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YC Open Office Hours (ycombinator.com)
200 points by dshankar on Dec 10, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments

Most great startups would not exist if not for the work of some critical helper in a position to help.

Apple had Mike Markkula, Facebook had Sean Parker, Airbnb had Michael Siebel, and Viaweb had Julian Weber. The list endless.

The ingredients are: great founders + great products + great helpers.

It's easy to say that great founders with great products will attract great helpers, but that ignores how few great helpers there are and how inefficient the "market" is.

YC is the greatest helper of startups in the history of startups, and expanding that help to a wider group is a great thing for the world.

And I would add, many of the best founders (tech startup or otherwise) are those willing to ask for help and listen to advice. Those founders who fear revealing their flaws and so avoid talking to mentors and colleagues are always woefully underprepared to go to market (where, you know, you not only reveal your flaws but do it in the context of asking for currency).

Sounds like someone should make more "mentorship" startups.

Hey folks - Kat and I so excited to announce this new program - happy to answer any questions

Thanks for having a general session. It's really hard for me coming from a poor white family with no history of entrepreneurship to enter this space.

Thank you for this opportunity. I've noticed ycombinator has been trying a lot of new things, and trying their best to reach out to as many people as possible. You guys are great!


Hi! Thank you for posting and doing this! I was wondering if I could still apply even though what I'm working at the moment is still just a side project that I work on on nights and weekends. It's generating revenue and I'm hoping to pursue it full time in January/February. The problem is that I only qualify for the general office hours. Would you suggest that I apply or wait until June for the next general office hours?

Apply :)

Thanks for this awesome opportunity, you should set up a system with the other companies blessing to release to remote office hours online. I am going to apply!

Please try to have a Midwest office hours. We all have the same problems/opportunities: 1. mediocre startup scenes/investment options. 2. lots of technical talent. plenty of enterprise companies with experienced IT. So, what if we use C#/java. 3. Better test market. SV is great for early adopters but if you want a really big company it needs to work here too.

It sounds like you can do the office hours remotely via Skype so the Midwest shouldn't miss out.

I was thinking of an office hours that are specific to the Midwest or maybe not SV, NY, Boston etc.

Thanks for offering this service.

What determines which founders you meet with? Since you had 650 founders apply the first time around and met with 50 teams there must be some filter and I assume its not random.

We are looking for folks who are actively working on their startups. Having a technical co-founder is helpful, working full time is helpful, and trying to solve a large problem is helpful.

Awesome! Since the first round is for all founders and subsequent rounds are targeted at specific groups, are people encouraged/allowed to apply for multiple? Or should we pick?

Feel free to apply as many times as you'd like

How'd you decide what groups you wanted to focus on? Vets, Women, URM, International.

Any other demographic categories you think are important to especially reach out to?

At least a few should be, like Native Americans, Muslims, and disabled. Perhaps LGBT, if they're underrepresented in SV.

How much time do you anticipate going into sorting through applications versus the actual sessions?

We have a lot of experience reading applications so it doesn't take us too long

Thanks for doing this! Any plans for an open office hours session focused on LGBT founders?

the program is 2 months later, is anyone available for some coffee today :)

Any chance of opening: How about Other Person of Colour who are of First Generation Immigrants Status of a Country, which isn't the US in the future? That would really be electrifying ;P

I don't understand why this is getting down voted? Someone explain?

Can any focus be given to rural communities? For example the coal miners of Kentucky. https://medium.com/backchannel/canary-in-the-code-mine-90388...

As someone who grew up in the rural South I'm saddened by how overlooked it's communities are. Poverty is wide spread but services and activist groups are lacking. No one cares about rednecks.

I put down Skype on my application because Mountain View is a 12 hour drive from here... but now I'm wondering; does Skype vs in-person have an effect on whether you'd be accepted?

... 'cause I'm pretty sure I'd make that drive for the chance to meet with the YC partners if it made any difference :)

Choosing Skype vs. in-person won't have any effect on whether you're accepted.

You should go and meet with them in-person even if you do get accepted for Skype interview. You can only ask so little in 20 minutes, so why waste this opportunity?

Just applied for the veteran opening and very excited about the prospect! It's encouraging and helpful to see a few initiatives like this spring up.

TechStars has been running a sort of primer on entrepreneurship for veterans (http://patriotbootcamp.org/) for a few years now, but that's aimed at people just trying to figure out what's going on.

