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Ask HN: Pick startups for YC to fund
867 points by dang on April 6, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 286 comments
Here at HN HQ we've been wondering: if Hacker News could fund startups, what startups would it fund?

Hacker News users have many diverse perspectives on technology and business. Perhaps if HN picked startups, it would pick differently than YC. Maybe different startups would be motivated to apply, if they knew that the interviewing and deciding would be done by the HN community. Interesting things might happen, or they might not. We'd have to try it and see.

I ran this by Sam and he ran it by Kevin and we all got excited, so we're going to try this as an experiment. Starting today, there's a new track for YC applications: applying directly to the Hacker News community. We'll call it "Apply HN". Note that word experiment! We'll start small and figure it out as we go. But here are the initial conditions.

YC’s Fellowship program will fund a minimum of 2 startups selected by the HN community for this summer's F3 batch. (They name their batches sequentially.) The Fellowship is the YC program that fits best here since it’s designed to be experimental and inclusive and doesn’t require people to move to the Bay Area.

All the interviewing and evaluating will be done in regular HN threads, and everyone is welcome to participate. For this summer's batch, Apply HN will accept applications starting now and ending April 27.

If you'd like to apply to the HN community for YCF funding, simply post a submission whose title begins with "Apply HN" and explain what your startup does. Hopefully community members will ask you questions and good discussion will ensue.

If you'd like to help pick which startups to fund, simply jump into any Apply HN thread that interests you. Ask questions and post comments that you think will help the community make the best decisions. These will be regular threads, with all the same voting and so on, but with one additional rule: Be Nice.

Be Nice is a stronger version of our usual rule, Be Civil. Anybody who applies to HN in public this way is putting both themselves and their baby in a super vulnerable position. We're going to rise to the occasion by being not only civil, but nice. When interviewing startups, by all means be curious and probing—but only if you can also be nice. The word "nice" originally meant "not knowing". Then later it meant "precise and careful". And now it means "kind and thoughtful". Let's put all those qualities together.

At the end of the month, we'll rank the startups and YC will fund two. The ranking will depend both on upvotes and on the quality of discussion, similar to how the ranking of stories works. We can talk about this in the comments, but to answer one question I know will come up: Upvotes are an important factor but they're too brittle to rely on exclusively; doing so would encourage the wrong kind of trying to game the system. So we're going to gauge community interest both by upvotes and comments, and in case of doubt I'll make the final call—or better, figure out a way to put the final call to the community.

That's what we're thinking so far. If it seems unstructured, that's on purpose: we don't want to bias it along the lines of how YC already operates. We want to see what the community comes up with.

Questions or suggestions? Let's discuss and refine this together.

Edit: As discussed below, we'll add a top link for these a la /ask and /show. I won't get to that till later, though, so in the meantime, use the following link to find Apply HN discussions: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=%22apply%20hn%22&sort=byDate&d...

Edit 2: Here's the link describing how YCF works: https://fellowship.ycombinator.com/faq/. Read it to make sure you're eligible. It's a lot more flexible than YC Core, but there are still some restrictions.

Edit 3: There's now a ranked page of applications at https://news.ycombinator.com/applyhn, a complete list at https://news.ycombinator.com/applynew, and a random sample at https://news.ycombinator.com/applyrand.

Hey everyone! I manage and run the Fellowship program at YC. I just want to build on top of what Dan wrote about being nice. We’re not asking you to do this because we think it’s good manners. We actually believe it’s the right way to think and act like the best investors.

It’s easy to form some really bad habits when you sit in a position of power to judge the potential of a person, a team, an idea and their execution—believing that you know better and focusing your time on finding weakness.

The best investors don’t spend a lot of time on what can go wrong. They already know the odds are against every startup that ever comes into existence. They already know every startup is a shit show. Those will be the reasons why all the other investors will miss out on an unpredictable opportunity. The best investors try to figure out what can go right. They dream a little with the startup and they then sell that vision back to the founders.

Remember that the big wins in startups come from the margins. For you to find what no one else could have predicted, know that it will take the shape of something that isn’t obvious.

Being nice gives you a good foundation for being open and optimistic, which is what we strive for when we read applications here at YC.

Thanks again for trying this out with us. I'm really excited about what we discover together.

As much as I'd love to hold power over other mortals, I'll have to recuse myself here. I publicly made fun of Drew Houston and gang when they started and again when they reportedly rejected Apple's advances. Without a crystal ball, it just feels like we're just betting here.

Are we betting on the viability of a product or idea? Are we betting on the founders? Are we betting on the team's ability to deliver? So many questions... I can't answer any of them but I'd welcome people thinking bout loud and look forward to reading these ideas. (:

Edit: recuse not revise

Always betting on the founders. Ideas sometimes change. Markets sometimes change.

What gets people tripped up is that you sometimes judge a founder indirectly by seeing how they communicate an idea, looking at their ability to deliver, and hearing about how they think about the market.

The answers to those questions are important, but we put it in the context of what does it say about the founder.

I think they want something complementary to the existing system. If you had approved Drew Houston and gang you would not be adding anything since YC also approved them. Look for a sign of potential success that YC would miss.

One advantage HN has is more time to think. HNers will look at a much smaller stack of applications, and won't be restricted by the brief interview format YC has.

Not so fast! If everyone who couldn't bet as well as the crowd chose to defer to the crowd there would be no crowd.

> The best investors don’t spend a lot of time on what can go wrong. They already know the odds are against every startup that ever comes into existence. They already know every startup is a shit show. Those will be the reasons why all the other investors will miss out on an unpredictable opportunity. The best investors try to figure out what can go right. They dream a little with the startup and they then sell that vision back to the founders.

This should be carved in stone :)

Kevin, I really liked this comment because my inherent assumption would be that YC - or VC's in general - would stay away from "shit shows." Is there a method or a signal that YC looks for within a "shit show" that tells you it can be fixed?

You look for grit. What evidence can you find that shows they don't just give up when things get hard?

Thing is we don't find out usually until after we invest what the real problems are...so we optimize for people we want to spend a lot of time with and work on these problems/issues whatever they may be.

Most founders feel imposter syndrome after they're accepted. The great thing about being part of a batch is you realize you're not alone and then learn that shit show is actually a default state. When you learn that, you relax and focus on the resourcefulness you need to solve your problems systematically.

> You look for grit.

It always seems to me that "grit" and "stubbornness" are similar, and being stubborn to the degree of being unable to give up a hopeless dream seems to be a problem for startup founders. How do you distinguish between these very similar traits when you interview someone?

That's the crux of what makes this stuff hard. Where do you draw the line between being flexible in decision making AND unyielding in your vision?

IMO, "grit" is about working the problem and not giving up but potentially changing tactics, while "stubbornness" is about keeping the same tactics even if the problem changes.

The difference is in adaptation: when challenged with new perspective / data, do they incorporate it into their vision or ignore the data?

Founders/management/whoever need to maintain the ability to vet the value of the new perspective / data.

To use a silly example: A flower buying website might do best to avoid spending time/money crafting promotions aimed at single biker dudes who live life off the grid. Even though there is possibly large group of folks that are under represented in the rebel luddite flower purchaser demographics.

This is exactly what I was thinking the other day when I saw a tweet from Jessica Livingston saying: "Denial is the silent killer of startups." How do you know if you are persevering, or if you're in denial?

Ask someone with fresh eyes.

stubbornness seems to imply rigidity; you can exhibit grit while still being flexible and adapting to changes

pg said something about the different between grit and stubbornness here http://paulgraham.com/determination.html.

I'm living out of a van right now in Palo Alto, after having sold everything I own to build projects that work. My worldly possessions can fit inside a single backpack. My co-founder and I are generating revenue and grinding on making sure the community loves what we're building.

My burn rate is close to 300-400/mo, less if I eat less per day. #grit

Beyond that what else is there?

I respect that. I don't know if I have a specific suggestion on how you can run leaner, but look for ways to sell/trade what few assets you control for cash.

When I was trying to learn to code, I was an undergrad with literally no money, but I had a prepaid college meal plan my parents had bought me. So I ate one meal a day for a month and sold off my extra meals at a discount for cash to buy coding books.

For example, if your van runs, I can think of several possibilities, especially if you don't need it during the day (i.e. drive to a library or somewhere where you can work for free all day and then you've got a HUGE asset available to work out trades and deals all day every day).

Buy instant(ish) noodles from an asian grocery. They often have lots of great variety and are cheap and healthier than the ramen you'll usually get in big chain groceries. In fact, but as much as you can from asian groceries, they tend to be super cheap and need your business more than big chains do.

to add to that, get the Indomie brand, they add extra vitamins and nutrients, I believe it's because Indomie is consumed practically by everyone in Indonesia, the govt mandated them to be healthier (this is based off of memory years ago).

Awesome, thanks you two for the tips! :)

You know a bowl of rice is less than $1 and the return on investment is probably higher... because you know, you can think clearer.

