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What I Learned Going Through YC as a 17 Year Old (tieshunroquerre.com)
143 points by troquerre on Sept 4, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 142 comments

> East Coast VCs are much more conservative, which is ultimately bad because it results in less moonshots succeeding.

This is really accurate, at least from my experience as someone of a similar age working on my first startup at the time.

With cold outreach to VCs in NYC I had zero responses, and only two meetings with BigCos curious about us; they seemed easier to get the attention of.

When I reached out to investors on the west coast it was entirely different. I still remember getting my first reply. It was a rejection, but a super-detailed one from Topher Conway of SV Angel that stuck with me. Despite it being a cold email, he offered up a lot of points that helped me adapt my strategy and address what investors may be concerned about.

I was a kid with anxiety and never replied back to that rejection email (pains me to this day), but I have so much appreciation for people like that, who are aplenty in the Bay Area.

I can see a parallel with the "why Europe doesn't have as many big tech companies as the US" discussions. Now change the question to "How many companies does the East Coast have in comparison with the West Coast." Or even SV. (Even if most companies are actually established in Delaware)

Ease of finance and management vision (which kinda related to the first point) seems to be the main drivers.

The caveat I'd make about that comparison is that the question a lot of people end up asking is "How many SV flavor of tech companies are on the East Coast vs. SV?" Ignoring, for example, biotech, defense contractors, finance, etc. The comparison isn't invalid but it's certainly biased towards tech=web-scale.

If you Wikipedia List of largest companies by revenue, most seem to be headquartered in the East Coast and Midwest

Reply to his email now?

I lost the domain of the email address a while back so I can’t even see it anymore... Will try to guess his email address to send a thank-you later today; better late than never even if very late?

One of those funny situations of “ah, yes, now with my own domain Gmail can never take my email away from me!” but then my payment failing and my domain going to auction before I notice.

A little old fashioned, but you could try a snail mail thank you card. I'm definitely showing my age a bit here, but it's something that I've started doing with my clients.

Regardless, it's definitely never to late to say thank you whether it's via email or some other medium.

In support - do it! It means a lot to be told a genuine thank you.

Yuk! Domains suck in that regard.

He is on LinkedIn and Twitter.

I wonder how close or far the strategy for getting investment is to the strategy for growth/profit.

> East Coast VCs are much more conservative, which is ultimately bad because it results in less moonshots succeeding.

"East Coast VCs are much more conservative, which is actually better in a longer term because it results in more stable return rates (less failure)"

> East Coast VCs are much more conservative, which is actually better in a longer term because it results in more stable return rates (less failure).

Returns are power law distributed, not normally. You want to increase your variance, not minimize the chance of the fund not returning anything. VC’s investment thesis is not based on making solid returns that aren’t that risky. It’s a bunch of minimally correlated bets, most of which will return nothing, some of which return 100x their investment or more.

Stripe and AirBnB are the majority of the value of YC’s investment portfolio.

I should’ve only quoted the first part of the sentence as relevant to me, but:

Better for whom?

I agree it could result in better average returns for the firm, but it likely isn’t better for moving society forward as a whole.

What makes you think moving society forward is on anyone's agenda?

The best we can do is align incentives.

Given recent events, incentives seem to be far from aligned, even in the most basic & important aspects of our society (policing, pandemic handling).

Firms that do not make a solid profit margin are a really bad sign - it means that there is little value add by the firm.

If I buy $10 worth of paints (and equipment) then use that to create and sell you a painting for $10, that is society signalling that I really should find something better to do with my time. The raw materials are about as hard to produce as the care anyone has for my work. The value created by me doing the work was $0.

On the other hand, an artist who turns $10 worth of paint into a $100 painting has created enormous value - that artist should be the one who gets all the paint, and that is what the market will sort out. That artist is not wasting time, their art is high value add over the raw materials. The time they spent on art added $90 in value.

If firms tend to have solid profit margins, almost by magic society at large will get more actual value out of the same amount of resources. Nothing is good in excess, and there is plenty of intellectual room to quibble about where the threshold and preconditions need to be for the outcome to be 'good', but investors making a solid return is very healthy. It can move society as a whole forward.

By that logic, take all the paint away from Van Gogh and give it all to Jeff Koons.

Van Gogh tried to sell his art for more than the price of parts. He was unsuccessful in his life due to being ahead of the curve. Much like Betamax, he died before being appreciated.

It's true, If everything of value has a price tag. That, my friend, is an opinion, not a fact.

While not everything of value has a price tag, everything where the price tag is paid has value.