The YC opportunity seems more appropriate for those of us who are all-in and already building great companies. A nice evolution, and an important gap filled- thanks YC!

Additionally, Amazon is generously offering $5,000 in AWS credit for all participating teams.

This seems really dangerous -- it creates a huge incentive for companies to waste YC's time. There aren't many things early startup founders can do which are worth more than $15000/hour. Sure, you can probably filter out many AWS-credit-seekers via the application process, but that adds more work for the people who read through all the applications.

Have you considered either (a) refusing the credits, or (b) taking a small number and handing them out to the most "deserving" startups at the end of the day?

Most good founders realize $5,000 in hosting credits in terms of their time and effort is not a compelling reason to do office hours. Office hours provides way more insightful and long term value than some free server hours.

Developers who think in terms of over-optimizing costs probably wouldn't even be picked anyway.

$5,000 in hosting credits in terms of their time and effort is not a compelling reason to do office hours.

Really? Are you able to produce more than $5000 of value for your startup in 20 minutes?

Office hours provides way more insightful and long term value than some free server hours.

For the people YC wants to talk to, sure. But dangling $5000 of AWS credits in front of people may attract people they don't want to talk to.

But it isn't just the 20 minutes, it's the transaction costs of transportation and interrupting your day. What if you choose to travel from a couple hours away, or even very far away?

Well, I'm assuming that people who just want the $5000 would sign up to do this over skype.

> Really? Are you able to produce more than $5000 of value for your startup in 20 minutes?

Hosting credits are not currency. Most startups will never need anything close to $5000 in AWS credits.

Not to mention that AWS basically gives them out like candy. I have several grand in AWS credit just from attending hackathons and conferences.

> Most startups will never need anything close to $5000 in AWS credits.

This statement is not true. It is quite easy to have a $5,000 a month bill on Amazon.

Also, AWS credits usually last 12 months. You can spend $416.67/month at AWS with just one EC2 instance.

It might be easy, but that doesn't mean it happens to the vast majority of startups.

The majority of startups never get any real traction and see only a small trickle of traffic every day.

I suspect that developing and deploying something that extracts value from $5000 worth of hosting will require non-trivial effort. Even reselling them would require some effort for anyone for whom reselling AWS credits was not a regular activity.

We feel comfortable with this

All major hosting companies have a sponsoring programme for startups in incubators/accelerators.

Unfortunately I cannot disclose the numbers and the companies, but they are way larger than $5k

$5k in credit for hosting probably has a marginal cost of $0.

On the other end, if you take AWS offer and start using their services, you'll probably won't leave them anytime soon, particularly if you rely on provider-specific systems (SNS for instance).

Startups get a nice discount, hosting providers get an opportunity to supply a future successful startup and very quickly win back the $5k...

I agree that offering this makes sense for AWS. What I'm not so sure about is whether offering this makes sense for YC.

(BTW, Tarsnap isn't in any incubators/accelerators, but if someone wants to throw a bunch of AWS credits at me I'd be happy to have them!)

You could probably apply for the Amazon accelerate program and get $15K from them pretty easily.

The $15k of credits are only for "startups in select accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces, and other startup organizations".

Hosting companies give away free credits like candy. Don't let the lack of incubator stop you from asking. I've gotten up to $10,000 in hosting credits just by emailing someone and asking for it. No contract or anything, they just added credit to my account.

Pretty much every cloud platform offers a deal like this to pretty much every tech incubator so the actual value of the deal isn't that high, certainly not $5000.

At the risk of sounding too cynical, have you considered that Amazon is likely paying YC as much or more for the opportunity to offer this credit? And that maybe this whole deal is at least partially because Amazon wants to acquire new customers?

AWS isnt paying us

Without taking any position on whether YC would be willing to sell their reputation like that (personally, I'd say almost certainly not), I can't imagine amazon would be willing to pay the price they'd charge.

Startup Weekend regularly hands out $100 AWS credits to all attendees. I don't think I've ever seen anyone (or groups of people) go to SW just for that credit. $5000 is a bit more, but that -that- much more.

I think there's a huge gap between getting $100 for a weekend and getting $5000 for 20 minutes.

You [usually?] get the credits for showing up for about an hour or two on the very first night. No need to be there for the entire weekend if that's what you're there for.

The relative value of 20 minutes with YC partners is significantly higher, so as to make the incentive of the $5000 irrelevant. Anyone who thinks otherwise is missing the real value proposition of the office hours program.

