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YC’s 2016 Holiday Gift Guide (ycgiftideas.com)
228 points by craigcannon on Nov 28, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 213 comments

The thing that really strikes me about this list is how nearly everything on it is offered at a premium price.

One thing I loved about the tech world while I was growing up was that it was consistently doing more with less. Wikipedia displaced Encyclopaedia Brittanica by being both better and free. Hotmail was a clear win over AOL and Yahoo's offerings and then Gmail was faster and handled spam better while giving more at every price point (including free). Computers became both faster and cheaper. Amazon and Netflix broke down even the movie industry and ended the $70 per tape movie sale price.

The offerings on the linked page are mostly things that would be out of the budget of an American family living on a median income. I won't call out any specific examples or hurt feelings, but a random sampling of several companies of any part of the list (other than non-profits) will show a clear trend.

It's hard to say if the same was true 20 years ago and those few companies that broke out into famous successes happened to be particularly aimed towards a broad appeal, but it's clear the current trend is doing more with more.

True for web software - but that's never been true for hardware. Hardware always starts expensive for early adopters and gets radically cheaper as adoption scales up. The cheapest Apple 2 was over $5,000 (in inflation-adjusted dollars) at its release, the IBM 5150 debuted four years later at a more competitive $4,000, and the monitor was separate in both releases.

Besides hardware, lots of the other current startups are offline services, that are taking something formerly for the super-rich and making it accessible to the upper-middle class (eg: a private driver, a personal chef, custom-tailored clothing, custom paintings). They may not be within budget for everyone but they are still following the trend of doing more with less.

From at least the late 90s to recently you were consistently getting more for less with hardware. Things were expensive as they came out, but then got cheaper than the previous alternative. The market moved from a school having a couple of slow computers to everyone having multiple supercomputers. Not only did they become faster but you could do more things with them. These days many things seem to be getting slightly better, but more premium and almost less capable. Upgrading a couple of year old smart phone or computer today isn't exactly a mind blowing experience.

"[...] formerly for the super-rich and making it accessible to the upper-middle class (eg: a private driver, a personal chef, custom-tailored clothing, custom paintings)"

Don't really buy it. Before it was only for the rich it was for everyone. You go to rural places that's how it works. The latest incarnation of modern society is, for better or worse, based on people having their own car, camera, kitchen and being able to buy the latest fashions.

>The market moved from a school having a couple of slow computers to everyone having multiple supercomputers.

This is exactly what he says here:

>Hardware always starts expensive for early adopters and gets radically cheaper as adoption scales up.

Not really, I'm emphasizing that not only did things get cheaper but the market also moved. Things went from having different capabilities to were a netbook could essentially do the same things as a server farm or a workstation. Electronics hardware "always" existed in the form of game consoles, just not as personal computers. With many of these new things the premium segment is the market. Something custom is never going to be cheaper than the alternative. Once you've established a brand and market share you're probably even going to want to up the price.

What came to mind when I saw the list was what is might say about the founders that YC is selecting.

You could easily conclude from this list that it's rich peoples kids creating solutions to imaginary problems - "Oh, how could my poor feet possibly survive the arduous journey from my front door to the uber in an off the shelf pair of shoes? I need a tailor!".

I think we should give them the benefit of the doubt though since these companies are presumably a small subset of those they've invested in.

A more charitable explanation might be that since these companies are in SV then it makes sense for them to start out selling stuff to affluent customers who are not overly price sensitive.

As someone who has perpetual trouble finding well fitting dress shirts off the shelf - the MTailor thing seems interesting. You do raise something valid - I suspect they're selling affluent customers, because they're easier to reach, and are willing to try something novel.

You can just buy a shirt and get it tailored by someone who can actually see you and try pinning it in different places.

If you have a sewing machine it takes less than 15 minutes to tailor a shirt down (just put it on inside-out, pin, and sew).

Made-to-measure mail-order dress shirts are an idea from the 1990s AFAIK. A while back I collected some promotional offers from in-flight magazines and online and ordered a big stockpile of white made-to-measure dress shirts. With the promotional pricing it came out to less than $20 a shirt.

As with any menswear business, the main problem is customer education. Men in the US dress like slobs, do not care that they dress like slobs, and do not want to spend money on clothes (85% of apparel revenue comes from womenswear).

The issue in my case is not the trunk. I'm a 'gentleman of size' (6'3 300 lbs) which means to find something that fits my neck, I have to buy a shirt large enough to accommodate another large person inside of it with me. I also, do not have a sewing machine, nor do I have a good place to work, or time to do it. I've had trouble finding a place locally that will do bespoke clothing.

I would rather not dress like a slob, but barring me finding a place to make me something that actually fits (for a good price).. everything I buy will fit somewhat awkwardly, and make me look as if I'm wearing several flower sacks sewn together or somewhat awkwardly in fit in other ways.

Some libraries have sewing machines. Your task sounds simple enough to DIY using GP's method on a shirt large enough to fit two.




You can get a demo shirt from ModernTailor for $20 and then as many perfectly tailored shirts for under $100 as you want. As the earlier commenter said, these companies have been around for years.

Keep in mind this list is about gifts, and so naturally the companies on it won't do run-of-the-mill stuff.

This is true in one way of looking at it, but the other way of looking at it is that these are companies offering products that were always out of the price range of the average person, but they've managed to drive the price down. For instance, handmade leather shoes are between $300-$500 for the entry level, but Markhor is selling them for $120. Yeah, maybe your average person can't spend $120 on a pair of shoes, but that's still significantly opening up the market in a way which wasn't possible before.

That's the nature of capitalism. Identify a market for goods people want, and as demand goes up, figure out a way to supply it at a price people can afford. As these types of ideas iterate, the cost will continue to go down and new things will become available at the top of the price ladder.

Well... one set of the Markhors are $120. Most of them seem to be $250 and up.

And, despite being handmade, are not available in my size.

Yep, handmade probably does not mean "custom" or "bespoke" in this case, which means limiting the options presumably allows them to take advantage of economies of scale to lower the price compared to other options for handmade shoes.

I've never used the product from Markhors, it was just one example I was using for my point previously. I'm more the type of guy that either wears cheap sneakers or actual bespoke shoes, not much in-between.

Markhor doesn't appear to be doing anything new or special. You can get similar shoes for less from makers like Meermin. They're not a venture funded startup though.

That is trickle-down consumerism.

But it's been done successfully many times -- sugar, tea, coffee, liquor, automobiles, air travel, and computers, for example; likewise ownership of clothing in quantity. No reason it can't work again.

Your point is true, but it's also likely that the model for a lot of these companies is to start with premium so they can focus on a profitable model and get the supply chain and execution worked out while there is still wiggle room, and then move down market. This is what Uber and Tesla did, and I wouldn't be surprised if that is the most fashionable approach these days.

There are probably plenty of exceptions, as well, like Dollar Shave Club.

I seriously hope that happens with Acre. They could be amazing.

I agree, I hope Acre does well. I wouldn't say they are in a crowded market - but they are in a market where existing offerings (prefab or predesigned green homes marketed regionally/nationally) have struggled to make the numbers work.

There are savings associated with producing a uniform building package with standard modifications, but there are also new costs associated with that kind of work - namely, those associated with the fact that the ideal customer is thinly spread geographically (due to interest and budget). This generally leads to higher costs for local work, even if that only includes finishes (the standard business plan for most prefab green home companies).

That kind of business structure has been perfected by market builders, but market builders do a volume of business that is tough to match, and usually within a small geographic area (ie - a subdivision). This allows them to drive down local contracting costs better than one-off projects.

Currently Acre is looking for builders in four markets according to their 'work-with-us' page. They are also looking for an architectural project manager as opposed to a construction project manager, which probably indicates their chosen role in project delivery. Outsourcing all construction activity is a good way to reduce risk, but not a good way to reduce costs.

I work for custom home builders, and I've done work with a company that has a marketing plan/delivery plan similar to Acre albeit on the East Coast.

Prefab is a struggle and why we specifically avoided it. For us it makes much more sense to focus on product and supply chain and partner with local builders to execute in the various markets.

Our system is built for speed and that is where we derive savings. Between our wall/roof system, MEP systems, and delivery method we can slash construction time 60%.

Happy to continue conversation on your experience.

Went to check them out. Their houses are beautiful, but they truly are targeting the high end—double the price of a mid-tier-fixtures McMansion-build-quality house of similar size, at least around here. I'm also not sure how I'd get one of them built anywhere near the city here without buying a house in a no-HOA, low-home-value neighborhood and demolishing the house already on it, which'd be throwing away a ton of money on both the demo and putting such an expensive house in such a crap neighborhood. You could build one out in the country, but so much for being green (assuming you have a commute to the city).

Be nice if they could mainstream this style, but looks like they've got a ways to go.

Hey, this is Andrew (Acre Founder). Thanks for the comments.