If people make a habit of matching the two it will not end well. We need outputs to, on average, be greater than inputs or the whole show falls apart.

moving society foward is a strong statement

which startups in your opinion did that? you know, an actual innovation not another competitive service as a service

Intel? Apple? Google? Nvidia? Tesla? SpaceX?

Hum... Better for investors and better for the founders.

Yep, it's maybe better for random strangers if both commit to a lot of work that may not pay out. (Or maybe not, isn't there something better for them to do?) But that's a really entitled point of view, isn't it? It's better for everybody that is actually on the line.

How did you get the notion that moonshots move forward the society? Heck large parts the US is 3rd world level I'm infrastructure and education. But US is really good with VC and such.

Sorry, this assumption is just a pipe dream.

Re-usable rockets? Affordable & enjoyable electric cars?

Or, perhaps an oldie, but goodie, “A computer on every desk, and in every home, running Microsoft software.” And believe it or not, there was a time when Bill G. was well on his way to realizing that vision.

How reusable rockets or silly fast 0-60 electric cars help the millions who get crappy education, savagely policed, or working 3 jobs to not starve?

VC as a category is not meant for stable returns — the goal is to find breakout successes with power law returns that return the entire fund. VC LPs (like the Yale college endowment) allocate only a small portion of their AUM into VCs knowing this.

I have a lot of thoughts about this. I'm glad he's seen some success! That's great for him! I just don't know that all or even much of what he's learned is transferable

> I was able to get a job in SF with a single cold email and zero connections

This seems like sheer dumb luck. For every one of him (or you, if you're reading this) there's a lot of people who thrash and struggle. I went through 80+ job applications before I got one offer last search, and that's less than I thought I would need

> You don't need experience to get started

This one seems situational. Best example I saw recently (and I can't find the twitter thread, I'm sorry) was weirdly shaped food startups. The large point was that there are stores for oddly shaped food, they're just ones rich people don't normally shop at (WinCo anybody?). And there are uses for damaged food, like juice. Sometimes you think you've found a niche, but you should still research it a bit

> Silicon Valley doesn't care about your background

Sure it cares less than other places. It still cares a lot. It's not everywhere people would support you that way. My silicon valley high school wouldn't have allowed folks to try and make scheduling software for them, not a chance.

> Failure is acceptable

This one, I somewhat like. Avoiding failure is definitely prioritized. I think maybe we should emphasize fallback plans maybe? Some people just can't afford to fail completely unless they have people who will support them through it

> This seems like sheer dumb luck. For every one of him (or you, if you're reading this) there's a lot of people who thrash and struggle. I went through 80+ job applications before I got one offer last search, and that's less than I thought I would need Author here. There was definitely luck involved (the luckiest part imo was that Teespring was an incredible company to work at and I had no idea when I reached out), but I think cold emails are a surprisingly effective tool that are underutilized for some reason.

I sent two emails, one to the CEO of Teespring and one to the CEO of Y Combinator at the time (Sam Altman). Both replied (though sama politely declined my request to be his summer intern haha) so getting a response from high profile entrepreneurs is definitely possible without much luck.

That's totally fair, and congrats on that working! I don't want to take away at all from what you've accomplished!

It's very interesting looking at how you - a successful newcomer - view silicon valley compared to the way I see it - as somebody who grew up there and left.

The other interesting bit is how you got here. It looks like you've been coding and elbows deep in computers forever. I'd hazard a guess that also helped you over folks like me who are quite a bit less certain of where we want to go

You’re right that’s an interesting contrast. Can you share why you ended up leaving? I’m curious about your perspective.

I started coding when I was 13 and started wanting to build companies around the same time so I think that focus of desire definitely benefited me. I strongly believe finding what you want to focus on is more valuable than how early you start. Greg Brockman (founder of OpenAI) didn’t start coding until he went to college, and there are numerous examples of people in tech, art, and other fields discovering their focus later in life and succeeding.

I left twice, both times personal. Once for college, once a bit over a year ago.

Tech permeates the area, and the expectations surrounding it can be harsh. The expectations put on kids can be too much, and I hated it. And honestly, I really didn't like the people I went to high school with or the people in my hometown much. I needed something new and different, an entirely different sort of culture to grow out of this tech and real estate focused town. So I went to Minnesota.

After college, I came back since I couldn't find work, and I got to know a lot of the better parts a bit outside my hometown. First Fridays in San Jose and Del Valle park in Livermore are two. I got a tech support job I didn't like and a bike mechanic gig on the side that I loved. What really got me to leave was getting a job in Seattle. I was prepared to stay a few more years because of the sheer number of jobs, but the area just wasn't one I could settle in long-term. There were too many bad associations for me personally.