As to OP's concern that it could create incentive for someone to waste the YC partner's time in the sole interest of gaining the $5000 of credits, I think that is not giving enough credit to the YC folks. I'm sure they'll be able to weed them out.

I'd argue that a 50x increase (literally 5000%) is significantly more.

generally speaking as a startup, I'm not hyper-worried about spending 5K in hosting costs and unless you're an entirely social/pre-revenue startup, by the time you're spending 5K in hosting, your business is starting to make some decent revenue.

I'm much more focused on getting and having enough users that I get to worry about spending 5k on hosting.

I think you're missing my point. Tarsnap has no trouble paying its AWS bills, which are well over $5k/month. I'm not worried about spending $5k.

But at the same time I can't think of anything I could spend 20 minutes on which would create more than $5k of value. $1 of AWS credits = $1 less expenses = $1 more profits = $1 more revenue.

I understand what you're saying, but my argument is that the 5K in credits are actually of fairly low value to the startups getting office hours, because they don't have real profits/revenue at that stage, at least not enough where 5K makes a difference to the long term survival of a startup.

If I'm a very early stage startup, I'm worried about being alive next year. Yes, 5K may help, but that 5K will likely not make a significant difference in my company's prospects. 20 minutes with an advisor at YC could completely change my company's trajectory.

I'd imagine there are very few companies that apply, and then get selected for office hours, that will walk away from the meeting saying "I'm so glad I did that because I got 5K in Amazon credits." That said, it is still a great perk.

If a founder works 10k-15k/hrs on a unicorn over 5 years its like 15k/hr for every hour they spend on it.

It's more than 20 minutes including preparation and travel time.

Kat's great! Easily one of the most competent people I've met and she went out of her way to sit down with me in New York.

Bonus: For some reason Twitter now sends me a notification every time she tweets about Rick and Morty.. I'm mostly ok with it!

This is an excellent strategic move to improve YC's pattern recognition of alternative signals coming from "diverse" marginalized groups.

Continually impressed.

I work in USA on a visa. Can I apply under international category?

If our founding team includes an Army vet AND an international founder.. which one should we apply for?

Apply for both! Or either.

what will YC Research address?

That's a separate announcement, of course, but I'm pretty sure it's coming soon.


We are attempting to make YC more accessible to everyone. Looking at the people who have historically applied to YC - we feel the need to do extra work to reach out to specific communities that are historically under represented in the valley. But this work is on top of (not replacing) the general work we want to do to reach out to all potential founders.

Good luck, sincerely. That's a noble goal.

I do hope you will do so with subtlety and insight. Favoring the most easily recognized and most politically significant demographic groups is a reasonable first step, but if it's the only step you take it may simply increase the tension of identity politics.

We've already seen, elsewhere in these comments, people you've left out asking for you to include them as well. For every one who speaks I'm sure there are many more who remain silent.

Downvoting without responding is fine on HN. There are many more downvotes (and upvotes) than comments, which is as it should be.

I imagine these downvotes were because your comment gave what has become the #1 stock response to any such story without showing any awareness thereof or adding anything new; because the edge in it made it sound polemical rather than a sincere request for information; and because polemical stock responses turn into flamewars, which most of us aren't interested in and which break the HN guidelines. To downvote such comments is to be a good citizen, the way putting out small fires would be.

Note that one can make all of the above observations without disagreeing with the position you're implicitly advocating (that resources should target disadvantaged individuals rather than categories like race and gender). It's generally better to assume that downvotes are procedural rather than ideological. It yields better feedback about how your comments could be improved.

I asked a few questions, and I'm honestly interested in the responses.

There may be very good reasons for the racial and gender bias in this program. Political, economic, marketing, correction for past bias by YC, or bias in other VCs, or who knows.

But asking for justification should be the stock response to such unabashed racism and sexism.

You do make a great point. It does baffle me that Obama's daughters would theoretically get special privileges for YC's office hours over, say, an immigrant kid from China whose family earns below the poverty line.

Theoretically they would. However in practice I'm sure the people screening applications would be able to see that they're people who don't really need any special privileges, and prioritise someone else who does. Its not like applications are being selected by a random number generator.

Perhaps, but if the next session were for black and Latino founders, and Obama's daughters applied, would YC really pass up the chance to work with them ASAP?

Looks like you've been downvoted too.