For the sake of discussion, I'll offer a counterargument.

Be Nice is a good goal for Apply HN since it promotes civil discussion and stops the threads from devolving into semantic "lol no https u suck" that some Show HN threads tend to devolve into.

Users are not nice. They don't comment on HN or Twitter, they just stop using it without fanfare. And what determine a startup's success in the real world is if people want to use it.

Hindsight is 20/20, yes. But I do have concerns that "Be Nice" may dissuade commenters/potential customers from pointing out legitimate, immediate flaws.

> "Be Nice" may dissuade commenters/potential customers from pointing out legitimate, immediate flaws.

I don't think HN users are going to have trouble doing that, but there are different ways to do it, and the nicer ways have the critical property of opening the discussion further instead of shutting it down.

We HN users are used to thinking of ourselves as the scrappy underdog, calling out incorrectness and badness with pristine honesty and with no particular effect on the situation, except occasionally a righteous one like forcing Google to do customer service. We don't think of ourselves as being in a position of power, but that's actually an illusion, as many who've walked into a wasps' nest of critical comments and come out stung can attest.

To me one interesting social aspect of this experiment, quite separate from who gets funded, is that it unambiguously puts the HN community in a position of power—a perspective that we're not accustomed to, and which requires developing different habits (edit: I mean a higher standard of conduct). Maybe those habits will end up translating to the community as a whole (yay!) Or maybe they won't show up at all (boo!)—but at least we can all keep reminding each other to be nicer in these threads.

"Hey, this looks really cool, but I notice you guys don't support TLS (i.e., if I change the 'http' to 'https', I can't connect). I know you have a million things on your todo list, but this one is extraordinarily important; your target users will simply close their browser windows once they see 'http'. Also, fixing this is easy! Just check out this tutorial [link] .. or let me know if you have any questions and I'll see if I can help you right here!"

That's fine, and for those who don't feel so gushy, there's a different thing you can do: simply re-read your comments and edit out anything that isn't nice. You can always set 'delay' in your profile to between 1 and 10 minutes to give yourself some editing time. Mine is 3.

>You can always set 'delay' in your profile to between 1 and 10 minutes to give yourself some editing time.

I had always seen this, but never actually looked into what it did. For someone like me who typically makes a litany of edits immediately after posting, this is revelatory. Thanks!

For whatever reason, the textbox just isn't as good of a preview when compared to viewing the actual post.

> For whatever reason, the textbox just isn't as good of a preview when compared to viewing the actual post.

I know. Good lord do I know.

Is it possible to suggest existing projects (in which I do not participate) ?

I have few in mind like Unicorn engine (http://www.unicorn-engine.org/).

You mean post them as Apply HNs? No, but you could convince them to apply for themselves.

I mean a "Suggest HN" people can vote for with no obligation to Apply (nor for YC to do something, like a Show HN).

Not to get in the weeds too far, but I obsessively do this too. Have you tried CSS to make the input box look more like the final comment? I'd always assumed the current style was intentional and it's hard to say if it'd be a good idea, but just throwing it out there to see if it sticks. I know HN values its scrappy design.

I would be supremely interested (as a victim of this really aggravating compulsion myself) in an A/B on your end, to see whether people do this less if the box is visually very close to the final product. My gut says yes, and it'd be useful data for lots of designers. (Anybody reading that's tried it?)

Something unconscious about the flow of paragraphs, color, length of my lines, something drives me back to editing religiously until the software no longer lets me, on any site. It actually bothers me and I've already done it twice on this comment. (Make that five times.)

Haven't tried it. My assumption is more that the mind switches into a different mode once the comment is 'real' (because now it's public) and immediately sees different things. You're right that we could test that, but there are so many other things to test.

I mentioned this from the early days of HN, and it's in the guidelines: "don't say things you wouldn't say in a face-to-face conversation." is a great rule for most people. Imagine yourself saying your comment to someone you don't know. Does it sound ok?

I assume most times people submit a "Show HN" (or now "Apply HN") that, if not explicitly stated, there's an implicit "and please give me feedback" tacked on to the end. Sometimes feedback can be blunt and, to someone emotionally invested in the site / product, it may appear brutal. While feedback on someone's work should certainly not be mean-spirited, I don't think one should need to go out of their way to dress up their comment in order to emotionally shelter the reader.

A favorite expression of mine: "Sufficiently advanced political correctness is indistinguishable from sarcasm."

Your post does not disagree with the person you're replying to. You don't need to "dress up" your comments. If you just don't say anything you wouldn't say in person, to a person you've just met, you're probably okay.

For some reason, it seemed to make sense as a reply when I posted it. In hindsight, I should have just not replied at all.

I knew this thread would teach me something good. Had no clue about that feature. Might try it. Also, good comment upward in thread on seeing how people use this one with power difference. I might just watch at a distance to interfere less with the process. That's what I've been doing although not till now for the effect you mentioned.

I think you'd have a lot to offer the discussions in your areas of expertise.

Appreciate the feedback. There were a few interesting ones, esp gaming the system. I'll consider contributing something if next day is less exhausting. :)

FYI - https://news.ycombinator.com/newsfaq.html does not have any reference to the 'delay' variable. I still have no great idea what it does.

I've added that to my todo list from today's discussion. My dismayingly lengthening todo list. But you're right.

I'd be curious how you'd approach it with something far more accusatory? Take Airbnb for example: I am very bothered by airbnb's approach to laws. I think they deliberately ignore laws in the name of making a profit. It's probably not "nice" to question why they look the other way in major markets where they know their listings are breaking the law, but it certainly isn't nice that they choose what laws apply to them and which ones they choose to fight a marketing campaign over.

"This sounds like a gigantic untapped opportunity -- it's such a waste that so many beds and couches lie unused for large chunks of the year, and there are lots of travelers that couldn't care less about concierge desks and bellhops, and would much prefer to save money or stay in more interesting lodging, but hotels don't seem interested in serving that market. However, I'm not sure I can upvote this proposal in good conscience; it sounds like you're planning to deliberately ignore laws, grow big, and then seek to have those laws overturned. Am I misunderstanding something, or is that really the plan?"

"I'm concerned that your business model relies on regulatory arbitrage and/or your hosts' willingness to violate local ordinances.

Not only would that make you vulnerable to changes in the legal / enforcement landscape, but there's also a growing backlash in some quarters (including on HN) against this type of business.

Can you provide any assurances that this business would be sustainable if you were forced to rely on 100% legal and taxed host properties?"

I don't honestly see anything not nice in what you said (and I've learned as a Midwesterner nice is very important to me). You didn't insult anyone, there isn't condescension dripping from the comment, you didn't trivialize anything, you didn't even throw shade. You made some direct statements without being a jerk. Sounds good to me!

I think the confusion is in whether conflict-avoidance is the same as nice-ness. I certainly was brought up to mostly think that way, but now that I've spent a lot of time arguing about math I have let go of some of that training.

We aren't necessarily giving advice, just choosing who to fund. It's hard to ask a group of developers for general feedback because it will be "here's how I would do your thing". Asking very specific questions might work though "our users are doing x and we want them to understand y, how do we make y intuitive".

Heh.. I'm tempted to submit an Apply HN on the idea of "Force Google to do customer service (using HN)".

Phrasing matters. If someone applies with a project management app you can say "Seriously? Another project management app? How is this different than X, Y, or Z?" or you can say "How is this different than X, Y, or Z?"

The former puts the applicant on the defensive whereas the latter encourages discussion.

I kind of feel like neither dang nor Kevin really explained it very well, but they are both correct. In order to tackle meaty issues in a constructive manner, there has to be a certain amount of trust and that requires a higher degree of civility than what "be civil" suggests to most people.

And, unfortunately, I have work to do and a headache, so I am not likely to be able to improve on either of their explanations. But you simply can't get there from here in terms of building something if all people do is tear it down.

But I welcome this experiment if only in hopes that it sets a social precedent and teaches more people here how to communicate better. Because if you think being nice involves not pointing out legitimate flaws, you really have a lot to learn. It actually isn't nice at all to let people keep shooting themselves in the foot, but it is possible to point out the connection between aiming the gun down while cleaning it while loaded and the holes that keep showing up in their feet without saying "God, what a fucking idiot! Do I even need to TELL you how stupid that is???" Yeah, when it comes to ideas, you often do need to tell people that because metaphorically shooting yourself in the foot isn't anywhere near as obvious to most people as literally shooting yourself in the foot.

Being nice and being direct are not opposite to each other.

Agreed. Further, I would say being nice and being critical are often nearly kissing cousins in the startup field...sometimes the best advice you can give is critical, and direct, but that doesn't mean it can't/shouldn't be nice.

Potential YC Fellows are exhibiting their ideas or at best prototypes, not finished products with all possible user polish already applied.

i think the meaning of "nice" here is to be constructive in your criticism:

1. stick to "just the facts", eg, "lack of https support will expose your users to security vulnerabilities"

2. list potential solutions if possible

Hi Kevin, we applied through the conventional application process for S2016 - would there be any merit to starting an "Apply HN" thread as a supplement and opportunity for public discussion?