I'm not going to say Seattle is better for everybody, but it's new to me. And I'm better equipped to find people I enjoy hanging out with, to put myself in situations that work well for me.

i read some disparaging comments below that just say "privilege." I hope you aren't discouraged, even with privilege, not many could have done what you have done at a young age, kudos to you and keep going.

Not at all! I expected disparaging comments and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how encouraging many of the comments are. Thank you for your kind words as well :)

Appreciate you looping back on this. I’m personally curious whether there was something about the wording that got you the reply.

If it was full of “Silicon Valley” culture, for example.

> Silicon Valley doesn't care about your background

This is both true and false at the same time. We were able to go through YC without much background (Bottomless.com YC W19), however the post-YC fundraise was a bit more of a slog. It turns out analysts for major VCs will look up the founders on LinkedIn before bringing you in for a conversation.

Regardless, it's only been a minor headwind. We still raised post YC based on results.

Feels like the other thing people do is conflate Silicon Valley the place (in my mind, the Valley of the Heart's Delight) with Silicon Valley the idea, the tech center

There are many tech-y people who move there because it's more open, and it almost feels self-perpetuating. But the rest of the people aren't always that way. My dad grew up around there, he remembers highway 85 as the orchards behind his backyard. I remember the Netflix HQ as a gardening nursery. There are still little farms dotted around, hidden in places people don't normally notice as they zoom by.

It feels like tech transplants sometimes forget that or aren't even aware of it. Tech permeates the whole area, you can't escape it. But there's a lot more to be experienced around if you're willing to search it out. It might be helpful to tone the shop talk down a bit too

the oddly shaped food box isn't about the novelty of oddly shaped food. it's about making you feel like your money is doing good. Look! We aren't wasting! We eat the avocados with the brown spots!

From my experience east cost VCs are mostly former wall st folks, lawyers or family offices who are playing VC. Very few of them have any operating experience, and if they do, it's at BigCo, not in or around startups. I don't think they are well tuned to what non-traditional success looks like, and as a result they have problems pattern matching.

This has been exactly my experience. Even in the earliest stage startupS they’ll be looking for the fastest line to profitability rather than prioritizing to build something that’s big and important. It’s low conviction investing where the financial model matters more than traditional west coast indicators of future success.

"they’ll be looking for the fastest line to profitability rather than prioritizing to build something that’s big and important"

First - don't assume that the 'big thing entrepreneurs are building' is in any way 'important'.

9 times out of 10 the 'big thing' is just neat idea, a project, and may have nothing to do with profiability.

Most 'grand visions' are that.

MS, Amazon, Snap, FB, Insta, Google - they all started pretty small, and worked at a fairly small scale. Surely they had visions, but they were fulfilling needs from the get-go.

I think what you are confusing is probably 'risk profile' of smaller VC funds, who in fact, don't have the patience to worry about building large marketplaces for example. It has to do with mentality, but also the size of the funds, and their experience with bigger bets.

And of course, nothing compares to SoftBank in terms of a 'massive fund looking to support global penetration'.

Either you missed the point or you’d be a bad VC.

This reminds of startups founded by folks that were former executives at BigCos. Of course, it varies from person to person, but many of them reek of big business formalism that's kind of off-putting. Certainly there are pros and cons that come with that experience.

It may be true that you don't need to have worked in a white shoe firm to be respected in SV, but I'm pretty sure there's certain characteristics that are advantageous:

- Got into a top university. Good grades are popular, unsurprisingly. A proxy for intelligence and hard work.

- Speaks English. How many YC folks don't? I'm sure there are a lot of smart people in the world who just didn't grow up with English and so are somewhat cut off from SV. Not insurmountable though.

- High EQ. Helps smooth interactions with just about everyone, including investors and employees.

I vaguely remember Paul Graham said (and I'm paraphrasing very much) good grades or bigco background sends a signal that you're more cut out for working for others than running a business.

But of course, the two don't have to be generally mutually exclusive.

Which is ironic coming from a guy with a PhD from Harvard.

> Speaks English. How many YC folks don't?

It creates practical difficulties. Similar to when founders have accents so strong that people can't understand what they're saying: http://www.paulgraham.com/accents.html

He also went to an expensive private school.

funny hearing you say high EQ and then looking at Zuck, Elon and even bill gates.

all of whom are bordering on the spectrum

Maybe being a Harvard dropout with low EQ appeals more to VC. Elon makes up for it by working really work and having savior ego/massive hype that appeals to his fans and investors.

