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I’m a Female Y Combinator Founder and You Can Be Too (amandapeyton.com)
197 points by inmygarage on Sept 9, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

DO NOT ask for anything in return from anyone.

I'm very much onboard with much of the other advice, and would have agreed with this bit for something like 25 or 26 years of my life. My goodness, I sure wasted a lot of people's time.

Create more value than you capture, but don't be afraid to sell. It gets easier with practice, and it is a core competence in a startup founder. You've got to be able to sell to customers, sell to investors, sell to the press, sell to your employees, etc etc. The most direct path to what you want is a) describing why it is in X's interest to give it to you and then b) asking for it. It works. Astoundingly well.

Relatedly, "quality content will win out" is not a marketing strategy. Much closer to the truth is this old chestnut: if your ideas are any good, you'll have to shove them down people's throats.

P.S. You're not a nobody. You're someone who has something X should want, but does not yet have a personal introduction, means of social proof, or whatever it is that the supposed "somebodies" have. You can fix that, and you should fix it, ASAP. The ROI on fixing it will be spectacularly better than more cold emails.

"a) describing why it is in X's interest to give it to you and then b) asking for it"

Is anybody else watching Food Network's food truck race show? There's a young woman on the leading team who demonstrates this every week.

In one case the teams were tasked to butcher a slab of beef. Instead of hacking away at it like the other teams did, she just asked the butcher at the local store they were partnering with (another area they excel in) to do it for them.

She's relentless (and shameless) about asking for what she wants, and gets it.

>If your ideas are any good, you'll have to shove them down people's throats

Is this true? It makes me think of Helicobacter pylori and the guy who gave himself an ulcer to prove that he discovered a cure. But maybe that "chestnut" only applies to schema violators?

Google demonstrated superior search in 1996, but only became the largest search engine after 4 years, $25MM funding, and a partnership with Yahoo: http://www.google.com/corporate/history.html

Good ideas are different, so people need social proof. That's not how geeks are accustomed to proving things, so we're slow.

yeah, i'm finding that social proof is in many ways the barometer of a good idea.

By social proof I mean when someone you respect/imitate embraces the idea. On a large scale this just means popularity. So I would call social proof the barometer of a successful idea, which only loosely correlates with being a good idea.

cool. yeah, most people tell me my ideas suck, and then they tell me "it's a good idea" once they get adoption.

I'd imagine this happens a lot with new ideas. Back in the day, people couldn't fathom having a mobile phone. Now, many people can't fathom not having the internet (myself included) where ever they go.

I think it is fairly true... the world seems to (generally) be resistant to change even if an idea is fantastic/revolutionary.

the world seems to (generally) be resistant to change even if an idea is fantastic/revolutionary.

I would change that to "especially if an idea is fantastic/revolutionary".

I agree, so perhaps we could phrase it as "the world seems to be resistant to revolutionary ideas, but generally accepting of good ideas as long as they function within the status quo and are 'good' by available standards." ;)

In the cases it's not, it's a useful fiction, especially for most hacker types who are disinclined to marketing/sales in the first place.

It's funny that I have been doing something like this for a while on my own, but to be honest I still think that I am not YC material. What's really surprising is that I just realized that I want to keep it that way.

Sure, I have a bunch of ideas and I have refined them. Yeah, I can write comments and get karma. I have gotten projects funded for nothing, but I would never write a bet on myself. I've just never thought myself as someone good enough for anything, but I simply try.

I know that this isn't something healthy, but it has, ironically, helped me out. I've taken risks that no sane person would take, because I always thought that I was going to lose anyway. Can you imagine a 17 y/o trying to make a dynamic haptic UI? (what the hell was I thinking?)

Sure, I have failed a lot. I have tried to run before I could crawl, but in the process I've learnt and gained far more than those who played it safe. So, maybe hopelessness in the right dose might actually be a good thing. After all what's there to lose, if you think that you have nothing to lose?

I don't understand why people have opinions of themselves, let alone why they have negative ones. If I'm not good enough for YC, I'll apply and let the YC people tell me. Why would you reject yourself?

> I don't understand why people have opinions of themselves, let alone why they have negative ones

Wow, I never really thought of the idea of having no opinion of myself whatsoever. It's an interesting idea--one that might make me a lot happier.

Well, yes! Having an opinion as a way of self-appraisal is maybe understandable, but I'd never let it get in the way of anything I wanted to do. I'd just try and fail. I can't see a reason why I wouldn't attempt something I wanted.

I think that this is a function of a lot of things that change over time. I am/was heavily influenced by my parents opinion of me. I used to think that if my mother repeatedly says that I am not good enough to exist, then maybe that's the truth. As, if I am truly that bad then how could I possible know? That would be a really silly recursion. If I was crazy how could I tell whether or not I was crazy? Surely, some other reference was needed.

I know that this sounds silly, but this is an improvement.