Price is entirely depended on location, in Kansas City (our original hometown), our homes are in the upper most price tier. In the Bay Area we are at or below market rate for typical homes and significantly under for anything comparable in quality and efficiency.

In Austin and Portland (our other two focus markets for 2017) we are about at parity and a good fit for the sustainable cultures.

But alas, we are not currently a fit everywhere and for every home buyer. It's part of our vision, but just like Tesla, we have to focus on a higher end product before we can create the every-mans product.

Regarding commute, we have an option to easily and affordably add capacity to allow for 6,000 miles of EV charging with ability to go beyond. Tis the future.

Keep posted next year for our tech that stretches beyond our own walls.

Oh, right, I knew you guys looked familiar! KC as well. You've observed the same thing about this market, then—tons of very inexpensive (and usually also cheap) houses. I think it'll be easier to justify this kind of spending if/when the market proves you can recoup the added cost on resale. That's what kept us from considering some of the pricier but more eco-friendly options when we bought a new house recently.

Yeah, KC and much of the middle of the country, there is very little fat in pricing and slow growth. Our first home built in KC was for $145K. Same general concept and performance, but a much more simple/affordable material and finish package. Slim margins for a fledgling company!

We'll work at the higher end for a bit, which can accelerate our growth and allow us to make some leaps with our product and tech.

We'll then be able to come down market and offer home that are much more accessible and honestly have much more positive impact on families and the environment.

I would question someone's actual motives if they demolished a house so they could build a new one in name of sustainability. How much time would it take to recuperate that full rebuild vs. just retrofitting the already existing house?

Embodied energy is certainly worth considering, but major retrofits of homes built in the 60's or earlier are hugely inefficient and result in a home that looks better, but performs no better energy wise. You CANNOT retrofit to Zero Energy with out significant cash outlays or at all.

Putting a new carb and a dash mat on a 70's Oldsmobile will not justify the embodied energy argument. Melt that sucker down and build a Tesla that lasts 3x longer, can be powered by the sun and is better for you in the meantime.

Our homes are also much healthier for the owners, with proper ventilation, filtering, and low/no voc materials.

Maybe I'm wrong, but my assumption is the difference between "standard home" and "standard home with solar + other easy wins" (such as tearing out your lawn in SoCal, where I live) is overall "better" than going from those easy wins to a Zero Energy home. I would guess it's also location dependent though.

Under that assumption, I would have a hard time justifying tearing down an existing home to build a Zero Energy home, as opposed to just implementing those easy efficiency wins and investing the money saved in other environmentally friendly pursuits - perhaps even helping a friend to finance similar changes to their home. Or, letting someone else buy the already built home and build somewhere I don't have to tear down an existing structure.

Of course not everyone would think this way, and people are free to do what they wish with their money, but it's how I weigh the options.

Certainly in the short run those are more cost effective and less intensive options, but homes built 50 years ago do have a very short lifespan remaining and will consume gobs of energy every day until they are plowed under. Zero Energy refits are cost prohibitive, so at best, you'll have a band aid. Ultimately, It's a sunk cost fallacy.

We're not the solution to the entire problem, but I entirely confident that we are a fantastic value for our customers and the most efficient home available at this price/performance.

When the cost balance makes the new house cheaper than a retrofit.

Thanks! We're toiling away to that end. Here's our home guide to see more detail of what's inside.


To your point, Airbnb bucks the trend you identified by making travel more affordable and accessible. It's also far and away the most successful company listed.

More accessible, maybe (unless you're black [0])

More affordable, no. In my recent travels to NYC and SF, I was always able to get a hotel room via HotelTonight or Hotwire cheaper than an AirBnB unit. I know its not always an apples-to-apples comparison but even for just a private room (not an entire home), an AirBnB in SF is $100+/night.[1]

All that to say, I think you're wrong.

[0] https://medium.com/stay-woke/i-read-about-this-phenomenon-of...

[1] I randomly checked Dec 18-20 in SF. Hotwire has a 4-star room for $91/night. Most AirBnB private rooms are the same or higher.

When you have a large group (like 6+ people) renting a house outright via airbnb is usually better. It also lets you hang out together in a living room. Also you have more location flexibility.

Private room airbnb is probably not the best deal.

If you're renting a large place, I would highly suggest shopping on AirBnB then trying to find the contact information of the owner and hitting them up directly. Large places usually have their own websites and you can save a ton of money since the fee AirBnB charges is a percentage of the total cost (although AirBnB reduces risk).

I agree that in some markets the airbnb prices are close cheap hotels. From my experience, I used to use Airbnb in Paris (France) and for the past 2 years, I ended up in an hotel, since it was cheaper. Now, hotels pricing is way more flexible when it comes to react to low demand. Airbnb hosts, do not adjust as well or as quickly to the seasonal (even week day vs. weekend) nature of hospitality. Airbnb is not always the cheaper option vs. hotels.

airbnb is a much, much more economical option while traveling over hotels when booking in advance for a couple. it was even cheaper than a private room in a hostels in berlin.

source: traveling for 1.5 years using airbnb, hotels, hostels.

I travel a lot (including in SF and NYC) and you're objectively wrong. I prefer hotels to AirBnB, but still almost always go with AirBnB because it's significantly cheaper.

For your suggested dates of Dec 18-20 I found literally dozens of AirBnBs for <$80/night. [0] All I can conclude is that you're straight up lying. It's trivially easier to find AirBnBs which are cheaper than hotels.

[0] https://www.airbnb.com/s/San-Francisco--CA--United-States?gu...

Yeah, I have so much incentive to straight up lie. The average for the link you have is $108/night. That's above several hotels in my search. Also, most of these AirBnB listings only allow 1 person. Every hotel room will support 2 people and most will allow 4 (if you can get 2 beds).

Take that for what its worth. If I'm objectively wrong or a liar to you, cool.

You're comparing the average to the minimum. That's deceptive and unfair.

The average hotel room in SF costs hundreds of dollars a night. [0] So the average hotel is much more expensive than the average AirBnB.

Likewise, I showed countless examples of AirBnBs which have a lower price than the cheapest hotel you could find.

If both the average and the minimum for AirBnB is much lower than for hotels, we can safely conclude that AirBnB is substantially cheaper.

As a frequent traveler, I know that to be a fact. I would love if hotels were cheaper than AirBnB (I prefer them), but it's objectively not true.

[0] http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/morning_call/2015/07...

"Amazon and Netflix broke down even the movie industry and ended the $70 per tape movie sale price."

Is that a typo? When were movies ever $70?

In the 80s and early-to-mid 90s, most movies weren't offered for sale to consumers. Big blockbuster movies sometimes were, but those were the exception. Places like Blockbuster or your corner video rental store bought VHS movies for around $70/ea and then rented them to consumers for $3 or so. That changed somewhere around the late 90s, when people began buying movies on VHS and DVD, and the price dropped significantly.

Source: I worked for a small video store in the early 90s.

>Places like Blockbuster or your corner video rental store bought VHS movies for around $70/ea //

Isn't that just rental prices vs consumer prices. It's a tort to by the consumer copy and rent it out so large companies could never get away with that instead they bought a more expensive copy that is basically the tape with license to rent it??

Turns out it's more complicated than that: https://entertainment-industry.knoji.com/the-history-of-the-... & http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=692441.

Would be interested in similar info with global comparison, eg how was the situation different in UK, Germany, etc..

I remember movies selling for over US$100 when VHS first hit the streets.

The only "typo" is crediting Amazon and Netflix with the price reductions: movies were commonly $20 long before those two showed up. No, what killed the $100 movie were people going "$100 to own _Weekend at Bernie's_? Oh, hell no!" Remember, we lived quite fulfilled lives before we were allowed to "own" our own copies of movies, we weren't missing anything.

Oh, and rental stores that popped up shortly after. From my POV at the time, owning the VHS tape was reserved for the rental stores who would profit from it and the overly-privileged. The rest of us just rented at $10 a pop. Want to see it again? Go rent it again.

EDIT: somewhat related to pricing: would have to look it up to be sure, but I recall blank VHS tapes going for >$20 when they first came out.

Yes, but the other part of the sentence is all wrong, the gradual shift from this pricing model to more like $20 a tape happened from the mid 80s to early 90s.

Not a typo, but misleading. Very few people bought tapes when they were $70-$100. The only purchasers were video stores. There wasn't a slow glide, it went from very high down to $20 quickly, a few years after VHS killed Beta.

This is probably an unpopular opinion, but I would call very few of these "tech companies".

None of the problems that most of these companies are solving are tech problems. Their secret sauce is not the tech, but the examples you gave the secret sauce WAS the tech.

Chef Roy Choi addressed a similar issue in food, namely that they were all fixated on "feeding the rich": http://www.eater.com/2016/9/23/12981936/locol-watts-roy-choi.... I do wonder what YC startups could bring to say, people struggling in the Rust Belt of the US. FarmLogs is one awesome example but I'm sure there are other opportunities. I don't work in tech, but it does seem the community is self-obsessed and that is stunting its reach.