Low EQ people seem more trustworthy. Maybe the super high EQ play low EQ as an act.

There will always be characteristics that are advantageous, but what's beautiful about SV is that it's possible to succeed without those advantages. I'm not sure I've seen that anywhere else — at least not at the scale of SV.

> ...we realized we needed to build a services business more than a technology business and that's not what we set out to do...

Welcome to one of the cold, hard realities of forming a company and selling something. If you don't make something that someone wants to buy, you won't succeed. And that something needs to be more than just a shiny or useful object. (Those are commodities and can be replaced -- it's your service which'll set you apart and make you worth paying.)

Even if tech is your primary focus, that needs to be bundled up in some sort of package that makes it worth paying for.

Doubly (or more) so if you are going to have actual customers and aren't going through the startup process in the hopes that some other company buys you out.

> In school, the experts — teachers — always knew the right answer

Now I'm wondering what school they went to where they went to, since all the ones I have attended this hasn't been even close to being true…

The teachers present themselves as knowing the answer. They also get really mad if you point out mistakes they make, at least in middle school / high school.

> Silicon Valley doesn't care about your background

This is BS. You have a much higher chance of rasing money for the same idea if you worked in FAANG than if you worked in Accenture.

Same goes to someone who went to Harvard vs someone who went to University of Colorado.

It may be easier if you have credentials, but it’s certainly possible without them.

I’d argue how your business is running is 10x as important as credentials.

(I dropped out of a non-prestigious school and had work experience at one company, have raised $120m+ in <4 yrs).

> It may be easier if you have credentials, but it’s certainly possible without them.

So they care a lot, but it’s not everything to them?

I’d argue they care but not a lot

> (I dropped out of a non-prestigious school and had work experience at one company, have raised $120m+ in <4 yrs).

In other words, you had connections? I'm guessing you weren't a poor single mother who dropped out of school to raise her kid.

How do you drop out, have 1 job experience and raise $120m? Either you are extremely privilege and/or extraordinarily lucky.

Stop making it sound so easy like everyone can do what you did. Most people, who didn't even drop out, wouldn't know where to start.


> My experience: everything I own in one suitcase, here’s my sleeping situation. Would shower at YMCA and work at coworking space. $300/mo personal burn. If you could combine the two you’d fill it 100% and make SF possible again.


> Lambda School wouldn't exist without Gumroad.

> We bootstrapped for the first several months without salaries from the proceeds of the book I sold there. Gave us enough runway to try the crazy “pay back when you’re hired” things. Thanks Sahil!

Wanna try again?

> Wanna try again?

No need. Everything you linked is self proclaimed tweets. By someone obviously very good at selling himself.

I'm sure I can link to Zuckerburg tweeting about how concerned he is about privacy issues. Does that make it so?

I've actually lived like the guy claimed and even worse. You certainly don't have time and energy to write a book. Certainly don't take pics. Seems more like the guy was hipster "slumming" for cred rather than someone truly struggling.

So a classic dropout bum who magically sells a book to start a startup? Like I said, " Either [he is] extremely privilege and/or extraordinarily lucky."

Do you want to try again?

If his story is true, he is extremely privileged and/or extraordinarily lucky. How about this, if every college student dropped out and lived like a bum, what percentage of them would be able to raise $120 million?

Also, lambdaschool isn't a new idea. The idea of tech training school has been around at least since the 90s.

> lambdaschool isn't a new idea. The idea of tech training school has been around at least since the 90s

Yep, and the apprenticeship model even longer (which I'd argue is a category lambdaschool falls under)

You’re saying because I wrote a book and sold it I have credentials?

No, opposite, I was defending you.

You don't drop out and get 120M.

You drop out, start a company because nobody wants you, get some seeds funding with sheer luck, grow the business progressively, hire some more people, grow some more and eventually raise 2 more rounds reaching 120M. That takes many many years.

It's a massive combination of luck and being at the right place at the right time selling an okay thing. Then persevering over numerous years and executing decently. Most people won't get there not because they are incapable but because they don't have the environment and the bit of luck.

> It's a massive combination of luck and being at the right place at the right time selling an okay thing

Yes that, as well as: having a secure attachment to primary caregivers (Bowlyby & Ainsworth) and live in relative security, have encouragement and patience early on from parents or other guides to help you manage complexity and 'learn how to learn' autodidactically from a very early age. The people who do well in school inherited a calm nervous system.

Honestly I think 99.999% of what people attribute to 'hard work, or call 'success', purely has to do with the state of the nervous system of the individual. Unlucky? You'll face systemic disadvantagement.

