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Has YC ever funded a company with a Black founder?
152 points by prime0196 on Mar 21, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments
I ask this question of out sheer curiosity. Some people may ask "Why does it matter?" Well, it's a well known fact that there are a disproportionate amount of blacks in technology and it gets even worse when it comes to programming. I can imagine the numbers get even more grim when it comes to black programmers in startups. I live in Metro Atlanta and have attended programming meetups, Big Nerd Ranch, attended meetings for companies wanting to join the ATDC (an incubator of sorts) and I'm often the ONLY black guy in the room. Even with PYCON in town, there still aren't a whole lot of people that look like ME. I applied to YC in 2007, WAAAAY before I was ready and was just wondering if anyone that looks like ME has EVER made it.

I'm black as well. Went to Harvard and when I graduated I worked at the Kauffman Foundation. During that summer I pitched the idea to lawyers for deferred payment on corp formation and found a technical cofounder in August.

We wound up building a pretty miz alpha because I had no clue what I actually wanted to create to solve the problem I had in mind. Got very minimal traction, worked at a quant hedge fund to bootstrap. Learned to program (LAMP + JS) during the nights and weekends, launched a beta, got basic ("this could be interesting") level traction. Pitched angels, got funded, now working on an html5 based mobile website to capture the function our users find most interesting.

In general, I haven't experienced any discrimination or racial issues as yet. To be quite frank, the most helpful people have not been my color. This surprised me quite a bit because in the finance world where I interned all throughout school there's a strong "cultural networking" focus where you are connected with multiple career mentors, some of whom were "diversity" mentors.

With regard to my venture, I took the "open" approach and told everyone my idea in hopes of bouncing it around and making it better. In so doing, I met a lot of really interesting people of all colors who have served as advisors/friends/partners to this day. The startup community seems to be very much merit based and quantitative. If you have skills, traction, etc. you'll get looks but you wont get a handout for any reason unless you hustle for it.

(You should check out black web 2.0, http://blackweb20.com they have an interesting community of people in tech.)

Gah why doesn't that site let you post job openings?

I got some great advice from a Berkeley professor about increasing diversity in the workplace. I had issues giving preferential treatment to resumes that came in just because I thought diversity was important and he suggested I post job openings in places that are already heavily black/latino/etc.

I thought it was a great idea, but they aren't easy to find.

Hi Aloisius, we have a job board it's called Vocay.com, posting come up on the sidebar on Black Web 2.0 and we also try to post them as posts so that it gets distributed through our social graph. :)

-Angela Benton Founder, Black Web 2.0

I know how you feel. I was one of 2 black students in my graduating CS class at CMU. It has never been a source of pressure/anxiety for me, but I do understand how it may affect other black students to feel like you are on your own.

As far as investors go, I doubt that they have any aversion to supporting entrepreneurs of any background. This is one industry that I would presume is more of a meritocracy than society at large. As I said on my tumblr a while back (http://bit.ly/g7jCAF) investors can see the green inside all of us :-)

There are many discussions going on about women in technology startups. The greater question is not why there aren't more founders, but why there arent more minority/female students in academia. Most of your founders are going to be a subset of those in academia anyway, so why not look at the problem closer to the source?

I think the answer isn't just the employment and supporting of people already excelling in the system, it is in changing the distribution of opportunity prior to formal education.

We intend to do this by operating a program within our company, starting with community computer and science lab, promoting to a group work day with interactive collaboration, then eventually fitting a child's interest in a role with a second-seat internship at each employee's desk.

This is all early stage of process, but 20 years of thinking and experimentation. If I'm able to build my current venture out, my next will be promoting these early programs to help expand young people's thinking (and hopefully help them make themselves their own role model) about science and technology.

That's an interestingly familiar situation. Since my freshman year, there were more the 4 black students in my computer science classes. In fact at some point, the African Americans ende up dropping the major whereas the African students kept going. It's not like we had much of a choice really, our parents would have "killed us" for wasting their hard earned money :)

"The greater question is not why there aren't more founders, but why there arent more minority/female students in academia"



To wit: Females have dominated academia for a couple decades now.

Also, it should be pointed out that many founders are college dropouts or even high school dropouts, so I'd be interested in some sort of citation of evidence that one can assume most founders will be a subset of academia.

None of your data is broken out by major. That doesn't really help us, and you probably should refrain from going ad hominen immediately (troll, misinformed, are you serious etc) when your "facts" are far from conclusive.

I know in my college, in my two majors (mechanical engineer & computer science, 2007-2010) it was about 80/20 male/female in ME and 70/30 male/female in CS. The girls average was likely higher than the guys. I don't see how they are "dominating". You're numbers show there are more guys than girls in college - which was also true of my college which overall was 60/40 female/male. That doesn't mean there are more girls in majors related to startups like the ones we are talking about here (which I would highly doubt you can find numbers to say that).

There are more types of startups than just web applications.

I think he was referring to the software and electrical engineering majors which should smooth out your flabbergastation a bit.

Courtland Allen, co-founder of Taskforce (YC W11)

And he is the technical guy of the pair.

Michael Sherrill of Addmired seems to be another one.

Strange. This is an actual and useful answer to the question but for some reason it's placed halfway down the page.

As a black programmer with about 5 years of professional experience, I've always asked myself the same question. Throughout all the job interviews, conferences and meetups I've been to I've met no more than 3 other black programmers. One is my dad while the other is a friend and his dad. I still haven't come up with an answer but I do have two theories:

Role Models: There is no black Bill Gates. Not everyone is a trailblazer and for the rest of us role models play a huge "role" when choosing a career path. This is especially true for the black community. It becomes much easier to convince yourself, and your parents, that your passion is a valid career choice if you can point to an existing success story.

Access to technology: When I was a kid growing up I was the only one of my friends whose family owned a computer thanks to my dad being a programmer. Kinda hard to develop a passion for programming without one of those. Before tech skills became a requirement for any decent job computers were seen as expensive and unnecessary so everyone else was told "we'll get you one when you get to high school / college."