No rule against it. If you're up for it, I don't see why not.

Thanks for the kind words Kevin - looking forward to hearing back from YC regarding our application! I'm a believer in revolutionizing live events!

I'm somewhat concerned that, as far as I can tell, my application (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11442038) seems to be unlisted on the main index.

Could someone from YC please explain what's going on here?

What do you mean by the main index? There isn't one yet that's specifically for Apply HN posts, but there should be soon.

When I submitted it, it showed up under the "new" tab, but when I went to the front page of HN I couldn't find it no matter how many pages I went back, despite the fact that it was newer and had more points than other Apply HN submissions which were being displayed.

Perhaps I just missed it?

It would have appeared under /ask, but not necessarily on the front pages because those have an internal point threshold before they show up.

Once we get the /apply page up, they'll be there instead of on /ask. I'm hoping to get that done tomorrow.

we're already seeing quite a few Apply HNs, so we'll add a link for those a la /ask and /show

Quick poll for the community here: I run Hacker News Daily (http://www.daemonology.net/hn-daily/) which many people know about; but also Ask HN Weekly (http://www.daemonology.net/hn-weekly-ask/) and Show HN Weekly (http://www.daemonology.net/hn-weekly-show/). In each case the methodology is the same: The 10 highest-scoring items which (a) appeared on relevant "front page" in the day/week in question, (b) and haven't appeared on a previous Daily/Weekly.

Would people be interested in having an "Apply HN Weekly" set up along similar lines? It's straightforward for me to copy the scripts and edit a few paths (once the HN link appears) but there's no point if nobody would want to read it.

EDIT: I'm seeing lots of upvotes to this comment, which I'm going to assume is an indication that people would like to see me implement this. If you were upvoting simply because you wanted to make more people aware that I had a really lousy idea, please add a comment to disambiguate.

Speaking for myself, I would never ever look at that. I did upvote you though.

I upvoted to bookmark the comment. I was not aware of these services and might want to come back to them at some point. Though, you know, maybe upvoting won't actually help me find it. But I seem to lose lots of things online, no matter how I try to mark it. Que sera sera.

I am not very sure about this for a few reasons:

1. There is possibly several ways to game the upvote system. HN community is not anonymous, and there are people who have more friends here than others. A lot of very good founders would probably not have enough friends here. That might create bias once an Apply HN post reaches first page vs. another.

2. Participating startups risk facing public bashing while hoping to get priceless feedback. This happens often here, even unintentionally sometimes. This also poses a risk that a lot of startups would not be 100% honest in one way or another to minimize bashing. This is commonplace on Reddit. But this is not Reddit and any founder cannot forever escape people here. This is an ecosystem forum which is extremely civil in Show HN (with a few exceptions) but might not be so when competing for a resource -- the 2 YCF spots. Maybe Reddit is the way it is because everyone is competing for points.

3. Publicly applying for funding might step on private financing laws of several states and nations? It might also be against some by-laws. Would this constitute a public offer?

Maybe this could be helped better by doing one or more of these:

1. Apply HN posts should not make it to homepage and should be a separate section.

2. The heuristic should not be known publicly of what YC partners are looking for.

3. Companies should still be required to fill a YC app before posting. Then it's a public contest rather than a public offer to sell shares.

This would be interesting for sure!

We've put a ton of work into HN's anti-gaming software. There's no piece of code we've worked harder on. We also have a ton of experience looking at voting data. That's one advantage of keeping this process close to how HN normally works: that software and experience will apply here.

That's definitely not to say that there won't be new forms of gaming that we haven't seen before and don't know how to combat. It's a risk. We can mitigate that risk by emphasizing the quality of discussion in the threads. Experience has taught that genuine community interest is pretty recognizable. If a post gets lots of upvotes, but little community interest, or the interest doesn't seem genuine, HN users will notice, as will we. That should provide a measure of self-correction, and beyond that, we'll see what happens. If you think you notice fakery, hn@ycombinator.com is the place to let us know.

He's not talking about someone automating voting, rather imagine if founder A is a very popular guy in Twitter and YouTube.

He makes a post saying 'Hey support my awesome startup '. Founder B might have a better idea, but not the followers.

However, Founders A existing popularity may provide a nice userbase for startup, which would be a key element of success.

Theirs no real way to make this 'fair'

Ah, perhaps I misread the GP. But I agree that there's no way to control for all these factors. It would drive one mad to try and probably make consensus harder to arrive at.

And even outside of just automation and authentic followers you have Amazon mechanical truk which would allow you to pay real people a quarter or whatever to vote for you.

It's worth trying to figure out something as it's a problem here enough people occasionally leave. It's basically mob or follow-the-leader mentality that results in reflexive downvotes on hot-topics when dissenting comments appear. I encountered this when I got into battles with tptacek not knowing he was No 1 or whatever here. I barely care about the popularity or politics as I focus on getting right info to right people. So, I didn't stop when every comment I had was being downvoted at once multiple times. (shrugs)

Nonetheless, I still watched it with fascination in a group dynamics sense as any comment to him had this pattern: a single, nearly-instant downvote (him or biggest fan); a few more in a short period that grayed my post out; his own often going gray after a bit longer; mine ungraying; his ungraying hit and miss; stabilization at anywhere from like -2 to +4. Only happens with fan-favorite people (eg him), tech (eg Rust/C), or topics (eg anti-VC claims naturally) here as my other posts consistently get ignored, a few votes (good or bad), or major upvote for outliers. My net impression was that it represented mob voting by groups for and against those popular individuals as I was unestablished here at the time.

I guess what I'm getting at is there's gotta be an overlap between the spikes, where they're showing up, and who makes them show up. If a negative surge registers as fan-driven pattern, rather than diverse, then points in the other direction might counter it. Some fraction of the total fan-driven votes while ignoring the other votes which were independent. This might stop tyranny of the majority from making dissenting, but otherwise informative, opinions from disappearing. Or it could be as simple as noticing the effect, capping number of negative votes that can come in on that comment/thread, and preventing gray out. Keeps the numbers honest while achieving same objective. So, those are just a few ideas to throw around based on what I've seen.

The data also led me to counter the disinformation spread elsewhere that critiquing these hot people or topics will totally destroy your karma on HN. I've hit them all and consistently to the point that my account would've disappeared within 3-5 business days of beginning. ;) So, the mobs are there & have significant effect that can deter new or less aggressive commenters. Yet, the moderation & community culture keeps it minimal to point that a mix of supportive and neutral, informative comments brings in enough upvotes to easily counter it. Blocking their ability to disappear dissenting comments upon detecting fan-driven, vote surges might be all it takes.

It's really not about establishment, except for a particular few people. Informative opinions that are "out of the norm" will get upvotes, almost always, as long as they're written in a kind manner. They'll be downvoted first, and get a massive corrective upvote stream.

I feel like you're looking at commenting wrong here. You're not doing battle with people. Yes, sometimes you get downvoted "incorrectly", there are always stray votes in either direction. But I've found that politeness and care have always received upvotes, no matter what position stood behind them.

Maybe it's... a personal issue? I don't want to insult you, but being overly combative definitely garners downvotes.

PS: take note that you can't downvote a comment that is in reply to you. :)

"They'll be downvoted first, and get a massive corrective upvote stream."

That's actually exactly what I saw. I wasn't sure if it was a trend or tied to specific people/topics. So, a trend then.

" But I've found that politeness and care have always received upvotes, no matter what position stood behind them."

Oh I agree. That's been a good chunk of my karma. There are battle's of the minds on occasion, though, when people have strong opinions or attachment to topics. I actually get many upvotes on those but only when I stick to solid arguments with no personal attacks. I usually include references. Outside that, what you said about courtesy and facts is the majority of it.

"PS: take note that you can't downvote a comment that is in reply to you. :)"

Never even noticed that! Helps clarify some prior events. Thanks for the tip.

This doesn't surprise me. There are people who follow my comments (just like there are about 10 people I follow). I've commented on many-days-old stories before and seen those comments voted on immediately.

So, while I think this does happen, I wouldn't chalk it up to a mob mentality; it's just that arguing with me, or 'patio11, or 'edw519, or 4-5 other accounts is likely to get your comment seen more quickly than arguing with someone else.

As for me downvoting you: I try not to downvote people I'm debating with directly at all, but you have the misfortune of arguing with me exclusively on a topic that I have profesionally strong opinions about. :)

Interesting point. About that...

"As for me downvoting you: I try not to downvote people I'm debating with directly at all, but you have the misfortune of arguing with me exclusively on a topic that I have profesionally strong opinions about. :)"

...I was going to say something along those lines to the first commenter. No worries or anything. Just two people that can be more aggressive on their favorite topics, esp involving their livelihoods. ;) The reason I used our debates as an example was just because I knew there was data to mine in them on voting surges. It was first time I saw it happen here.

