Your story is wonderfully illustrative, in-depth, and inspirational. Thank you for taking the time to share it.
For what it's worth, I really like your writing style. I hope to see much more of it!
For founders, I am very responsive over email. If you have specific questions some me some electronic mail.
If you want to build a company but don't know where to start I recommend signing up for Startup School. https://blog.ycombinator.com/onlineclass/
Unrelated to this post, but related to dinosaurs if you like dinosaurs and want to dig some up this summer with me get in touch. I'm inviting roughly 100 people. We found a triceratops two years ago. It's been in the ground for over 65 million years.
This article just steered me more towards SF instead of Seattle because it answered a lot of my questions.
While I'm not a very educated in startups, this was a pleasant read and I loved the 'straight to the point' approach for discussing individual experiences.
I was wondering if YC or TechStars would be more ideal for me to start, I do not want to go to a major investment firm that will see $$$ instead of the value my invention has for science and human progress. I know it is possible to build a company and advance science but I have to be VERY careful about who is involved at the early stages. I think the only place for something as 'crazy' as my project and as 'crazy' as myself to be taken seriously is SF.
My question to you is do you really need YC or another incubator to do it? If what you've got is so world-changing, what they can offer you does not matter. Do you have no other alternatives than moving to one of the most expensive work locales in the world and joining in the rat race? Can you bootstrap? Do you have close friends you can trust? Etc.
YC seems like good people but the VC model is predicated on convincing people they need it. There are just as many failures as successes and there are other ways to succeed and other ways you can control your own destiny. You may even have a better shot if you don't do what everyone else is.
I understand your train of thought though. I left Tattooine aka Atlanta because there were not very many people who were fit to co-found this project with me. Moved to Utah instead of Denver to improve as a developer and deepen my discipline in other areas of my life. I feel ready to take the leap now.
Google offered me the foobar challenge a year ago while flying to Seattle (didn't complete in time). I'm confident that should I 'fail', I can end up working at a very nice company that aligns with my moral compass.
I can't live with cognitive dissonance, I have to be around people and ideas that are trying to solve our collect existential crisis.
Currently reading a textbook about Math for CS from MIT, written by a Googler.
Also, have a stack of books helpful to entrepreneurs/scientists that I will bring with me.
There are way more failures than successes - at least an order of magnitude difference
I always make myself available to chat about this with scientists. Drop me a line by email.
I love Experiment.com, I've been following you guys since YC days. Thanks for trying something different and leaving a blueprint for my team to follow.
If I don't get into YC, I will get into Hack Reactor or Galvanize Data Science program. For the love of science and all that is good in this world, I definitely will stay hungry and stay foolish. Will do!
If you haven't come across it already, lab supplies and chemicals is a quote/sales rep model that could use some disruption.
Currently, I am making an outline for a scientific paper that will double as a business plan. That is what I hope will win YC over to help me. I live in Utah right now, moved here a year ago from Maui, before that I lived in Atlanta for most of my life. Bay Area or PNW was the final leap or Bowser #3, here we go! :)
Cindy and Denny are probably the hardest-working and most persistent people I know. Experiment's early history is the epitome of pg's advice in "How Not to Die."
They're also just genuinely nice and fun people. I don't think I've ever heard them gossip about other founders, and think I've maybe heard them say a total of one or two bad things about others (which were justified). One time they turned their office into an after-hours coffee shop so people could hang out while working.
As you might have noticed in the post, Cindy is also very strategic in solving problems.
Especially the funding process. The description was chilling for me. I am greatful to have chosen to read this.
I'm a noob engineer and I'm trying to learn more about startups. I live in SF and I'm looking on meetup.com and the startup events listed there mostly just seem like a lot of "founders" wasting time "networking" instead of building their products. It seems there is this network of people who want to look like they're building a startup, which is quite separate from the network mentioned in the article of people actually building a startup (or involved otherwise).
I don't know a lot of people here, and I'm not sure how to get started either. Does HN have any insight here? Or I guess if anyone here is interested, I'd love to get a quick coffee with anyone who is building a startup.