However, as I apply these these theories to today, Obama is president and just about every kid, rich or poor, has daily access to a computer. I'm guessing in 5 years time, when the next generation begins their careers, the number of black programmers will increase drastically all on its own.

That said I do know a good number of black network engineers and sys admins so I'm completely lost as to why programming is the only IT profession with such a huge discrepancy. Any theories?

What about peer pressure? I'm not black, but I went to a public high school, fairly diverse, let's say 15%/20%/10%/55% black/asian/latino/white. My experience with black classmates was that in individual classes they were pretty typical in the mix of other students, reasonably friendly and participatory in class, etc. But then out in the hallways it was a whole different story. It just was not cool to be studious in any way. I saw black kids get made fun of by their peers just for carrying books. Kids who I was very friendly with in class would not even look at me in the commons, I'm presuming because associating with a white nerd would be social suicide.

Good point. For high school I switched to a private school with around the same demographics and since it was "college prep" all the black students understood that we were there to make something of ourselves. So I never experienced the anti-intellectual peer pressure in a school setting.

My friends from outside of school, however, STILL refer to me as "that corporate nigga". But since I know them from places like my neighborhood or sports teams where clics and social standings didn't exist there were no detrimental effects to being a nerd.

Anybody at any high school who is known as a programmer is going to be teased to some extent. What kept you from giving into the peer pressure?

Well I hung out with the stoners and freaks, which incidentally was one of the largest groups. I pretty much did give in to the peer pressure, but I was fortunate that A) I had a computer at home and B) I came up right as the web was taking off, so I learned as I went, thereby neatly bypassing the need for academic credentials. I did eventually finish a CS degree, but it was irrelevant to my career path.

My story is more one of taking advantage of opportunities, rather than overcoming obstacles.

Umm, I dont think Bill Gates at the height of his prime was ever a Role Model :) Even for Nerds..

> I'm often the ONLY black guy in the room

It's probably my European naiveté talking here, but I seriously wonder if and why that matters to you. Most of us belong to some kind of "minority" in some fashion, sometimes it's visible from the outside, sometimes not. Are things in the USA really so bad that it matters what color your skin is? Isn't tech a business of ideas anyway?

It definitely matters in Europe, possibly moreso than in the USA, at least in the circles I've been in (I'm white myself, so this is mostly from observation and friends). In Denmark at least, there is a lot of awkwardness around race, and it certainly isn't the case that non-white people generally feel comfortable in groups where they're the only non-white person (even worse if everyone else is not only white, but specifically of Scandinavian ethnic heritage, which emphasizes the not-like-me-ness even more). I'm not sure of the exact reasons, or how much is actual racism, but there is definitely a vague sense of weirdness/discomfort.

That's interesting. I'm from Germany myself, and I'm convinced it's the most unfriendly "western" country ever. There is certainly a lot of racism here, but it generally happens in socially and economically compromised regions with low unemployment, and then it's usually directed toward the Turks (because "they took our jooooooobs"). Not that there are many black people in Germany to begin with, but I worked with a lot of people from different ethnicities over the years and I always got the impression that we're all being treated equally (shitty).

That's a fairly typical German viewpoint. It's something that caught me a bit off guard when I moved to Germany 9 years ago.

Germans have a real aversion to noticing their own racism, no doubt that's a product of cultural baggage, but racism is pretty rampant in Germany and permeates all levels of society.

A few of questions to suss things out a bit: What would you or your friends parents think if you announced your engagement to a Turkish girl / guy? If in most of society racism isn't problematic, what do you think the chances of an ethnically Turkish chancellor being elected are? Why are people whose grandparents immigrated to Germany still commonly referred to as foreigners?

> What would you or your friends parents think if you announced your engagement to a Turkish girl / guy?

I have been in a relationship with a Turkish girl for eight years, dude. Everyone was OK with it. Not once did anyone say anything about it. You know what? It was just fine.

> That's a fairly typical German viewpoint

Did you just assert that I'm a "fairly typical" German racist? If you knew me at all you wouldn't accuse me of painting Germany in an overly positive light. I hate it here.

Sorry, no, my intent was not at all to paint you as being racist. What I meant as "typically German" is that most Germans, even those who are not particularly racist themselves, have something of a blind-spot for noticing the depth of racism within German society.

And sure, there are families where race is a non-issue. I could list examples as well of where I've seen things go the other way, but that's side-stepping my point: surely you'd agree that in many, many families it would be an issue?

> even those who are not particularly racist themselves, have something of a blind-spot for noticing the depth of racism within German society.

In this context it's worth pointing out that my grandpa was a Nazi, and even worse, as is one of my cousins to this day - in an otherwise lefty-liberal family. So if I want to see racism, I don't have to look very hard. But even the Nazi cousin behaved normally toward my girl friend at the time, I guess his hatred is geared more toward anonymous concepts and not actual people. When I asked him flat-out, he spouted some nonsense about how my girl friend is somehow not part of "The Turkish Problem" at all.

> surely you'd agree that in many, many families it would be an issue?

I'm not even remotely qualified to answer this in a meaningful way, especially after the feedback I got here today. All I can say is that, being from Germany, I know a lot of people who elevated being mean and destructive into an artform. Some of them are fascists, some of them are bad in other ways. What I can attest to is the general social climate here, it's just as bad as the actual climate.

Well, I was born in Russia and moved to Germany 20 years ago with my family, I was 11 then. Today I consider myself as German, so far the background. What is really true, even if you speak native German and identify yourself with the people and the country, for most Germans, you are not German. I do not mean it in the negative way, I think it is just the way it is, if you have not a German name or look "Russian". But I do not have/ had any problems with it. Moreover I realized, that although people know you are originally not from Germany, you are valued on your skills (at school, job, sport, etc) and not by you ethnical background. And those people from Russia/Turkey or whatever who claim they are discriminated e.g while looking for a job I just can repeat, no, you just did not tried hard enough. In Russia there is a saying: You are greeted by your look, but bid goodbyed for your skills. I think in Germany this is a very reality.

May I kindly ask to not pick on Germans in this context?