For the life of me I can't think about a pattern that follows specific types of opinions. It's just the nature of this chaotic world. There is an infinitely large range of possible permutations of experiences and reactions to those experiences. So, it's quite tough to say if given the same set of circumstances whether or not two people will have the same opinion, or think the same way. Hence, it's tougher to extract a broad pattern surrounding such things. Unless you spend a lot of time with the person and find out the why and how.

I think it's because they're risk averse and afraid to fail, and think they're saving face by eliminating themselves privately instead of being rejected publicly.

>Can you imagine a 17 y/o trying to make a dynamic haptic UI? (what the hell was I thinking?)

That might depend on whether you live in a region stifled by software patents, or need another market that is. It's sad that many may not even attempt projects because it can be a minefield out there. Even when it turns out you're first, you can still burn through your capital defending it. Copyright should be enough.

It was a hardware based device and I filed for my first patent on that basis, but now I don't have enough money to complete the filing.

Although, I think that it will make a good product, but I can't follow through as I don't have any money at all. Neither do I have any guarantees for institutional investors to pour money into it. It just costs too much to do MEMS based research and set up a production facility for it, but as I grow older I intend to do something about it.

Moreover, I doubt it if I am smart enough to take it to the level I see in my head.

I've just never thought myself as someone good enough for anything, but I simply try.... Sure, I have failed a lot. I have tried to run before I could crawl, but in the process I've learnt and gained far more than those who played it safe.

That's because you're good. Possibly really good.


EDIT: Dunning-Kruger seems to be more about the less-competent side. The more-competent side I meant to point out is more commonly called the Imposter phenomenon. http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2006/07/the_imposter.p...

Nah, that can't be true. I am not smart enough to do that. I am actually pretty dumb once you get to know me. Most of the stuff that I have under my belt is by luck and by other people's help.

It's funny, I wrote an essay (that I haven't published yet) over the weekend about being a female founder. It has some of the same sentiments as Amanda's post.

It was surprising how little of my advice seemed very specific to being a female.

Love how Amanda's advice was all generic, also. It shouldn't make a difference what gender or species you are for YC, and it doesn't.

Pretty sure PG funds only Homo sapiens

(rips up plans for echolocation-based social gaming startup)

Not so fast! Pivot and make it for blind kids


So far.

oh cool! excited to read it when it's ready.

yeah agree re: lack of female-specific advice. seems to me you either do it or you don't.

I can't be a female YC founder but this is great advice for anyone who wants to apply to YC or simply found a startup.

Definite +1 on talking to alumni. That helped us a lot, and everyone we talked to was happy to give advice. While most alumni are in Silicon Valley, they are spread out all over the place.

Most of the alumni I reached out to I had met at conferences, so that is another good way to build your network. Chat up people - you never know who you're sitting next to.

Here’s a freebie: the HN audience is uber-highbrow and likes longer articles on weekends.

would y'all describe HN as highbrow? seems pretty populist to me. e.g., every time there's mention of elite universities or anything prestigious in 'the establishment', it gets ripped to shreds and denigrated as being for elitists.

Anti-establishment but intellectual.

"Every revolutionary is a closet aristocrat." - Frank Herbert

interested to hear what people think about this question. i would say unequivocally yes, but i wrote the post.

To me 'highbrow' means someone who enjoys things that they think are intelligent.

Whilst the actual level of the articles and discussion may be in doubt, the important point is that HNers would like them to be intellectual.

i found there's a great deal of pro-higher-ed elitism here. the "if you didn't do grad school CS you can't possibly be as good as me" mindset, in particular.

I don't know what being a female has to do with your post. Good tips for a founder of any gender though.

Yep, that's sort of the point - the advice is the same no matter your gender. I put that in the title because my theory about why more women don't apply is because they feel like they won't get in, and in general I have found (gross gender generalization coming) that women take rejection worse than men.

YC is approaching the acceptance rate of Berkeley PHD - due to the ever increasing supply of applicants, mostly. The classes have actually gotten larger. So any feelings that "I probably won't get in" are probably true for any gendered applicant.

By all means apply! But have a backup plan. I have known people that have looked for funding only from YC. That's just as silly as only applying to Berkeley and then giving up on your PHD if you don't get in. As they say in football, that's not a high percentage play.

There were plenty of women PHDs at my graduate school, and men too! So I know people of many genders can navigate processes with lots of rejection.

To be accepted, the 'backup plan' needs to be similar in implementation to the 'YC plan' — if you wouldn't have proceeded with your startup in some form if you got rejected, then YC will almost definitely reject you.

Or... just start your fricking company. pg rocks, YC rocks, but you can actually start a business without either one being involved. without any outside investors in fact.

Your generalization could be correct (as a male, I would not even try to generalize women), but I think more women don't apply simply because there are less women in tech. The fear of rejection keeps men on the sidelines too. There are just more men hackers and thus more apply and become founders of tech companies.

and that's why you have to attack the problem at every decision point. From birth to death we are told what is a masculin job and what is a feminine job. So from birth to death we need to start pointing out that jobs are simply to be done by people who can accomplish the tasks.