"it's just that arguing with me, or 'patio11, or 'edw519, or 4-5 other accounts is likely to get your comment seen more quickly than arguing with someone else."

Makes sense.

"I try not to downvote people I'm debating with directly at all,"

I only downvote spam or occasionally flames/slander w/out substance. I upvote opponents' arguments, including yours, if they make good points or bring up misinformation worth countering specifically for others' benefit. I think it improves quality of discussion if both sides points are more visible.

It's hard to detect fan-driven vote surges. I'm not convinced it's possible to do that, or at best the signal would be a weak one.

FWIW I was surprised to read this comment insofar as I don't associate your account with this kind of conflict at all. I just like your technical posts and think you've contributed a lot here.

What I meant upthread is that if you engaged with the Apply HN startups who are active in technical areas you know about, that could be valuable.

Oh, I understood your suggestion. I've been doing it on the C thread haha. This was a little tangent that I found interesting given a number of people quit HN over claims of massive downvotes on certain topics for not following the leader. That was weird given my experience was contrary w/ similar, but small, effect. It could affect Show/Apply people in theory if it's true. So, I just wanted to bring some examples to attention of you and others to get feedback on what was going on.

It's been enlightening so far in that I've gotten some clarity. striking and tptacek basically told me two other trends that apply here in general were probably at work instead of the mob hypothesis. Rules it out actually in some cases although not others. So, now I keep that in mind as I evaluate further data.

Overall, I'm impressed by how little data I have on it as it implies good things about the forum's quality. ;)

> Apply HN posts should not make it to homepage and should be a separate section

IHMO, Keeping it in a separate section, looks definitely the right approach.

Ranking by upvotes/comments seems highly problematic, even with HN's antibrigade features.

A) There are many external factors that can implicitly cap the number of upvotes/comments. (time submitted, amount of competition, etc.) HN has repost rules to alleviate this problem: would Apply HN posts be able to repost too?

B) Not to mention that it encourages sockpuppet voting/commenting, especially since there is a high reward for doing so.

Product Hunt, for example, thrives on "how can I get exposure for my startup submission outside of the intrinsic quality of the startup itself?" and it would be an improper fit for HN.

I think we're on the same page to some extent. What I meant by 'ranking by comments' is that we want the ranking to depend on the quality of the discussion. That's the one thing that can't be faked.

That's how the ranking of HN stories works now. It's a combination of upvotes and human curation by users (e.g. flagging) and moderators.

So there's going to be some combination of technical and non-technical factors. How exactly will that work? We don't know yet. Let's see what happens and figure it out together. That's part of the experiment: we'll figure it out in the open and adapt to feedback. But let's wait until we have some data to look at.

FWIW, my experience with HN is that genuine community interest is relatively easy to recognize.

Would it be appropriate to ask our users of our startup to and vote for us on here? If they are invested enough in our service and community to do so, it seems like that would be a very positive and useful signal in it's own right. Or would that be considered gaming the votes?

No, that would be gaming the votes, just as asking them to upvote for a blog post would be.

B is tough. Would be interesting to see the sum of the karma of all users who upvote a single one.

Another thing to watch would be the mean user karma of all votes. A bunch of low-karma vote stuffing would actually bring a post down.

If you can get a ton of massive karma users to upvote and game this, maybe you should just get in by default?

"Apply HN: Apply HN voting bots as a service"

Everyone seems very worried about entrepreneurs ‘gaming’ the system and it somehow not being fair. Ability to game the system might however be correlated with success at building a company. I don’t know if this is true or not but top quality investors are probably open to the possibility: I know all other things being equal I’d rather invest in someone able to mobilize upvotes/their community than someone who can’t do that as that's correlated with ability to generate inbound traffic/attention.

More interesting to me though with all this is what it say’s about the future of scaling YC. YC’s mission is to enable innovation, and funding more startups hopefully leads to more innovation. The full YC program, already spread across two demo days, is probably close to the limits of how many startups can be funded in one go. The Fellowship, by being virtual, is much more scalable but one of the key bottlenecks is always going to be reviewing applications – this experiment could help remove that bottleneck. (another bottleneck I see is office hours, but getting sci-fi for a moment maybe YC research can develop a chatbot for that one day!).

There's a lot of uncertainty here. Maybe upvote/comments ranking will be a good thing, maybe it will be a bad ting.

High uncertainty is actually good. That's what makes experiments valuable - they reduce the uncertainty and thereby help us better understand something. In this case that "something" is the HN application process.

So even if this process has potential problems, the experiment is still worth it.

Maybe using upvotes divided by age as a metric would help with the first problem... although I suspect the distribution of upvotes over time is some kind of exponential decay... hrm.

I actually already wrote this as a reply to another comment, but I think it merits a comment of its own.

The best way to do the scoring for the applications is to actually make it into somewhat of a game. Each application should be given a starting elo of 1200. Every time a user wants to go and review applications they will be presented with two separate applications with a similar elo and then will be asked to vote on which one they think is better. Elo will then be added/subtracted with normal conditions based on the vote. This system would very quickly and accurately identify the best applications. I've seen this done before for other things and it's been proven to be very effective and prevent almost any sort of bias.

Would this be implemented as only showing pairs within a certain threshold of difference, or would it choose an application purely at random and then the application with the closest score (or even 50/50 the next highest or next lowest)? The former seems like it could lead to cases where applications end up in a void between clusters and stop appearing in votes, preventing late voters from giving an opinion on them.

Is there a name for this kind of voting process?

To ensure each application gets the same amount of views (with the exception of the top ranked and bottom ranked applications) you can pick the next highest/lowest and it will work out fine. My concern with this implementation was that it might be possible for the same applications to be compared multiple times at the high and low ends of the bell curve where elo becomes more spaced out. A better solution might be internally listing all the applications by their elo, selecting an application and random, and then selecting from an application within 5 ranks of itself. I.E. App #342 is randomly chosen and then an application between #337 and #347 will be randomly chosen to compare it with. I am not aware of any name for this voting process.

Each potential implementation has slightly better/worse corner cases, but the general quality of the ranking should still be extremely accurate regardless of the particular implementation. It takes surprisingly few comparisons for items to find their appropriate ranks.

Interesting, I was also going to suggest some kind of alternative review system.

I was invited to review applications to CORFO (the government program behind Startup Chile), and since they crowdsource reviews between unrelated startup founders, they have a "points" system to determine whether submissions were reasonably graded (they look for big differences between graders).

Your system sounds better :) , but I think they want to promote individual discussion of submissions too.

Yea, a point system would work decently, but as you mentioned there is the problem where certain reviewers give higher and lower ratings than one another. With a large enough sample size you should still get fairly accurate ratings. A 1 vs 1 system based on elo eliminates all of these issues though and helps you find accurate ratings much faster.

The system doesn't need to stop individual discussion, you should be allowed to post responses to the applications as your are reviewing them to vote on. You should also be allowed to directly view and comment on an application by going to it directly as long as you aren't allowed to do anything that affects its rating.

That's pretty interesting. Is this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elo_rating_system?

Yep, implementation is fairly simple. I find the wikipedia article to be hard to follow so I'll give an example here to simplify it. Let's say the applications you want to compare have an elo of 1200 and 1600 respectively. Let's also use a kFactor of 20 (This determines how fast the elos will change based on a single comparison and can be modified to your liking).


This example is for two applications fairly far apart in elo, if each application had an elo of 1200 then one would increase by 10 and the other would decrease by 10.

I think in addition to a win/loss/draw judgement, it would be good to require a comment (and hence username) for each application. That would at the least give a way to trace if the Elo ratings are being gamed or users are biased.

To be frank, my first reaction on reading this idea was negative.

I think part of my reaction is because I'm not seeing a useful goal: "interesting things" is certainly a goal, but strikes me as being too vague from which to extract useful information. What are interesting things? If you don't know what they are, how will you know if they happened? Are you set up to measure interesting things? If so, can you quantify them, and what sort of sensitivity/specificity, dynamic range, etc. do you expect your instrumentation to provide? What is the duration/endpoints of the experiment? Does the experimental design support the objective, and with what power does the experiment have to inform?

I think that the other part of my reaction is that, as an experimental scientist, I am specifically trained against doing something so unstructured. Practical considerations like safety and budgetary waste aside, I am the person I trust least: it's very easy to fool oneself about the significance of a result with an ongoing experiment that one is conducting. Experimental discipline, like planning ahead (and preregistration) and blinding and good controls, serve to promote objectivity and help reduce bias.

I have no doubt that this experiment would produce "interesting things". I am very skeptical that, as presented, you would know why it produced interesting things.

Of course, I'm just a dog on the internet. Best of luck!

Oh agreed, it's definitely not an experiment by any research standard. In that sense we're using the word metaphorically. But there's a place for ad hoc trial-and-error, and it's common to call that 'experimental' in colloquial English. YC has done such things in the past, e.g. for a batch or two it was possible to apply with just an idea. Nothing interesting came of that—other than that nothing interesting came of it—so it got phased out. This is an 'experiment' in the way that was.