Definitely a lot of startups target high end, but they end up competing in high end by being cheaper than the other high end alternatives. High end is just a better market to attack first since high end users are more liberal with their spending, and more likely to pay a premium for something new.

Uber is an example of something that started in the high end (black cars only).

Airbnb, Instapainting.com (disclaimer: my company) are examples of companies that broke into mid-market products by using technology to reduce costs and compete with significantly lower pricing.

"NetFlix initially offered a seven-day DVD rental for $4, plus $2 shipping" [1] This is more than it costs to rent from a local video store. Especially on discount days.

Its much easier to start at a higher price point and lower volume with a small team. Hotmail and Wikipedia are businesses that scale much better because they don't handle physical goods.

[1] http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/netflix-inc...

Oh course, the products in Gift Guides aren't meant to be the ones that most people can afford. No one wants to look at a gift guide of moderately priced mid-level gear. Gift guides give people something to aspire to. And I think a lot of people do look at the items and then go order a cheaper version on amazon later.

Peter Thiel recommends creating monopolies in Zero to One. That's basically what YC companies are doing.

Its for the trendy pretentious crowd and many who came up with a different viewpoint or even from another income level don't understand the desire behind some of these purchases. This is no different than the Macbook Starbuck crowd.

If anything I use it as a list of things I am best without. Karma be damned but I just LOL at that page

Unless there's a significant financial incentive to do so (ex: 2-to-1 match), don't give people gift cards. Gift cards are the biggest scam ever pulled by the retail industry, or more specifically, perpetuating the idea that giving cash is taboo.

The one exception would be giving a preloaded credit card to someone who otherwise doesn't have access to one (ex: a niece/nephew that's far away) and only if there are no fees associated with initially loading it. I think AmEx has some kind of cyber monday promotion for that today. If you have to pay anything more than $0 then forget about it though.

All that aside, Markhor looks interesting. I don't recall seeing them on HN (guess it's less "tech" than most YC companies) but the loafers look nice. Anybody here have any experience with them? Always on the look out for a better pair of shoes...

> Unless there's a significant financial incentive to do so (ex: 2-to-1 match), don't give people gift cards. Gift cards are the biggest scam ever pulled by the retail industry, or more specifically, perpetuating the idea that giving cash is taboo.

The problem is that cash often feels like not giving a gift at all. If you exchange fifty-dollar bills with a sibling, it feels pointless. Gift cards can alleviate that feeling. If you give your sibling an iTunes gift card it doesn't feel like nothing was exchanged even if they give you one back.

Gifts are also an opportunity to give someone something they wouldn't typically buy for themselves. Ideally that would be a thoughtful gift but if you can't think of one, cash is likely to end up in the "general fund", while a gift card to a restaurant or a massage or a bookstore will be used for its intended purpose (with some risk of it being lost or sold on some card resale site).

My (to be fair, minor) issue with gift cards is that they're essentially saying "hey, have some money...but you can only spend it at this one place of my choosing, not yours".

I'm aware that this is pretty low on the list of problems you'd hate to have but it's there nonetheless. Let's say a relative has heard me talk about some Arduino project I'm messing with or something to do with building a computer. They don't know much about either of those things but they know I like "techie" stuff and gadgets so they get me a gift card from Best Buy, as that is the only electronics store they're really aware of.

Now I've got a $100 gift card to a store that either doesn't sell any of the things I'd want to buy or charges a hefty markup over what I'd normally be willing to pay. Sure, I could sell the gift card to some bargain hunter for $95. They'd get $5 off, I'd get most of the value to spend elsewhere...

...but that's a hassle and not at all what the gift-giver would want to necessitate anyway. The other major option is to just suck it up and either buy something I don't really want/need out of the available Best Buy catalog or maybe buy that $100 item that I would've just found for $70 at Microcenter or Newegg.

I think you nailed it when you pointed out issues of perception and tradition. Giving cash to someone other than an aging/retired parent or a young child comes off as odd. It's almost like you didn't care enough to think of a gift that they would actually enjoy or shows that you know them. I just think gift cards are about the same in that regard, only less desirable or useful.

>"hey, have some money...but you can only spend it at this one place of my choosing, not yours".

In some circumstances, that's actually an advantage, and works as a positive for the recipient.

When I was in college, money was tight. Had to be very careful with every dollar. When relatives would give me money for holidays, it would just go into the general fund and had to be treated with the same care as the rest of it. That money was certainly appreciated and made my life easier, but not a lot of fun was had with it.

But when I'd get gift cards to Amazon or Best Buy or Borders, suddenly it was a license to go crazy. To recklessly buy electronics, books, and luxuries I couldn't otherwise justify. It wasn't just a gift of money. It was a gift of money without worries attached.

That's why I'm buying my grandparents a Subway card. You can reload it online and they love Subway they just don't want to splurge to go there whenever they go in to town. I know if I load this up for them they'll have a treat whenever they're out to a doctor's appointment. It has the added benefit of me being able to reload it when they run low.

Agreed, and I sometimes give gift cards with that in mind. Though I try to make it a gift card at a store that I feel certain the recipient will appreciate.

I loved US gov EE savings bonds. LOVED THEM. I could say, "Here. I'm giving you a gift of investment, that will grow over time." It's almost impossible to buy the paper version now unless you're using your tax refund to do so.

No its definitely impossible and a tax refund can only get I series paper bonds unless its changed yet again. Also the rigged CPI-U is lower than the real world inflation rate, so you're basically buying a piece of paper for $100 today that can be sold for $90 years later plus you get to pay federal income tax on the inflation protection part (So $100 stuck in a mattress would be worth $80 in a couple years so you get to pay $10 worth of income tax).

Isn't giving someone an actual gift the same only more so though? Like, if the relative gave you an actual specific electronic component, you've likely got something you'd never normally buy, at a heavy markup, and you can resell it but you're going to lose more than $5 on that deal.

> My (to be fair, minor) issue with gift cards is that they're essentially saying "hey, have some money...but you can only spend it at this one place of my choosing, not yours"

It's often a lot easier to know someone well enough to know which store gift card is something they'd be likely to use by choice than to get a more specific gift right.

Some of my relatives would give cash, with a request that I spend it on books, or a restaurant, or at the pub. That seemed a good balance: my aunt doesn't have to pick a CD or limit me to a single store.

The UK has a national book tokens scheme, essentially gift cards that are accepted at almost all book shops (national chains and independents). This was a common prize for winning a competition at school, or similar. http://www.nationalbooktokens.com/

This is where the Asian culture 'gets it right'. Instead of putting money in a regular envelope, they color it red. Now it's a fancy hong bao, or red envelope.

My brothers and I alleviated that feeling by not giving each other stuff anymore.

Maybe a knickknack or a tchotchke, just not "things we would each go ahead and buy if we wanted them".

For a few years running my sister and I bought each other Amazon GC's (it was always mildly awkward when the amounts didn't match). It really illustrated the madness of adults with decent jobs buying each other random crap for no particular reason.

The only reason I think gift cards feel more like a gift is because it means the giver put some thought into what you might want to spend it on. Thoughtfulness is important.

But gift cards themselves suck. They are strictly worse than cash. If you want to be thoughtful but give them something more useful, give them cash with a card that says, "I thought you might enjoy spending this on ___."

Someone should make realistic looking fake gift cards that you can put cash bills inside. Or for the HN crowd, perhaps bitcoin wallet info.

Just use any greetings card and a paper clip, or cut a slot with a knife.

Sometimes you can buy the right kind of cards in the places you normally buy greetings cards. Search "money enclosed greetings card".

This is true, but I think a better solution is to just buy a gift instead of cash or a gift card.

I own a pair of the Solemn Derbies (https://themarkhor.com/products/solemn-derbies) and I love them. I was in the market for a pair of made-in-the-usa Allen Edmonds but I bought them instead. They're high quality, great construction, responsibly sourced, and the look great. I get compliments when I wear them out.

Apologies for the terrible collage: http://imgur.com/UoFEy80

thanks TJ, Sidra here (co-founder Markhor).

Appreciate you buying our shoes and sharing the experience. The shoes indeed look great on you.

There are circumstances in which Gift Cards are acceptable. For example, gift cards for online stores (iTunes, Amazon, Steam, etc.). This is particularly acceptable for children, as they are otherwise unable to purchase items from such stores.

Another example where gift cards may add to the experience is white elephant gift exchanges [1].


Couldn't you just give kids prepaid Visa/MC cards instead?

And I'm not from the US, but the idea of school-age kids not having their own cards sounds a little funny to me.

Not having credit cards? It's fairly common. Even Debit cards are not the sort of things you give to kids.

As for prepaid Visas, they're a relatively recent thing, and generally less known.

>Not having credit cards? It's fairly common. Even Debit cards are not the sort of things you give to kids.