Interestingly, the same viewpoint exists in Belgium but towards Moroccans and not so much the Turks. The problem is that in the 60's Belgium had a guest worker program which brought the majority of the Turks and Moroccans to Belgium. This helped build up a lot of portions of Belgium however when the worker program was ended in the mid 70's people failed to realize that at this point people had established themselves in a new country and they weren't simply going to go back to their home countries. With family reunification laws these guest workers were able to bring in their families and settle themselves completely.

There is a lot of racism back in Belgium towards Moroccans, and they are certainly treated as the minority group (at least when I lived there 10+ years ago). This leads me back to a previous post in this thread, where the bottom line is that minority's aren't offered the same opportunities as other citizens and therefor behave differently back towards society - causing further racism. Sadly this has caused it to go as far as having a far-right political party (Vlaams Blok) gain more and more traction because the views of the populous are slowly matching their viewpoints on nationalism.

It would not surprise if the same mentality exist in various other countries that are experiencing the same type of historical issues with regards to racism.

Turkish here. The keyword here is probably "socially and economically compromised regions". I haven't felt any hostility or superiority from any Germans I know, and I do know more than a few.

In the US, I've also never felt alienated but that might be because my English is at the native level and I don't have a discernible accent (I sound like your average American). When people do find out that I'm Turkish, they seem to be pleasantly surprised and impressed, and I feel like it creates a positive impression of Turks in general. Top tip for foreigners: try to learn the local language well.

As a Hispanic developer living in Copenhagen, I feel neglected in some IT meetings and job interviews.

I am almost 40. I have been in the IT world actively since 1984 here in Berkeley/San Francisco/Silicon Valley. I have worked in big corporate, nationally and internationally.

I have worked with fewer than 10 black men and women in a technical role in my entire career; spanning hundreds of teams and nearly a hundred customers and employers.

It matters because opportunity and outcomes aren't equal. The problem isn't purely the IT scene, but one of the greatest challenges the United States faces.

I don't think it's anything we need to "fix". Racism is still around to a small degree, but It's not what's keeping black men and women out of IT. It's culture. The culture needs to change for the problem to go away (if it should be considered a problem) and no amount of money and government intervention is going to change it.

Why aren't there more male nurses? Why aren't there more female mechanics?

I also don't know where you are working, but I've only worked on 10 teams (I'm in software development) and there were at least a few black guys on each of my teams. But, I tend not to look at color. I look at the person.

> Are things in the USA really so bad that it matters what color your skin is? Isn't tech a business of ideas anyway?

Yes, things are so bad.

And it must be more than "European" naiveté if you don't believe that people naturally discriminate for people who look like them, or believe the same things as they do.

Its the nature of the human beast to not be rational.

> Isn't tech a business of ideas anyway?

Ah, but now that you mention it... most of us are hiding our faces (and ethnicities) behind our websites copy. So even a B2C company on the internet doesn't have to worry about stereotypes harming their first impressions.

Look at Justin.tv, just how many of Michael Seibel's[1] customers and clients do you think know that he is black?

[1] http://www.blackenterprise.com/2010/08/28/40-next-michael-se...

> people naturally discriminate for people who look like them

Do they really, naturally? I don't think that many people are walking around, constantly repeating an inner mantra like "I'm a middle-aged white male", always comparing everyone against what they themselves look like in the mirror? Who does that?

> Its the nature of the human beast to not be rational.

It's my experience that most humans only think like "beasts" if they have been conditioned to do so. It's not like we have to force ourselves to be rational all the time, is it? Being somewhat rational, friendly and compassionate should be the default position.

> Ah, but now that you mention it... most of us are hiding our faces (and ethnicities) behind our websites copy.

That's true, and I'm happy about this option. I certainly wouldn't have such a great time on the net if people could actually hear or see me. But being black is not the same as being ugly.

> just how many of Michael Seibel's[1] customers and clients do you think know that he is black

How many care?

> Do they really, naturally? I don't think that many people are walking around, constantly repeating an inner mantra like "I'm a white middle-aged male", always comparing everyone against what they themselves look like in the mirror? Who does that?

The term "naturally" implies that it is an automatic function (e.g. breathing is natural). Did you not realize this or are you intentionally leaping to the straw-man argument?

> It's my experience that most humans are only thinking like "beasts" if they have been conditioned to do so.

I didn't mean "beast" in any bad sense. I simply meant that human beings are evolved creatures, hormonal, emotional, and often instinctive in their approach to social situations. We are not a rational abstraction.

We don't have to 'force' ourselves to be rational all the time, because mostly we aren't rational and rationality would be the long method of coming to the same conclusions. The typical person doesn't have to rationally process every quirk of someones facial or body language to decide on what emotion is expressed---that would take forever. Instead we have mental shortcuts built into our psyche which while are irrational, are also usually correct.

When it comes to issues like racism, it is a case of our natural instinct being wrong instead of right for a change.

Yes some people are ever curious about the "other", but this isn't the norm.

For further discussion, can anyone find a copy of this article ( http://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/12134981 ) outside the Paywall so everyone can see it?

I know what you meant by naturally. I also think we could discuss this for ages and not come to an agreement. I don't subscribe to evolutionary pop psychology, we're simply not speaking the same language.

You're right... if you're going to call it pop psychology then you've thrown the entire theory in the bin before discussion has begun.

Sadly, it's more a case of opportunity. With the states being such a wide spectrum of financial statuses, employment rates and educational opportunities, there are wide disconnects on areas where the chance of being properly introduced and educated with technology exist. It really comes down to where you are growing up and the way that local government and community are perceived - and sadly most of the time so called minority groups are not extended the same chances as other groups.

That does not mean there aren't black developers (I've worked with and known quite a few) - but the counts are a lot lower than other races.

I agree .. it doesn't matter what color your skin is, or whatever minority group you are from, what matters are your choices, specifically how you spend your precious, precious time.

I'm gay, and am bootstrapping my own startup. I have never wondered how many other startup founders are gay .. because that's not what it's about!

Focus man

Nitpick: You can hide that fact when its inconvenient.

