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Why Y Combinator Made All the Difference (bold.co)
256 points by bootload 65 days ago | hide | past | web | 112 comments | favorite



There aren't many positive toplevel comments, and I don't think that's a reasonable situation for such a fine piece of writing. So:

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!


Thanks sillysaurus3!

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.

http://imgur.com/a/X6h8v


She has a fantastic writing style. Very engaging and informative. It was great to get an inside look at the YC experience. I especially like how vision driven she is!


I second this.

This article just steered me more towards SF instead of Seattle because it answered a lot of my questions.


If you're curious about why I left Seattle. I wrote about it here: https://bold.co/public/why-i-left-seattle-egcdih?t=j9i3e37


You had me at Pixar. I think Bay Area is where the best of hippie and techie cultures mesh together. I know it's changed a lot in the last decade but there is always life left in that little group of rebels that keeps humanity moving forward.


personaly I think is one of or maybe the best article on YC experience.


I agree. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the author, many of the comments here are focusing on nitpicking a single remark/context. It feels so odd to read lousy comments for an article that goes into great depth of a personal experience.

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.


This is a life-changing read for me. I was debating if I should move to Seattle or Bay area to pursue my 'science project' or not. My current job is going to give me 7 weeks of severance starting in late April and I think it will be enough to at least make the leap and cross my fingers. What I am working on will change the course of history if I even get close to succeeding.

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.


I don't doubt that you might change the world, but you should temper your expectations.

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 can't do something this ambitious alone. That's the main thing, I need more engineers, scientists, and designers involved in order for this project to scale and make a significant impact.

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.


Good luck. And remember to read! Read read read like your life depended on it


Thanks. :)

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 just as many failures as successes

There are way more failures than successes - at least an order of magnitude difference


FWIW, I was very explicit with investors that we would never flip the company. Our intention is to build a company that will last forever. I also acknowledged that things change. If Denny and my opinion changed would let our investors know right away. So far it hasn't changed. If you are planning on partnering with an investor make sure they understand your values and your intention. To clarify this I put it in writing in an email and have the person confirm they understand.

I always make myself available to chat about this with scientists. Drop me a line by email.

Stay crazy.


Duly noted Cindy! I will be as transparent as possible because life is just better in all areas that way. I am a firm believer that investors and co-founders should be following the same moral compass as myself or I will keep looking.

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!


Awesome, drop us a line when you are looking to set up your lab (https://labspend.com).

If you haven't come across it already, lab supplies and chemicals is a quote/sales rep model that could use some disruption.


will do! I love your work and will gladly support it.


Best of luck! Do you blog? If not you should start, I love reading about people making big changes like you are about to do.


I write prolifically in my journal but I'm a little shy about putting all my observations and thoughts online. I did that when I younger and it became a distraction with the constant comment threads and wondering if people got what I was trying to say or were trying to dissect every sentence to find a mistake.

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! :)


Best of luck :)


Thanks :)


A few things she doesn't mention which also helped:

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. (https://www.yelp.com/biz/microryza-coffee-roasters-san-franc...)

As you might have noticed in the post, Cindy is also very strategic in solving problems.


I first read only to find out what experiment is (still don't really know) but instead quickly got trapped wanting to read more. Like I was reading something that was not supposed to be public.

Especially the funding process. The description was chilling for me. I am greatful to have chosen to read this.



How can one get connected to this network outside of applying to YC?

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.


The best way to start is to start.

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.


You might have some luck if you put an email in your profile. (You have to put it in the profile section since the email section is private.)


Thanks! Done :)


Great read. I'm dissappointing that this thread has devolved to HN cliches (arguing about Kool Aid and pg's essays) and isn't focussing on the very well written and inter sting content of this piece. Also, I wish there was a way to subscribe to a writer on Bold - it seems that I can't, unlike Medium.


for this very reason i am cross posting everything i write on medium https://medium.com/@cindywu/why-y-combinator-made-all-the-di...


Desperately hopeful young founders, willing to work crazy hard and live in pitiful squalor to make their ideas happen.

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.


I was making $30k a year doing university research before starting a company. what you call pitiful, most fields outside of tech call normal.


It was a wonderful read, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing!

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?


the feature doesn't exist, but i cross post everything i write on medium


Well met! Reading all the rigor applied to new ideas in this article brought a tear to my eye. If only such rigor, even just a smidgen, were applied to internal projects within corporations...

Best of success!


