say "but X is true when gender=A, so it must be true when gender=(B!=A)." Obviously the social expectations, supports, and barriers for men and women are different.

I suggest you read more about feminism from feminist women, starting in the 60's and moving forward in time.


I've read plenty of gender feminist garbage like this. It is (and you are) wrong on so many points it makes my head spin. Hacker News is not the forum and there'd be no point in my expanding on it even if it were. I just wish you'd used the term "microagression" in your first post so we could all know to just safely ignore.


Jessica,

Any chance you could write up what it means to have social radar? Right now you might as well substitute the word "magic." What is it that you see that other people don't? Do you score especially highly on reading micro-expressions (http://www.paulekman.com/micro-expressions/)? Is this a familial trait? What is your subjective experience when talking to a 'faker?' Have you ever tried to track you first impressions against later behaviors?

I'm super curious about what seems to be a real life superpower!


Jessica Livingston spoke about it at the Female Founder's Conference earlier this year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEp9aaQuYp4&index=1&list=PLQ...


Thank you for the link. It was a good talk. Actually, I am struck by what a large percentage of the talk and this essay are identical in content.


I was taking acting lessons around the time I got involved with this startup. I would recommend them - such things would be very useful for the stereotypical IT person. Essentially, you (at least I did) start to get a conscious, thought oriented / theoretical understanding of people and their behavior - and how to link that to a better understanding of their 'character' and conscious/unconscious drives, etc. Self-obsessed, neurotic introvert me never got socialized properly in high school..

All very nebulous, I know, but part of acting is learning to listen to your intuition or impulses and not immediately discount them or ignore them (something left brained me is very prone to doing)

I could tell something was wrong with this 'founder' but I rationalized as 'anal-retentive'. Then I got sucked into my OCDness, and stopped taking acting classes while trying to get this startup running. 4 years of hell later, I finally realized I was dealing with a full blown psychopath (i.e. failed to do any background checks on the guy in my rush of enthusiasm at the start of any project). The guy who introduced me to him finally decided to tell me some stories...

Just an example of the hazards of not listening to one's gut. The books about acting tend to be "flaky", from an engineer's point of view, but once you understand the concepts they are trying to explain and the lingo, it is useful.


I'm not Jessica (just a guy on HN), but I do want to add that my social radar increased a bit by doing Vipassana meditation (= body-scan meditation). Or perhaps I should say social intelligence, since I didn't look at the character of people, but I felt what people were feeling quite intensely.

Body-scan meditation allows for the insula in your brain to develop (more than normal). Note that the insula maps to the body in a visceral sense. In my experience, this results in that everything that you will see you will also feel. So that means when you see a facial expression, you will feel it as well in a quite intense fashion. The most interesting example was when my best friend went to the movie Oblivion the evening after a 10 day meditation retreat. He told me he felt like he was in it.

Caveat: you do need to meditate (aka 'feel your body') every day to keep up this level of 'social intelligence' (for lack of a better word).

If you'd want to know more about it, search for: Search Inside Yourself written by Chade-Meng Tan. He worked as a software engineer Google and writes from a software engineer's mind.


Sorry, but how do you know this isn't some kind of placebo, exactly? This reads like pseudoscience.

I do believe some people are certainly better at determining honesty and character than others. But without any sort of blind testing, or even some kind of empirical foundation or proposed specific techniques, it's very difficult to know for sure if a particular person really is better than average or not.


I never equated the words "social radar" with "lie detector". So perhaps I confused a thing or two here. It happens.

The short version of what I claimed is if you have good empathic skills (e.g. being better able to feel the facial expression other people are making at that moment), then you'll have part of the answer of how to detect genuine people (and I believe being not genuine and lying are two completely different things).

About meditation itself and its relationship on social intelligence, there's not much written about it, since I made the term "social intelligence" up. I'd recommend reading about meditation and emotional intelligence on Science Daily. Then practice it for 5 days in a retreat and then see for yourself how it could improve your 'social radar'. I know it's a lot of effort, but in my opinion that's the minimal amount of investigation that you'd need in order to see if it holds value. The 5 day retreat is needed to gain the tacit knowledge that cannot be explained through language (just like the feeling of playing an instrument very quickly can only be practiced).


I've read articles claiming both that there exist a small percentage of people who are amazing at detecting honesty in others and different articles claiming that no such people exist, so I don't really know what the latest accepted view is.


I wouldn't think there's anything magical to it. Keep in mind the context she operates in - one filled with nerdy founders. Based on most of the "nerds" I know, myself included, we tend to be less socially skilled. Someone who is very socially skilled would seem magical in that context. Just like our ability to make machines do things seems magical to regular folks.

Personally I've invested a lot more time in my computer skills than my social ones. I imagine if it was the reverse I'd have some social radar. Instead I can make pixels do my bidding while peers in my age group have trouble with email but don't freak out about networking mixers.

I think it would be pretty difficult for her to write about social radar. It probably involves a lot of intuition that has been learned and honed over years of socializing.


> I wouldn't think there's anything magical to it.

I might not be so quick to discredit what's required to be a great judge of character. Even many of the people who can be considered to be more socially adept, maybe business or humanities majors, are quite poor judges of character.

It might be difficult to write about, but I imagine that even trickier would be to take the written word and internalize it.


On the one hand, good for PG for speaking up. On the other, how can one write a piece about persistent discrimination against a woman without mentioning societal gender discrimination as a thing?

He even asks the question, "If Jessica was so important to YC, why don't more people realize it?" His answer: he's vocal and she doesn't seek attention. Those may be true, but that's not enough to answer the question. As the NYT just wrote, even famous female economists get slighted like this:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/12/upshot/even-famous-female-...


you seem to completely have missed this footnote:

>[3] The existence of people like Jessica is not just something the mainstream media needs to learn to acknowledge, but something feminists need to learn to acknowledge as well. There are successful women who don't like to fight. Which means if the public conversation about women consists of fighting, their voices will be silenced.


I did not in fact miss that footnote. Given that, is there some point you were trying to make?


That he did in fact mention this issue, and noted it's relationship to Jessica in his article. He didn't expound on it at length, but why would he when the point of this article is Jessica's involvement in YC?


That footnote does not even admit that gender discrimination exists, let alone address it.

It admonishes feminists for doing feminism wrong. Which I always find a little rich from people who are not themselves doing the thing. It feels to me like when non-developers tell me how to develop. My reaction is, "Oh, you know how to do this better? Why don't you show me?"

The point of this article also wasn't Jessica's involvement in YC. It was correcting the general public's lack of understanding of her involvement.

That lack of understanding fits the broad pattern of women being undervalued, and the work of women being written off as subsidiary to prominent men. It's a topic that has been much discussed, and was, as I linked, in the New York Times less than a week ago.

Given that he literally asks why more people don't recognize a woman's contributions, it seems weird to me that he lays it entirely at her character (and his), without reference to known systemic biases. That footnote only makes it weirder, in that he seems to be claiming sufficient acquaintance with the discussion of this problem that he should be aware of the biases.