One way we got around this in Seattle is we threw rooftop parties at our apartment. I went to all the networking events in Seattle, I found the good people. Then, I invited all the people I thought were good over for drinks and bbq. If you have a good filter for good people, the good people will appreciate it.
When first getting into engineering I went to a rails meetup group twice a week. You're right that there are a lot of founders trying to recruit at these types of meetups, which is annoying. Try to go to the meetup with a specific thing you're working on and then see if someone wants to pair with you. When you're pairing it will be hard for someone who is recruiting "technical founders" to bother you. If you don't like the current meetups, start your own.
Is there a similar story on the VC side? Young venture fund operators who have secured an itty bitty bit of LP money, working crazy hard to find worthy investments, couch-surfing and living on KD to stretch the money as far as it will go. That would be a story worth reading.
This bold.co site is a bit confusing though - I can't find a place where I can subscribe to the author's posts. Does it even have such a feature?
Best of success!
I'm all for frugality and cost controls, but this is ridiculous. It's things like this that brainwash a generation of fools into throwing their lives away at nonsensical ideas.
I'm not saying it's never right to put it all on the line and bet on your idea. I'm saying the vast majority of the time it's a terrible idea and doing something like this serially would make for a terrible existence.
> As we walked out we remembered the National Geographic magazines. We handed each of the partners their National Geographic Magazine from their birth month and year. I remember Denny handing PG his.
>> "PG, This is what science looked like when you were born."
> Jessica ran after us and asked, "How did you find my birthday?" It turns out we got her birthday month wrong and gave her the January issue. Luckily we came with the backup. She is a February baby.
If I were in their shoes (YC interviewers) I'd be seriously weirded out by this. Knowing the approximate age of someone and getting an issue from that year wouldn't be that bad. But this is just creepy.
Are you kidding? I would do it in a heartbeat. I'm not joking. Who wouldn't want to work on something awesome with all their heart with their friends in East Palo Alto for a couple years? Why not? What an incredible, amazing experience.
Ok, I can think of a bunch of people who wouldn't want to work like that. But for a certain type of person, that experience is more amazing than the cushiest "normal" job could ever be.
It was my dream since 17. It never came, because I never found anyone else in the midwest who was interested in starting anything. Everybody wants to work for someone else, or hates the VC ecosystem instead of playing the game. And what can you do alone? I should've moved to SF, even if it was into someone's closet.
You realize you can do everything you said, without living in someone's closet, in 99% of the world, right?
YC is making billions and their workers are living in closets. That's insane.
Workers get paid for their work. Founders don't get a paycheck.
There's "working on something awesome" and there's "working on something (I think is) awesome". I see a lot more of the latter, and much less of the former, and it's hard to tell the difference. But... when it's easy to tell the difference... it's hard to accept if you're in the latter camp.
The situation is that YC helps engineers and designers and product people build something from scratch and own it, instead of working for other people. The correct analogy would be actors who own the studio who are trying to make the next Disney. They get to act and own the means of production at the same time.
Working on something awesome with friends should not, and in most cases does not, require living in a closet. In most cases it doesn't require being in the same room, city, state, or even country.
> Why not? What an incredible, amazing experience.
Haha. Looks like the punch bowl is empty. Somebody make another round of kool-aid!
> It was my dream since 17. It never came, because I never found anyone else in the midwest who was interested in starting anything. Everybody wants to work for someone else, or hates the VC ecosystem instead of playing the game. And what can you do alone? I should've moved to SF.
You can do plenty alone. Only way you'll know how much is if you start.
You'll also see how much easier it is for others to join you if you're already doing something. Sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself won't find you a co-founder, building something will.
You know, I've heard this type of irritating comment so many times over the years. I've been on HN since day two of its public launch, back when it was called Startup News. It was a magical time, mostly because everyone was universally supportive. This isn't a rose-tinted view of the past, or selective memory. It was the reason I was blown away by this internet community.
The cynical comments would pop up on Reddit, mostly from pg's essay posts. I couldn't understand their point of view. Were they jealous? Did they care so much about what other people were doing with their lives that they would choose to mock them publicly? I didn't know, but I felt lucky that HN wasn't one of those places.