I've found it rarely even comes up, unless you're talking about family with coworkers or something, and by that point you're probably already hired/funded/'in' and will have already overcome any potential stereotypes that someone might otherwise have had about you.

Yes, you're right ... I did think that after I posted :)

> "are things in the USA really so bad that it matters what color your skin is

Gees, do you really believe race does not matter in europe?

It really doesn't matter to me. I just wish more blacks would realize the power of programming and the opportunities it could potentially provide.

Maybe there's an economic barrier to that realization? Adults who realize the power of programming were likely children with access to a computer growing up.

In Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" he tells the story of Bill Gates and Bill Joy - two prolific programmers. The key similarity between them was their unfettered access to a computer growing up.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_inequality_in_the_United... Indicates that US Blacks earn less on average. Perhaps a good number of black kids don't have a computer to spend the required time needed to realize the power.

Perhaps donating your old computer to inner-city and after school programs would help a kid realize that. Wishing won't do anything, but if you've got computers "lying around" that you were going to get rid of, there are programs that distribute them to people who could use them.

Google turned up: http://www.computerswithcauses.org/

There might have been economic barriers, but they seem to be falling.

"Ethnically, 67 percent of whites reported home broadband; English-speaking Hispanics reported 66 percent; and blacks reported 56 percent."


African Americans use the mobile internet more than whites.


So it looks like to resolve this issue, all we need to do is let current trends continue.

Black people only make up 13% of the population. [1] Most people forget this fact when judging race in a population.

1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_Stat...

I don't think that particular statistic by itself explains much of it; YC has funded over 200 founders, so if indeed the relevant population were 13% Black, that would imply an expectation of around 25 Black founders. I don't think anyone's asking why there aren't 50% Black founders, by why there aren't closer to 13%. (There may well be good explanations, but they have to be something other than the 13% total population number.)

Yeah, demographics and statistics are tough and mostly useless in this situation. For example, the DOE found that roughly 40% of people have merely a basic or "below basic" level of literacy, yet I doubt that's true of the YC alumni..

It doesn't really matter what the overall percentage in the population as a whole is, it's more of a question of their representative percentage in creating a technology startup, or as others have mentioned, it matters how many apply to YC.

Asians and those from the Middle East have an even smaller percentage but appear to be well represented in startups.

I'm sure there's a lack of women or blind people or people who can't speak or write English. The thing overly-PC types don't want to address is that certain fields attract certain types. Geeky males in tech, women and gay men in fashion, etc. The lack of population matching demographics isn't proof of racism.

That said, I'd argue that unless you grew up with computers and were interested in programming them early in life you probably aren't the startup type. Your income level affects this, obviously if you can't get your hands on a computer then you're not going to be able to do much. As a geek I never had any "role models" or other things that set me on my path. Nor did my parents encourage tech. Nor did my friends. I was, and in many ways, still am something of a lone geek amongst non-geeks. I believe "role models" to be a meaningless cop-out.

>That said, I'd argue that unless you grew up with computers and were interested in programming them early in life you probably aren't the startup type.

"That said, I'd argue that unless you grew up with money and were interested in trading early in life you probably aren't the wall-street type."

"That said, I'd argue that unless you grew up with movies and were interested in acting early in life you probably aren't the hollywood type."

Can we put aside this drivel? People can learn after they're 10 years old.

My point isn't that they can't do x or y if not by age z, but that if we see an income-based disparity on whether someone studies CS or starts a startup, it probably has a lot to do with being in an income bracket where your parents could afford to give you your own PC and the time to play with it. Not to mention being able to get into a decent CS program.

Perhaps this isn't much of an issue today where PCs are commodities, but if you grew up in the 1980s, like I did, then it probably was an issue. An Apple //e or a //c in the mid eighties was around $1500. That's over $3000 in today's money. Having parents with disposable income matters.

African Americans make up nearly 13% of the US, but only 6.2% of California. At UC Berkeley about 4% of undergrads are African American. Computer Science may be even less. You could maybe assume that YC alum are between 4-5% black.

I just realized I'm not asian, but rather white. :/

"In the US Census, people who originate from the original peoples of the East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia are classified as part of the Asian race; while peoples from Siberia, Central Asia, and Western Asia are classified as "White".

Thanks for the link, though.

25% of black people live in poverty and about half have a household income of less than $50k.

I would say, in general, very few tech founders come out of poverty. I'd also say that relatively few come out of <$50k households (plenty of exceptions, here, of course). Most of the American founders I know come from pretty flush backgrounds.

Of course, I also read that the majority of funded startups are founded by people born outside of the states.

It would help to know how many black founders apply in the first place.

I think the question is not about racism during the funding process, but how much of a minority black people are in this situations.

Yes, and that's what the answer to my question will illustrate.

Michael Seibel CEO of Justin.tv comes to mind.

Pretty sure Seibel joined after it got funding.

A Co Founder of Addmired Inc. (YC W08) is black. So at least one.

It's all about access. YC can only fund the best applications it gets. Those often come from, I'm guessing, people whose creative sides have been nurtured while also getting some kind of constructive exposure to programming. Just like anything else, the socio-economically disadvantaged often don't get the access or education they need to wield or understand the power of programming. I do think that is changing, as evinced by the programs and organizations that have sprouted up to address the issue. But it's a slog.

I really don't think YC cares about ethnicity. I also don't quite get the point of this post.

I don't think anybody is accusing YC of racism or any other discrimination. The causal relationships are higher order ones than that, but no less important for it.

> I don't think anybody is accusing YC of racism or any other discrimination.

Not yet, but what usually happens after the answer to "how many X are black?" comes back "not proportional to Y"?

Race is a difficult subject to address, but it doesn't have to be. Increased openness in the discussion is always better. In the context of relationships, you'll often hear someone say that a person is "guarded". This usually means that they don't open themselves to being hurt by averting feelings of affection from others. In other words, if they never become "close" with another person, they can't feel the pain of loss.

With regard to racism, if we avoid the discussion altogether, we are simply avoid the pain of being reminded that it exists. The appropriate response is not to shy away from the conversation, but to open yourself to it. Answer the question based on the facts, but address the question of "why" separately. There may very well be good reasons why. There may not. We should strive to understand the difference.

