I think the problem, as you rightly pointed out, is that a lot of entrepreneurs are not that at all. They want to start a company and do a me-too venture just to ride the 'Sold to XYZ' train.
No one likes the test or to be judged by others and resent being rejected. When we talk of emotional intelligence, I think it's about knowing what you want to and can do, and allowing your peers or mentors to help you get there. I've met many YC alums and do see a certain set of qualities that unite them - I suspect those are the ones you picked up on :)
Thanks to you and the YC team for creating a wonderful new pathways to fulfillment for budding entrepreneurs.
> When it came to investing, I had something that my cofounders didn’t have: I was the Social Radar. I couldn’t judge our applicants’ technical ability, or even most of the ideas. My cofounders were experts at those things. I looked at qualities of the applicants my cofounders couldn't see. Did they seem earnest? Were they determined? Were they flexible-minded? And most importantly, what was the relationship between the cofounders like? While my partners discussed the idea with the applicants, I usually sat observing silently. Afterward, they would turn to me and ask, "Should we fund them?"
Perhaps the unreplicable advantage of YC in its early years.
I've always been fascinated by this and would like to learn more about how to do this. However, I think it is really a function of how much experience you have talking to real people. For example, it is easier for me to retroactively analyze a social situation after it happens (like a date) than to proactively act and do the "right things" in the moment of the situation. I think it really comes down to how much true experience and pattern recognition you have. You can't analyze a situation correctly until you have been through it way too many times and can "step back" from yourself.
I think perhaps a small handful of my more socially adept friends are good at it but probably not at the level of JL.
It's not enough to never pick a "bad" team if you're also turning away 9 out of every 10 good ones.
I think PG had said she was their secret weapon for many years, when there were other accelerators copying them left and right.
>I looked at qualities of the applicants my cofounders couldn't see. Did they seem earnest? Were they determined? Were they flexible-minded? And most importantly, what was the relationship between the cofounders like?
I second this. People who say soft skills are dead or unnecessary are wrong in my opinion. Of course, software is software and hardware is hardware. But how does it get there? And where does it go from there? People help people and being nice to each other is not only more beautiful, but also leads to higher productivity in my experience. Having more empathy for your co-founders, employees and investors goes a long way.
Are you sure people actually say that? This struck me as odd because it seems to be the total opposite of what people say. It seems virtually everyone stresses "soft skills" repeatedly.
But I have no proof of this so I just did a quick search of Google's 130 trillion pages to try and get a sense if people out there are really saying that soft skills are useless:
"soft skills are dead": 3 results (and 2 of them happen to be from you in this thread): https://www.google.com/search?q="soft+skills+are+dead"
"soft skills are useless": 7 results : https://www.google.com/search?q="soft+skills+are+useless"
"soft skills are worthless": 4 results : https://www.google.com/search?q="soft+skills+are+worthless"
"soft skills are in demand": 43000 results : https://www.google.com/search?q="soft+skills+are+in+demand"
"soft skills in demand": 94000 results : https://www.google.com/search?q="soft+skills+in+demand"
Also, on HN... In the top 3 threads with "soft skills" in the title, the comments all emphasize the importance of soft skills: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=soft%20skills&sort=byPopularit...
On that note -- has soft skills ever actually been called useless, ever? Even in the earlier decades of Silicon Valley, when (it seemed like) more of the valley was more hacker than entrepreneur?
"Founders need to be tech" is said often, but you're assuming "Founders need to be tech OR Founders need to have soft skills", which is an unnecessary assumption.
For example, "Founders should be determined" is also expressed often, doesn't mean they're expecting it to be an either-or with the quality of "being tech"
Soft skills most essentially involve communication. “Being nice” is a much wider umbrella which includes reciprocation of many things not limited to: dignity, consideration, morality, mutual respect, agency and comradery. When we treat the former as the whole of the latter, the structure breaks down. It may not be obvious, and the damage might be displaced out of sight, but the point I’m trying to make is there’s nothing “nice” about making that mistake.
(While the success of soft skills will usually depend on other types of skills, “soft skills” nonetheless is essentially limited to interpersonal communication skills.)
Incidentally, I read Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston back in my college senior year in 2012 and, as she put it, was immediately hooked.
Thanks for writing that book, and for everything else you've done for the startup world.
The stories behind lots of theses names everyone has heard are amazing. I still remember reading it in about 2006 and being so immediately impressed with everything Paul Buchheit said. It was shocking to me, because I'd started that chapter thinking he shouldn't be in the book ("Gmail? He's not a founder!").
The other thing was the superficial "insights" that one particular (well known) founder had in the book. They were clearly wrong, and they have colored my thinking about luck and being in the right place ever since. It's only recently I've started rethinking that after they made some good (lucky?) investments over the last few years.
The Google preview says 2001 for me, which it gets from https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/98233.Founders_at_Work (note the "first published 2001")
But Gmail wasn't out then, so that can't be right, and I must have read it in 2007 or 2008.
I wouldn’t use Mark Zuckerberg as an example of someone you “got right” though. Whether his creation has been a net gain for society as a whole is highly debatable, which I think should disqualify him as an entrepreneurial success story.
I've known of many others too. I'm sure Red Hot wasn't the first.
The pre-YC incubators operated on a completely different model. They typically had shared services, centralized control, and were rarely filled with entrepreneurs doing their own thing.
"Accelerator" was a term that YC used to distinguish themselves from that model, and whether or not they were the first to use the term what they did was truly different.
Just an example: CMGI, Inc. was calling themselves an Internet Incubator around 1995.
Probably better to make a claim based on success.
Photo of Alexis Ohanian at dinner in first batch is classic!
Also, what does “technical” even mean? Why is setting up the legal structure of a company non-technical but writing HTML for the web site is technical?
Sometimes I wonder if non-technical is just a slur.
The other way of looking at it is that PG was definitely the front-man, you kinda got an idea of what he did.
If I had met Trevor or Robert (or if somebody had asked me who they were), I'd probably ask the same question.
In fact, if you asked me "who started YC?", I'd probably say "PG & Jessica".
I walked into a store once in Ottawa, and bought some expensive kids stuff, the owner said: "Are you a software developer" and I said 'how'd you know'? ... Because almost everyone who can afford her stuff is a lawyer, government exec, banker, or otherwise professional.
So I'd say the bulk of it is to the people you tell ... it's an anomaly, that's all.
The opportunity that Paul Graham gave Jessica Livingston is being massively underplayed here. He would not have chosen to start YC without her but he could have. It very well might've failed without her. That's entirely possible. But she absolutely could not have started YC without him and his money. She would have had no opportunity to become the great success story she has become.
YC partners fund ~3% of the founders that ask them for opportunity. That leaves ~97% of people out in the cold, desperate for the same kind of opportunity that made them successful.
The reason YC funds so few founders used to be their limited resources. Now they have all the resources they could possibly want and they've consciously chosen not to scale. YC has become a VC firm that is perpetuating exactly the problem they were founded to fix. It's an exclusive club for the chosen few and a mark against anyone that is not granted membership. Just like the old elitist VCs they were supposed to replace.
I don't begrudge YC or any of its partners their personal success. I do think YC has gone from being a potentially great force for good to probably a net negative for society.
Where did that come from?
Even if YC is "elitist" now -- that does NOT mean "negative for society".