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Office Hours with Sam Altman [video] (ycombinator.com)
110 points by craigcannon 77 days ago | hide | past | web | 33 comments | favorite

Thanks for the taking the time to do this. It is valuable to hear Sam talk from his experience.

Some follow up questions came to my mind after listening to this. I am going to list them here. If you see this @craigcannon, please consider them for the next one.

1. One disadvantage of being young is that they are usually inexperienced in managing people and conducting business. How would you recommend young people to improve their skills in people management and business? What kind of books should they read? What kind of habits should they inculcate? Is there anything else you would recommend?

2. A non technical founder needs to be a product guy. It is also easy for a n00b to pick up coding skills as there are so many great resources on the internet, many of them operated by YC companies. The follow up question here is the converse: how can a technical founder learn product skills? What kind of resources are available and which ones would you recommend?

3. Sam mentioned AI and computer security as two areas that he thought was important. With AI, we are already seeing hints of disruptive technology (deep learning). What is the situation with computer security in comparison?

4. Stickiness of a new platform can be taken as an indicator of whether it is worthwhile to develop things on it. How would you rate voice platforms like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Siri in terms of stickiness?

#3. Securing the Internet of Things.. Securing data in the cloud and on premise.. Automated cyber defenses.. You can apply these at the network level, the application level, the machine level etc... new ways to manage authentication/passwords.. new anti phishing technology, behavioral and outlier analysis. Tools to manage hacks effectively.

There's a whole industry here.

Seen. Also, emailing Macro@YCombinator.com for future stuff is a good way to ensure it's seen.

The crowdfunding response is feels like common incumbentspeak. YC is threatened by crowdfunding so it seems like Altman can't see it straight. It looks like a major blind spot.

It would be great if YC actually did "eat itself" and usher in the crowdfunding era. This is certainly contrary to the exclusive club they are today but it beats being subsumed. And YC does have good things to teach people and is quite generous. It would be good for the world if they were the ones that did this. "Kickstart with equity" is clearly the model of the future. Indiegogo is working on it.

The problem with crowdfunding (he says) is not that it doesn't work for companies, who'd love if it worked, but that users can't make independent judgments. They're overwhelmed with too many choices, and revert to the judgment of traditional VCs. Sam didn't say it should be this way, as though he were trying to make the current model sound better than it is, but that this is in reality what users currently do. That sounds like an actual insight problem.

I want crowdfunding to work, but your claim that Sam can't see straight about it isn't supported by the video.

"YC is threatened by crowdfunding" Maybe, or maybe he actually thinks its not a great idea.

""Kickstart with equity" is clearly the model of the future. " Clearly? I would disagree.

Is crowdfunding the way to go for all new companies? No, but it's clearly a good model for some.

Crowdfunding seems to work well when you've already got an experienced team, have an advanced prototype of your product/service, and just need funding to scale up that prototype.

If you've got an inexperienced team, an MVP-style prototype, and could use extra guidance and support, then going with crowdfunding would probably end up being problematic.

What are examples of successful crowdfunded companies?

How does the crowd determine the difference between your type 1 and your type 2 companies?

>"What are examples of successful crowdfunded companies?"

I can talk about successful crowdfunded products, including products made by companies.

To give one example to start with, Formlabs has used crowdfunding to help generate money to manufacture their 3D printers:


>"How does the crowd determine the difference between your type 1 and your type 2 companies?"

I'd suggest it comes down to experience. With experience in crowdfunding you can spot the campaigns that are likely to succeed, and which ones are likely to fail. The main problem I see is when campaigns are too ambitious based on the background of the people involved. For example, high volume manufacturing in China without prior experience of working with Chinese manufacturing companies.

In formlab's case they had a 1.8MUSD seed round prior to the crowdfunding. They raised ~3MUSD from crowdfunding.

This probably helped give them some runway to put together a series A. However they still raised an additional 50MUSD.

So, I don't think they're a great example of a company bootstrapping from crowdfunding. It's more of a traditional play, with some validation (and some runway) from crowdfunding.

How about Pebble? They did start being funded by Y Combinator and angels but got most of their funding from Kickstarter https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_(watch)#History

But now they got bought out by FitBit after going too much in debt (?).

Occulus. That one ended well for the founders.