I try to fight the urge to set up defenses to conversations I think may be going a certain direction. By putting up our defenses early, we only strengthen the divide rather than break it down.

I don't see the question or the discussion so far as meeting the standard for "An interesting new phenomena." It looks like something that would be better served over on Quora than on HN. It's a reasonable question, but just as many subjects--explicitly including politics--are of interest to HN's readerships but still not HN-worthy, it doesn't appear to meet the standards in the FAQ for the front page.

Discussions of minority participation in technology and entrepreneurship goes on ad nauseaum elsewhere. If it is to come up here out of the blue, we ought to have some interesting angle to YCombinator funding. For example, if we know that YCombinator funds double the proportion of the rest of the industry, that would be interesting and new.

If we have no evidence of anything interesting or new, the question hardly seems like Hacker News. If it's a simple question, an email to Paul Graham would probably obtain a simple answer.

Clearly (1) not all Hacker News questions are in reference to "an interesting new phenomena" and (2) this question isn't a generic discussion of "minority participation" but a YCombinator specific question, which is why it's germane to this forum.

I respect you a great deal and that's why I'm disappointed in this comment. It's not only because it's uncharacteristically obtuse, but because it smacks of a disturbing syndrome I've seen in some fellow black people who've "made it."

In situations where race comes up, people with this issue go out of their way to let their non-black peers know that they are not interested in discussing race ... unlike all those other blacks they may have heard about. It's no different from a woman trying to fit in with male colleagues by going out of her way to slam any female colleague who files a sexual harassment complaint. It's sad, unnecessary, and adds nothing substantive to the discussion. Let's not look down our noses at other people to make ourselves looks bigger.

The question of whether a black person has ever been picked for YCombinator is interesting and at the very least certainly shouldn't be verboten.

Here's an "Interesting new phenomena" for you to chew on: How dare you suggest that I'm Black? My father is Scottish-Canadian. I went to St. Andrews, a Scottish-themed boarding school. I grew up listening to Rush. I play hockey. I listen to Jazz music. I ride a mountain bike. I'm told I speak with a standard North American accent. What is this "Black" thing you speak of?

Now before you answer, let me tell you that I consider that a very interesting question. And the ramifications are extremely interesting to me. I love discussing the question of "Is raganwald actually black?" But is it Hacker News? No. So there you have an example of an issue around "blackness" or "race" that is of great interest to me, but that I do not consider Hacker News.

So I say to you that you are mistaken in conflating my suggestion that this question is not Hacker News with some allegations around being disinterested in discussing race. I am interested, I just don't want to discuss it here. I accept that you consider the original question interesting. However, I reject your personal suggestions about my motivations.

Here's an "Interesting new phenomena" for you to chew on: How dare you suggest that I'm Black? My father is Scottish-Canadian. I went to St. Andrews, a Scottish-themed boarding school. I grew up listening to Rush. I play hockey. I listen to Jazz music. I ride a mountain bike. I'm told I speak with a standard North American accent. What is this "Black" thing you speak of?

I figured you'd say that ... I think you've blogged/spoken about it before and if I'd spent a little more time on the comment, I would have said "are black (or are often considered black by others)." Still applies.

If we dismiss the personal aspect of it, what then of the "substantive" piece of the argument? Are you trying to suggest that any questions about the composition of YCombinator classes should be forbidden on Hacker News? If so, why? And why hasn't this come up for all of the myriad other questions of the same ilk?

I'm not saying anything about the topic. It's really the specific discussion, which at the time I wrote my post, was rather non-specific. Questions I would personally find interesting might include:

"I'm black and interested in applying to YCombinator. Does this matter?"

"13% of the population is black but 25% of the YCombinator founders are black. Why is that?"

"I'm black and pitching my company to VCs. I've noticed that they seem excited after they read my pitch but in person they barrage me with objections and then they don't return my emails. Is it my skin colour or do all founders face this?"

It just seems to me that if HN is going to discuss this, there should be something HN-ish about this and not simply a general, non-specific rehash of a jillion other discussions about the participation or lack of participation by blacks in tech. But you know, I'm just one guy, so who really cares what I think? I'm certainly not going to complain bitterly if the discussion leads to positive change.


I'm not saying anything about the topic. It's really the specific discussion, which at the time I wrote my post, was rather non-specific.


It just seems to me that if HN is going to discuss this, there should be something HN-ish about this and not simply a general, non-specific rehash of a jillion other discussions about the participation or lack of participation by blacks in tech.

"Has YC ever founded a black founder?" seems pretty specific and HN-ish to me.

I'm certainly not going to complain bitterly if the discussion leads to positive change.

Fair enough. What a sad picture in your post.

"An interesting new phenomenon" is used an exception to the rule that politics (and so forth) shouldn't be posted. In the paragraph right before that quote, we find:

Anything that good hackers would find interesting. [...] anything that gratifies one's intellectual curiosity.

I was at PyCon as well, and observed the exact same anecdote that the OP describes. At my company's booth, the only minorities I can think of who talked to us were more than likely visiting from Europe, Asia, or South America. Therefore, I'm curious, and I'm interested to see the response; not from accusing Y Combinator of racism, as some seem to suggest, but merely to get some data on minority penetration into our field.

There is no "standard" for the front page. We're all smart people, and we can be trusted to make judgments.

I was all set to vote this up until I got to the last paragraph.

It seems that a lot of people have the idea that HN is a democracy, run by the will of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. pg and the editors have the last word on everything. It's not immediately obvious, because pg doesn't go around saying "I banned this guy because he was a jerk." That's polite of him, but the truth is, quite a few people get banned for being jerks, every day. And quite a few submissions get killed for being off-topic.

Having said that, I agree with you that this is a good submission, and I'm a little dismayed that raganwald is arguing against it. When I saw the subject line, and that it had over 100 comments, I figured it was going to be ugly. I was delightfully surprised to find myself honestly learning something from almost every comment I've read here. I haven't upvoted this much stuff in months. Pretty well restored my faith in humanity, it did.