Must be a huge pain in the ass. With modern electronic only debit cards it's really easy to give your kids cards and makes managing money within the family so much easier.

Kid texts you after school and says they need $5 to go out with friends? Sure, pull up your phone app and instantly put $5 to their card. It's almost impossible to cleanly replicate this with cash.

>As for prepaid Visas, they're a relatively recent thing, and generally less known.

Sure, but at this point they're just as available as "normal" gift cards.

> Kid texts you after school and says they need $5 to go out with friends? Sure, pull up your phone app and instantly put $5 to their card. It's almost impossible to cleanly replicate this with cash.

Certainly this could be helpful in an emergency but what's wrong with encouraging your children to budget and plan ahead, rather than expecting instant gratification whenever they want it?

You might want to have two accounts for your kid, one for the card and one for "savings". Hence them messaging you to get access to those savings.

In any case, I think cards and online banking give you useful tools that can make it much easier for your kid to learn budgeting and to track their spending.

>but at this point they're just as available as "normal" gift cards.

Sure, but they haven't entered the public consciousness in the same way yet.

> Couldn't you just give kids prepaid Visa/MC cards instead?

Those come with expirations, a variety of fee structures, etc.

Don't all gift cards?

No. In fact, on regular gift cards these things are prohibited by law in some jurisdictions, including California.


>All that aside, Markhor looks interesting. I don't recall seeing them on HN (guess it's less "tech" than most YC companies) but the loafers look nice. Anybody here have any experience with them? Always on the look out for a better pair of shoes...

Googling 'site:styleforum.net "markhor"' only finds one hit, and sites like reddit are equally empty.

Does this company actually exist? They've supposedly been around for a few years now but haven't really been discussed anywhere.

They do exist - I have a pair of Markhor shoes that I wore at my wedding last year and I love them :)

Fair point Ryan, in early days of our business we invested time in Styleforum/Reddit but the ROI was very low, so we changed our focus. But it looks like we need to get back to them, especially our new products will be very relevant to the community.

Our current target customers are more on the lifestyle sites like GearPetrol and Racked.

Let me know if you have any question, I am sidra (at) themarkhor.com

Eh, if I get cash I feel compelled to put it in my bank account and use it for normal daily expenditures (bills, etc)... but with a gift card I feel like I have permission to buy things that are just fun (especially if it's something like an iTunes gift card where you can't even buy something useful if you wanted to, unlike Amazon).

Worse still is a paper check. I have to deposit that in my checking account to spend it. Once it is in there, it immediately becomes indistinguishable from the cash used to pay the utilities. Here, I want to buy you three cans of tuna, 75 kWh of electricity, and 4 gallons of gasoline. Enjoy!

At least with cash, I could theoretically put it in a special envelope that is exclusively for fun expenses.

Also, cash-equivalent gifts are a great way to tell your friends and family "I value our relationship at exactly $x/year." You can so easily compare it to previous years, and with what they typically give to you.

But the worst gift of all is lottery scratch-off tickets. Here, I spent exactly $X to give you an amount of cash that is very likely to be between $0 and $X, but is probably just $0 or $1.

> Worse still is a paper check. I have to deposit that in my checking account to spend it. Once it is in there, it immediately becomes indistinguishable from the cash used to pay the utilities. Here, I want to buy you three cans of tuna, 75 kWh of electricity, and 4 gallons of gasoline. Enjoy!

> At least with cash, I could theoretically put it in a special envelope that is exclusively for fun expenses.

Deposit check while simultaneously take out the same amount in cash and put it in your wallet / envelope / hidden pocket; problem solved. If you don't have enough cash on hand to do the "conversion", then maybe you should consider spending it on utilities and expenses.

> Also, cash-equivalent gifts are a great way to tell your friends and family "I value our relationship at exactly $x/year."

While I understand your sentiment, and culture background also plays into it, I wouldn't frame it that way. It is a gift: you're not entitled to it, and it is the giver's prerogative to choose what to give. At worst, you could fault the giver for not being thoughtful, but at least they thought enough to give you something when they could also give you nothing. Moreover, the value / expense of the gift is a poor indicator of the strength or "value" of my relationship with the giver IMO.

> But the worst gift of all is lottery scratch-off tickets.

Agreed. And in the (extremely) unlikely event that you actually win big, fighting over who "owns" the ticket would be inevitable...

But I deposit checks via mobile banking app. There is no ATM in my phone.


My family cheats at this. We keep wishlists of "items we know we need but can't justify purchasing yet". Then we exchange lists and pick things/a thing to gift. The trick here is you're no longer trying to "justify" the purchase to yourself and you get something you actually need/want instead of something they thought you needed/wanted. It also means you don't need to think hard about what to get.

We've found we appreciate the gifts more because they are something we know with certainty that we'll use. There is still room to "surprise" with what is picked from the list. And in addition, you can pick similar items to items on the list to still throw that bit of "I thought you'd appreciate this too" in there.

Growing up, my grandparents would give us cash inside a Christmas card. A perfect gift - cash, plus a personal note. Make the message special and the cash will feel special.

I don't think gift cards are a big conspiracy from the retail industry that primarily perpetuated the idea that cash is a bad gift.

It seems more likely that cash became unpopular independently. And for good reason! Trading cash during holidays really ruins the fun!

Perhaps the retail industry was just responding to demand - the market may just want gift cards!


>As for gift cards — well, let’s just say there is good reason that they are known within the retail industry as a stored-value product: they store their value very well, and often permanently. The financial-services research firm TowerGroup estimates that of the $80 billion spent on gift cards in 2006, roughly $8 billion will never be redeemed — “a bigger impact on consumers,” Tower notes, “than the combined total of both debit- and credit-card fraud.” A survey by Marketing Workshop Inc. found that only 30 percent of recipients use a gift card within a month of receiving it, while Consumer Reports estimates that 19 percent of the people who received a gift card in 2005 never used it.

And while true, if that came out today it would probably be called "clickbait"

Yes, 10% sounds about right for un-redeemed gift cards. But tell me, how often do you wear your xmas sweater? Have you ever gotten a gadget from a well-meaning uncle that just seemed stupidly dangerous and worthless?

Gift cards aren't inherently a bad gift. Bad gifts are. If someone gives me a Victoria's Secret GC and I am not in the kind of relationship where I would buy my SO lingerie, then it is not going to get redeemed (and I will forget about it by the time I would have an opportunity to). Whereas, if someone got me a GC for Amazon Kindle or Steam I would use that pretty gosh darned fast.

And obviously a store is going to push the GC. Even if it is a 20 buck card and you buy something for 19.99 they turn a profit. And more likely you'll spend 25 or 30

Not to mention expiry dates (which Washington state has outlawed), some ridiculously short (before this, I'd see cards from some merchants that were 'valid for 90 days' only).

The asinine "maintenance fees" and validity periods are absolutely a scam from the retail industry. Fortunately most of the worst practices are outlawed under CA law, but that's not the case in every state.

Somewhat related: "Gift guides" is one service that I considered unsolved. Every holiday (Christmas, birthday, father's day, mother's day, etc) I struggle to come up with gifts for the people I care about. In many ways it's demoralizing. If I care so much about someone, why can't I think of a good gift for them?

There are lots of factors here, but I think it basically boils down to, as adults we generally get what we need/want during the course of the year. So gift giving is really the art of giving things people hadn't thought of, but still would like. That's a tall order!

In recent years I've tried searching for "experience" gifts, which I believe to have more value. Nights out to exciting dinners, fun shows, events, etc. But the sites that serve those needs (Groupon et. al) are really rather scummy. All the businesses on there tend to be poorly reviewed; just using those sites to push polished turds of a deal.

I look all the time for gift guides and helpful sites and always come up empty handed. The lists on Amazon mainly push Amazon's products, which are garbage, or really common/useless stuff (there's no-one in my life who needs a kitchen stand mixer; they all already have one). I've read idea threads on Reddit, and those mostly boil down to "Man, all I want for Christmas is a pair of shoes. I'm really poor." followed up by a bunch of helpful Redditors. Not that that is a bad thing, but it's useless as a gift recommendation.

Before the deluge of rhetoric replies: yes, rampant consumerism, corporate marketing holidays, donate in someone's name, etc, etc. I happen to enjoy giving gifts, and would love to give more meaningful, personalized gifts (like those experience gifts I mention). I'm just really bad at it. And regardless of that rhetoric, can you honestly tell me that you would pass up an opportunity to build a successful "gift guide" service? I can't even imagine how lucrative something like that would end up being.

I think the main reason it's unsolved is that there's a lot of personalization that needs to happen. If you (as a son, let's say), can't figure out what to give your dad, how can a site? The reason why a lot of holiday guides give common or useless stuff is because they have to generalize across age ranges, ethnicities, locations, and preferences.