"Being surrounded by dreamers inspired me to dream bigger and set an example that hard work can make your dreams come true."


Thank you, Cindy, for the good read. Tangential, but may I ask who were the big names/VCs/Investors you met in Seattle (even if they said no)? I'm also a Seattleite I'm interested to know who the 'players' (and magnitude) are around these parts?


I met with everyone. You name the investor, I met with them. If you have specific questions send me some electronic mail.


"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." --George Bernard Shaw


> We convinced our friends in the current Y Combinator batch to let us stay in a closet at their East Palo Alto home office for $600 per month. If we spent $1,000 a month we would have 25 months of runway, which seems infinite.

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.


> We convinced our friends in the current Y Combinator batch to let us stay in a closet at their East Palo Alto home office for $600 per month. If we spent $1,000 a month we would have 25 months of runway, which seems infinite.

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.

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.


>What an incredible, amazing experience.

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.


Founders are not "workers" for YC. They're trying to do something exceptional with extremely scarce resources.


Founders are workers. They are the ones doing all the work and throwing years of their life away.


They are only workers if they do not to reap the benefits of their work 100%.


Indeed, they are not workers.

Workers get paid for their work. Founders don't get a paycheck.


Actually, they do. All employees of a company have to pay themselves a minimum wage, at least. Founders are employees in their own company. And they (usually) own majority stock in the company - if there is a payout for YC, founders make more money than YC does.


> Who wouldn't want to work on something awesome

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.


To me it just sounds like actors in Hollywood, not doing the acting they want to do, but doing a lot of waiter work.


People do this because they want to earn equity and build a business from scratch. That's how wealth is built from nothing in a capitalist society.

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.


There is never a better time than now.


Actually yesterday is often a better time


> 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?

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.


Haha. Looks like the punch bowl is empty. Somebody make another round of kool-aid!

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.


I'm not saying that pursuing a startup is always a bad idea. I'm saying that romanticizing living in somebody else's closet as part of the startup journey is wrong.

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.


This is exactly correct. Whats good about a startup is not living in a closet or getting to talk about how cool you are for living in a closet. That is exactly what is bad about the experience. Pretending it is good is roughly denial or some other similarly named vice.


Would you say the same thing about doing an Ironman, or climbing Mt Everest when you can just get helicoptered to the top?

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.


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.

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:

- Books

- Video Games

- Travel, sports, friends

- Yachting

- 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.


I'm not saying that pursuing a startup is always a bad idea. I'm saying that romanticizing living in somebody else's closet as part of the startup journey is wrong.

They are rational, intelligent adults, and they don't need or want anyone to be outraged on their behalf.


I'm not sure where you got the impression he was outraged on their behalf. Clearly they were ok with it, but the person's point seems to be "don't get the wrong idea that living like this is good"


Why tell anyone how they should be living? Or look down on them for it? Or advise people that they should keep their head down and not chase their dreams (as in https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13900883)?

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!


I didn't say to not chase ones dreams. I said don't be a fool about it. There's no need to live like this to pursue a startup and I'll call out anyone I see romanticizing it as wrong 7 days a week.

> 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.


I'd rather be a fool than a cynic.


Not being a romantic is not remotely the same as being a cynic dude. Its actually obnoxious of you to suggest that they are the same thing. Most functioning people are not particularly romantic in my experience. Similarly, most (and I would include myself here) are not cynics.

Whatsmore, being a cynic is something that is often appropriate, particularly when dealing with wild romantics.


> Its actually obnoxious of you

Please abide by the rules here and don't be uncivil.


People are free to make an informed decision in either way, if you think im suggesting coercion youre misreading me.

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.


Who cares what's normal or acceptable, short of illegal?

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.


You're certainly missing my point here.


I added a bit to the end of my comment. It sounds like you're worried that people are lying to others, or are somehow acting in ways that are malicious. But all that's happening here is cheering for founders.


From personal experience its very possible to believe you are obliged to sacrifice your own well being, and you are obliged to be passionate about something. This is my motivation here.


Ah. Yeah, I can see that.

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.


Sure I can see that I guess.


There are reasons for this. The community is no longer is a small upstart community, it represents the ruling class in our society, and people are literally terrified of how the tech sector is going to change their lives.

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.


Also you made an important point which I think has been completely overlooked by many here. HackerNews no longer has the regular presence of those involved in YC, because there's now BookFace which looks to have came about around 2015.

> "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."