Do we have to turn everything into a gender issue? This is exactly what feminists (or maybe people acting in the name of feminists) do wrong - they try to inject their fight for social justice every. fucking. where., whether it's startup economy or landing on a goddamn comet.

And pg is actually very right - reasonable people from all sides of the issue avoid mainstream social justice discussions because they're just ridiculous and a huge waste of time. Participants of those have their stance on discussed issues tied too close to their personal identity[0].

[0] - http://www.paulgraham.com/identity.html


> Do we have to turn everything into a gender issue?

Feminists are arguing for things not to be gender issues. People make it a gender issue when they ignore female accomplishments for which men would be honored. Paul Graham explictly made this a gender issue when he praised her for being the "mom".

If you don't think talking about these things is valuable, nobody's forcing you to talk about them. The participants, me included, don't see it as a waste of time, because society has been making steady progress on this for the last hundred years or so. Maybe in another hundred things finally won't be intrusively gendered all the time and we can all get back to what we're doing. If you'd like to help, great. If not, maybe let the people who care get on with it?


> Feminists are arguing for things not to be gender issues.

Interesting way of doing that by making everything a gender issue all the time.

> Paul Graham explictly made this a gender issue when he praised her for being the "mom".

No, he just praised Jessica for performing the role of mother in the YC family.

> If you don't think talking about these things is valuable, nobody's forcing you to talk about them. (...)

I usually don't. But someone has to speak up when there's bullying starting to happen, because if nobody does, then it will just continue. I want to live in the world where all people are respected and happy. I don't want to live in the world where everyone is afraid of saying a thing in fear of getting bullied by political-correctness defenders.


Maybe is it because some of us might experience social injustice (almost) every. fucking. where.?

(And no, I'm not talking about 21st century first-world problems like "getting offended on Twitter" or PC-bullshit or what not... I'm talking shit that drives you literally to tears, as you see your life's chances, choices, freedoms and potential getting gradually but relentlessly taken away from you by the actions and expectations of your employer, your advisor, your peers, your own family even...)

So for you it might be "just ridiculous and a huge waste of time" --but some of us this is indeed "tied too close to our personal identity". Because we have to live with it.


> (And no, I'm not talking about 21st century first-world problems like "getting offended on Twitter" or PC-bullshit or what not.

And I am talking exactly about those. Because this comment against pg's essay was a typical 21st century first-world problem. And those problems are what dominates mainstream discussions. It hurts those who experience injustice more than it helps by trivializing their problems.


> It hurts those who experience injustice more than it helps

I see this sort of "u r doin feminsm wrong" comment a lot from people who a) are not part of the population harmed, b) never actually help themselves, and c) have very little understanding of the topic. But perhaps you're different. Could you tell us about three ways you've personally fought gender discrimination lately? Bonus points for links.


[flagged]


Even in this country, women were not allowed to vote in political elections until the 20th century, and the case was similar in countries around the world.

How does your argument that "all issues which feminists (make no mistake, feminists of the 1920's were "radical") seek to fix are a result of empirical reality" fit with that? Women couldn't vote, and that was just the natural outcome of "empirical reality", now they can, and that is, what exactly? Did "empirical reality" change? Or is the fact that women now vote in virtually all countries a terrible crime against biology?


Women in the United States gained the right to vote in 1920. The majority of men (non-landowners) received the right to vote only 50 years prior in 1870 [1].

This doesn't seem to be the work of a nefarious patriarchy behind the veil, but a continuing democratic movement that began with the Magna Carta.

Although of course, once again, this information does not fit the feminist narrative, and is blasphemy to a movement whose only goal is political power.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_suffrage


So you're saying that women getting the vote two entire generations after men is not a sign of some sort of gender discrimination? (Let me guess, you're a guy.)

That would be a pretty rich claim on its own. Perhaps if were the single historical or present example of discrimination against women, maybe it would be worth considering. It isn't, of course.

Two easy examples were women not being allowed to own property:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coverture

And women being treated as the sexual property of men:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marital_rape


Definitely. Those (mostly dudes) who believe feminism is no longer necessary seem never to be able to say when they think true fairness was achieved. But they're awfully sure we have it now.


I thought that footnote was odd. It's acknowledging widespread sexism (implying that (almost) all public conversation about women is confrontational - or leads to a confrontation, presumably in contrast to most other public conversations (about men)) -- and calls for feminists to acknowledge that not all women wants to be/are confrontational?

The whole idea of fighting for equal opportunity is so that everyone can be more of who they are, and not have to fight more than anyone else to be heard, because of race, gender, sexual preference, social standing or any of the myriad of things we are so great at holding against people for no good reason.

Anyway, just as with the last time few times PG found himself in a minefield of mostly misguided political correctness -- I think this simply shows his general style of pragmatically voicing his thoughts, without much concern for overall social analysis. I for one welcome that, even though if read in in a certain light, he can sound anything from quaint to prejudicial (not so much in this article).

But he's not alone in that -- any neutral voice in a in-equal society can be seen as being oppressive -- of supporting the status quo.

I also see how people can get tired of being expected to fight, when all they want is get on with their work. It's a perfectly natural reaction. It's quite horrifying to see one of the more powerful women of Silicon Valley (?) not dare to be interviewed for fear of how her message will be twisted though. If anyone needed confirmation that there's a long way to go to equal opportunity in management, that surely is it.


>even though if read in in a certain light, he can sound anything from quaint to prejudicial (not so much in this article).

Perhaps because he's actually being prejudicial?

It's odd how we somehow think that someone being honest about their prejudices somehow minimises the prejudice.


I suggest you read the essay again. PG clearly writes that Jessica's way of dealing with people is by listening. And she's damn good at that. It is harder to listen when you speak, or when everybody watches your every move.


Thanks, I read it twice. But as with the economists I link to, this happens even to women who are perfectly vocal. I submit that there is something else going on here besides her just being naturally quiet.


This essay has a thesis, and gender isn't it. I'm not sure why an article showing appreciation for someone would sidetrack itself that way.


He's not just showing appreciation. He's rectifying a problem of her being underappreciated by society at large.

So a) there is a well-known societal problem of women being underappreciated, especially leaders. And b) he added gender to his essay by talking about how they were dating and she was the mom and how her special skills were the kind of thing that get called feminine. (Note the many comments here explicitly relying on that.) He also talks explicitly about how people don't notice her contributions because they read her as a secretary, which is a very gendered phenomenon.

So whether or not gender is the formal thesis, the essay is shot through with gender-related issues.


>there is a well-known societal problem of women being underappreciated, especially leaders //

This approach begs the question [assumes the conclusion it supposedly seeks to find]: it seems as likely that a certain type of person is underappreciated. That a lot of women are of that type may be true but that doesn't make it an issue of sex per se. Reading between the lines of the essay Mr Graham hints that he feels one reason his wife is underappreciated is because she shies away from vocal conflict. That at least leaves a hypothesis that this is not really about the sex of the person but about character traits that are more often found in one sex than the other.

You might for example say there is a societal problem of women being forced to use stepladders when in fact it is short people that use stepladders and it happens that women on average are shorter than men.