The best gift guide would also probably be one that gets to the core of what you are lacking -- you might want a specific book, for example, but what you're looking for is how to learn a language, and that specific book didn't really matter (unless it was the best one to help you learn). This is really hard to do though, unless you are Santa.

Yes, that's definitely true, it's not a simple task by any stretch of the imagination. I think the experience gifts is perhaps a more viable option. For example, a mystery dinner type deal (mystery theater + dinner) I think is a good gift for a lot of friends and family. Cooking classes are pretty general too. I've been gifted cooking classes before and they were really fun (they focus on making it date night sort of deal so it was geared towards couples). But both of those I've had challenges gifting. I couldn't find any well reviewed mystery dinner type deals, and the few good cooking class type things I found did not offer a gifting option. Buying tickets to events, like concerts, is tough too, again because they don't generally offer gift options. If I could buy a "blank check" sort of ticket to the local playhouse, that'd be nice.

My big gripe is the sites that get mostly there. They ask questions about the intended recipient, like age, gender, and tastes. At the end of it, though, the recommendations are really bland. I don't mind sorting through a list of possible gifts, with only a few good results. But the results I get are the kind of generic "gifts" you see on the end-caps of Kohl's during holiday season. As I mentioned, people generally already have what they need. Gifting often comes down to finding something the person wouldn't have otherwise thought about. So it's necessary to show unique options. Again, the accuracy doesn't need to be terribly high. If I only find one good option amongst 40, that's fine. Instead I get 200+ kitchen stand mixers...

Well if Spotify can figure out what I want to listen better than I can it's not unreasonable to think that Amazon or maybe my credit card could figure out my tastes better than my parents could.

My thought is: Don't give them something they need (as they'd buy it anyway, if they haven't already), but something they would fancy but probably would restrain themselves from getting.

A moderately interesting startup idea.

If you like the outdoors you can get county / state / national parks annual passes. I enjoy and use the heck out of my park passes. They're fairly cheap (well, not the national). Of course people who hate the outdoors, well...

There are several food delivery services I've used with mixed results. "highly processed meat and cheeze like product in a box" are kinda weird. Fruit delivery is absurdly expensive but everyone loves it. Right out of a 00s sitcom I ordered my MiL the "fruit of the month club" and she enjoyed it. Food delivery is not cheap. I'll send my mom a crate of peaches every Christmas and its like $5 per peach. But they certainly are delicious. Junk food / candy delivery is cheap. Booze delivery impacts about a zillion weird state laws and the recipient sometimes has to sign and show ID and its a circus, also relatively few people seriously drink. If you can deliver it in person or illegally ship it yourself, a hundred dollar bottle of scotch lasts me about a year at my usual consumption rate, and at the usual markup a service would probably charge $500.

With the decline in public parks and public play there is a growth in private parks and private play and there's a local water park complete with water slides and all that, my kids love that especially nice and warm in the winter and usually doesn't cost that much. Grandma used to buy her grandkids an afternoon pass to the waterpark and it was always fun. Go directly to the park to buy a certificate there's no need for the middlemen. Likewise the local suburban mall hasn't had a video game arcade in maybe 30 years now but there's chuck e cheeze and D+B and stone fire pizza company and places like that.

It takes more effort, but I look for local events that aren't far off and buy tickets to those.

What, no STEM toys!? Have you visited the toy gadget section of your typical store, e.g. Target, BestBuy lately? It's full of crappy stuff marketed under the buzzword "STEM" for unknowing parents. Examples: Construction kits from Vex Robotics, WowWee's CHIP Robotic Dog, etc. etc. Problem with these "STEM revolutionary" toys is that they are not open ended, even with the so-called programmable ones kids get tired after a few hours of play. Another good example of such a toy is the BB-8 robot. You love this when you get it but quickly lose interest after you realize that it's a glorified remote-controlled car.

For truly inspiring toys like this one (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/withpiper/piper-a-minec...) you still have to hit Kickstarter or search the Web. Why is that?

Erector / Meccano is a nice open ended STEM toy that could use some disruption and metrication and modernization and no themed disney licenses please.

Unfortunately there is this strange attractor that sucks everyone who trys it into "I wanna make kids version of 80/20 because 80/20 is both cool and insanely expensive" leading to "heres my custom aluminum extrusion of immense expense that works with nothing out there, but now I know why 80/20 is incredibly expensive" leading to "remember those guys?"

I personally think MakeBlock (http://www.makeblock.com/) does a great job of being a modernized metricized replacement for Erector sets.

It's not particularly cheap - probably costs ~$300 to get a decent sized kit or a smaller kit with enough spare parts to experiment.

All of the mechanical parts are machined reasonably well and fit together in a large number of useful configurations - I really like them for rapid mechanical prototyping.

The electronics are basically arduinos with beginner-friendly connectors - haven't used them myself but have generally heard good things about them.

One of the things I have found frustrating trying to get Erector/Meccano for a new generation is that I can't seem to find anything that's just a big bucket of parts. The generally available things seem to only be kits, and those which are a bucket of parts are woefully lacking in fun bits.

>Erector / Meccano

I was going to say Capsela is great too, but did some quick searching and found it's been sold and discontinued :(

Not surprising. People actually in the market for STEM play things will get their kids telescopes, microscopes, chemistry kits, soldering irons, computers, hobby robotics/electronics parts, ...

The market for people who want STEM play things, don't know what to buy, and can't tell crap from gold, has to be incredibly small

Actually the second group you describe is the huge majority: Many parents have heard about STEM and programming and want their children to be exposed. However, being non-techies they don't know where to start.

Also, a large number of Christmas toys are bought by grandparents,where the above problem is even more prevalent.

Sorry, I meant to say "and CAN tell crap from gold".

I was saying that there may be a huge market for STEM toys, but the savvy consumers aren't included in that market (already well-served by the normal STEM stuff) and unsavvy customers will just by the stupid crap that says "STEM" on the label.

Your comment inspired this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13057791

A note to any future startup founders reading some of the broadly skeptical and pessimistic comments on this HN discussion thread:

The people commenting here are not your customers.

For every 1 person posting a snarky comment, there are 100+ simply browsing the gift guide. A few are saying "Hey, that's neat!", and a few are making purchases today or in the near future, either for themselves or as gifts. It's their behavior that you should worry about.

If you think you can make something people want, then please focus on that. Don't let your non-customers discourage you.

(Disclosure: co-founder of https://www.pantelligent.com/ -- one of the products on the gift list.)

Couldn't agree more. I'd like to add: Don't let not-customers butter you up! Find your customers and get their feedback. Lots of people will think yours is a great idea: just not great enough to pay you for it!

Very true!

While this is indeed not the target audience (which makes it hilarious), that is a horrible attitude. A lot of the complaints that have been brought up (premium pricing, much cheaper and better alternatives, not actually a new idea, etc) are actually very valid and worth considering.

Now, if those aren't complaints and you are perfectly happy only targeting people who want The Next New Thing, go for it. Otherwise? Take the complaints with a grain of salt, but still take them.

I see that Acre (a home construction company) is on there. Kind of odd for a gift giving site.

"Merry Christmas! I bought you a house!"

And like all "modern prefab" houses, it is extremely overpriced.

$400k for 1200 sq. ft is nuts.

It's all relative. In Des Moines it's outrageous (although still worth it!), but in the Bay Area or similar market it's a steal. Comparable homes out here can be 2-3x.

We did our fist home at $145K for 1200 sqft and can offer than again late next year. Margins are too slim to grow at that rate, re:Tesla.

You're confusing the value of land vs the value of the structure itself.

The $1 million properties in the bay have structures on them that are worth maybe $150-200k tops, whereas the rest of the value is in land.

A high land:structure value ratio is not uncommon for the US coasts, in high demand areas (especially that have older houses, built in the 20s and 30s that will need significant renovations to be brought up to a safe living standard)

That's why it's outrageous. If you're considering paying 400k just for the structure, that means you already own a piece of land worth at least $800k where to put it. So we're talking about being a millionaire to be able to afford something like that. So let's be honest for a second and not pretend like you're not targeting the top 1-1.5% demographic here.

I noticed you're a founder for the company.

Construction is a perfectly competitive market. It shouldn't have economic profits, which means it should be paying your costs and salaries and that's it. I'm not sure what was the rationale for your getting into the business, but the modern prefabs are a dime a dozen and the thing they all get wrong is affordability. If you don't think I can go to another state and bring 4 construction workers to build the same type of structure for $200k, sourcing my own materials and paying them salary, you're just deluding yourself.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that companies like that go bankrupt by the dozens, because they all miscalculate the economics of the market.

But I do wish you good luck in your business.

Most of the value is in the land, and the homes are no different than $200K homes in the midwest. However, they are worth more and cost more because of very high demand and limited supply of labor and land. Putting a standard new home on a property that just sold for $1.6M (a home that should, anywhere else cost $300K) allows you to flip that property for $3.2. That's in Redwood City in a decent, but not over the top (for the Peninsula) neighborhood. Same home in a different market is worth quite a bit more.