A title should reflect the actual contents of the article. It had nothing to do with being female. I call link bait.

The fact that it is written by a female founder is what doesn't make it linkbait. It's a case of "hey girlfriend, here's the list of things you need to do to be a founder, and guess what, none of them involve dropping testicles".

They psychology of these things is quite complicated.

I don't see what's complicated; it's an HN policy that titles should succinctly and accurately reflect the content of the article submitted. And this was a self post.

I second that it's a good useful post, but misses the point of why women aren't female Y-Combinator founders. If you aren't ready for a life of rejection, then it doesn't have anything to do with Y-Combinator, but don't be an entrepreneur!

Yep, the rejection part I agree with. I wanted to write something actionable instead of yet another theoretical musing on the dearth of women in technology. The "why" part of it is something that I think has been well-explored.

I agree. Exposure of role models is key. Being the first to do something often sucks. so it;s nice to know others have been there and it was not so bad.

There is also the rapportive suggestion (accidental launch): http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1595743

just to mention, Jen McCabe from http://imoveyou.com , Y Combinator s10, is another female founder that is doing well.

Don't forget Jessica Mah of InDinero.

Just curious: Are there any others from previous sessions YC classes?

Think there have been 7 female founders so far...

Thanks all. I try to stay out of the 'female' debate posts (after doing one that covered pretty much everything I had to say on the topic).

Bottom line: Within 10 minutes of meeting you (or less, if you're very good), whether you're XX or XY shouldn't matter.

Whomever you're speaking with should be thinking "damn. That's an amazingly driven founder." Period.

I guess the 'female founder' thing is a hook to, um, hook us all into reading the article (including me, since I'm female and a startup co-founder), Actually, writing an article about Y Combinator is another obvious hook for this crowd. But, ultimately, I wish the article didn't mention the female thing. Lose that and suddenly this is a great article for anyone wanting to apply to YC, as well as conveying general principles for startups in general. Focusing on being female does not help female entrepreneurs get/maintain credibility - it draws attention to their gender rather than their substance as entrepreneurs.

No, I really can't.

My thoughts exactly. But then again: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_change.

No, I'm fairly sure this is not possible for me.

Although it is not a practical consideration, I do wonder what would happen if everybody followed the nothing ventured nothing gained advice and sent cold the 'optimal' amount of cold solicitations. There would have to be a point of diminishing returns eventually, in aggregate.

Is this an important property of good advice - that people do not follow it, otherwise it ceases to be good advice?

No. While there is a subset of good advice which is only valuable because a lot of people don't follow it, that's not a property of good advice in general.

For instance, "Eat healthy food" is good advice, and doesn't become less good even if everyone began following it.

Marketing advice, though, is probably more susceptible to "becoming bad," since it typically depends on making your product stand out. Thus, as more people follow a bit of advice on how to stand out, the less this advice actually helps them stand out.

For those who haven't seen Amanda's interview on This Week in Social Media, you might want to check it out on thisweekin.com (show link: http://bit.ly/9GiyPy).

Some very interesting advice. I especially loved the bit about talent sourcing; the more I talk to various startup founders, the more I realize how desperately people are looking for good talent.

Also loved this quote: "If you ask 100 people out for coffee and even ONE agrees to go with you, that’s one more coffee than you’d get by doing nothing. Net win."

"Or if you are a 21 year old white male hacker, you might find this useful too." can somebody shed a light on the meaning/joke? behind this sentence? what's there about being a 21 year old white male hacker?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Amanda, I agree the advice wasn't gender specific but quite useful and encouraging nonetheless.

I would love to hear more from female founders like you though. It's quite encouraging.

Has anyone ever put together a list of female YC founders and their companies? Also, is the trend for female YC founders to be solo-founders?

aside from #6, this is great in general career advice across sectors...not just YC advice.

I completely agree on the Startup School piece of advice. I flew out from Nebraska last year and met more entrepreneurial/like-minded people than I ever knew existed. That event was one of the main motivations for me to move out to the Valley.

I still keep in close contact with a number of people I met from that event last year. There are very few places where you can meet fellow hackers who are entrepreneurial focused. Hearing what the speakers have to say is just the icing on the cake.

Sorry, but I can't be a female because I'm a male today.

Have you tried Expert Sexchange?

snip snip.

You're on your way, peepster.

Maybe they would get more women founders if they called it X Combinator?

So it's finally time for XY and XX Combinators!


Well I'm afraid I have to explain the post, although I believed enough of people would understand the hint and even develop discussion in that direction. I certainly didn't expect the reaction I've got.

Maybe I'm being genetics-biased but the name "Y combinator" always had for me a "macho" association -- Y being the chromosome unique for men. When I read the title "woman ... Y combinator" it really stands out to me. And I see nothing wrong in the idea of also having something like the "X combinator" which would be intentionally more oriented towards women in the business.

My understanding is that the name has nothing to do with gender and, instead, has something to do with this:



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