Actually, there is a standard for the front page, and "We're all smart people, and we can be trusted to make judgements" isn't it.

If it were, there would be no need for moderation. We would never need to flag posts or have moderators kill them, because the voting by the smart people making judgments would drive unworthy posts off the front page without any discussion or intervention.

There are a lot of reasons why moderation needs to trump voting, but that's probably even more OT. For now, I hope you accept that we should be smart, we should exercise our judgment, AND we should sometimes kill a discussion even if it's popular.

p.s. Of course, an argument that moderation trumps voting isn't an argument that this post needs moderation. It gratifies your intellectual curiosity, I get that. So far it doesn't gratify mine, but it could be that I have read an awful lot about this topic over the years and I would like to see an HN discussion have more to say than what I've already read on Reddit over the years, on UseNet, in editorials, and so forth.

For example, if we know that YCombinator funds double the proportion of the rest of the industry, that would be interesting and new.

Based on the other comments here, it seems as though the sample size would surely be too small to give us any meaningful amount of confidence in such statistics.

The point of the post? Being able to smile from ear to ear when I found out about Michael Seibel.

I see your point. But apologies if this sounds insensitive as I am not American and I am not privy to the social complexities that exists. What I think is that as budding entrepreneurs all trying to figure out some method from this madness, I think we ought to celebrate the success of everyone and anyone who has made it. Black, white, blue, green whatever. Singling out someone because of skin colour I feel almost contravenes the spirit of YC and hacker news. We are all here because of ideals and passion, beliefs and doggedness. I think I speak for most people when I say the community at HN is by and large colour blind.

What makes Michael Seibel special is not because he is Black but because he has succeeded at least on some level where many have tried and failed. So your last sentence "...was just wondering if anyone that looks like ME has EVER made it." is really coming from a wrong angle IMO.

It sounds like a reasonable question to me. He's just wondering.

Good Question. It would be interesting to hear about the experiences minority programmers have had in the startup scene (in our out of YC).

As a British Asian (that means Indian-subcontinent Asian for you Americans :) - I'd say race is a total non-issue in the startup community in the UK.

(Off the top of my head of the YC companies I believe Heyzap, Auctomatic, SnapTalent, and Rapportive all had British-Asian co-founders)

American society has a very different relationship with Indian-subcontinent-Asians and African-Americans.

oh definitely, but I think nocko was broadening the question to ask about other ethnic groups as well.

That's a fair point, but people of Asian (subcontinent included) descent are pretty damn ubiquitous in the industry, and I don't think anybody worries that they're being discriminated against.

I feel like something more relevant to the OP would be including Latinos, or talking about how rich the parents of programmers are.

I don't think anyone's saying blacks are being discriminated against either, rather asking the question what are the factors driving the change.

British Asians on a whole tend to come from lesser educated poorer backgrounds than average, do less well in school, etc. That they're well represented in the developer and startup community despite that makes an interesting data point.

Once upon a time I was working with a minority programmer. I wrote the majority of all code and he wrote minority of all code. I do remember that his variable names where odd and didn't bond well with mine, hence major problems.

Can't speak to YC's experience, but I attended a historically black college/university (referred to as HBCUs) and knew a number of top-notch African-American CS students/hackers while I was there.

At one point, out of 7 or 8 undergrads in a research group I was with, more than half had completed PhDs and I think the rest of us (I was the lone white student in the group) had picked up MS degrees.

A number of the higher-quality students from this institution were heavily recruited by big corps with eyes on increasing minority hires and diversity rates.

What I mostly know is that successful CS students from this institution had their choice of top-notch careers or academic research opportunities. As a school (and my general region), not much emphasis was placed on entrepreneurship. Maybe both facts come into play with startup culture today.

As a black person why do you think this is?

Not many black programming role models. Sad to say but many black youth still see sports and entertainment and the only way to achieve a high level of success in America. My primary goal in life is to try to change that perception by becoming a successful programmer.

I'm not sure about this... do you really believe that programmers need role models for success?

We have people that we idolize but its not because of common-place programming ability or merely their job but because of what they've achieved----Bill Gates with Microsoft, Linus Torvalds with Linux, etc.

Programmers seem to usually be self-described 'geeks' and thus like programming for its own sake.

Don't need specifically black role models but it would help. Just proof positive that being a programmer can be interesting and lucrative. Coming from a social anthropology background and having experienced it in grade school myself, there is an issue of "talking and acting white." Programming falls directly under that umbrella unfortunately.

Is it complete BS, absolutely. But at the core of it, we're talking about people delineating groups based on sameness and otherness which is a practice as old as there have been social structures.

It helps kids to identify with a mentor whose shoes they can envision being in directly. More important than "looking like" though is feeling a sense of kinship that comes from similar background. I'm a firm believer that we should focus on the level of privilege not color. There are all types of people coming from a disadvantaged background that need help, how do we make programming/startups attainable and "sexy?" Silicon Valley's got that down but NYC is still a "banking city"

> Don't need specifically black role models but it would help.

That is exactly what the OP is asking for.

To tell about my experience, I did not grow up with "black programming" models. Even to date, I can't think of a single black man over 50 who is a programmer that I know personally or professionally.

I got into programming for the same reasons I assume many other HNers did: computer were readily available for my use, and I enjoyed the logic exercise. Once I found something I was good it, it was irrelevant if other people thought it was 'cool'.

Luckily though, I grew up black in a black nation so accusations of being 'white' was the furthest thing from most peoples minds. You weren't 'white', you were just 'uncool'. I think that's a significant difference because one is an attack on your identity, and the other merely on your social credentials.

You may not need a "strong role model" that you idolize and learn everything about and consciously structure your life after, but a "weak role model" that demonstrates that yes, it's an option, can be helpful. I'm not sure I've really read a lot of stories about "role models" in the strong sense but I've heard a lot of people over the years make comments about the weak case.

Many programmers may be self-described geeks, but they must have been exposed to computers and programming at some point in their life. I think his point is that such an opportunity doesn't exist for most black youth.