It's popular on HN to suggest making YC (or startup investment generally) more science-like via controlled experiments, but that's hard to do at all and extremely hard to do well, and we're not set up for it. Maybe one day. But this is not that—it's just trying something new to see what happens.

As for whether interestingness is a goal in itself, on HN it is for sure. That value is hard-coded in the DNA of this place. And there's a well-established if not easily reproducible path from "huh, interesting" to "undeniably useful". That's the nature of the creative process and it's a space HN (and YC, in a different way) particularly like to inhabit.

Will there be a new toplink for "Apply HN" submissions? I think random sorting on that page would be a good idea to encourage all submissions get an opportunity for discussion.

Probably a top link, yes, but in good minimalist form we'll wait until it's clear we need it. (Edit: we need it. In the meantime, please use the Algolia link I included at the top. It's not like we wrote code for this in advance or anything—that would be cheating :))

Random sorting is a good idea. We'll think about that.

at least make a magic url like news.ycombinator.com/applyhn even if there's no toplink yet.

    Apply HN
    Ask HN
    Show HN
    (unofficially) Tell HN
Maybe you should just implement tags already and let people subscribe to them or block them. That seems to be what this is kind of turning into anyway.

Maybe put them under Show HN for now?

That sounds like a really good idea to me. It could help normalize things so that an application doens't get dinged for posting at the wrong time, etc.

I think a mini application with a few questions from the normal YC app as a comment would be helpful. I see a ton of Show HNs in which I have no idea what the product does (either because the website copy is vague/confusing or because I don't know the market). Having a comment template or something reviewers can look at without have to ask the same questions in every thread would be great.

One of the reasons we're trying this is to question a lot of our own assumptions about the best way to find a great startup. Best practices will probably arise over time on how to best apply through HN, but I'd rather we let ourselves be open to surprising ways to present a startup.

I think we'll actually learn more during this experiment with less rules on format up front.

I suppose you could look at the quality of the application (without any guidelines being set) as part of how you'd like to select companies/founders? So those who are capable communicators and can clearly explain what their business does (or will do) stand out vs those who can't.

"I see a ton of Show HNs in which I have no idea what the product does (either because the website copy is vague/confusing or because I don't know the market). "

This problem happens to me so much I just ignore most Show HN's. I open a mainstream website to find who they are, what problems they solve, their solutions in a high-level way, and datasheets or whatever giving technical specifics. Many Show HN's here are one page of stuff that I read and read all the way to the bottom before I even begin to grasp what the hell they're doing.

That could just be due to them working in a specialized niche with its jargon. Yet, I have an intuitive feeling that it's often a problem with the presentation because they're usually intending to reach (a) current, jaron-knowing users of specific tech and (b) future users who know the concepts or needs but not that specific tech & jargon yet. So, at least a few sentences or a paragraph for people in (b) might be helpful. And at the top to save time.

Yes, I came back to this thread to say I'm surprised how difficult it is to understand what it is they want to make. Also, I have read at least half a dozen and not a single one has mentioned how it's a business and how they will make money.

> I'm surprised how difficult it is to understand what it is they want to make

YC partners complain about this all the time too.

> not a single one has mentioned how it's a business and how they will make money

I hope you asked them!

Yes, and a word count limitation for the original post!

I'd rather have "standard form" comment here, so as to encourage clear introductions/pitches by opposition to the inevitable "follow this URL for a presentation". Even if that means a longer read.

I think the equalitarian thing to do would be to encourage apply hn's to be as self contained as possible to avoid biasing on the quality of the landing page or video or whatever else would profit from the exposure

About a year ago I ran a series of tests where I continuously posted the same 15-20 articles tracking the number of up votes within the first 10-15 minutes.

It turns out it was essentially random, and although every one of the posts were decent enough to make it to the front page 2 or 3 times sometimes it received zero votes, sometimes 10.

It seems somewhat unfair to use the standard ranking system with this being the case, since it's essentially random. I think there would need to be a way to randomly show them to users and have users vote. Similar to /r/starups[1]

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/startups/

BTW I eventually received an email from the YC staff, thank you for not banning me :) No one should do this.

Did you write up this testing? I would love to see some hard number on this effect?

I have all the data, never published it because I didn't have time... I'll get around to it soon though

The data isn't super solid because I was stopped before I got to 50 (which was my goal).

You should ask Dan to let you continue :)

Truth is, I'd start writing code to copy any idea that I was totally blown away by, and I don't need any funding to start doing that.

Putting your idea right there in front of some pretty fast moving programmers has to be something people would think twice about.

Having said that, it's hard to imagine an idea being sufficiently compelling to start writing code to implement it immediately. The only ideas that really blow me away are my own and they usually turn out to be silly anyway, after I've spent six months building them to crickets.

I don't think ideas are worth nothing by the way. Just ask the Facebook twins.

There just aren't that many people out there who are willing and capable of doing the hard work it takes to bring something --anything-- to the point where it usable. Those who are have their own projects already, which they won't abandon based on a forum post. And if they do, they're going to abandon this new project the moment they read about an even cooler idea.

Besides, ideas grow and take on a life of their own as you work on them. By the time your interpretation of the idea takes shape it's going to be distinctly different from the original idea that inspired you.

The only way to keep people from stealing your ideas is by never talking to anybody about them. That's surely the worst of all options.

You can literally try to clone any YC company after demo day. All the startups get covered on techcrunch making their ideas public. Just pick the one you like best and open your favorite editor. They only got a 6 months head start, so what's stopping you?

> You can literally try to clone any YC company after demo day.

Not quite true. A growing number are hardware/robotics or biotech or some other field that require significant capital investment and highly specialist Phd-level expertise to even get a proof-of-concept off the ground, so you can't just "open your favorite editor" and get started.

Then you have those which cover a niche that again requires some kind of insider knowledge or connections (it helped for example that Facebook was created in Harvard). That's not to say these are impossible barriers, but again they're not broken by hacking away at node or PHP.

The pool of ideas that a) you, personally, can execute on today and b) have a hope of generating profit or funding within a reasonable timeframe is not as big as people like to think. Much of the low-hanging fruit of profitable ideas that can be executed by the single coder in the proverbial basement has been picked long ago.

Every time a new platform or a new device gets launched there are low-hanging opportunities aplenty. It is easy to overestimate how big the opportunity has to be in order to be worthwhile for a single programmer. Those opportunities don't get pursued by established businesses because they are too small, leaving the field ripe for the picking.

That's very true, I think there's a window of opportunity when a new device/technology becomes mainstream before it becomes commoditized/cornered by a few big players : thinking of the web, then mobile, now the app stores are saturated and very few people can make money from them. VR might be the next wave (although plenty of false starts in that space).

>>what's stopping you

As I say, there's not many ideas that seem inspiring, and as you rightly point out, I'm committed to my own foolish ideas.

How can you be committed to your own ideas and at the same time announce you're willing to abandon them the moment you see a different idea that "blows you away"? And if you're not that committed to your own ideas, the odds aren't good that you'll stick with them long term.

As I said, if I was totally blown away by something then I'd act on it. It would of course have to justify dropping my other projects but I am willing to do that if the idea is good enough.

This practice happens all the time with books that are successful. Other books leech on to the traffic by using the same keywords, but what you'll notice is that the quality of the books is very poor because the author's heart and soul are not invested in the project. Startups that do well, like books, seem to all enjoy the participation of leadership and creativity aligned around a passionate interest in the problem, creative or logical or both.

Truth is, I'd start writing code to copy any idea that I was totally blown away by, and I don't need any funding to start doing that.

Have you ever actually done this? If so what was the result? Did you then spend the several years of hard work it typically takes to make a great idea into a successful idea?

What people mean when they say ideas are worth nothing is that a good idea is worth nothing without execution, and the effort required to execute and develop it is usually 1000x that to have the initial idea.

I see a lot of 'entrepreneurs' who spend their time getting their fb friends to vote for them in local startup pitch competitions, they don't actually spend any time making a company, but are very effective at getting votes.

The HN community might just be a better barometer, hope to see this experiment work out and bring attention to worthy and unnoticed startups.

I agree. Some kind of app that requires users to log in then randomizes what they can vote on.

Yea, expanding on this the best way to get the best results is to actually give each post an elo score. Then when a user goes to look at two applications they can vote on which application they think is better and award / subtract elo like you would in any other case. This very quickly will let the quality applications rise to the top and cause the bad ones to fall by the wayside. Note that it's also important to constantly compare applications with similar elo scores.

I've seen this done before and it's incredibly efficient.

Thought: in the original Wisdom of Crowds book, an important point was that people's selections need to be independent of one another, otherwise you get bandwagon/cascade effects. I don't know how that could be made to factor in to things.

I'd say this is not that model. The way HN works now is clearly by bandwagon effect, and we want this to be pretty close to the way HN works now.