Bare minimum for non tract construction is about $250/sqft or 3x the rates in the middle of the country. For high performance homes, $600+ /sqft is not uncommon.

Construction is not perfectly competitive, especially here in the bay. Guys (builders/trades people) pick their rates because demand on them is so high. Regulation, permitting and crazy processes mean the barrier to entry are higher than ever before. It's not fixable with day labor and a spunky attitude.

That said, our current line is the Tesla Model S of homes, late next year we'll be able to offer our Model C range for a much broader market.

Thanks for the well wishes!

I'll take one.

Here, take a look, pick your options and we'll stuff it in a stocking!


"A monthly subscription to The Flex Company will make a relieving gift for any ladies on your gift list who suffer from menstrual bloating, cramping, or leaking." I couldn't make this up.

Make sure to never tell them about it for maximum creepiness. Imagine how delighted your extant female friends will be to start receiving tampons in the mail.

I'll admit that summary was not my finest work.

That might be my favorite thing I've read on HN.

I feel like I'm looking at a Sharper Image catalog. Lots of neat, expensive, completely useless things (for the everyday person) that I'm surprised anybody buys.

Wow what a fantastic analogy. I remember going into a Sharper Image back when they were more popular and you're right, that's the same feeling I get when I look through this.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that, but eerily spot on.

Exactly the same feeling I got. Kind of unfortunate effect of making a catalog like this - the "we invented something truly new that we think every home in America can use" products do not benefit from being in the same list as "here's something rich people might get a kick out of" products.

And the few things here that seem legitimately useful (the sous-vide circulator, for instance) are competing with proven, solid, reliable products (e.g., the Anova precision cooker: 4.5 stars on Amazon with 1100+ reviews).

It made me remember that I as considering buying a sous-vide circulator as a gift. So I clicked through, found that this one in particular was out of stock, and ordered the Anova instead at half the price. So, +1 for advertising, -1 for fulfillment execution :(

Some of these look pretty cool, I'd never have put most of them as YC companies. I wish there was a way to filter by location I'm in, or even just say "Not in SF" and see what's still visible. I assume anything subscription is out, and I'm not going to click individually through everything that requires shipping and see who has sane/any shipping prices to the UK.

Super excited to see Watsi on the list of suggested donations. I became a monthly contributor a year and change ago, and every time I get a raise, I raise my contribution. I love the work they do, and the way they'll select the patient for me -- I find the process of combing through each one emotionally a bit too onerous!

+1 for MTailor. Not affiliated at all, but I ordered several shirts and a suit in the last year and it fits amazingly (and it's quite convenient to order from the app). Do be aware though, that it will take ~ 4 weeks (slower than buying from a store, but as fast as getting it tailor-made)

Never heard of Click and Grow before this. Seems really cool and will definitely consider for gifts

Awesome idea this list. What an impressive (quantity and quality) - list of companies. Some of them are known to me as YC portfolio companies - because I buy from them or have heard of - but loads of them, I would not have guessed that they are YC funded.

Random: I'm surprised that Boosted Board is still using "perfect for the last mile of your commute" in their marketing slogan.

All the influencers I've seen with it (like Casey Neistat) use it to commute pretty long distances! Their biggest benefit is, you can quickly travel from point a and b, especially in a conjested city, on something that you can carry under your arm or in a backpack. No need for bikes, public transit or cars.

I'm a big fan of Boosted, but I wouldn't put them on a holiday gift buying guide. Shipments have been halted for a month due to a quality issue, and even if they fixed it today, the waitlist is so long there is no way you would receive a board this year.

Interesting mix of gift stuff. Some of it definitely piqued my interest and I will probably return and consider it. It's all sort of semi-luxury goods, but that's, well a holiday gift kind of thing. And it's hard to make money selling to people who don't have a lot of money.

Wheely's Cafe is probably the most interesting gift there to me. It appears to be a franchise-in-a-box. I wonder if there's one in Seattle! Probably an ideal gift for an 18 year old with a work ethic and lack of academic passion.

Soundboks link does not work. It points to https://bookface.ycombinator.com/company/974 which is locked.

sorry about that - fixed!

Aside from the Donations section (YC's nonprofits), having much of the YC portfolio collected like this really deflates a lot of the cachet about YC, its companies, and its place at the Silicon Valley cool-kids table.

I look at this list and I see problems that never needed solving, middlemen -- sorry, curators -- reselling cheap Chinese crap, and a cult of jamming Bluetooth and USB into just about anything that holds still long enough because IoT.

There is no magic, "man I wish I'd thought of that" moment here, just a few "that makes sense" products in a sea of Valley bullshit.

Perhaps YC was always like this, but they hadn't presented that information in such an easy-to-consume list before.

You are looking at a holiday shopping list which is the epitome of consumerism. You shouldn't find things that are elevating the human spirit you are looking for stuff that you would find in skymall or the home shopping network.

There are plenty of yc companies tackling interesting problems - you just wouldn't find them on a holiday list. For example:

Triplebyte - trying to take a data driven approach to make recruiting for more scientific

Gitlab - building cool open source software to host your code

Higherme - building customized education software to help kids learn math and science

Priceconomics - they have some of the most interesting content coming out of tech (opposite of huffpo/buzzfeed/etc)

Zapier - ifttt for the enterprise / lots of cool tools for companies

Mixpanel - power modern analytics for companies

I think it's unfair to judge all of yc based on a holiday shopping list which by its definition should cater to our consumerist desires. The most interesting companies shouldn't be on this list since most wouldn't have a product that is bought by consumers.

I think we agree that gitlab is awesome and tossing money at something that can lead to exponential growth in productivity and therefore exponential financial return is a wise strategy. As long as the market is not saturated and there's a path to growth, etc. But at least they're on the right track.

However every dollar spent on "candle of the month club" and every hour spent working on it is a dollar and an hour that can't be applied to exponential returns from actual tech companies.

Perhaps there's something sneaky or non-intuitive about "candle of the month club" such that they're operating a redundant array of inexpensive candles, or they have a containerization or virtualization strategy for candle wick storage, or their database is prototyping quantum secured financial data, and the candles are just placeholders to test real technologies and workflows. Probably not, but I'd like to hope so.

This was pretty shocking.. I didn't know YC had gotten so far into "As Seen on TV" or "As sold on the radio" type products. If tech valuations are going to some of these companies I'd be pretty concerned that they might just be trying to rub-off bubble pricing on top of as many product categories as they can with any tenuous tech link they can manage ("it is sold on the internet!").

YC has funded 1500 startups. You're generalizing from a narrow selection, which is clearly bogus. (Did you expect quantum computing on a Christmas list? Well I guess this is HN.)

Also bogus is drawing conclusions about companies' long-term strategy ("problems that never needed solving") from a holiday gift guide.

Just because some of us aren't big on consumer goods is no reason to throw out basic logic!

I mean perhaps.

But I think those of us that lived through tech in the late 90's have a right to be a little suspicious, for example, of the long term business strategy of a company whose sole business model appears to be sending someone three glasses of wine a month surrounded by overbearing packaging.

I'm sure someone will come along and inform me that it's all a ruse to generate the worlds best wine AI and disrupt our palates with algorithms or something but I remain fairly certain said business is about as technologically advanced as Pets.com, with a similar prognosis.

I am commenting on the narrow selection that YC itself assembled.

I realize there are many YC companies missing from this list, and from the consumer goods and services industry in general. But if this [ahem] curated list leads to the kind of generalizations I made, the list itself may share some blame for that.

If appeals to "basic logic" and wait-for-the-pivot are YC's best shot at getting me excited about the 2016 YC Holiday Season as presented by YC, then by all means carry on.

> I am commenting on the narrow selection that YC itself assembled.

That's patently untrue. You commented on YC.

At least the way the comment read to me, gamache's meaning was closer to "this is bad marketing for YC / this dilutes the brand" than "YC doesn't fund anyone solving real problems".

Your interpretation is more charitable than mine. Well done!

Well, I'm sure distance makes it 1000x easier! Your job is one not many could do.

"Yoshi brings the gas station to your gift recipient, refueling their car regularly wherever it's parked. Any commuters on your list will thank you for removing the hassle of the gas station from their lives forever."

I get it, filling up your car is a chore, if your time is super valuable... whatever. It's hard to fill the YC portfolio every year with only companies working on "big problems", I'm sure. But it really does feel like "Valley bullshit". I hope it was pitched as "disrupting the archaic gasoline distribution system - we're going to do to fossil fuels what Amazon did for books & movies".

(I will have a good laugh if this dismissive comment is pulled up years from now as an example of "another negative Hacker News post about a now-hugely successful company")

That was actually one of the few services which looked interesting to me. $20 to save at least 40 minutes a month and they also regularly check your tires. Has anyone here used it?