It's interesting how intolerant some people are about even the most reasonable criticisms of racial preference policies. Instead of offering a reasonable response to these criticisms, they often resort to attempts to silence critics.

> even the most reasonable criticisms of racial preference policies

It's not reasonable. It's the same tedious concern trolling that appears in every single similar thread.

Calling it concern trolling is just another way to try to silence critics, and avoid considering the criticism when you have no response.

This discussion has gone on for a while, and included dozens of downvotes and a few rational distractions, but not one response to the original questions.

I had similar thoughts when seeing the following section (but didn't comment under fear of immediate downvote).

"April - Female Founders, June - General, July - Black and Latino Founders"

I find it somewhat unusual that the open office hours are segregated. Why not just reach out to those groups but have general open office hours?

Why not just reach out to those groups but have general open office hours?

I'm guessing that this is a serious question, so I'm going to give it a serious answer. This is a classic economic signalling behaviour, akin to getting a college degree in order to signal your intelligence or giving gifts in order to signal your wealth.

Consider two possible YCs: YC(a) is serious about having female and minority founders at office hours, while YC(b) is just trying to be politically correct. Advertising "we encourage female and minority founders to apply" wouldn't cost anything. Advertising "we will only accept female / minority founders in these months" in contrast has a cost -- they lose the opportunity to meet truly awesome founders who do not belong to the appropriate group -- but for YC(a) that cost is partially balanced by the fact that they're spending time talking to members of groups which they would like to help out. Thus the net cost for YC(a) is lower than the net cost for YC(b) -- just like getting a college degree takes less effort for someone who is highly intelligent than it does for someone who is less intelligent -- and so YC communicates to founders that they are more likely to be YC(a) than YC(b).

(Whether anyone thought it through to this extent, I don't know. But people routinely engage in signalling behaviours without being aware that they are doing so.)

I appreciate the thoughtful response. I understand the argument you're making about economic signaling, and indeed YC(b)'s milquetoast declaration of encouraging women and minority applicants would be a cheap sop to political correctness. But I think you elide an important point, which is that YC(a)'s signaling, though expensive, is also motivated by political correctness. In other words, you've tweaked two variables, when in fact only one has changed; a more accurate rendering is

YC(a) is serious about being politically correct, while YC(b) merely cares about appearing to be politically correct.

Political correctness is common to the two cases for the simple reason that YC(a) would inevitably help wealthy, well-connected female and black/Latino founders to the exclusion of, say, poor, less-privileged Asian founders. It's hard to explain this behavior in humanitarian terms, but it's easy to explain in political terms. Nobody gets in trouble these days for expressing the sentiment that we need more women, blacks, and Latinos in tech, no matter how rich and well-connected they may be.

The only other possibility I can think of is that YC(a) genuinely wants to help especially deserving founders, and such founders are so overrepresented among women and blacks/Latinos that specifically targeting those groups achieves the goal well enough for YC's purposes. In other words, the cost of reaching such founders may be so much lower when targeting specific self-identified groups that it's worth the minor cost of helping the occasional privileged member of one of those groups. Still, it's hard to avoid the observation that this policy is generally aligned with political correctness, which would appear to justify some skepticism.

(My guess is that YC's policy isn't Machiavellian in the least, but it works adaptively because of a political environment in which explicitly helping women and blacks/Latinos is strongly favored both by custom and by law.)

> Nobody gets in trouble these days for expressing the sentiment that we need more women, blacks, and Latinos in tech

I think that's true in California, but politically correct favoritism that ignores class helps fuel right-wing extremism.

Perhaps I see that more clearly because I don't live in the SV bubble.

It also has an unfortunate signalling effect to people (Native Americans, for example) who don't belong to either the traditionally or the newly favored group.

Quite true. I suspect that Native Americans were unintentionally overlooked; I'm pretty sure that as an ethnic group they are significantly underrepresented in the world of startups.

I didn't downvote. But I'd suspect that a part of the reason is that not all of the sessions will be divided/limited to specific groups. YC will "also open some months to anyone in the startup community."

I'm not sure how to interpret that. Does that mean those months are effectively primarily for white and Asian males, since many of the female, black, and Hispanic candidates will go to the exclusive sessions?

They are encouraged to apply for as many as possible: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10713817

Indeed, but if the best candidates are equally distributed across race and gender, and just black, Hispanic, and female founders are chosen for exclusive sessions, the best of the remaining candidates would be those that didn't qualify for the exclusive sessions.

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