The topic has a little interest to me in understanding attitudes of those in one area of work I'm in (loosely "craft as a leisure activity"). Other workers - almost all the people in this sector are women running their own businesses - always assume that I'm just there to carry the heavy boxes [which I usually can't due to a back injury] rather than actually function as an integral part of the company. In short they read me as the minion and her, my co-worker, as the boss. Basically we're in the sex-opposite position of Mr Graham and Ms Livingston wrt our roles in the business we're in.

From the public side of things I've been asked more than once if there was a woman available to do my job instead of me. Which I find particularly hilarious if then my female co-worker has to ask me what to do.


If this were the only sort of discrimination that went on, and if people were simple automatons, yes, your "just a trait" thing might have some explanatory power.

However, we have a historical record millennia long with enormous discrimination against women. Were women not allowed the vote until a century ago because their character traits mysteriously changed enough for them to finally be responsible? Did their character traits start changing in 1970 such that they were suddenly suitable for medicine, law, and science (and, briefly, technology)? [1] Because the feminine character was certainly cited as a reason why women shouldn't vote or be allowed to pick particular professions.

Further, we receive all sorts of gender socialization, starting with color-coding infants, moving up through toys and education, and continuing through all sorts of gender expectations during youth. A lot of education is explicitly about building character. A great deal of what you call "character" is learned behavior.

I'd think that you working in an area where you are treated as an idiot because of your gender would make you aware of how arbitrary this stuff is.

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/10/21/357629765/when-...


Yes, there is. It's the undercurrent of sexism that runs through almost every human encounter. But that undercurrent can run deep or shallow depending on whether the people involved acknowledge it and actively try not to let it affect their decisions. This essay is a great effort at making the undercurrent shallower.


Oh, definitely. As I said, I appreciate him speaking up. But in speaking up for his woman while reinforcing sexist notions and ignoring how this happens to other women, it has a "two steps forward, one step back" feel to me. I appreciate the piece, but I'm disappointed as well.


I would think that if he focused the essay more on gender discrimination instead of just on Jessica, she would not be comfortable with or allow the essay to be published.

> Those may be true, but that's not enough to answer the question.

I think the "he's vocal and she's not" answer is a perfectly good answer to the question "why do people tend to ignore Jessica?", since it does seem to be the main reason. If the question had been "why do people tend to ignore women?" then maybe that NYT article might be relevant.


I don't think essays discussing "why X" are limited to only talking about what the author believes the main reason to be.

Even if PG believes that the broader societal problem is not at all relevant here, I think it would have been a stronger essay if he'd said that and said why. Since he didn't, I'm left to wonder whether he is even aware of the problem. A lot of guys aren't, so a reasonable reading of this essay is that he may have written about a tree without noticing the forest.


Elsewhere on this page someone linked to a talk Jessica herself gave on this subject[1]. It is remarkably similar to PG's essay. Jessica notes at the beginning that pretty nearly no one on the outside knows how large a role she has played at YC and then credits that to her preferred MO of working behind the scenes. She also does not mention her gender as a factor in being ignored.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEp9aaQuYp4


Since this is a reply to my comment, I gather you think it's a response, but I'm not seeing the connection. There are a lot of reasons women choose not to talk about gender discrimination, and I respect those choices. But that doesn't mean it's not an issue, either broadly or in this specific case.


You started this thread with, "how can one write a piece about persistent discrimination against a woman without mentioning societal gender discrimination as a thing?"

The grandparent to my previous comment suggested that "if [PG] focused the essay more on gender discrimination instead of just on Jessica, she would not be comfortable with or allow the essay to be published."

You said that since PG felt he could write the article without mentioning societal gender discrimination, "I'm left to wonder whether he is even aware of the problem."

I linked to a video where Jessica covers the same material that PG did. She also does not so much as hint at societal gender discrimination. This can be consider supportive evidence, along with PG's footnote about feminism, for the GP's hypothesis that Jessica would not being comfortable with societal gender discrimination being in the article.

It would follow that if you are going to respect Jessica's choice to not talk about gender discrimination in her talk, you would have to also respect the choice of PG to not have it in his essay, on the assumption that he may have withheld any such commentary in deference to Jessica's preferences.


> It would follow that if you are going to respect Jessica's choice to not talk about gender discrimination in her talk, you would have to also respect the choice of PG [...]

Not really. Women may avoid talking about this stuff because it makes them targets, and they may not need more trouble. Guys can and should talk about this; it's our chance to use our gender privilege to reduce the problem.

My experience is that for any given feminist statement I get 90-100% less crap than women do. I hear some squeaks from the antifeminists, but very little from the active misogynists and other abusive shitheels. If you're right and PG is unwilling to take even mild heat when he could easily do so, I don't feel obliged to respect that. Especially after his big talk about him getting all the credit because he's more comfortable in the spotlight.

If PG really didn't want to talk about gender discrimination because Jessica, he could have just said so. Or he could have not mentioned her feelings at all and said, "gender discrimination could be a factor but I want to focus on X for now." Refusing to acknowledge it at all weakens the piece. And expecting people to pick up subtle radiations from obscure YouTube talks also doesn't strike me as a very good essay-writing strategy.


Honestly, my suspicion is that he was trying to stick to the facts and not analyse why they came about, because his primary purpose was to talk about Jessica, not to attract yet another internet whaargarbl jumblefuck of soi-disant feminists and anti-feminists flinging poo at each other.


He asked "why" and then answered it. That's analysis. And his slam against feminists in a footnote explicitly drags it into a discussion on sexism. If his primary purpose was pure description, he did a pretty poor job of it.


Great essay. Besides setting the record straight on Jessica's key role in the founding and growth of YC, it also offers a rare glimpse into how and why YC became the juggernaut it is today.

"The overall atmosphere was shockingly different from a VC's office on Sand Hill Road, in a way that was entirely for the better."

The rest of the essay is filled with words like family, mom, character, culture, authenticity, good(ness), social radar etc. Words you would hardly ever associate with a successful business - let alone a big time, successful VC firm on Sand Hill Road or anywhere else. It sounds like a crazy way to run a company based on such fuzzy concepts. But remarkably, these soft, fuzzy concepts appear to be a key part of YC's huge success - and not some cold, calculated decision making. In a way this bears out one of PG's other theories - that hugely successful startups usually start out with ideas that look really bad or crazy. And in YC's case, the most successful startup to come out of YC may be regarded as YC itself!

Edit: Would like to add a key part of their approach seems to have been to throw out the old, tried and true approach, think from first principles and build the company and culture in a way that they felt comfortable with - and not how it was "supposed to be done".


Founders at Work, her book of founder interviews, is stunningly good. I'm not surprised she's key to YC.


I bought this book out of curiosity 2 years ago. I did not google the author. I'm glad to know she is the one behind it. I also own her husbands book.


The interview with the founder of Hot or Not is an all-time classic.

Edit: I just re-read it and it's still as awesome as I remember. This would actually make a great movie, much better and more exciting than the Facebook or Apple films.


Yeah, a great read.