It wasn’t easy, never said that, but I also had no credentials and no one cared.

I agree. You can certainly do it without the "background", but we specifically had to get some well-connected "right-backgrounded" people involved before folks would answer our calls because all our principals had degrees from schools they never heard of (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) and experience in little niche defense contractors that aren't "cool" by SV standards.

(However, we did what we needed to do--get some Stanford people with ties to Sand Hill Road--and got it done.)

That's a little disappointing. It's still more about who you know?

Marc Andreesen gave a talk where he frames it as one of the first hurdles in building a company. If you have a hard time finding some folks in the VC's network for initial contact, you'll probably have an even harder time reaching customers, advisors, engineers, etc.

I think you are right if trying to raise money at the idea stage but if you have built something people want, investors don't care about your background. Growth chart will get anyone funded.

Growth chart will get anyone funded anywhere. Not only in silicon valley.

Patio11, we need you! Tell us of the atrocious funding environment in Tokyo. Tptacek, tell us of how much more conservative the funding environment is in Chicago! Patrick Collision, pc, speak of why you live in the US, not Ireland!

A growth chart very much who not get you funded anywhere. Numbers that would have people writing cheques in Silicon Valley or even Boston would be lucky to get a loan, personally guaranteed from the founder, for a quarter of that amount in most of Europe. People raise in the Bakery w because it’s the best place to raise. This indie hacker, growth fund, Earnest Capital, lifestyle business to selling to PE funnel thing is distributing that and building a smoother thing between VC and small business but you cannot raise anywhere else like the Valley, except perhaps China. Even the Israelis go to the US to raise.

I endorse the above comment in my personal capacity.

Valuations in Japan are below a fifth of similarly situated YC companies, where funding is available, and there are founder/business profiles trivially fundable in the Valley which would never raise a yen here.

Perhaps, but the terms elsewhere are atrocious compared to silicon valley.

Source: I have watched angel rounds and series A in both Silicon Valley as well as in the East Coast and India. I'm in my fourth decade now and on my 8th startup. Silicon Valley has some angels that are pretty generous about modest traction if they like the team. I haven't found such people in NYC and in India (though they may exist).

For that growth chart to materialize you have to be lucky. And nothing brings luck down on someone like rich parents.

Not to mention it's easier if you're American, rather than... Say... Italian.

Silicon Valley cares about your age - young entrepreneurs get more attention than older. I think it is because the younger are more manipulable.

Right - 17 year olds are unlikely to have enough experience of business or negotiation to know (for example) what conventions protect themselves from exploitation.

But, on the other hand, can learn that as quickly as anyone else.

The amazing thing is that Silicon Valley doesn't take advantage of young founders in this way (at least much less than in the East Coast/other environments I've seen). YC did a lot to change the culture of VC in Silicon Valley — I think almost everyone has shifted to playing infinite iterated games where screwing over a newcomer is disadvantageous because you don't know where they'll go in the future.

This is a pervasive myth. Young founders get pr because it’s notable and drives clicks, but the average age of a successful founder is older. The average age of a YC founder is 30. According to a Harvard Business Review article I remember reading, the average age is 45.

I think it just needs to be properly qualified. OP specifically referenced his age (which I am skeptical about as well).

>You have a much higher chance of rasing money for the same idea if you worked in FAANG than if you worked in Accenture.

You may be right, but do you have any evidence of this, anecdotal or otherwise?

  > You may be right, but do you have any evidence of
  > this, anecdotal or otherwise?
It's true everywhere else in the world. I think the burder of proof should be the other way around, and instead you should provide evidence this isn't the case within the YC/VC system?

>It's true everywhere else in the world.

Sure. It's true that your background matters in general. What's not clear, and does put the burden of proof on OP, that the specific background of FAANG experience matters.

>and instead you should provide evidence this isn't the case within the YC/VC system?

As a general rule, it's not easy to prove a negative. What kind of evidence would you expect for YC/VC system that would answer this for you??

  > What kind of evidence would you expect for YC/VC system
  > that would answer this for you?? 
I'm not asking for a negative to be proven. You could define a set of prestigious organisations (FANG, Oxbridge, Ivy League) and you could look at the rate at which investors invest into people from these institutions over people from other institutions.

Would like to know how he at 16/15 years of age got a fulltime job at teespring.

    2014 - Moved from Boston to San Francisco to work as a 
    fulltime engineer at Teespring instead of doing my 
    junior year of high school.

I sent a cold email to Walker Williams who was the CEO of Teespring at the time. I created a functional clone of Teespring and shared the demo with him which got me the job.