If you think of HN users as 'investing' their time and energy into which stories they read and discuss here, then arguably this is kind of already happening. One way of looking at this experiment is to ask what happens if we take the existing system and permute its feedback loop, i.e. take one of the outputs (startups gets funded -> HN discusses them) and make it an input (HN discussion -> startups get funded). It's impossible to predict how a complex system will react and it's a fun kind of problem to think about. Of course, such permutations often just produce an unstable mess. That could happen here, i.e. the whole thing could turn into a trainwreck that produces no clear signal.

I'm a bit skeptical, since "commenting on HN" is so asymmetrical compared to sinking money into a startup in terms of how much you're invested, but I think it's an interesting experiment. I think if it goes right, with some iteration, it could help to pick out some interesting things.

Sure, but HN users aren't actually sinking any money here. They're just telling other people to. Which is maybe not so different from regular HN comments? Who knows. We shall see!

> Sure, but HN users aren't actually sinking any money here. They're just telling other people to.

That's what I meant by 'asymmetry' - it's kind of the opposite of putting one's money where one's mouth is.

One concern I could see is around disclosing the idea. I know, I know, idea.pre_exectution_worth = 0, idea.post_execution_worth = $, but I have to think that some of the most interesting applications to YC or any other accelerator are at least partially executed hence giving out their intent, or some of the sexy secret sauce which might help them gain a favorable ranking is pitted against a desire to remain secretive. Obviously you have other submission processes but seems like perhaps something to consider, my 2 cents.

With the caveat that there are exceptions to any rule (and that this is also just my opinion), when it comes to a startup:

Team > execution >> idea

I'd also expect that the applications through hn that do well will have some sort of prototype or proof of concept. I guess we'll see!

Interesting idea, and kudos to you for kicking off the discussions to refine the approach - and for the "be nice" rule, which I think is very important here.

A question: What are the situations where you think it will benefit people more to go the open route than applying directly?

One way of thinking about it is

advantages of "Apply HN": getting significant calibration and feedback on an idea that improves it whether or not it is selected, a chance for a partial team to begin discussions with other potential co-founders, and the (small) chance of having an idea selected because of overwhelming support when it wouldn't have been chosen through the normal process

disadvantage: exposing the idea in a very early state to thousands of smart motivated people who are then have the time to come up with better variations on it

Obviously the tradeoffs are different for different teams and ideas ... and there certainly might be some advantages and disadvantages I missed. In any case, I'm curious about who you think might benefit most from this.

Honestly, we don't really know. We have very few hypotheses around this idea. We're just insanely curious to see what will happen. As far as the disadvantage you mention, that happens when you launch. That happens when you start getting press. That happens when you announce a large funding round. That happens when you're doing well.

In our experience, startups are far more likely to die by suicide than by homicide. Iteration is the only practice to greatness that we've ever seen and you can't do that well without talking about your idea to others. In a vacuum, you can only go so far.

My advice is similar to how we're approaching this experiment: don't over think it.

I agree. Even if someone was to take my idea and start working on it concurrently, I as the originator of the idea have an inherent advantage.

If the founders are resilient and resourceful, then the strength of their idea is more decisive than competition in determining success.

Thanks for the responses. True, that's what happens in all of those situations, but in the YC Fellowship you call out that they're for people "very early in the process". So the tradeoffs may be different.

"startups are far more likely to die by suicide than by homicide"

This is a very interesting quote.

> What are the situations where you think it will benefit people more to go the open route than applying directly?

No idea! But you can always do both. It would be interesting if HN picked fundamentally different startups than YC does. That's really the genesis of the idea, as I mentioned above.

It's not out of the question that getting picked by HN could actually help a startup succeed, since the community might naturally root for it in the market. For some startups, that might affect the outcome. But I'm just speculating.

Another interesting thing to datamine might be number of comments positive/negative about certain companies followed by the results. Certain people will be accurate more often than not, maybe in general or certain niches. Then, new ideas receiving comments can be scanned to see if any of those people are making similar points. Might become one factor among others in the VC scoring process for what gets funded.

One useful outcome is to vastly boost your chances of finding similar/identical startup/product/company/service/OS project already in existence.

Just read through a bunch of Apply HN's (~90) and realized how important it is for startups to clearly tell what their company does in the first sentence.

Even though many of the YC partners have mentioned the importance of this, I could feel the pain of reading through the first paragraph and not being able to picture anything about the company in my head. Might be a good strategy to stick in a summary of your startup in the apply hn corpus and ask close friends to see if they understand and get excited by the idea before applying to YC.

Another thing I noticed was how biased I was towards ideas which addressed problems I have had. So hopefully Apply HN will help YC look into companies which are catering to completely different industries and sets of problems which they haven't experienced.

This is a great experiment !

The best part of this is YC's commitment to subverting their bias.

Whether successful or not, you guys (and your machines?) will learn something valuable about your process vs. the wisdom of crowds. Really commend your approach to experimentation.

@dang: Apologies if this has been said elsewhere, and hopefully it doesn't get lost in the noise.

If upvotes are the most important metric, then vote counts should be hidden to viewers at least prior to their voting. This prevents the situation we have here with news articles where an initial small/fast scurry of upvotes is the only way to capture the attention of the larger audience. In this situation the first few votes likely have far more influence than they should.

If I was to guess I'd say HN readers would be more impressed with innovative technology than how the company actually would make money.

I would be wary however of learning very much with a one time experiment with only two funded companies. That would be similar to giving a prospective angel investor the advice to invest in two companies in the next thirty days and then no more.

The post said a minimum of two. In other words, in a worst case scenario they are committing to two ideas. For all we know, they might decide to fund 20 in this first experiment.

> I'd say HN readers would be more impressed with innovative technology than how the company actually would make money.

I think I have to disagree with you there. Traditionally, HN users are highly interested in the latter.

Your other point is true of course, but we're using the word 'experiment' far more loosely than that. This is not science, it's just 'I wonder what will happen if we try this crazy thing'. Starting bigger doesn't seem prudent.

Dang, this is awesome!

I think it would be really cool if you did the experiment blind. E.g the startup applys to YC, if they want to participate they also do HN. you have your interview make what would be your decision, then do the HN piece. that way you can gauge the delta between how the community thinks & how you would've decided without our input.

Either way, this is pretty great idea. As you flesh it out a more, an in depth write up would be great!

Well I for one think this is also a super cool idea. Agree with what many have said re: gaming -- just be particularly aware that people will try to figure out how to game this.

But I'd emphasize the qualitative side of the evaluation process -- it should be based on a somewhat opaque mix of upvotes, thoroughness of discussion, and thoughtfulness of answers.

I'd almost treat the various 'Apply HN' threads as open source interviews. Upvoted and the like should be a ROUGH filter, but I'd hope that the YC partners will look at the answers in the threads as a crowdsourced interview and select on the merits more than anything else.

Anyway, excited to see how this experiment plays out.

> mix of upvotes, thoroughness of discussion, and thoughtfulness of answers

Yes! I'm glad to see someone arriving at the same basic vector that we did.

I think here is where the "you cannot unvote" design decision for HN breaks. It's one thing to vote several comments that deserved an upvote and whose subthreads I want people to see and comment with priority; and another thing altogether to manage votes that I know, in the end, will end on one company being selected at the detriment of the rest. Here I want to have the ability to vote only to the one that mattered the most, and I want to be able to unvote if further responses of the startup make me uneasy of my already casted vote. It's not sufficient to take my attention elsewhere.

Forgive me if this comment doesn't belong here: I wanted to say that I enjoy reading YC. While I'm not exactly sure what all HN or YC are about, and some of the topics are over my, I have learned some interesting things. It's awesome intelectual the exchanges can be. And at this moment I find the concept of being nice refreshing in an online forum. Anyhow good look with this startup idea. I'm sure some good stuff will surface and everyone will benefit.

I think there's a definite disparity between the key formative aspects of a soon-to-be successful startup, and the popular image that people will vote for. Nobody on HN as enough time or motivation to perform the gritty research on the market or the founders, which means the votes will tend towards flashy sounding concepts. As long as you guys only take this as a cheap and plentiful way of judging the 'wow' factor of these ideas, I think the Apply HN idea is great.

The counter-hypothesis to this is that HN's audience is broad enough that even on specialized topics, there's often someone (or surprisingly several) who actually knows something. It would be disappointing if all we got were 'wow' responses—but we'll be able to tell that by looking at the discussion quality of the Apply HN threads.

Dan I think this is great idea (I am all for trying new things). One suggestion I do have is to score a startup not by up votes, but by the quality of the discussion that results.

The commentship of HN is not exactly a representative cross-section of the unwashed masses, but it is filled with amazingly knowledgeable and intelligent people. A startup that generates thoughtful and helpful discussion may well be a stronger signal of success than crude up votes.

Edit. arg! I see Dan already had this idea.