Then as HN grew, it started here. Mostly people remained supportive, but there was this undercurrent of negativity that kept creeping in, proportional to HN's size.
Now I wake up nearly a decade later to see many people who share your ideas, that only fools would dare gamble their youth, that taking anything but the safe and rational route is "drinking kool-aid," that pg's essays are manipulative, and so on.
And so I realize that YC founders now have their own community, separate from HN, and the electrifying experience of the early days of Startup News is no longer present.
But I was there. I saw it, I flew to SF and met a bunch of YC co's, I saw their optimism and courage, and you could not be more mistaken about the type of people they are.
I'm not saying that it's all wonderful, or that they're giants, or that there are "normal" people and "special" people interested in startups. I'm saying that startups are started by regular people, like you and me, and that without a supportive community, it's incredibly difficult to start anything.
I didn't even care about getting rich. I just wanted to help somehow. But I'm just happy that their community grows and grows and becomes stronger in spite of your negative voice, and all the negative voices across the internet. It seems like proof that you have to not care what people think to get things done.
Building something that people what is what counts. Getting customers to pay you for it is what counts. Having profits is what counts.
Software (and startups in general) doesn't get created because you're eating beans and rice, heated off a hot-plate, in the closet of your friends apartment. It gets created when you sit down to do real work.
> But I was there. I saw it, I flew to SF and met a bunch of YC co's, I saw their optimism and courage, and you could not be more mistaken about the type of people they are.
There's nothing courageous about taking unnecessary risks. That's called being foolish.
Again, I'm not saying don't take risks. To win big you have to bet big. But it's not the risks or bets that matter, it's the pay off. That's what has to make sense.
> But I'm just happy that their community grows and grows and becomes stronger in spite of your negative voice, and all the negative voices across the internet.
Reality always has a negative tone to it. If it didn't, we wouldn't need idealists.
> It seems like proof that you have to not care what people think to get things done.
Well this I can agree on.
Part of the attraction of doing things like these lies in proving to yourself that you can do it, and by doing this you fortify yourself mentally for the challenges that lie ahead.
Another result is that you become a "team" precisely because you have this shared experience. It's sort of like going through basic training in the military.
I actually disagree with this. Living in near-poverty gives two distinct advantages:
- Reduced number of available ways to occupy your time.
- Visceral hunger to improve your situation.
I'm reminded of the Hikikomori thread here; these individuals withdraw from society because society gives them enough to survive and be entertained. If you withdrew their preferred method of passing the time -- say you can live alone, but no video games -- I suspect many would lead a different lifestyle.
So you could plot people on a graph of the ambitiousness of how they would ideally like to spend their time vs how badly they want to get there. For the sake of discussion, let's say one of the axes goes:
- Video Games
- Travel, sports, friends
- Going to Mars
For me personally, I enjoy books, video games, travel, and friends, but these in a way seem "not enough" for me to lead a fulfilling life. So I'm making plans to do more.
Yacht-class recreation wasn't enough for Elon Musk, so now he's going to Mars.
In a way, startup poverty is an interesting motivational hack -- living well below your earning potential gives you the hunger, but you apply that hunger to something with a higher potential rate of return, instead of just getting a market-rate job.
They are rational, intelligent adults, and they don't need or want anyone to be outraged on their behalf.
What exactly were you going to do with your youth that was so much more interesting that you'd do that instead of creating your own business while having the full force of YC alums pushing you on?
If you want to do something else, great. It's perfectly ok to spend your youth however you want. There's nothing wrong with choosing a safe path.
But if people want to chase their dreams in irrational ways, then cheer for them!
> But if people want to chase their dreams in irrational ways, then cheer for them!
Everybody loves rooting for the crazy underdog but that doesn't mean we want people we care about to be in their situation. In a sibling comment someone referenced being an actor/waiter in Hollywood. I think it's a great non-tech example of reality vs romanticized "follow your dream" stories.
Whatsmore, being a cynic is something that is often appropriate, particularly when dealing with wild romantics.
Please abide by the rules here and don't be uncivil.
But the key word is informed. Suggesting that it is normal or even broadly considered acceptable to live in a closet is a lie.