> So we decided to build a moderation system. I originally had my parents moderating since they were retired, and after a few days I asked my dad how it was going. He said, “Oh, it’s really interesting. Mom saw a picture of a guy and a girl and another girl and they were doing ...” So I told Jim, “Dude, my parents can’t do this any more. They’re looking at porn all day.” We decided to open up the community of moderators to the public. You had to apply and write an essay to get in.


I've had this book in my Kindle library for ages. I think this thread is going to push me to finally get around to reading it. I've heard nothing but good things both about the book and about what she's done for YC.


Not knowing the subjects of the OP I'm confused now, didn't Graham say in the OP a reason he gets more attention is because he's a writer. So, she's a writer too, did he forget??

It's also stated that she doesn't ask many questions but prefers to observe from "afar" - presumably that's not true in this book of interviews.

Livingston seems to have been somewhat mischaracterised or my reading comprehension is super-ropey.

>"Partly because I'm a writer, and writers always get disproportionate attention." (Graham, "Jessica Livingston" an essay) //


That she's quiet in YC application interviews doesn't mean she can't do other types of interviews where she does ask questions.

The book isn't remarkable because of Livingston's writing, of which there is barely any, but for the scope and execution. She found dozens of great subjects, got them to tell great stories, and edited everything into a very valuable book.

I think it also shows her good judgment, her passion about startup founders, and her skill at listening. Of course it's mostly about the founders and not about her.

Graham writes tons of essays about his own opinions, which is quite different!


>Founders at Work, her book of founder interviews, is stunningly good.

It is indeed. I wish she will write more books or even essays like PG. I am excited to see if Founders at Work will one day be in an audio format.


I agree. I found that the best part was that founders went on length answering the questions. The text could be verbatim or it could be how the book is edited.

I usually find interviews annoying as the interviewer interjects a lot, breaking the chain of thought, diverging the discussion or some times cutting them off to inject their own opinions.

This book I thought had none of that. And I learned a lot reading it.

As for PG's essay, I think I came across this exact content some place else (my memory fails me).


> "There's a sort of Gresham's Law of conversations."

Generalized, this explains why a lot of the really cool, thoughtful, and kind people I know seem to fly under the radar.

And it suggests that moderating a discussion forum means constantly pushing uphill.


I wonder what the direction of causation is. Perhaps the issue is not the cool, thoughtful, and kind are pushed out of the forums, but they are successful in engaging people on a personal level and are less motivated to go public. The obnoxious, however, however tend to get avoided on the personal level and find it easier to get an audience in a public forum.


It also provides an explanation for why national political conversations are so awful.


I still remember, back in 2007, sitting in the old Mountain View office when Jessica came out and yelled "Matt Maroon! I just love that name." I had been a little nervous until that but for some odd reason that was calming.

Those of us in YC knew she wasn't just PG's girlfriend.


The existence of people like Jessica is not just something the mainstream media needs to learn to acknowledge, but something feminists need to learn to acknowledge as well. There are successful women who don't like to fight. Which means if the public conversation about women consists of fighting, their voices will be silenced.

It's my impression (primarily from lurking) that the more nuanced, observant conversation tends to take place in less publicized fora, which while not exactly closed are at least so little publicized that they are not "public". Sometimes this is termed a "safe space", sometimes the essential characteristics are arranged without calling it that. Anyway the conversations are very much "here's my impression; it's different than yours but we can agree on at least these things" and "I'm sorry but that is just so far out of bounds that we'll have to part ways and not try to work this out". There's a conversation, but not a debate.

Maybe some would lament the "filter bubble" aspect of such an arrangement, because after all everyone should prefer to debate each point to death, but in fact not everyone does prefer that. (Of course, I do, but I'm slowly learning not to assume everyone else is like me.) It's tempting to put this all on "the feminists", but that is selling ourselves short. We can all listen without speaking, long enough to realize that feminism is not monolithic and that many feminists are aware of women like Livingston. The ignorance of the media and the Twitterati is a property of them, not of all of feminism. (Of course much of feminism is, for want of a better word, "masculine" in the sense of wanting to dialogue each point until we have a party line for everyone to toe, but much of feminism is not that.)


Part of the problem is that every time the fact that it needs discussing is brought up, there's a group of reactionaries that turns it into a fight -- thus not giving us a chance to have that conversation without it turning into a brawl.

You don't even have to be belligerent about it. Just say "maybe we should discuss the gender imbalance in tech and startups" in a public forum, and you're guaranteed a flamewar.


Here's an older piece by Jessica herself, on being a social radar, and the "mom" of the family:

http://foundersatwork.posthaven.com/the-social-radar-what-i-...

(I posted this partly due to the predictable reaction to PG's use of the word mom.)


I made a newsline of Jessica Livingston, that compiles many of her interviews: http://newslines.org/jessica-livingston/


This is neat. Thank you.


So, what's her secret?

Is it something you can learn, is it experience, x-ray vision you either have or have not? Are women better suited for this job?

What clues are you looking for while talking to founders?

Is there something like a 'perfect' character or does she make a list of positive and negative traits?

Are some traits more important than others?


I can't claim to have jl's "x-ray vision", but I think I've gotten a lot better at this. Possibly because I'm not naturally good at this, so I have to do it consciously.

The way in for me was English literature. Since the modern novel, writing in English focuses on revealing character through what someone does or says. Why do they choose this word and not another? By their actions, what can you learn about what's going on in their head?

Turns out that works pretty well in real life too.

A trivial example: I had a supervisor who I would say had problems with role-reversing. While ostensibly the boss, this person really wanted other people to notice what a difficult time they were having. Again I figured this out just through word choice. Some people, in the boss role, express their vision as "we need to do this"; with this boss it was more like "nobody is supporting me, so you all need to step up". Instead of performing confidence, they performed their personal discomfort, which is a cry for others to show that they care.

I think most people would realize that this is annoying, but look a little deeper, to see the need that's behind that. This is someone who habitually fears abandonment. (Maybe that's even why they took the boss role.)

So, all it took was a tiny comment every now and then from me, to allay their fears, and our relationship dramatically shifted for the better.

Now, this kind of personal attention can be just kindness. You can use it to give people around you the motivation they need to succeed. But in this case, the neediness was sort of a bottomless pit, so it made me seriously question ever working with this person again.

Most people are broadcasting all kinds of things about themselves, almost painfully strongly. It's just that for the most part, nobody is picking up on it. Developers in particular usually don't want to pick up on it.


There is no special key, no special pattern that unlocks one's extraordinary performance in a given area. Some people happen to have the right combination of brains, experience, commitment, and luck. And they leave the world impressed.

You could literally ask the same questions about Mozart or Einstein. Let me try that: what's their secret? Can you learn it? Is it experience, something you either have or have not? Are men better suited for the job? What clues are you looking for while analyzing a theory? Is there something like a 'perfect' symphony, or did he make a list of positive and negative tone patterns? Are some chords more important than others?


Talk less and learn to watch and listen. You will be amazed at how better your instincts become.

I think her traits are what make her good at this. She doesn't like attention and is more of an introvert. These traits probably make her very good at listening and a great observer of people.

Most introverts I know are very good at judging people because they don't want the attention on themselves.


>Are women better suited for this job?