Some sort of support for people working on building "lifestyle businesses" as side projects would be fantastic. Not all of us have megalomaniac dreams of running the next AirBnb. Question: would YC Fellowship be a good fit for that?

YC is in the business of making money (along with promoting substantial positive change in the world). Unfortunately lifestyle businesses don't really work towards either of these ends, and it doesn't make sense for YC to fund them.

The basic income experiment may end up encouraging more lifestyle business pursuits if successful.

Happy to have your participation inside the Baqqer community. We're trying to help hackers + makers build better, bigger by community crowdfunding, feedback, and building together. :)

You guys need to diversify and try to solve hard problems that have slow paybacks. Sure making the next twitter is cool, but how about funding a startup that makes does cheap inpatient monitoring,ordering,labs,diagnosis, drug interaction, of patients at hospitals? There are huge players in that space:Epic,Cerner, etc but if you look the sheer amount of $ a hospital is willing to spend on EMR systems...

YC funds a lot of startups that do things like that, and I'm sure HN agrees with you too. You're preaching to the choir here!

> Questions or suggestions? Let's discuss and refine this together.

The upvote/commentary is likely going to be highly problematic:

A) I'm pretty sure Dang can't list all 9 accounts I've used on HN over the past few years. I'm also pretty sure 9 accounts in good standing [1500+ karma] would be enough to seed an initial vote if handled carefully. The ones he'd be able to name are the 3 most recent. This being the case...yeah. The danger of sock puppetry is way too high, particularly when combined with strategic downvotes and VPNs.

B) Anyone with control of an existing community/following can use it as a targeted campaign.

C) The reward from bypassing these functions is substantially higher ($20,000 + professional advice from YC) than previously existed for YC.

D) If you want to stick with a vote-based system, I'd offer a larger bounty [say, $50k for manipulating a post to the top of the pile for Apply HN] for finding a way to bypass the vote brigading and other countermeasures. This it is really the only countermeasure I can think of to counter manipulation problems.

E) All the other external factors (time of submission, competition around that time period, repost rules, etc.) are likely to bias the process in unexpected ways but that is probably less problematic than direct manipulation.

> I think we're on the same page to some extent. What I meant by 'ranking by comments' is that we want the ranking to depend on the quality of the discussion. That's the one thing that can't be gamed.

Put a bounty on that to test that theory.

I'm pretty sure someone could create a network of socket puppets that had "quality" discussions between them if the reward was $20k.

People who focus on gaming accounts and sockpuppets and whatnot are almost never contributing much to the quality of discussion, and that's what we're going to focus on.

brb submitting a startup that specializes in handling your sockpuppets properly for situations like this

I don't use them for sockpuppetry. I just like changing accounts every so often.

I was just pointing out a direction someone could go.

I'm afraid so. But an impressive one.

I am really curious to see how this plays out.

Kudos for the 'be nice' rule - rejections really really hurt, and if they are in public, even more so. Anyone who is willing to put themselves out there like that deserves to be treated with kindness - even if the actual feedback is critical. Snark is very easy.

wow. this is really unprecendented. i know some guy who works at a different startup accelerator. one which is funded with EU money. he made some comment about his acc being a lot better on a value-for-equity basis (like obviously). i tried to explain yc would continue to be the #1 not just because of its size or the amount of funding per share to its startups but because of the way it is run. this is an excellent example.

I have a question about the YC Fellowship model.

If I had an idea, which I knew would never likely grow beyond $1M in revenue, just because the market is so niche. B2C, but the entire consumer group is probably only in the region of 10,000.

I'd imagine the company would probably max out at 4 or 5 employees.

I have little to no interest in building a product out to $100M or aiming at an IPO.

The YC Fellowship rules indicate that the $20k funding, for convertible security, at least assumes the goal is $100M or IPO.[0]

I'd very happily offer 1.5% right up front for $20k, no need to worry about convertible security, as long as it was clear my aim was never to hit $100M or IPO.

Would such a view exclude me from a YC Fellowship grant and thus Apply HN?

[0] https://blog.ycombinator.com/fellowship-v2

I'm a little concerned that this experiment could attract the wrong kind of behavior on HN, and bring in new users for the wrong reasons. I'm excited to see how this goes, but it will be quite a shame if the quality of regular content on HN suffers as a result.

If that happens we'll take corrective action. Quality of regular content is the most important thing here.

The problem of course is that there's broad disagreement about what counts as quality, but we have that problem no matter what.

Also, while I don't loce what I'm about to suggest it makes sense:

1 upvote = 1 + (Account Age In Years / 2)

Or some metric discounting (but not eliminating) new accounts while proportionately weighing soneones contribution/participation in the community.

while to some extent everyone should be represented, but some members of the community have been here much longer, are much more knowledgeable, and participate a lot more. they helped shape the community, etc and may have gone to YC in early days.

ive been here for ~2 years, i know a little bit about tech and startups, however(and this doesnt map 1:1) some people helped build this community and are core contributors, there votes (as their advice) is worth some percentage more.

We can do things like that if we really need to, but my guess is we won't. Experience has taught that such measures make others feel less welcome, which is a bad outcome and not in the open spirit of this experiment. Good comments and insights speak for themselves; if those older users are as good as you say, they can sing for their supper.

Can one apply to Apply HN if one applied to S16?

Yes-- even regardless of whether or not you are invited for an S16interview, you can still apply again this way.

Or any other time in the past?


I'm curious to know how many companies from first Fellowship managed to end the program with a product. Will have more interview after you choose some from the HN ?I read all applications, and it seems to me that some of the startups are more suitable for Indiego or looking for a direct fund from VC than to apply for YC Fellowship. Fellowship is buying 1.5% of the company to 20k + counseling + other YC services. And you'll need to be fully dedicated to the company for at least 8 weeks in office hours. Some of the projects seem to need more money or perhaps the founder will not be able to be dedicated exclusively to the startup. As you said: "startups are far more likely to die by suicide than by homicide"

This seems like a silly idea to me, frankly. What makes you think any of us are qualified to decide what the best company to fund would be? See this for precedence: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/22/world/europe/boaty-mcboatf...

I doubt that "qualified" is a helpful lens to view this through. The only thing that really qualifies you to pick startups, I suppose, is a track record of being good at it. By that standard the HN community certainly isn't qualified, but there still might be a chance of something interesting.

There's a lot of knowledge about technology and startups among HN members, and when good discussions happen here they can be very good. That seemed like enough reason to give it a try. If it turns out to have been a silly idea, we're fine with that; the best way to have more good ideas is to have more bad ones.

True true. Thanks for the reply and explanation of your thought process.

Curious -- Are Apply HN threads only meant for existing HN users to comment/upvote? I'd be more interested in this if it were condoned and encouraged to have my startup's existing userbase upvote and post comments about why they love the product. My typical user is not a HN user. I know it can be done anyway, but if it's viewed as "gaming" the system I wouldn't want to do that.

You definitely shouldn't do that. It's against the rules, and HN users sniff it out like truffle pigs.

Yea after reading some of the apply HN threads I realized it's really meant to gauge which startups existing HN users like, versus a general voting contest.

I'm not sure about considering upvotes. People might send out message to all their friends saying "There's this thing called hackernews, can you sign up and vote for me?". Similar to how someone would launch a kickstarter. I don't think that this will be very common, especially not in the first few batches, but it will become common sense after a few years.

Remember, you're dealing with hackers here. I worked my YC application from every angle and tried to get every possible edge and advantage. Not necessarily because I wanted to game the system, but because I'm a hacker, and it's my nature [1].

On the whole, this is a really good idea. It's kind of mind blowing that YC would seriously try this. The concept itself is a brilliant hack on the idea of startup funding. Maybe they'll find the next AirBnb/Cruise/Dropbox, but probably not. Either way it's a great example of pushing the envelope to find new ideas, which sama has been all about lately.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scorpion_and_the_Frog

You may be right, but I'm pretty sure the community would hate it if we didn't consider upvotes at all. The idea is to fit this process in to how HN already works, and see what happens. HN's pretty good for discussing stories about technology and startups, and a lot of those discussions are a kind of vetting of investment decisions and startup pitches anyhow. Why not move that way earlier in the process and see what happens?

In the worst case, we'll at least get a lot more data for the voting ring detector.

Maybe limiting votes to people who have been registered X amount of days or have X amount of karma would help solve this issue with votes?

Maybe. But let's see how bad the problem turns out to be. One nice thing about ideas like that is they can be applied retroactively.

The biggest downside could really be incentivizing promising founders to gather upvotes rather than building something.

This is brilliant and immediately reminded me of "wisdom of the crowd" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOucwX7Z1HU (start at 2:00 if TLDW).

Basically average crowd > individuals. 160 people guess # of jelly beans in a jar. Few are close, but averaging all the guesses leads to 4 away from actual.

Would be fascinating if applied to this as well...