Encourage people however you like but if you need to lie to them then I'm absolutely not ok with it.
Why not be crazy in your youth? It's your youth! Spend it however you want. Spend it in ways that you look back and don't regret having taken a safe path.
I don't think anyone is lying about anything. Everyone is extremely quick to point out that living in a closet isn't normal.
But it's awesome. They actually had the courage to do that. And that is wonderful, and worth celebrating.
They didn't give a damn what was normal and did whatever was pragmatic. I'm glad there are places like that in the world.
If the pressures are aligned too strongly in the other direction, and someone is feeling squeezed, they should focus on themselves and act accordingly. As you say, it's easy to forget that.
Can we see eye to eye that my stance is the same thing, but from the opposite direction? It's very possible to believe you're obliged to do the safe thing, to worry about whether you're supporting yourself or living up to your parents' expectations, and to think that you should suppress your dreams to appease others.
It's the path that society pushes you into by default, which is why it's worth being keenly aware of it and triple checking that you're ok with choosing it. Because you only get to make that choice once or at most a few times, often when you don't know any better.
The most fundamental political and social issue of our entire generation is the rapidly accelerating rise in economic inequality. Huge swaths of our society feel, correctly, like they are being systematically excluded from even being able to participate in the culture they were born in.
They can't treat sick family members, they can't retire, they can't get jobs with paid time off and benefits. They, correctly, consider this community to be one of the forces causing these changes. Their lives are, literally, being disrupted.
Class resentment is arguably the most powerful force in politics and history, ever. It's the underpinning of ever major revolution and social upheaval. The YC founders are billionaires now. That matters.
Why can't we just keep eating cake, you say? Perhaps we should look out the window and past the gatehouse, as there are torches and pitchforks gathering.
> "And so I realize that YC founders now have their own community, separate from HN, and the electrifying experience of the early days of Startup News is no longer present."
Which is called out in the article
> "My first line of defense when encountering a problem is Bookface , a private forum for Y Combinator alumni."
It's a pity they're on the adventurers' website though, while the adventurers have moved on...
It's far easier to do this with a partner than alone. Self doubt is a killer and it's easy to lose motivation, but when you make a commitment to another person it will reinforce and motivate both of you.
Though the fact they found it necessary to move to one of the most expensive places on the planet to subsist on that $25k even though they didn't expect to be accepted into YC and weren't selling to other startups or needing to hire developers with niche skillsets at short notice speaks volumes though.
First of all, the most value of a degree is to give you your first internships and first job. It's the hardest to find, try to do that on your own to understand your pain.
There are endless jobs that will require you to have a degree or will give you the priority because you have one:
defense company, Wall Street, any classic entreprisey.
Outside of SF/SV you don't get jobs by saying you've dropped out of high school cuz degrees are stupid cuz reddit said so.
I wish I'd thrown a year or two of my younger life (hell, older, pre-kids life) into something crazy like that, trying to build something with friends under pressure and in testing circumstances. I think I'd prefer that situation to the typical work environment I had at the time then or even now.
If anything Silicon Valley has the opposite problem. In science it's not unusual for someone to work on trying to solve the same problem for 10 or 15 years. E.g. look at how long Einstein was working on relativity. Whereas in Silicon Valley people tend to either give up or pivot if their thing isn't working within the first year, often even the first six months.
Yes, much has been made of becoming Ramen rich at the expense of the broke/really rich duality. However, if one creates a business that is profitable you have really done that something that is really impressive and worthy of respect. Only about 20 people in the history of the world get to create a Google. In my mind, success is a business that can be profitable in the medium/long term (not failing fast so the VCs can more quickly move on to something else).
The value of doing a startup isn't just the value of the lottery ticket. It's the value of the journey and what you can learn from it.
I worked at Apple for 2 years between startups. I was a valued engineer but was never given a lead position on a project, or any managerial responsibilities. Which was fine, I was young, in my twenties.
But at startups in my twenties, at various points I
- was lead engineer on the company's key product.
- was product manager on a company's most important product.
- ran tech support for all of the company's products.
- ran product development for a two person startup all the way up to a 140 person company (45 in development).