Ironically the most obvious pivot for the company is anti-EV range anxiety-as-a-service where they'll do something like triple A specifically for EVs by rolling up in a truck with a 500 HP giant diesel generator and fast charge your EV anywhere in a service area, eliminating range anxiety.

Honestly you could probably run something like that without any capital expense at all by just collecting monthly premiums and advertising "$1000 if we can't charge your EV in an hour" and then never paying out due to fine print or paying out $1000 in service gift certificates. If you sell enough plans then you could consider maybe building the truck for real.

I wonder what a 500 HP generator at full battery charging blast sounds like in a residential neighborhood at 2am. Probably similar to a freight train. That alone might be entertaining.

> Honestly you could probably run something like that without any capital expense at all by just collecting monthly premiums and advertising "$1000 if we can't charge your EV in an hour" and then never paying out due to fine print or paying out $1000 in service gift certificates.

That's one of the most succinct examples of a certain patently unethical SV style way of thinking about business I've ever seen. Perhaps Parker Conrad's got the bandwidth to be a cofounder.

I mean, I know it was posted tongue in cheek, but taking money from people and then leaving them stranded is, you know, wrong.

Well, that's exactly what I thought when I read about that service. Since I drive a Leaf, a gas fill-up would be useless to me.

Many EV owners would object to having their car being charged by a dirty diesel generator. Plus, if we are hauling a giant generator, what about a giant battery pack? Someone will have to do the math on that.

As well as a "rescue" vehicle, it could be very useful as a temporary "mobile quick charger" when traveling to underserved spots (say, you want to cross Nevada on EV). Schedule a time and place, meet your "tanker", refuel and keep going.

AAA has service trucks with generators for EVs on them. An AAA membership is something like $100/year.

Too late Silicon Valley! Go growth hack something else!


> I wonder what a 500 HP generator at full battery charging blast sounds like in a residential neighborhood at 2am.

I think you had a good idea with the on-demand EV charging, but I would imagine they'd have a truck with a high-capacity battery (like Tesla's Powerwall) which could be charged via solar panels.

> could be charged via solar panels.

...but would actually be charged via grid power or internal combustion engine generator 99% of the time.

Not to mention the irony in using a diesel generator to re-charge electric vehicles meant to save the environment.

What could be greener than having your EV filled by a diesel generator?

To be fair, the list is only about "gift ideas". I'm sure that doesn't represent the whole YC portfolio. That said, it's a bit weird when a list from a top-tier Silicon Valley "seed accelerator" (as per Wikipedia) is indistinguishable from random stuff you'd find on Groupon.

Perhaps I(we?) should adjust our expectations? From the point of view of "funding smart people" and letting they pivot until they find a market, I see nothing wrong with any of the above. If they are indeed selling "chinese crap" and being middle man adding no value, the market will say so.

The non-gimmicky hardware is usually outside of the holiday-gift price point. Like say YC's http://www.doublerobotics.com/ , I actually eyed it for a holiday gift, but 3000$ is a bit too much.

I spent a large chunk of today looking for gifts and trust me almost everything under 1xxx$ is like what you've described. And quite honestly, I'd guess many of the companies on that list might actually my struggling to be at the "Silicon Valley cool-kids table" because of what they're doing :P

I get that this isn't a comprehensive list of everything YC invested in but seeing all those places listed together shocked me by how much, I don't know how to say with tact but shit YC has invested in. I'm clearly not the target audience so feel free to brush this off as uninformed but a lot of those places aren't very innovative and are just tacky sounding.

There was one listed on there that I'm familiar with, boosted boards. After seeing the Casey Neistat videos of him flying around nyc on one it looked fun but the subreddit for electric skateboards showed it comes with a lot of problems for a $1500 toy. I'm sure soon it will be a great reliable product at a lower entry point though.

And for the record, Boosted was one of my "that makes sense" products.

I'm glad you guys are making this stuff, but I was really hoping for things that I might personally want or enjoy.

I always wonder how people can say things like this: "They've created a wifi-enabled immersion circulator called the Nomiku so every home chef can prepare simple, Michelin-starred meals."

I mean, I bet that literally zero Michelin-starred meals have been prepared with this device. And the phrase "Michelin" or "Michelin-starred" is trademarked and has a clear meaning. If I was a marketer for this company I would feel uncomfortable using a phrase like that.

With that aside, it's odd to see so many YC companies on this list with the same faddish business models of "send some stuff to you every month you don't get to pick the stuff but trust us" and "do something that's already pretty simple in your kitchen or home but now using an overcomplicated device with machine learning and wifi"

The former model isn't really a technology empowered business model at all, it's really a buying or deals club driven by marketing. And the latter is ostensibly technology but it doesn't seem to have really any of the accelerative effect on efficiency that real genuine networked software based businesses have.

Seeing all of them in one place like this, backed by YC, is pretty disheartening.

Nomiku is in use at Michelin-starred restaurants. e.g. Noma: https://twitter.com/nomacph/status/527325007014543361

Not this specific device perhaps, but Sous Vides (as I understand it) can form part of a commercial kitchen, at high-end restaurants.

A quick google shows: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/10/michelin-restaura... - A Michelin starred restaurant, which uses a Sous Vide. They are generally quite expensive to by for home use.

I won't comment on the rest, but I'd agree that the list doesn't exactly fill me with wow.

But that doesn't make sense. If I'm selling a stainless steel bowl like they use in commercial kitchens can I say "now every person ever can whip up Michelin-starred omelettes" or something?

I mean I suppose I could, but it makes me sound like an idiot. It's also plainly factually untrue. No Michelin reviewer will ever see my meal, no meal I make will receive a Michelin star. It's literal nonsense.

And Sous Vide has been around awhile and totally solid units can be had for about $100. I remain confused about what value-add YC and/or this company is bringing to the space.

> But that doesn't make sense. If I'm selling a stainless steel bowl like they use in commercial kitchens can I say "now every person ever can whip up Michelin-starred omelettes" or something?

People who are selling, say, chef's knives absolutely say that kind of thing. It's kind of silly but not obviously more so than any other marketing puffery.

I wouldn't disagree, I guess I was targeted at >I mean, I bet that literally zero Michelin-starred meals have been prepared with this device.

i.e. If this was a type of device that no-one would use/was using in high-end restaurants then it's clearly a ridiculous statement. But Sous Vides are.

And I'm sure that there are providers of bowls, pans, knives and other kitchen miscellanea that are marketed to the public as 'professional grade', even if they won't make your food taste better. That's advertising :-)

As to why this is a 'start-up', not sure, not a huge amount to disrupt.

That's like saying a MacBook Pro is often used in high-end programming shops, so buy one and you'll be churning out remarkable software.

The skill of the person wielding the tool matters way more than the tool.

They also use stoves -- that doesn't automatically mean you're creating Michelin worthy meals because you have a stove. Like any cooking equipment, you need skill + technique + great ingredients to create a professional-class meal.... and a lot more than just a sous vide machine.

And marketing. The best chef, with the best ingredients, with the best equipment isn't getting a Michelin rating at home. It obviously needs to be in a professional restaurant with top-notch marketing to even get a reviewer to think about coming in.

Not exactly that expensive these days. Anovas broke that barrier years ago and they retail for $99 - $125 during this time of the year.

With regard to the comments after the aside:

The former model has become a “fad” because of technological progress in e.g. logistics and predictive analytics. The wording “send some stuff to you every month you don’t get to pick the stuff but trust us” belies the fact that this is actually a very difficult problem with a very interesting solution. If some instance of this model succeeds it will be because it managed to create a service that improves lives at _essentially zero cognitive cost_. To cultivate and then engage with certain preferences takes some amount of time and energy and to be able to offload those costs to software is, at the very least, interesting.

The latter model is only uninteresting under the assumption that the products will never work in the sense you mentioned (efficiency improvement). I’m not sure there’s any reason to assume that “smart”, “connected” products won’t improve substantially in the relatively near future. I also think there’s plenty of simple tasks that could be automated in a meaningfully useful way. For example, cooking rice.

More generally, building a profitable, sustainable organization of human beings is intrinsically useful and interesting. This last part is less a reply to your post and more a response to a cynical (in my opinion) tone throughout this discussion.

> More generally, building a profitable, sustainable organization of human beings is intrinsically useful and interesting. This last part is less a reply to your post and more a response to a cynical (in my opinion) tone throughout this discussion.

I do understand this view, and I share it to some extent. It's easy to be cynical and it's hard to try to make things work. I understand that far more now in my old age than I did back in the fuckedcompany.com days, for example.

With that said, I think people who espouse this view can be a little oblivious to the downsides of frivolous investment bubbles in tech. If you take a million dollars of investment and do something like take cases of wine, open the bottles and pour it into little glass size vials, and mail it to people for a couple months before realizing that service is not really useful to anyone, then that's a real life tragedy.

Asset bubbles are bad and have real life consequences.