If we read the answers to this thread as a meta lesson of what a founder would expect, I think the answers would benefit from a scorecard. A poll at the top could summarise scores. Here is my iteration for the idea of "Apply YC":

1. Would I use this product? - Only for projects I have a lot of traction with and wouldn't mind competition for, or a project I am not sure/serious about (toss and see if it sticks). Anything in between would be risky if we're serious about the "What do you know that competition doesn't" question.

2. Would I join this team? - hard to learn about team without much research on HN

3. Would I fund/work on this problem? - Yes - a low friction way to vet and support startups is needed. I've worked on other iterations to find a way. I've thought about it a lot, reply/ping me if you want to discuss.

4. What would I improve: For start, add a scorecard, so the founders can use brainpower to iterate instead of trying to interpret why they were not up-voted by strangers with different motives.

5. Any concerns: A ton can go wrong here, but what matters is what can go right - what parts of the HN experience are conducive to solving this problem, and what tweaks will finish the job of solving it. If this works, you will see a rich data set of problems that people are attempting to solve, votes that show the demand for each problem, solutions who get to see traction by potential users, and VC analysts who are trying to crunch the data to direct their own funding/sourcing, competitors taking notes, etc.

Then there are also the projects that are just poor fit with the HN subset, would you reject those in YC if you see them down-voted here?

This is the wikipedia model. The idea is so obviously bad, it just might be good.

Simple question: If we've already done a Show HN can we do a Apply HN?

Yep, they are different things.

Great idea. Can you also consider an equity arrangement for HNers who would like to invest in the selected startups?

That's the sort of thing that might make sense if this eventually becomes a thing. Which would be great. But it's way too early to tell. For now, it's just about curiosity and trying something new.

Why not just invest in someone inside the community trying to do just that? This entire experiment is exactly what we're trying to do at Baqqer. Crowdfunding (+equity) / social proof from the community to help build products people want from the start.

You should check out Baqqer. We basically built it for equity crowdfunding and perpetual crowdfunding projects from HNers. It works to help build community, resources (knowledge, capital, feedback), and shows some social proof.

This is a wonderful idea. PicVidShare has been used in 83 countries in first month. This is important traction because being international is essential to really big success. Press Release The Future of Mobile Commerce fhttp://buff.ly/1TPfqEk Will Apply Y Combinator using Hacker News.

My couple cents: that which can be gamed will be gamed, especially in a community full of "hackers."

Interesting idea, but I think the guidelines should be clarified.

Since it's under the umbrella of the Fellowship, is YC looking for anything well beyond the idea stage?

Also, it would be useful to have some kind of simple submission process after making a post on HN so its easier to track and view all of the applications.

What are the dates for the fellowship? (As in, if accepted, when does the 8 weeks begin and end?)

Edit: Added comma.

My idea: EcommerceBot https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11494458 - A platform that will allow ecommerce to have a bot in a few clicks.

I think HackerNews itselve should mostly fund startups like Sendy. Eg. Have a Reseller-option ( or brands option) so you can manage stuff for clients, others and you can self host it. This adds a huge market of technical people that can create wealth for their own

That is a totally different approach then the "cloud apps" that get funded through YC or other investors, yet it supports the same "sort/type of apps".

It should require some technical experience ( i believe HN in it's core is still for technical people)

It would be interesting to see what reselling does for bootstrapping a startup ( faster sales because more brands/people can resell it ?)

Benefits, we can hack our way through the code :)

Very nice! Should we publicly apply uf we have already filled a yc application for this batch?

You're certainly welcome to. It's up to you.

Great, thanks for your response!

This link indicates a March 24 deadline in the FAQ. It should be updated? https://fellowship.ycombinator.com/faq/

Good catch. I'll alert the authorities.

This is an excellent idea. Do you need a prototype and a team in place before participating?

The only thing you need is willingness to try convincing the community to fund you.

Thank you Dang.

Establishing a public forum for earnest discussion of startup ideas seems likely even more valuable than the actual funding of community-picked proposals. But also, the chance of receiving funding adds incentive for discussion and earnesty!

I'm excited!

OK, I'll be the one asking this question:

Are you planning on compensating the people who participate in this experiment in any way.

Here's the point: YC will be receiving a massive amount of help in filtering and vetting dozens or hundreds of potential companies to fund. Once funded, they might fail but they can also be huge successes. YC stands to make millions, tens or hundreds of millions (or better if the starts align).

So, you got a bunch of smart people to use their time and intellect to act as filters for your investment. What do they get in return?

The fair approach would be to give them some ownership. Even a single share would have meaning.

I really love that you're bringing some of the process to the HN community. I remember the first YCF batch had huge numbers of applications and I think it's likely that many great ideas were lost in that volume. Will be interesting to see what surfaces :)

P.S have submitted my idea here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11461008

This is such an interesting concept that I'm excited to see it happen. This also perfectly answers the call for yc to release applications of rejected applications.

Can a group or an individual submit more then one application?

By analogy with how HN treats reposts, I think it's ok as long as you don't do it a lot. i.e. two is ok, three maybe, four is probably bad. Obviously that assumes they're for distinct ideas and that each of them is a serious proposal.

My 2c: "Upvotes" is too noisy a metric, and will give too much importance to HN ranking. I strongly suggest tweaking the HN ranking model for "Apply HN" posts to be as random as possible.

Great idea, I have a couple of questions.

Since YC Fellowship is intended for startups at the idea stage/prototype stage, is ApplyHN a catch all for businesses at the idea stage looking for feedback from the HN community?

Can you do an ApplyHN twice? Presumably once you get feedback from your initial ApplyHN idea post, you might flesh it out more and have a stronger application the second time.

If you're at the prototype stage normally you might do a ShowHN, should you create a separate post for an ApplyHN if you want to apply?

If it will not bring about complications, can that category of submission be open for say one week.

Then the feedback and comments would be open for say another week.

Putting time restraints would help give applicants approximately the same amount of attention. And also allow members take out time and ask all questions they want.

In addition, can the submission be restricted too so we do not see 400 words submissions? I'll go for a maximum 2 mins video pitch alongside a link to a website.

Finally, great idea!

I appreciate the concern for fairness but those things would be more complicated to do and I'm not sure they would really help that much. Let's wait and see how this shakes out, and then if we do it again we can iterate.

Promising ! This could be an interesting way to stimulate startups from around the globe. Last time I felt this way was when I discovered Stripe Atlas.

Let's just joined with our idea to help people - Meet amazing people, & do fun stuff. Check us on: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11462402

Vaultedge - private Google for private data. Please post your questions, comments in the thread. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11460485

here's my idea, a new job board that brings together checkr match.com and careerbuilder https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11493368

That's really awesome idea and I can't wait to see what kinds of cool applications come through.

Y Combinator can't get more awesome than this! I hope something great comes out of this experiment.

OK, this is very cool. Great idea!

I went through the startups, but its really hard to make a decision from the description. I would suggest that the startups fill answers to the YC application form so there is more data and background to ask further questions.

great way to discuss ideas! we are in... https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11452153

We need your thoughts on Gift Card idea. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11447924

Please provide feedback on our Gift Card Idea. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11447924

If this existed a year or two ago I would apply, but now I can't :(

Sorry to hear that. There will be other things to participate in in the future and hopefully you'll be able to join some of those.

Given any consideration to giving some percentage of the profit YC makes to charity or something? After all, YC is benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd and the crowd gets nothing.

We're a long way from seeing whether there's any profit in this. The odds are surely against it, because they usually are. If something dramatic comes of this I'm sure YC will think seriously about how to structure it, but we can wait until we have that good problem.

In the meantime the community gets the same thing we do, which is the satisfaction of giving it a try and seeing what happens. That's much in keeping with the values of this site, i.e. gratifying curiosity.

For the purpose of selecting startups, HN should have an option to vote for each apply outside of up votes, and then the votes ought to be weighted by reputation and account age.

Suggestion: Vote with money and use that to fund the company. The people who put their money in to fund the company become collective shareholders alongside YC.

How much will the YC fund be normally? Will someone be concerned to disclose the product he/she is building here when stealth mode is preferred?

Not sure I understand your question, but it sounds like https://fellowship.ycombinator.com/faq/ might have the answer.

I think that for this experiment to be valid, only accounts created before today should be allowed to vote (or make a karma threshold for new accounts).

Nah. A lot of teams don't know about HN before they apply to YC. Many make it into the batch and are good.

Sorry, maybe I didn't explain myself well. What I wanted to say is that for the end-of-month ranking ("we'll rank the startups and YC will fund two. The ranking will depend both on upvotes and on the quality of discussion"), I think upvotes and discussion by current YC members should hold more weight (maybe the algorithms already take that into account :) ).

I agree that people that didn't have HN accounts previously should definitely be allowed to participate both as submissions and in the comments :) , only that the upvotes part could be gamed.

Such an awesome opportunity for a broader community! YC is making the an even playing field for everyone! Congrats YC and hope to see you soon!

If it's both a "Show HN" and an "Apply HN" what do you recommend as a headline? Apply and Show are related but not the same.

It has to be "Apply HN" for this.

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