I formulated, or helped form, marketing plans, product strategies, architectures, and business plans. I helped pitch VCs, and we raised over $20M total in those businesses. I even presented to John Warnock at one point.
Every single thing I did at startups helped make me a better engineer, manager and opened up career opportunities I might have had to wait a lot longer for.
It's not just the lottery ticket.
If you want runway, try not living in California for a while. Even in the US you can find far cheaper than Palo Alto...
This is shocking? California (and New York) are some of the most expensive places to live in the world. The US is a big country, and many great places here are but a small fraction of the cost to live (Pittsburgh, Houston, Cleveland, etc...).
I can get a huge apartment in Pittsburgh for the same amount in rent as it costs to park my car here in SF.
Even in urban/suburban Northern California, for that matter.
I've been living a relatively frugal lifestyle for my entire life. Getting smart about expenses and staying that way are the surest path to financial independence.
The best advice is to disconnect your expenses from your revenues. If you make $10K more per year, don't let your expenses creep up as well. Just sock it away for a rainy day. One day you'll look back and see that you've saved up enough to pursue whatever dreams you'd like.
> And what would you suggest the "generation of fools" do otherwise? Get a 50k job at a big company and live happily ever after? Too much hate in that comment. (edit for grammar/typo)
Most startups fail so my default advice is for people to get "normal" jobs and just save up money. It's not as sexy as starting your own company but it's a known plan that works. Along the way if you come up with something as a side project and it works out, great.
By all means pursue a start up full time if you think you've got a decent idea for one and the means to do so. But there's no reason you have to live in a closet.
Judging by your profile info and comment I assume you haven't previously started a company on your own from scratch (yes/no?). I think this is where the difference of perspective comes from. You are viewing starting a startup vs. getting a job as a zero-sum game where it's all about dollars and cents.
The article specifically is not "romanticizing" or "endorsing" living in the closet. We are all in this life because we want a better future for ourselves and the people around us.
The reality of startups is that rent initially is your biggest cost. The author literally has one sentence about the closet/rent facts - it was the most effective way to maximize their runway.
You're statistically right that most startups "fail" but why? I've started a number of startups (only one I would consider a very small success) and I have also observed many startup around me. Very often the reason why startup fail are:
A) People/founders give up
B) Running out of cash or coming too close to it after raising money and increasing burn to unnecessary levels.
One curious story here is how a startup started at $0, and initially raised $50-100k. They thought they are at the top of the world (aka "we can go on forever on this money"). They ended up raising almost $1M and within 1.5 years they burned down to $50-100k. And they gave up. In reality they could have kept going for at least 6-12 months or tried exploring options like raising more, etc, etc. Emotions are very often stronger than logic in many aspect of life, especially startups.
The big problem with "the American" (read "most of the developed world") way of living/culture is that it normalizes and in many cases strongly endorses the presumably safe path. In reality, there's no safety and nothing is guaranteed. Your safe job that you spent years in building a career can go away and unless you're in engineering I have seen cases where you're very unlikely to find similar compensation at another company. The reality is that you're much more at the mercy of forces beyond your control when you're employed somewhere that you'd like to believe. And finally, starting a company does not mean "not paying yourself" or "not saving". If your company is doing objectively well, you should be paying yourself a salary.
You also refer to the notion of a "decent idea" but there's a big problem with that adjective/noun combination. The reality is that you almost never know if it's a good idea until you truly apply yourself to the idea for an extended period of time. The initial idea will also very likely change a significant amount. Many of the stories your read in the press are the one week/month wonders but I think the majority of startups took years of hands-on work to get to the recognizable status they have today. Just to name a few, and I won't elaborate on their stories: TempleRun, Pinterest, AirBnb.
And one final thought: you present living in the closet as an absolutely terrible thing. People have endured much more strenuous circumstances and have "come back to tell the story".
> Judging by your profile info and comment I assume you haven't previously started a company on your own from scratch (yes/no?).
I've worked at large faceless corporations, started my own company, and at times done both in parallel.
> I think this is where the difference of perspective comes from. You are viewing starting a startup vs. getting a job as a zero-sum game where it's all about dollars and cents.
Nope I've seen this from multiple angles.