Yes, but the discussion right now is do blacks need black programming models in order to become interested in programming?

If merely access to computers and exposure to programming is necessary, then its obvious why we don't have too many black programmers today. In the 80s and previously, computers were expensive and it was unlikely that someone from a lower socioeconomic bracket would have easy access to them.

Yes, considering the disproportionate number of existing role models that are working unskilled jobs, jobless, in jail, or playing sports.

As a black technical founder, I'm with you 100%. But the hard part is getting the word out. It won't be enough for us to become successful programmers / founders / entrepreneurs. We can't expect kids to find out about our accomplishments on Tech Crunch and Hacker News.

We have to reach out to them. We need to show them the possibilites available to them in our field. We need to show them how much freedom you can have, and how lucrative software development can be.

And most of all, we need to show them how much fun building software can be. I'm not the only one who loves this stuff, right?

But it still comes down to getting the word out. What's the best way to do it? I don't know, but it's on my agenda to find out once I've achieved some form of success.

Agreed, this is something that might be good to address through something like http://www.nfte.com which has a large group of entrepreneurial young minorities who are all sharp but looking for help/mentorship.

They focus mostly on the basic tenets of entrepreneurship but I would love to see more minority programmers coming out of underprivileged schools and situations.

I remember meeting black hackers in the early 90s while it was still mostly underground.

I would like to speak with you. ^ is something we can solve together.

If you watch the slide show: http://ycombinator.com/ long enough, a black guy will show(< 3 mins in).

I'm 27 and I've only met one black programmer. That is rather strange.

It's possible that very few black people seem to care enough to give it a shot. Being black has never stopped me from trying anything. So long as I know that I can pull it off. At the very least there may be a slight prejudice simple because of the scarcity of motivated black individuals. In the end, if one can show what one's got, I do not see why that person should get a fair chance. That's my 2 cents on the matter.

Not really on topic, but I'm in Atlanta too at the moment and when I went to the game developers meetup about 5 of the 20 people who showed up were black & other game development events I've been to in Georgia Tech had a few black people in them too (less than their proportion of the population, but still a good 1/4-1/5 the attendants).

Don't know what that might say about the games industry, if at all, just putting it out there.

Kalimah Priforce (Qykno | Career Matchmaking 4 Kids)

There have been several discussions about this topic, including my own: "Startup America Should Look Like America" http://bit.ly/fuqcBB.

There are groups that are forming to address the need for diversity in the tech world.

The "Black Founders" Kickoff Launch Event is on Thursday, March 24th, 2011 at www.meetup.com/BlackFounders/events/16882191/ The Plancast event details are here: http://plancast.com/p/4cq2

We've recently launched four "Building While Brown" groups on facebook: Bay Area: http://on.fb.me/hyJJhM, NYC http://on.fb.me/fF2lXW, DC|VA http://on.fb.me/gf4beu and the RTP http://on.fb.me/dZCrnj

I think this is a good question, I'd like to piggyback on it and ask of the people who have applied did they apply as a team or as a single co-founders? Were they technical? etc.

I only ask these questions because I think they are important. I applied to YC and just had a conversation w/ someone who applied also however at the time of application we were both single founders.

I consider myself technical but I'm sure not as technical as many of you since I've only dealt in front-end web development. YC does have super specific criteria for applying, they are looking for a certain type of founder (or team of co-founders) so it would be helpful to this discussion to know.

I think it also depends on the idea/start-up submitted. Part of the review process does seem like they are looking at the entrepreneur but it also seems like they are looking at the entrepreneur (or team) and their ability to execute on the idea.

Just my thoughts...

I'm in Atlanta, black, a programmer and and I casually take notice and see that most of the faces that surround me aren't those that look like me. I tend to wonder the same questions at times. It's a question of is the game we play skewed towards a certain outcome. If it is how do we play?

It really doesn't bother me at all because it makes sense why the low numbers exists in the first place. Basically the black community doesn't lend itself to hacking in general. When I hang with my friends I switch from geeky to a more hip hop style, they are simply not interested in what i am into and talk more about sport/entertainment topics. The few black friends I have that are in tech only do it for work. To have a Hacker/YC mind you usually have to fully immerse yourself into hacking, eg.. hacking at home,IRC etc.. So I believe the disproportion just reflects the type of people who simply interested. Believe me if you have the next million dollar idea in your hands then your set. The only color that really matters in this tech entrepreneurial space is green.

It'd be interesting to see. African Americans and Latinos* make up about %28 of the US population, but are very under represented in startups. East Asians, South Asians, Arabs and Jews are over represented in tech based on over all population. What's more, most of the black programmers i've worked with at startups were born in Africa or the Caribbean.

I suspect that YC would be wise to try and recruit diversity, having different perspectives, backgrounds and world views among founders at the the dinners and other places, would probably make all the startups stronger.

Latinos or Hispanics are an ethnic group, not racial, there are white, black, native american, and asian latinos.

> I suspect that YC would be wise to try and recruit diversity


Are you assuming that different races might have different strengths (on average)? If so, that assumption implies that, again on average, a purely merit based system will result in less diversity than the general population.

To the extent that race correlates with culture and culture has an effect on strengths, the same applies.

So, remind me why diversity is important?

Note that said "less diversity" is in each role, because different roles require different strengths. Whether or not a given organization ends up less diverse depends on the roles in said organization.

However, I'm still looking for an answer to my question - why should YC care about diversity?

"What's more, most of the black programmers i've worked with at startups were born in Africa or the Caribbean." There's a good reason for that.From the African perspective what I can say, is that Africans has very strong will and motivation. The level of excellence that is expected by African parents from there children is abnormally high. In my country, Uganda, it's very common for a parent to punish his/her child for being the Second in class regardless of the good grades earned.

At present because of the technology boom in Africa, one's ability to skillfully work with different technologies is revered by others. Consequently, more Africans are tackling various fields in technology, especially computer science, with the same motivation and determination that was dedicated to traditional fields such as tropical medicine and electrical engineering.

How many apply? The population norm is irrelevant.