Yes, practically all of the core traits PG describes are typical feminine traits. This is a nice piece because it explains how critically important the feminine touch is, and how easy it is to ignore that because most females don't care much about their personal fame, they mostly care about helping people and being useful.

While PG has described the utility these traits have in running a "family" of founders, they're also extremely valuable in running an actual family. PG has really written an ode to womanhood in general, and whilst reading it, I think most of us will relate as we identify similar things in our wives and mothers.

This is not to detract from Jessica Livingston's specific ability to apply these to the world of VC, which undoubtedly takes a lot of skill and knowledge, but I think it's important that we recognize the value from these types of contributions is accessible and often regularly enjoyed by those of us who are lucky enough to have such stereotypically selfless women in our lives.


Ugh. I get that the gender binary is something that we all grew up with, so it can seem like some sort of immutable feature of the universe. But "typical feminine traits" can be learned by actual dudes.

Guys, if you think that these traits are useful for running successful businesses, just go learn them. It is possible for men to listen just like Jessica. We can also be nurturing, supportive, sensitive, thoughtful, emotionally perceptive, and kind. These are actual skills that we can actually learn if we want. We don't have to push women to be stereotypes just to have successful businesses and families.


I largely agree with you that these traits can be learned (let's exclude the fact that hormones affect mood and thus personality). However, growing up in a system that pushes this binary also affects personality. Thus, while I don't think your sex plays too big of a role into this, your gender (see: social constructs) totally does. You grew up in that environment with those expectations, and that forms you in some way.

> We don't have to push women to be stereotypes just to have successful businesses and families.

Totally agree with that, despite my above comment.


Sure. Plenty of people grow up with a religious upbringing as well, but as adults we can choose to stick with it or to change. If people consciously choose to stick with that, fine. But I don't want them imposing it on others, and I especially don't want them acting like their way is the only possible way to arrange the universe.


Gender roles are an immutable feature of the universe. Yes, men can learn and become good at some of these things that women have a natural inclination toward, just as women can learn and become good at some of the things that men have a natural inclination toward, and there is some play here in terms of the quantity of each trait that a specific individual gets, but it's hard to fully substitute a native intuition.

We need both genders -- neither can be discarded, and insisting that the two genders are so similar as to not have any unique properties or advantages is the same as discarding them.


The hardcore downvotes on this comment, ostensibly given because it seems to run counter to today’s moral crisis of Women in Engineering, and it sounds so very regressive, despite the possibility it’s … not wrong, are a perfect illustration of http://paulgraham.com/say.html

I have a simple thought experiment for those who have a strong impulse to downvote the parent comment (and doubtless my own comment): Imagine the discussion here were, say, a study that illustrated men naturally resorted to forming factions and solving disagreements with violence, and someone commented, “No, it’s 100% society, not innate whatsoever” and then someone replied to that saying “no, while individual variation is of course very real, there is some evidence that the general trends that inform some of our stereotyped intuitions of gender are based in biological fact.” Would you be quite so quick to mash the down arrow? … Perhaps. It’s a discussion fraught with a lot of charged emotions, and we collectively are not so good at dealing with points of view contrary to whatever we want to believe.


The difference is that in your imaginary discussion, the person is proposing nuance informed by evidence. The comment you're replying to, on the other hand, pushes against nuance based only on personal opinion.

I don't know anybody who would argue that gender has absolutely no biological implications. But to suggest they tell us something about how society should be structured is the naturalistic fallacy, confusing is with ought.

As an example, illness and death are natural. But that doesn't mean that we should just shrug and say, "Oh well, tuberculosis is natural, so we should just accept it." The natural details of death should certainly inform how we fight it. But they can never tell us we shouldn't.


Individual variation swamps gender variation. Unless you're hiring at a demographic level (like the military), basing decisions on gender of the individual is largely pointless.


Yes, there are real differences between the genders, but I think they are much fewer and less pronounced than most people think. Many supposedly immutable gender differences have been found to be societally imposed upon closer inspection. (Citation needed, I'm posting this from a phone.)


Definitely. The notion that gender roles are an immutable part of the universe is basically a religious statement, not a factual one.

For those interested in how much this varies across species, I heartily recommend Dr Taiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00846X144

It's a great and funny book on the biology of gender and reproduction, written as an advice column.

Growing up in the midwest, I mistook a lot of what people got up to as essential facts of human biology. But after 15 years living in San Francisco, I've come to realize how much of that is purely socially constructed.


"Stereotypically selfless"? She's a founder of Y Combinator.


Read Goleman's Emotional Intelligence and maybe "Intuition at Work" to get started on this. You have to learn it straight from experience. I wrote a detailed description here:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10578474


There is no secret. People who do more observing tend to be more observant. Talk and type less and watch and listen more and in a decade or two you will be able to figure out other people's character pretty fast.


I would bet a lot that it's nothing really you could analyze in terms of rational thinking but that it's still something that everybody has.

Everyone, including you, do get different feelings from different people. Maybe there's that uncle you're just not that comfortable with to begin with, or your neighbour who always lightens you up somehow. But the problem is that focusing on thoughts and modelling your impression by thinking masks these feelings off. Thus, most people don't realize how their feelings change when they move from place to place and from person to person. The feelings can be seen in your body language but in the worst case you're completely oblivious to them yourself. Typically you just grow a blurred sense of anxiety or ease, much like a moving average of what you've felt that day.

Now imagine you do get a slight grasp of all that, and begin to practice it. Maybe you can find a way to "feel" different people, maybe you observe how your feeling changes when stepping into an elevator with different people each time. Maybe you find some other way to sift through people and try to get a feeling from each one. There are infinite number of ways to practices and they are all equally hard.

Sensing can be really hard because, today, everyone is always going, talking, making noise, and acting busy. It's impossible to deal with a lot and try to get a feel of a person at the same time. I think something similar was described in the article: you need to be out of the focus, you have to have some space around you to make this connection with your feelings. However, for some reason, your body tends to like breathing. Focusing on breathing tends to tone down the active parts of brain and emphasize your sensibility to your feelings going through your body. Maybe that is the reason martial arts emphasize breathing a lot. So, it might be that you find yourself breathing slowly and steadily in the elevator, maybe gazing out to the wall during the ride, and just practice sensing what the feeling is each time, with different people.

The more you practice, the better you get. Usually, as with practice, there are turning points where you just suddenly "get it", or at least you will get a glimpse of it if nothing else. Maybe at some point you begin to associate these feelings with an idea, or rather, an intuition. This is where you learn to put meaning in the feelings. A lot of times these feelings tend to be unexplainable. You don't know how, but your answer is "no". Or "yes". Or whatever you were seeking to know. In fact, the surefire sign that the feeling produces a genuine intuition in you is that you can't make yourself explain it. You're still practicing but now you need to practice trust. You get readings, some of which are noise from your mind and some are signals, from your body and based on genuine feelings, and you need to learn to trust your judgement on which one you heard.

Becoming more sensible is not a game. You can't game it: what you need to do is surrender. Also note that it is absolutely not a one-way street. By changing how you perceive your surroundings and the people out there also changes you. You will not be the same person who is asking about this and who eventually gets the answer. It's also nothing mystical nor magical, it's just something humans can do but very rarely choose to do by a conscious choice.