Bought out by Facebook -- which is not the norm of most crowdfunded companies. In my personal belief, the crowdfunding model as it exists now is not a form of investment that will scale well. When a kickstarter company fails, it's not liable to all the people it took money from unless by fraudulent circumstances. What I believe will be more viable is a crowdsourced capital fund where an executive acts as a trustee representative and makes investing decisions for us.

Just curious as to why you would disagree. The way I see it -issue more shares with lesser face value when the company is valued. So if you are valued at $4 million issue 400,000 shares of $10 each and crowd fund. If you can't set the valuation, use a bidding process and let the crowd value. No ?

It's a model that could work, but it's not "clearly the model". One reason is that VCs add more value than just money, at least ideally they do. Also, there might be a lack of oversight and accountability. Btw, what you are suggesting sounds alot like an IPO.

Here's what I took from his response: people aren't ready to invest without some strong of signal of worth. Makes total sense.

And his response of current signaling coming from well-known investors does jive with my own experience, esp. for seed stage.

But, a lot of this starts to disappear once a company is looking for Series A+. Because now you have actual financials/product+market to look at. I would also argue the value of "smart" money is more towards the seed stage anyway.

So, shift focus away from seed stage, and into crowdfunding Series A+.

In other words, enable a) bootstrappers who have found product/market fit to take things to the next level b) the common man to invest in a way a bank might.

Great questions, great answers.

Sam's comments on Meetups mirror my experiences, though I'm not in a tech hub area. It depends really heavily on the person organizing and what kind of outreach they've done to people, existing groups, and organizations in the area. I've seen a few groups flare up really enthusiastically, then dwindle over a few months. I've also tried joining some existing meetups that feel most like people are sticking around more to hang out with the other people than because of value from the meetup.

Likewise for finding a technical cofounder. As a technical person I've spent some time thinking about the other direction, and (after a rough experience) there's no way I'd try to get funding with somebody I didn't know very well.

Thanks to everyone that submitted questions!


The room needs some sound treatment. Also I found Sam's constant vocal fry annoying and difficult to listen to. Sorry, yes, I'm OCD.

I agree. Just considering the way he delivers: knee up & frying voice & looking at the ceiling a lot are not a good combo to make a great first impression.

He has Ezra Klein voice. Or maybe it's called NPR voice.

Would Sam talk to someone higher status with a fry voice, like he couldn't be bothered to muster the energy to speak normally? No. Vocal fry is used to show that the speaker is higher status. Genuinely high status people don't use it because it's a passive-aggressive way to show higher status.

I think Sam Altman might be the nicest guy in Silicon Valley. It seems like he really wants to do the right thing at all times.

I wouldn't come to that same conclusion based on a few things, but the biggest one was his behaviors around reddit: https://www.fastcompany.com/3048521/fast-feed/ellen-pao-part...

What do you think he did wrong here? Joke around in the thread?

Given other accounts of Altman's persona, both publicly and from personal accounts to me, he seems to be rabidly competitive and cutthroat:

[1] "You could parachute [Sam] into an island full of cannibals and come back in 5 years and he'd be the king"

[2] “But I have guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from the Israeli Defense Force, and a big patch of land in Big Sur I can fly to.”

[2] "Graham said, “I asked Sam in our kitchen, ‘Do you want to take over YC?,’ and he smiled, like, it worked."

So in the context of Yishan's comment, it demonstrates to me that the "joking" was a subtle nod that he wouldn't have any qualms with back room dealing and manipulation to reach a goal.

While that might sound like a hit on him, it's actually not. I relate to that approach strongly, and think it's actually the right way to play it.

However I think it's actually a bad comparison to say he's the "nicest guy in the valley." That title goes to Steve Wozniak.



[1] There is more than one way to power. Sam seems to get there by consensus

[2] These are for survival in the case of an apocalypse, not aggression

[3] Graham loved Sam Altman, so he put him in charge of YC.

None of these really related to Sam making a joke about Reddit. Conde Nast is extremely happy with Reddit. It's growing (#7 site in the USA), and valuable.

I fail to see how [2] corroborates your initial claim.

Altman is literally the greediest person in SV.

What makes you say that?

wow, this thread made my head spin.

he's also quite accessible.

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