That said, how to correct this? E.g. Stanford University has no quota and doesn't yield on admission standards, but does a good job actively recruiting qualified minority students. Does YC recruit at all?

It doesn't address your question directly. But I find it a good opportunity to show you a visualization I've made for San Francisco Elementary school assignment by ethnicity. Clearly the city is not distributed evenly.


Here in France, we have many African people from our former colonies studying here, and many staying too, so I guess we are used to it. Speaking about skin color, there are more "brown" people than "black" people, because Magreb is more represented than sub-saharian countries.

The population percentages of race have absolutely no correlation to the percentages of startup founders accepted by YC or that would potentially be accepted by YC. With YC only funding 200 or so startups, that sample is too low to quantify any conclusions.

Others have answered the question and there are a few. However, if Paul Graham is looking to inflate the stats ala Campbell's Law... I'm actually a white African-American. ;)

black male founder probably...black female founder probably not

My cofounder is a black female. She is an economist and we worked together in the financial industry, so while not a programmer, she is certainly technical.

and why not?

because there are very few women in tech, and that number goes down even further if you just consider those that are black.

As a black woman .... I have to agree

Hey tersiag I'm putting together a blog post on your experience thus far. Would love to get your insight. Hit me http://thegeoffreyhull.com

Sure I would love to. keep in mind that I'm a black woman from African and not America, but I'm sure my insights are universal...

More interesting to me: how many have been rejected? If anyone were curious about possible racism in funding (AND I'M NOT SAYING THERE IS AT ALL) that would be the metric i'd begin with.

Confession: When I read something online that I know was written by a black person, I am significantly more critical of grammar and usage. I sometimes read sentences twice simply because I expect errors.

I consider myself to be a good person and I don't actively discriminate against people based on things like race, but I simply can't help this reflex. Sad, huh?

I am curious as well.

was just wondering if anyone that looks like ME has EVER made it

Assuming that there might be something "unattractive" about being black -- a big assumption but one I'm willing to play along with for purposes of this thread -- how about fat people? Old people? People who don't live in cities? People who didn't go to an ivory league college? Conservatives? People who have physical defects?

On a few occasions, it's been stated that basically you need to look "cute", "serious", or various other quasi-bullshit phrases. It's a logical follow-up question to start asking about exactly which attributes people find attractive.

But I'm not sure what difference it makes. If your startup depends on YC, they probably don't want you. It's like the old thing about only asking for a loan when you don't need the money.

While you can count up various attributes and report on them, that's a long way from a causal relationship. Maybe no black people applied. Maybe there were only 2 black people that applied, but they were both joke applications. There's simply no useful information you can gather from a count. At least not that I can see. Perhaps you can develop a suspicion that the odds are stacked against you, but if you're looking for reasons to think the odds are stacked against you, hell, just go look at the stats for startups in general. No need to add anything else in there.

I guess I just don't understand your point. It doesn't seem very productive, no matter what the answer is.

Just looking for some inspiration. It's that simple. I don't think 'THE MAN' is trying to hold me down. If I had that mentality I would have never made it this far.

If it's inspiration you seek:



Both are black founders - but there's so much more on Mixergy that you should check out. Andrew Warner is pretty awesome at that stuff.

I particularly liked Ephren's interview, I've been listening to Mixergy for a number of months now and he is still a stand-out for me.

EDIT I just remembered that Peter Gruber tells a great story about Magic Johnson pitching him on a chain of movie theaters. http://mixergy.com/peter-guber-interview/

I need to do a better job of finding even more black founders for Mixergy. If anyone wants to help me connect with successful, please email me: http://mixergy.com/contact

I must be an idiot, because I still don't understand it.

So I'm an old fat ugly-looking guy. According to you, I should be looking for other folks like me who made it? This will somehow be inspirational?

And what good, exactly, does finding another person who _looks_ like me going to accomplish? What the hell difference does it make?

Have you ever visited or not visited a web site because of the way the person who created it looks? Ever purchased or not purchased an app because of the religion or heritage of the developer?

YC, if they have any sense in their heads, should care about traction, scalability, and success potential. None of that is based on attributes like this. If it is, I've never heard of it. (And it makes no sense)

Now perhaps you can make a case that things like this play a role with finding investors, but AFAIK YC has made it clear -that not every entrant has to have a beauty pageant investor track.

Here's a question I could get behind: Let's say I want to find funding. What sorts of things that I can control -- looks, haircut, attitude, etc -- make the biggest superficial difference to investors?

I'd like to hear a lot more about that. Wonder if anybody has any data?

I thought his question was perfectly legitimate and interesting. I look for people like me who've succeeded for inspiration and ideas.

The black experience in the United States is likely quite different than the white one. Ever watched a Tyler Perry movie? His films have grossed over $400 Million and go largely unseen by whites. It's because the black experience in the USA is so different. The people who live it, identify with it.

I'm sure it really was a fair question based on interest. Not any sort of accusation.

Yes, it's a fair question, as I tried to explain. Hell I upvoted your reply.

My point was that the answer to the question has no usefulness that I can determine. You can either explain it or not, but please don't assign emotions and attitudes to me that I am not having.

There are a lot of people with various experiences that share some commonality. Ever attend a Jewish wedding? Spend some time in a mosque? Been to Mardi Gras? Had perogies? Unless you are saying that the "black experience" is somehow different from the "Puerto Rican experience" or the "Eastern European experience" then all of these issues are on the table and should be treated equally.

I don't think you're saying that, so please stop picking on me. I was simply saying that the question had no value that I could determine. These things might (unfairly) be success criteria for a cocktail party, but never a startup. I'd love to be proven wrong. How many ways can I say "Stop looking to people outside yourself and to attributes you can't control and instead go make something happen?" before it sinks in? And what's so controversial about saying that?

>So I'm an old fat ugly-looking guy. According to you, I should be looking for other folks like me who made it? This will somehow be inspirational?

Is this question really rhetorical?

I would say look at all of the discussions here and elsewhere about older Entrepreneurs being under represented and the myriad reasons why. I think that if the only successful role models were under 25, many others would find that quite discouraging.... whether they would let that dissuade them is another question.

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