Foot note: I've been a very sensitive person since I was kid. So has my wife. It seems all so normal here now. Many a years back, it was truly comforting to realize that there are others like me. I've chosen to increase my sensitivity during the early adulthood by relying more on it. What you use will get bigger, I guess it's like what a muscle would do. It's also not a general trait or objective capability: it's very personal. What and how I feel the world is completely different from how Jessica Livingstone feels the world. Or my wife. Or anyone else. But the truths I feel myself are only applicable in my own life, so that is fine.


I wonder if it's easier to judge people's honesty/character/civility/etc. if they're interacting mainly with other people under your observation, rather than with you directly. I suspect so.


Yes, it is. The reason is you can focus 100% on observing them, their body language, their words, and the dynamic of the conversation. Talking to them means you also have to be participating in the discussion. Additionally, with their focus on you, they are adapting their own style to how you react to it. You have to sort of do the same. That makes the patterns harder to see.

So, many people that do this try to detach themselves. That Jessica further keeps the image or at least visitors' assumption that she might be just a secretary is straight brilliant: almost nobody pays attention to such people. That let's her stay either 100% or nearly so focused on her evaluation of them.

There are two modifications that have shown to be superior. One is that one or more of the interviewers have the same ability to read people. As I said, the difficulty makes these rare people. However, you do see this among talented negotiators, intelligence types, and so on.

The other one is keeping the assessor outside the room but with full visual and audio to pick up the unconscious cues plus a feedback mechanism. This might be a computer or earpiece for one or more interviewers. The reason is that the character assessment might run into situations where it's too vague to make the assessment. So, the person assessing might give a suggestion to the interviewers for how to prod the person to get a specific reaction. This might happen a little or a lot if the overall team has worked together a lot. Eventually, the interviewers get so good at spotting these situations and remembering how they were handled that they intuitively create these opportunities for the remote reviewer without being asked. The results are a more detailed and effective evaluation.

Such a setup is not for everyone. Many prefer just having one or more people talking with another doing more listening and people watching. That's Y Combinator's setup. Many high-stakes interviews or negotiations use the latter method though with lots of effectiveness. That you can read the reviewer while the reviewer can read you probably helps a lot. ;)


This might be another form of the "are they rude to waitstaff?" test.


Thanks for this PG, it's wonderful to see Jessica get the long overdue credit she deserves.

That essay is also comforting for me on a personal level because like Jessica, I'm uneasy with attention, public speaking, etc and that's a tough thing to struggle with when you're a startup founder, where a big part of your job is to be the affable, extroverted face of the company. The thought of doing a YC or similar interview makes me sweat, even though I know what I'm building is awesome, cool and valuable. If ever Jessica is giving lessons on how to get over that, sign me up please!



Wow. To call this article a fluff piece is an insult to fluff pieces.


> If bad founders succeed at all, they tend to sell early. The most successful founders are almost all good.

I wonder what chances these people would have if they were to apply to YC now: Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jack Dorsey etc.


> The existence of people like Jessica is not just something the mainstream media needs to learn to acknowledge, but something feminists need to learn to acknowledge as well. There are successful women who don't like to fight. Which means if the public conversation about women consists of fighting, their voices will be silenced.

And therein lies the problem. Professional feminists are extremely vocal radicals that do not represent the majority of women. Their statistics and talking points tend to be universally unsound and inflammatory, and they are at this point more accurately described as a racist and sexist hate group.

So the question is, why are they deemed the authority on so many issues in the mainstream media? Why does PG even acknowledge their nonsensical demands, or try to engage with them to defend Jessica?

Anyone who has lived a day on this planet understands that empirical reality is immutable, and ideologies cannot alter them. So when feminists for example, state matter-of-factly that "biology is a social construct", why are they allowed to continue speaking nonsense? Meanwhile, brilliant academics who debunk feminist propaganda like Helena Cronin [1] are nowhere to be found in the media.

Perhaps women like Jessica Livingston and Helena Cronin need to take an active stance against radical feminists, and not dignify their accusations with a response other than: "please educate yourself before attempting to open a dialogue regarding these issues."

AKA: Do not feed the trolls.

1. https://edge.org/conversation/helena_cronin-getting-human-na...


A really good comment, I'd like to hear from downvoters their arguments against it.


Great article.

Only one typo "[pg] is better at some things (that) [sic] Jessica is"

But I do have to say, wow, there was a lot of really new information in this post, to me, and I also could feel the emotion and passion in it.

It's nice when someone gets praised in such a manner - regardless of if its from their SO, because I felt that there was a lot of objectivity in this post as well.


The take away for me is no matter how good you are, you still need to sell yourself.


*if you care about public recognition from journalists (or bloggers might be the better word) who fail to properly research their subjects.


I understand why you might arrive at that conclusion, but think about another level: What did Jessica Livingston lose or miss out on by not promoting herself to the public?

I would argue that she missed out on nothing that matters.


I think that's the calculus that she figured on when she made the decision not to be a public figure.

I suspect that the recent articles playing up her role are because she & YC realized that there is something they're missing out on: millions of potential female founders are not starting companies because they don't have strong role models. This hurts YC in a financial sense, but even beyond that: if your mission is to increase the amount of startups and innovation in the world, then having half the world's population disqualify themselves because they don't have many good examples of it being done before is losing out.


I believe you have missed the point. You should think about reading the article again.

The fact that "she failed to be recognized because she doesn't sell herself" does not translate into "she should sell herself", because the very act of doing so can undermine what makes her be so good at what she does.

And in fact, a lot of people don't care about selling themselves well, so why put so much effort and time into something a) they don't like b) they don't need?


In my estimation the desperate desire to be recognized is behind some of the worst cultural shift in SV in the last 20 years. The article even states specifically how Jessica's very strengths would be undermined by becoming more visible.

If your comment is because you failed to recognize Jessica's talents, you should ask yourself whether that has negatively impacted her life in any way?


What? I have no idea what your question is getting at.


How so? It seems from this essay that Jessica achieved a lot of goals she wanted to achieve without having to sell herself.


Excellent read. Especially interesting trying to figure out all of the behind the scenes reasons for writing this essay, timing, content, etc.

My co-founder is a woman and we have a somewhat similar dynamic: she doesn't write as much, doesn't like the publicity or argument that sometimes happens with a position in business: but at the end of the day she helps create a feeling of family in our team. I don't know if it is gender-based or just her personality, but it's nice to see someone in a similar (albeit much more successful) position getting some recognition.


The existence of people like Jessica is not just something the mainstream media needs to learn to acknowledge, but something feminists need to learn to acknowledge as well. There are successful women who don't like to fight.

There is another lesson here for feminists that PG does not fully articulate. In my experience, most women are similar to Jessica in that they do not fit naturally into an alphadog founder type role. The time-honored tradition for such women to be part of accomplishing great things, is to partner with an alphadog mate. Unfortunately, modern feminism is all about turning women into men, rather than guiding women to fit in as complements and partners to a strong man.