> Silicon Valley doesn't care about your background

To an extent yes, but generally it still matters a lot. Look at any big tech company, and you'll find a significant number of Ivy League grads and Forbes top 25 grads.

Or look at YC itself. Anecdotally I'd say at least 50% of the YC founders have a degree from a Forbes top 25 school (it would be great if someone had the real stats).

“silicon valley doesn’t care about your background”

>> went to MIT

Also went to an expensive private school.

> But I was able to get a job in SF with a single cold email and zero connections.

Care to share anything more about this, purely out of intrigue? My own experiences have shown me that folks aren't as quick to respond, especially when you have limited value (experience) to show, even if you're just looking for mentorship.

In addition to OP being a strong candidate, this line basically screams, "I was very lucky."

As someone who had some small success early in life I want to send a message directly to this kid that may be unpopular on Hacker News: Pace yourself, do NOT pin your happiness on the occurrence of great wealth or success early in your life, spend a large amount of time appreciating the great success you've already had, take things slowly and experience as much "normal" life as possible - get a girlfriend, try out a normal job with minimal responsibility but strong mentorship, and appreciate that the world is filled with vast knowledge that will not be gained instantaneously and MOST CERTAINLY is not contained in any mono-culture such as the tech-startup scene.

To everyone else, the mid-west front-end developer making 55k who thinks he's a failure because he hasn't had the same success as a 17 year old MIT student and YC alum... happiness is an internal force that comes from inside you and not from external luxuries. Its OK that you didn't go to MIT, its OK that your company didn't go through YC. Its OK that you don't post a 200k+ salary on levels.fyi. Many people who have had those accolades are currently MISERABLE or have faced many hard failures since. Those hard failures are rarely publicized. We all will face great hardships in life... its the human condition. Instead of worrying about these things focus on finding your own internal happiness and pride.

Author here. I appreciate you sharing this message and I completely agree — I think it's really important to separate happiness from being dependent on success. So much of success comes from luck and timing that basing happiness off it is a recipe for being unhappy most of the time.

Have you read The Courage to be Disliked or A Guide to the Good Life? These books resonated with me and it seems like you may enjoy them too :)

> In the East Coast experience and status are highly valued. Bill Gates created class scheduling software in high school, and I wanted to replicate that. I approached our school admin about doing the same when I was 16 and was promptly shut down because I was too young and "entire companies are required to create scheduling software." I wasn't even given the chance to fail.

I mean, when Bill Gates was in High School computers weren't really in general use, so they probably were still doing it on paper. Why say no? They wouldn't have to use it if he failed. Also, did he build it first, or ask for the business first?

Whereas it sounds like this person asked his school if they would convert to his scheduling tool before he had built it to try out? I can imagine a school administrator saying "we'll probably stick with our enterprise contract, thanks" in the 2010s, and it would be a reasonable answer.

I wouldn't personally recommend that one experience be the basis for your East Coast / West Coast judgments.

Silicon Valley cares very much about your background.

50% of VC's are Harvard/Stanford.

FB, Insta, MS, Snapchat, Amazon, Google etc. - Ivy League or Stanford.

(Ok, Amazon and MS are not 'Valley' but ...)

So the industry is more open to 'outsiders' of the cliques than say, banking - definitely, but it's still a clique, don't kid yourself.

> Experience is only loosely correlated with age

It’s very important to remember that just as youth is not necessarily a disadvantage, so too is being older than the average anything to worry about.

Does that mean you signed up for HN when you were 10?!? Awesome!

I think 14 because he mentioned being in a 2016 batch of YC

Yeah it was around 13/14 that I found YC. I think it was through a programming humor subreddit haha.

>we realized we needed to build a services business more than a technology business and that's not what we set out to do

Wouldn't surprise me if this applies to majority of applicants.

>> No one knows the right answer

Hmmmm. Be careful about this. Lots of people do know the right answer.

Youth energy and enthusiasm count for a lot, especially backin the earliest days of computing like when bill gates got started. That was because adults knew very little.

> Experience is only loosely correlated with age

These days age and experience count for a lot. Lots of older people have incredibly valuable answers to common challenges in competing and business.

There is a pretty good book called “the Death or Expertise” that discusses the broad trend towards people with little specialized knowledge feeling they can learn a domain quickly and know more than experts.

So many problems we have in society seem to be caused by this mass weaponized Dunning-Kruger effect.

I personally view this as less DK and more just removing fences[1] until the externalizations blow up. By then you've probably moved on or can divert some profit to putting the fences back.