Those million dollars belong to someone, often someone's retirement fund or similar. That million dollars can help people. It can help them directly, by giving to those in need, or more relevantly, it can support business ideas that aren't frivolous, people who aren't privileged graduates of prestigious colleges or connected to hot incubators.

Maybe a system that is funding that idea but leaving so many prospective entrepreneurs and ideas completely out of the system, is somewhat broken. Maybe we're allowed to notice it and find it problematic if we want to.

Maybe we can say hey this is disappointing because it is.

I agree with most of this and probably shouldn't have included that last bit because I see that it might indicate otherwise and shift focus from what I think is a more important point.

I guess our disagreement is that I'm not ready to label the wine delivery company as frivolous. It provides, of course, a purely luxury product, but I'm not sure that providing (or investing in) a purely luxury product is ethically or morally deficient or frivolous. If you add in that YC funds many extremely risky companies with highly humanitarian, philanthropic, etc goals, I think it becomes even more difficult to look at specific investments and say "what a shame."

Frivolous or not, though, is it sustainably profitable? I'm not convinced that it could be, and I think that that's the core of CPLX's doubt as well.

A silly but profitable project can fund basic research that would be too expensive on its own; but a project that's neither particularly valuable in its own right, nor able to fund others, isn't good for very much.

(Old-style luxury goods also provide work for artisans and keep traditional knowledge alive, but I'm not convinced that that element is present here either.)

I disagree. I think CPLX is disappointed not because he thinks YC is picking losers, but because, in his opinion, YC isn't accounting for certain ethical, moral, humanitarian, philanthropic, etc (I'm not sure what the correct word is) ideals when it makes its picks. Or maybe: taking risks on inherently frivolous ventures in lieu of more valuable ones is disappointing. Weighing in on the accuracy of these sentiments does make for interesting discussion.

I think "YC says investment X is +EV, I say it's -EV" is usually an uninteresting statement unless it's made outside of the context of ROI and profitability. I know the HN crowd is well-informed and knowledgeable, which is why the forums are so interesting, but an extremely small number of us are qualified to critique YC's investments in terms of financial ROI.

So my initial response was w.r.t the sentiment that these companies are frivolous, regardless of whether they're profitable. If you're correct, then I must have missed CPLX's point.

box-a-month clubs are a pretty solid business model, if you can do it. I floated around a business subreddit, and a number of people had quite a solid side business doing box-a-month setups.

Further, I am very very tempted by the whisky subscription deal; I'm just not enough of a whisky drinker to bite the bullet.

I think automatic rice cooking is a solved problem. There's a device called a "rice cooker", where you pour in the rice and water, press a button, and then later you get cooked rice. No wifi necessary!

Idk, I think there's room for improvement [1].

[1] https://www.engadget.com/2016/03/29/xiaomi-ih-pressure-rice-...

> the phrase "Michelin" or "Michelin-starred" is trademarked and has a clear meaning. If I was a marketer for this company I would feel uncomfortable using a phrase like that.

The person who would feel really uncomfortable is (or should be, anyway) their lawyer. "Prepare Michelin-starred meals!" makes it sound like the product has been endorsed by Michelin, which puts a big fat target on them for a lawsuit from Michelin if it hasn't.

I just want to mention that Le Tote and Vet Pronto are awesome. We use them both and they make life easier and more pleasurable. Always great things to wear and our cat doesn't have to leave home.

YC backed Scaphold.io is a backend as a service platform powered by GraphQL They have a freemium mode to check out as well as $25 code "HappyHolidays2016" (exp.1/15/17) Visit their slack channel that the founders use to teach you how to start scapholding!


I wouldn't even accept these businesses as design clients. Gross.

YC admins: The "S" in Sixa is linking to Doblet.

thank you kind stranger! updated.

on edit: There are so many of these companies that are basically stylized versions of Alibaba listing pages or are basically re-skinning of some business process that, turns out, doesn't actually need to be disrupted. Transporting gasoline to fuel up someone's car? Really? We're going to be energy wasteful just to shave 10 minutes off someone's week?

The other disturbing thing is how many of these gadgets are IP enabled. I really hope YC has some kind of IoT advisor who insists upon security at a low level.

Snarky dismissals of other people's work are not welcome on HN, so please don't post like this.

I tend not to post as many moderation scoldings in YC-related threads, but that was such a bad HN comment that I'll break the pattern for it.

Edit: you rewrote your comment to make it (somewhat) more substantive and less snarky. In principle that's fine, but it would have been more respectful to preserve the original context for the reader.

Have you considered that these companies might not actually be that innovative and that the parent comment was a legitimate criticism?

The parent comment has been completely rewritten.

It's terribly easy and not very useful to dismiss things in a vague way like this, and it's often wrong, particularly if talking about an entire category or market.

e.g. google could have been dismissed as just a search engine but it turned out eventually to be exactly what a lot of people wanted.

(As written now) I think it can be legitimate critic. Google really grew out of making a better search engine algorithm and all. Some of these businesses are essentially reselling things and not really focused on innovating the substantial part of the business. That can also work of course, but I can see why it's less interesting.

>it would have been more respectful to preserve the original context for the reader. //

Sounds like a fault of the forum [as well] ...

Man, I was hoping for books. The YC staff book recommendations are usually good.

As it is, there is nothing of value on this list. Most of these are absolute rubbish. But most outstandingly rubbish is Vidcode. It claims to teach code to teens/tweens, but speaking as one myself, this looks like the same kind of condescending, manipulative, "we be down with the kids, yo" crap that attracts teens the same way that a man covered in shit attracts high society.

Look, if you're going to try to attract teens, or any group, to coding, don't try to look hip, or trendy. Treat them like they're regular people (not just a bunch of cretins that you have to stick sparkles in front of every five seconds to keep their attention), give them real tools, and allow them to attain the knowledge to build what they want to build. That's what works.

And how do I know that it works? Because that's what I got, when I decided I wanted to learn programming. That's what countless kids got in the 80s, where children would, through self-motivation, learn assembler, and type in opcodes by hand.

And maybe those people are the minority. In fact, they almost definitely are. But you'll never get the majority, because the majority doesn't care. Making things that look like they're designed to appeal to an insipid stereotype won't change that.

> It claims to teach code to teens/tweens, but speaking as one myself

I'll cut you some slack for that reason, but you need to (re-)read https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and nip that internet rant thing in the bud ("the same way that a man covered in shit attracts high society"?) if you want to continue commenting here.

Yeah. Sorry dang. I'll go re-read that now, seeing as I quite clearly need of a refresher.

And there's no need to cut me slack for my age (although it's nice of you to do so): I broke the rules, and I'm responsible for my actions. Just like any other member of HN.

Twice in three years is too many times to have to say this to you.

bows head in shame

Bummer that your apology got downvoted, since this is a gracious response to being called out. Kudos. We've all been jerks on the internet — the key is learning how to curb that behavior, which it seems like you're doing pretty well.

>Bummer that your apology got downvoted

That trend has reversed. Dramatically. I suspect your comment has something to do with it.

As for why I wrote GP in the first place, it's an important part of qwerty's code of internet interactions (yes, I have a private code of internet behavior: so do you, most likely, whether or not you've formalized it. And yes, I made up that name on the spot. It sounds pretentious, but it needed a name so I could reference it, and all the others souded equally pretentious. So there you go):

"If you were wrong (whether in your argument, or in your manner), then take the appropriate action, whether that be an apology or a concession. Do so graciously: There is no shame in being wrong. There is shame in refusing to admit it, or accepting it poorly.

They're words to live by. And you can trust me on that, because I've lived by them (or tried to), and it pays off.

Was I irritated about a product aimed at my demographic, and how dramatically it missed the mark? Yes. But that doesn't excuse my expression of that anger.

I'm not sure why this is so badly downvoted. Maybe the forced "covered in shit" metaphor was over-the-top but otherwise this is spot on.

I'm 27 which I guess counts as an adult but I certainly clearly remember that everything explicitly marketed towards kids or other varieties of "dummy" always felt forced and condescending to me when I was younger.

I definitely should have gone for a different metaphor on that. I thought a lot about how to do that, and in retrospect, I didn't pick the right choice. Hindsight truly is 20/20.

But no doubt a big part of why I got downed so much is because dang reprimanded me (and rightfully so!). If the admins have something, anything bad to say about it, most people don't want to say anything good.

Pick up one of these for the hacker/developer/AI enthusiast in your family:


WRT the whole christmas gift theme, "Estimated delivery date: Summer 2017."

The explanation of why it can't run on a phone and why it needs a new currency is a little unconvincing.

"asteria can connect with any bot, command any service" But it can't run on a phone, why?

Certainly "its an open alexa/siri/now" sounds very interesting.

That looks mildly interesting to me. What do you see yourself using it for mostly? Do you have a personal application in mind, or are you a tinkerer just looking to have some fun?

I kind of like it but I don't know that it's calling my name quite yet.

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