Whenever there is adventure, there is a threshold guardian warning of the dangers. We would do well to remember that without the threshold guardian, there could be no adventure.

It's a pity they're on the adventurers' website though, while the adventurers have moved on...


Thumbs up. If this is getting down voted, all bets are off.


You can never start a successful startup without drinking the koolaid. Every single startup is a crazy impossible idea, until someone buckles down and grinds it out.

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.


I see what you mean by overbetting on one idea, but please stop selling this point that they're throwing their lives away. That's unnecessary hyperbole. Even if nothing works at all, which is rarely the case, because the BATNA is networking with YC alumni and getting a safety job at GooAmaBook, they've wasted 6 months to a year for the YC program.


Yeah, people survive for longer on less at universities in the hope it will lead to something bigger, and aiming for 25 months' runway to see whether a product's getting anywhere is probably less of a gamble than betting on getting investment in six months time.

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.


Degrees are much more valuable. You can only do it when you are 20 and it's for life!

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'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 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.


> It's things like this that brainwash a generation of fools into throwing their lives away at nonsensical ideas.

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.


> 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.

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).


I disagree with the idea that a startup is just a vastly unlikely to cash lottery ticket. The vast majority of the time it's actually a great idea. I've helped start nearly dozen companies, and less than half had any measure of success, and only two reached a profitable exit.

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.


It's literally 5 minutes of googling, it was the 5th result for her name. Not sure why is this so big of a problem?


Have you ever gone as frugal as this to speak about it? 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)


"As frugal as this"? $600/month on rent? It's $100 more than I was spending back in Leicester on a two-bedroom flat. And six times the price of a 1-bedroom in Athens.

If you want runway, try not living in California for a while. Even in the US you can find far cheaper than Palo Alto...


"Even in US..."

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.


Apparently it's shocking enough that people would choose to pay $600 to live in a closet rather than spend $500 of it moving a couple hundred kilometers away and have a lower rent and more than a closet...


> Even in the US you can find far cheaper than Palo Alto...

Even in urban/suburban Northern California, for that matter.


> Have you ever gone as frugal as this to speak about it?

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.


Staying frugal being a good strategy is something we can agree on. The agreement ends there though.

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".


> Staying frugal being a good strategy is something we can agree on. The agreement ends there though.

> 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.


I see your point. Good discussion. Back to work now, and all the best. Cheers.


> Back to work now, and all the best.

Best advice I've heard all day :D


What's wrong with living in a closet? It sounded like she was the hustler out of the founding team, which meant that she was out talking to users & investors all day. If you're only at home to sleep, there's no sacrifice in sleeping in a tiny closet. Hell, most of Asia does it all the time.


Yeah.. my parents kept the Press (the newspaper of the city I grew up in) issues for the day I was born, 9/11, fall of the Berlin Wall etc. But going out and finding similar things for other people you've never met, whose age you have no reason to know? That's creepy as fuck.


koolba, and what about getting scurvy because of malnutrition while trying to bootstrap your startup? what you think!


I'm assuming you're referring to the classic tale of sama: http://www.businessinsider.com/sam-altman-gave-himself-scurv...

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 hard to type on a laptop with an IV line going into your arm :D

It's doable, personal experience.


> 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.


> 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.


> ... let us stay in a closet at their East Palo Alto home office for $600 per month. If we spent $1,000 a month we would have 25 months of runway, which seems infinite.

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.


A very interesting read.

But why do I need to turn javascript on to read a load of text?


Did you just doxx Jessica Livingston?


> What I am working on will change the course of history if I even get close to succeeding.

Don't tell me...an app that lets you pay for people to stand in line at Whole Foods for you?


Please don't do this here. You've repeatedly posted uncivil and/or unsubstantive comments and we've asked you before not to do this.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13901277 and marked it off-topic.


Nope. It's rooted in computational biology.


Do you have a website or anything that discusses your general idea? I'm a medical student, and my background is in math/cs and my research is in comp bio. Just curious about what you're thinking of.


I bought the domain and have been creating a site locally. I'll upload it prior to applying. I don't want to show anyone what I have yet, as it's half-baked. I know first impressions mean a lot in this community and with science/tech in general. Trust me, I've made that mistake before and got laughed/ridiculed to the point of almost never trying again. I'll be smarter this time and remember this is not reddit, this is where supergeeks hang out.


I didn't read the post, but if the poster is going to live in a closet I wonder where is going to live the next guy with a very big changing world idea




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