If Jessica was so important to YC, why don't more people realize it? Partly because I'm a writer, and writers always get disproportionate attention.

And also because she was not listed as involved when YC was first founded. I assume that Jessica was "The Fourth Man wants to remain anonymous for now"? https://web.archive.org/web/20050324095016/http://ycombinato...


Thanks, PG. From my vantage point, authenticity is probably the not-so-secret ingredient of YC. This is a great essay and I hope that it impacts others not only in shining a light on the important contributions made by Jessica in the founding of YC but also in showing that one important tactic in the fight against sexism is to make sure to give credit when credit is due.


I knew Jessica and Paul were married, and implicitly assumed this was pre-YC. I read with interest the data point that they were "already dating" at the time.

I was wondering if you could share any data on success/failure of startups where 2 co-founders are in a relationship, and if/how this is rated in yc applications.


I've been thinking about this essay and reading all those comments for a few days now. I am looking for a company where people are not arrogant, and where self-confidence and outspokenness is not a proof of someone's talent, and where everyone gets a fair chance of recognition, without having to brag and show off. Those traits are not in my own personality. I am smart though. It looks like YC can be a good place for that. Unfortunately, and as I was being told personally, this kind of place is very hard to find. So all those comments makes me a bit sad, because it's basically an exception in this world. While it's good that someone speaks about JL's talents, there's actually a lot of places where someone absolutely has to show other abilities in order to be recognized.


"The less energy people expend on performance, the more they expend on appearances to compensate." J.L.


my first company, thesixtyone, would've never happened if it weren't for jessica. she welcomed me to yc teas when i was just a starry eyed idea dude from los angeles (hello, xobnis and zenters!), and she also saved our face and investment after i naively bumbled pg's verbal offer.


It's really nice to see a man really, really in love with his wife! Mother Nature really likes that!

For how she is so good with personality radar, IIRC recently there was a research paper that confirmed that already in the crib the girls are paying attention to people and the boys, to things. So the girls are making eye contact, understanding facial expressions, smiling, and, thus, eliciting protective emotions from adults while the boys are trying to hack the latch on the crib and install Wi-Fi and an real-time, embedded Linux in the toy fire truck on the floor!

So, with some nerd men and a really feminine woman, there's no contest -- on personality radar, no way will the men catch up with the woman!

Congrats PG, you just achieved "the greatest prize life has to offer".


As a husband-wife co-founder team, I totally can relate. Having my wife's female intuition ( yes it really exists.. it's like a heat-sensing radar and magic 8ball all-in-one )

see her in action: https://www.instagram.com/p/zA41aSKM9C/?taken-by=juicycanvas

The challenge is that 99% of my time is spent on so many righ-brain tasks..i practically become a 'vulcan' so when a customer email or PR challenge or new biz dev opp comes flying in.. its very easy to just mis-read it or reply in a curt almost cold way. Luckily she QA's all our communication with a filters yet undiscovered by scientists. Deb i love you darlin! Where would we be without you!


"At one of the first she did, the reporter brushed aside her insights about startups and turned it into a sensationalistic story about how some guy had tried to chat her up as she was waiting outside the bar where they had arranged to meet. Jessica was mortified"

Interestingly I read the article he refers to earlier today and I was really surprised (I took it at face value, apparently I should have been wiser) to read that someone like Jessica was so "shaken" by a guy hitting on her in what sounded like not-that-aggressive a way to me. I've never met her, but I've read enough online about her to have the opinion that she probably isn't someone who gets off on playing the victim.


You misunderstood -- she was mortified that the reporter's story focused only on that.


She was mortified about the reporter's story and she was apparently shaken up during the interview with the reporter, who quotes her as saying:

  “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just still really shaken up.
  That’s never happened to me before.”
Not having been there (and tending to give people the benefit of the doubt) it sounds like the VC guy thought she might have been there for an unrelated Match.com event (in which case asking her about that doesn't appear inappropriate) and, when he found out she is an investor, he switched gears to VC mode and asked if there were any opportunities there.

Imagine you were at a bar and you saw an attractive person and started to inquire as to whether they are single, etc. You find out they are happily involved in a relationship already, but that they're a developer and they're waiting for some coworkers. If you work for a company that is hiring developers, you might ask them if they're open to exploring new opportunities. Absent any "creepy" signals, it seems unreasonable for them to conclude that you are offering an interview or a job in exchange for a date.

Without knowing more information regarding body language, tone of voice, and so on it's entirely possible that she simply misread his intentions. Especially since the article concludes with:

  “What if he wasn’t hitting on me? What if I totally misunderstood?” she said.
Conversations flow. I sometimes get confused when female friends abruptly change the conversation and I'm left asking them what in the world topic B has to do with topic A, only to hear the response that they mentally switched gears to the new topic and the two are totally unrelated. I find men tend not to do that without some signal that the topic just switched.


Surprised the essay doesn't mention Founders At Work, a great read that is really well done and likely very difficult given the breadth of the interview subjects. Seems like a perfect reflection on its author.


Now that I know about her, she seems pretty awesome. Great work, Jessica! I especially respect that she stays out of the press battles to focus on productive things. It's wiser because they're a trap anyway. The post gave a perfect example of that where they just tried to set her up for ratings. She seems to be playing her hand incredibly well as a ninja and sage behind the scenes. Such people don't get much press but are essential to many of the best organizations. Most are fine with the former because the pride is in the latter. :)


Having read posts on both HN and hearing from other founders, I'd always assumed for years that it was common knowledge that Jessica was so integral to YC.

Then again, I have noticed some of the changing narrative on the founding of YC and it's good that pieces like this are being written to prevent erasure. I've heard her speak both times at Columbia and have only heard wonderful things about her, so I'm glad this piece exists - hopefully the narrative will shift back to what I had thought it was in the future.


Great essay that should leave no doubt for credit where it's due. What I find strange is that pg would even have to explain all of this in an essay after all this time since none of this is new to me (or I would imagine many people in the start up scene) since it's been mentioned so many times in different interviews. Then again it was also strange that a Bay Area vc wasn't able to recognize Jessica in either Palo Alto or Mountain View and start making some weird remarks towards her.


I highly recommend Founders at Work to anyone who hasn't read it. Jessica is an absolutely incredible interviewer (in my opinion, one of the more underrated skillsets out there, probably because we're used to such generic interviews). This essay highlights some of her strengths that helped her write such an incredibly insightful book. PG is right, she simply has a knack for asking extremely illuminating questions and getting insightful or informative responses.


Thanks for writing this. I've been reading your essays for years and Jessica's name has never entered my radar. It really means something, to hear that not only is the female cofounder a central part of the team, but that we've never heard of her because she avoids the spotlight. It makes me think twice about stories of companies that don't seem to have any women in them - perhaps they are there, but they've been written out of the story.


The fact that the tone and method of delivery for various conversations affects who participates in them and how was lost on me for most of my life.


Character is indeed very important, and in my view (given all the ^%&*$ I've been through with the one -and probably never again- startup I was involved with) the most important factor in any business. I wish I knew Jessica and that she'd could have warned me... She sounds like an "essential" person to know.