I suggest creating a viable private enterprise (i.e. startup / side business / etc) to all my close friends as a long term means to true financial independence. It's not a zero sum game at all. In fact, I see working at an existing company as a great way to find opportunities that need to be solved, expanding your skillset to cover new technologies, and providing overall stability that can be leveraged to pursue your own thing.
> The article specifically is not "romanticizing" or "endorsing" living in the closet. We are all in this life because we want a better future for ourselves and the people around us.
Any article that doesn't call out living like that as a bad thing (even if it's a means to an end) is doing a disservice to a world of wide eyed youth.
> The reality of startups is that rent initially is your biggest cost. The author literally has one sentence about the closet/rent facts - it was the most effective way to maximize their runway.
It'd be even more efficient to live somewhere else. There's no reason they had to be in the bay area.
> You're statistically right that most startups "fail" but why? I've started a number of startups (only one I would consider a very small success) and I have also observed many startup around me. Very often the reason why startup fail are:
> A) People/founders give up B) Running out of cash or coming too close to it after raising money and increasing burn to unnecessary levels.
> One curious story here is how a startup started at $0, and initially raised $50-100k. They thought they are at the top of the world (aka "we can go on forever on this money"). They ended up raising almost $1M and within 1.5 years they burned down to $50-100k. And they gave up. In reality they could have kept going for at least 6-12 months or tried exploring options like raising more, etc, etc. Emotions are very often stronger than logic in many aspect of life, especially startups.
> The big problem with "the American" (read "most of the developed world") way of living/culture is that it normalizes and in many cases strongly endorses the presumably safe path. In reality, there's no safety and nothing is guaranteed. Your safe job that you spent years in building a career can go away and unless you're in engineering I have seen cases where you're very unlikely to find similar compensation at another company. The reality is that you're much more at the mercy of forces beyond your control when you're employed somewhere that you'd like to believe. And finally, starting a company does not mean "not paying yourself" or "not saving". If your company is doing objectively well, you should be paying yourself a salary.
> You also refer to the notion of a "decent idea" but there's a big problem with that adjective/noun combination. The reality is that you almost never know if it's a good idea until you truly apply yourself to the idea for an extended period of time. The initial idea will also very likely change a significant amount. Many of the stories your read in the press are the one week/month wonders but I think the majority of startups took years of hands-on work to get to the recognizable status they have today. Just to name a few, and I won't elaborate on their stories: TempleRun, Pinterest, AirBnb.
And that's the point. It's the work that matters. Not living like a hobo.
> And one final thought: you present living in the closet as an absolutely terrible thing. People have endured much more strenuous circumstances and have "come back to tell the story".
People having done something and survived doesn't mean it's a good idea to do so. It doesn't even mean they're necessarily related (correlation, causation, and all that jazz...).
I'm saying to differentiate between risks and hardships that are required and those that are pointless (or more accurately without a valid risk/reward basis). I see living in a closet to further a startup idea in the latter category. Maybe being in a tech center was required 20 years ago but it's definitely not true anymore (unless your business requires in person interactions with people in that tech center on a daily basis).
By all means pursue your dreams, but there's no need to pursue them like that. Be smart about it.
Best advice I've heard all day :D
Moving fast and breaking things should not require sacrificing your health. Living a healthy lifestyle and putting it front and center in your plans, for whatever you're doing, will more than pay for themselves down the road.
To phrase it a bit more poetically, it's hard to type on a laptop with an IV line going into your arm :D
It's doable, personal experience.
You must have had a better placement of the needle.
The one time I had an IV the nurse "missed" inserting it into my forearm, pinched a muscle or some such, and then had to fall back to attaching it to my wrist. I couldn't use my left hand the entire time it was attached and for a few days afterwards.
Also, doable aside, I'm guessing you'd agree it's not recommended.
Let's just say it wasn't an entirely free choice, and half a hardware store in my right leg agrees with that.
I don't believe these guys couldn't ask their parents, or an uncle, for some extra money, and I also don't believe that this attitude has any relationship with their success.
Don't tell me...an app that lets you pay for people to stand in line at Whole Foods for you?
We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13901277 and marked it off-topic.