What I learned from this article:

1. Privilege opens doors not available to others.

2. Those with privilege are often oblivious to the advantages they have.

"Coming from a Boston suburb" was enough for you to dismiss his talent and effort as irrelevant? Geez.

On another part of his homepage it says he went to MIT around the same time he did YC. As someone who interviewed for YC myself while attending MIT, I am not even going to pretend I got the interview entirely independent of my background and the opportunities it gave me - and indirectly, my ability and decision to finance a very expensive education, even after financial aid.

Now, he obviously had talent to even get into a top engineering school at that age, so there is some correlation as well as causation here. Still, unless he wasn’t admitted yet or actively hid the fact from YC, it seems highly unlikely it didn’t carry some weight - especially at that age, with so much less track record to look at.

Jesus Christ. Before he got into to MIT, he dropped out of high school and landed a job at a company in San Francisco. You people act like this stuff just happens magically.

I was a high school dropout when I applied to YC — I got into MIT only after going through YC, so it’s the other way around. Going through YC definitely helped me get to MIT. There’s a meta lesson in that success begets success which is observable in the valley, but I think it’s possible for anyone to get the first seed of success to build upon.

How many people are not going to MIT because they are financially unable? I’m curious.

Now that I'm on the "other side" (got my PhD from an Ivy League uni), I constantly meet people who don't even begin to grasp how far away growing up poor puts you from things and resources they take for granted. Even stuff that may seem obviously within reach.

I'll give you an example from my own life. My dream schools were Duke and MIT. I applied to Duke, but didn't even apply to MIT. Want to know why? Because it cost $40 to apply. Every school charged an application fee, so I had to be incredibly picky about where I applied to stretch the money from my $5.50 / hr part-time job at Chik-Fil-A. I had to narrow my list to 4, and I figured MIT was a long-shot so it didn't make the cut (Wofford, Furman, Duke, College of Charleston; got into all but Duke).

It wasn't until years later that I found out all you have to do is call up the admissions office and they'll waive the fee. You can't imagine how gutted I felt when I learned this. I wanted to cry. I was doing pretty good by then but my mind was filled with the alternate histories that were within reach without me even knowing it.

Somebody is probably reading this and thinking I wasn't poor, I was just stupid. Maybe so, but it's really hard to put yourself in the position of someone who has no resources, no perspective, and no people in their life to guide them through basic things like this (my parents didn't go to college). Sometimes being blessed with a good brain just isn't enough.

Your skin color, who your parents are (educated or not), where you live have a big impact on your life. The effect of parents and mentors (if you are lucky enough to find even one) have an out sized impact on your choices, I've observed this through personal experience. In high school, we had kids who i didn't think were that exceptional by any means but they got funneled into ivy leagues/top universities due to the fact that their parents were educated upper middle class types that push their kids, and give them proper guidance as to how the world really works. The talented poor kids were pushed to go to the local state universities by the parents who though top schools were out of reach/too expensive. The folks that went to the top schools went straight to SV/NYC/Boston, while the talented poor kids kinda stayed in our local Midwest cities, talk about a huge opportunity cost of being born poor.

I know for me personally, when I was in high school nearly 20 years ago they didn't tell us anything about applying to colleges until late mid April before I graduated. This is typically months after most decent schools end their deadlines.

This was a really important perspective to hear, thank you for sharing your story. At my school (Caltech) we are reviewing our admission and inclusion policies - application fee waivers are already in place, but are just one aspect of this process, as your story illustrates.

How many people do you think ARE financially able to go to MIT?

The tuition cost is $53,450, with housing costing $10,430 and to my understanding living there is required the first year.

Factor in books and food, and you're looking at $60,000-70,000/yr.

That's $240,000-280,000 for a four year degree.

I dropped out of highschool at 16, got my GED (thinking I'd be able to get a 2-year headstart on my degree without researching the cost of college), and enrolled in community college where it cost me $800 to take a single class.

Making $8/hr working in a lumber mill fulltime on top of trying to go to school, that just wasn't going to work out. After taxes my income was about $1,000/mo and I was living on my own and supporting myself, so all told I could manage to save about $200-300/mo.

It took me a third of a year to save up enough to pay for one community college class -- or I could go into crippling debt as someone who wasn't even legally an adult yet.

I eventually wound up quitting and giving up on the idea of ever obtaining a college education.

Real fantastic options, our education system and opportunity equality in the USA is just swell.

I mean, if you get into MIT, you can definitely get student loans... lenders agree that your MIT degree is proof that you'll make significant income later in life and pay off that debt.

Your situation sucks. It's not really applicable for top schools though. With a combination of financial assistance and debt, it's possible for most people coming from bad financial situations.