You are a lucky man, PG


pg was famous among programmers before YC so it makes sense that everyone considered it pg's new venture. It's the same with Stackoverflow being considered Spolsky and Attwood's venture even though there were a bunch of other cofounders.

Also, the publicity. pg was public in a bunch of ways that Jessica wasn't.


>> Incidentally, if you saw Jessica at a public event, you would never guess she hates attention, because (a) she is very polite and (b) when she's nervous, she expresses it by smiling more.

on point(b) - I do this too. I have seen that very few people pick up on this queue. I smile and hide my nervous energy.


"(As we later learned, it probably cost us little to reject people whose characters we had doubts about, because how good founders are and how well they do are not orthogonal. If bad founders succeed at all, they tend to sell early. The most successful founders are almost all good.)"

A little Manichaen?


So, Jessica is the Socrates for YC, and YC is the Socrates for YC start-ups.

Successful founders are usually doers that often make bold adventures and can execute plans efficiently and ruthlessly, but they need consultant guidance from a wise person. I guess this is the YC's success formula?


Livingston's book, Founders at Work is the most insightful book on startups I have read. In hindsight it was her ability to bring out the core of the founders' character that made the book so informative.


Yeah, probably my favorite book on startups for that reason.


> It was also how we picked founders who were good people.

I've read about qualities of good startup founders. Wondering now, what are the qualities of good people? (real question) What have you found? What should I read?


I am a huge fan of Ms Livingston's book, and would love to see a follow-up work. I have no firsthand knowledge whatsoever regarding her work as a yc founder, but I certainly have no reason to doubt the views of many yc alumni who have commented on her importance at YC. However, as a father of two daughters who are started to find their way in the tech world, I'm a little confused and disappointed by this post by Mr Graham. If Ms Livingston's wishes are to remain in the background, then Mr Graham should respect that. If she has apparently changed her mind and wishes to take on a higher profile, she should speak for herself, not have 'the man' explain things to the world on her behalf, which wrongly implies she cannot do so herself.


Jessica sounds awesome! It is nice to see YC allow her to add value based on her strengths rather than forcing her into roles where her strengths would be lost.


Is it just me or did the article not mention her contribution to the sector with the SAFE note? One of the best additions to financing early startups.


"Jessica knows more about the qualities of startup founders than anyone else ever has."

Putting these qualities onto paper would make good reading.



thx @nosequel, I've got this book and have to re-read it asking that question. What I was thinking was a book more along the lines of specifically defining the characteristics then giving examples.


How is that this post has 1605 points (and counting), but 'urs2102 only has 648 karma? This is not a complaint, I'm just curious.


Having been hiding in the woodwork during YC's early days, this rings so true.


we live in a messed up place where women are undermined no matter how great or influential they are. we, society, need to stop doing that. good write up - let's see what happens next.


Any guys here who identify with Jessica's personality?


Of course there are.


>A lot of the applicants probably read her as some kind of secretary, especially early on, because she was the one who'd go out and get each new group and she didn't ask many questions. //

Yet elsewhere it's noted that one of the candidates pointed out that Livingston asked the fewest but most pointed questions. This makes me wonder if anyone ever did think that Livingston was "some kind of secretary" [and what's wrong with that] or if that assumption just plays to the conclusion that sex rather than, say, hot-headed assertiveness or attention seeking is the reason for the disparity in public perceptions of Livingstone and Graham. [I'm talking speculatively, I don't know either of these people].

Given the nature of the essay I find this, in the footnotes, quite peculiar:

>No one understands female founders better than Jessica. //

Why does she only understand female founders the best - that would presumably be because females are inherently different in some characteristics pertinent to being founders? Why is this not "No one understands founders better ..." is there someone who does understand founders better but for some reason is unable to understand female founders as well as they do male founders.

Surely this is the answer to the question posed on notability if others are better at understanding founders who are male, for some reason, then as more founders are male [it seems, I don't have stats on this, just going with my perception of the consensus] it would stand to reason that those best able to understand the largest cadre of founders are most notable - this understanding we're told is the vital element in the field after all.

The inclusion of the word "female" here is the key one way or another.

>The person who knows the most about the most important factor in the growth of mature economies—that is who Jessica Livingston is. //

It almost looks like Graham is saying, but perhaps not wanting to say, that the sex of his co-founder is the key element in reaching a broader base of founders?

I'm not at all saying Livingston isn't the best person in the World in this role, but Graham's footnote leads away from that conclusion.

On a slightly different focus:

>There are successful women who don't like to fight. //

People. There are successful _people_ who don't like to fight; unless you're saying their sex is the reason they don't like to fight or that this characteristic is peculiar to women then why do people have to force sexual bivalence all the time. The inference that follows that all [successful] men do like to fight is doubly unhelpful IMO.


It's uncomfortable to me that Paul Graham felt he had to write this. In particular, his enumeration of Jessica Livingston's 'Social Radar' as if it is some kind of superpower reads to me like a long list of the virtues emotionally unintelligent hacker dudes lack, like he felt forced to justify her role in the founding of YC. I could be overreacting but I also find it telling that he doesn't praise her for business acumen (until that blip at the end about data), but rather for her intuitive judgments.

Not a very interesting character portrait, and has an slightly weird sniff about it.


That seems like a fair concern to me. Like you, the piece strikes me as subtly and uncomfortably gendered. As a hacker myself, my emotional intelligence was never that great. But I think this was vastly compounded by being a guy; society didn't expect me to develop much in the way of emotional skills.

A big thing that changed that for me was doing in-person tech support in college. About 10% of the job was knowing facts. The rest was helping humans in very human ways. When, years later, the term "emotional labor" [1] came around, it made a lot of sense to me. I may not have been natively good at it, but you don't have to have talent to get skill. It just takes more work.

So when he talks about emotional radar and her being the mom and whatnot, it all strikes me as a false dichotomy, one I've worked hard to avoid. It's especially odd to me in a piece about society treating a woman as lesser.

[1] Lots of good stuff on the topic in this amazing Metafilter thread: http://www.metafilter.com/151267/Wheres-My-Cut-On-Unpaid-Emo...


"So when he talks about emotional radar and her being the mom and whatnot, it all strikes me as a false dichotomy, one I've worked hard to avoid. It's especially odd to me in a piece about society treating a woman as lesser."

That's so much better articulated than what I said! Exactly this.


I winced at the word "mom", too.


You should try my approach of pre-wincing at page load time.


I did my best but quit when my face started hurting.


It seems to me that you're projecting


Objectively, there is more to it. It might be uncomfortable, but sometimes a little coaching is useful feedback. Take a look at what happened to Ronda Rousey over the weekend. Complete lack of preparation. A cornerfull of yes men..."your doing great"...after round #1 etc. Unknown challenger meanwhile was methodically breaking her down. Point is there is a balance to he had from motivation and positive re-inforcement with some actual feedback...so you don't get blindsided. I think the only real questions is about whether that convo is best in in public vs private. There is some awkward in this essay. Some of it seems un-neccesary, and maybe could have been re-worked to make the points hit home without it.


Can you expand on your comment please?


I am in House Livingston.


thanks for sharing this --- puts a lot in context!

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