Getting student loans is not a solution, it just pushes the problem later down the road and can often times ruin your life later.

> It's possible for most people coming from bad financial situations.

I know this probably applies to almost nobody, but it's something I haven't seen discussed openly before:

If you're a completely average person in the US. Not a minority, coming from a middleclass family. But your family doesn't want to just hand you money -- you're kind of fucked.

There's something called "Expected Family Contribution". The country has decided that everyone's parents are just going to give away their money to their children.

> Eligibility for need-based financial aid is determined by a formula that subtracts the student’s expected family contribution (EFC) from a college’s total cost of attendance. This determines financial need. The equation looks like this: (cost of attendance – EFC = financial need).

So if your parents are say, by-your-bootstraps capitalists, and they go "Get a job bum, you want something, go work for it." then you're shit outta luck.

I applied for financial aid and I was denied.

"Your parents make too much money."

"Well, that's nice for them. I don't live with my parents and they have no interest in financially supporting me, so can't you calculate it from my $8/hr wage?"

"No, sorry. You can try waiting to go to college until you're no longer considered a dependent."

I'm not trying to make this out to be a sob story, but if you're a completely unremarkable individual without family contribution, your only way in is debt. And not even reasonable debt, that you could work a regular job and pay off in a few years, but obscene debt.

This applies to a lot more people than you think, and regardless of whether they're a minority or not (whatever that even means anymore). Also even if your family does want to support you, the rates are far higher than what middle-class can realistically contribute. Ridiculous debt is the only option on the table for the majority of college students these days.

They do their best to prevent it, but a lot of students don’t even apply because they or their parents think they can’t afford it. Access to education about financial aid itself is a privilege. That has got to be the biggest limiter by absolute volume of people.

It “felt” more uncommon that someone actually turns down an MIT offer after they see the package, as they do their best to provide student work aid and students tend to be optimists about debt - but I only saw the people who said yes, so my data is totally biased. I’ll note that one common situation is folks who can technically “afford” MIT, but are offered a full ride elsewhere - a lot of folks I knew who joined felt some pressure to save money by taking the scholarship elsewhere, and struggled to turn it down.

> How many people are not going to MIT because they are financially unable?

I have heard MIT has slightly less complete need-based financial aid than some of the other big name private schools, but still much better than most before-aid cheaper schools, so probably some but relatively few of the people who would otherwise go to MIT, and those few are probably going to other big name private schools, not excluded from education.

There's probably a lot more not applying because they think they wouldn't be able to afford it, because knowledge of the sticker price of big name colleges seems far more widespread than knowledge of the amount of school-based need-based aid they tend to have available.

This explains it all:


Our prestigious higher education institutions have become hedge funds with small educational arms. Over the last decades billions of dollars has been transferred from middle class households to the hedge funds of these universities. If their goal was to maximize education they wouldn't artificially limit admissions so as to increase the rarity of their luxury brand.

Almost a third of MIT undergrads attend tuition-free, according to https://web.mit.edu/facts/tuition.html

I know several people who chose Harvard over MIT because Harvard had better financial aid.

I’d like to point out his site has pages and content other than this particular blog post.

Author here. I completely agree that privilege opens doors not available to others. But my intention was that it’s possible to break into Silicon Valley and succeed (to the extent you can consider going through YC success...) even without privilege.

I saw another comment saying that I went to MIT around the same time as YC. It was actually after — going through YC enabled me to apply to MIT and get in without a high school diploma. Privilege didn’t help me get into YC (persistence + timing + luck did) but afterwards the privilege of getting into YC helped me with my college applications.

I am curious, were these jobs actually internships?

If so, were they unpaid?

How were you able to support yourself so young and inexperienced in the Valley?

The summer job at Teespring was an internship — iirc around minimum wage. After my internship I became a fulltime employee and they put me on a normal salary which made SF more affordable.

You also went to an expensive private high school.

You posted this three times already. That's crossing into personal attack. Please don't hound fellow users like this on HN.


I'm surprised that you didn't know that before, and that you learned this from the article, considering that there's no mention of privilege in it.

Agreed. Pretty much every point needs to be followed up by "... if you're a white man."

- No one cares about your background ... if you're a white man. - You don't need a lot of experience ... if you're a white man.

I mean, technically it looks like this guy (Tieshun Roquerre) is an asian man. (or possibly half-asian?)

I’m half Chinese half white. I’m impressed you could tell from photos!


This crosses into personal attack, and we ban accounts that do that on HN, regardless of who you're attacking.

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the spirit of this site more to heart when posting here, we'd be grateful.

How is it a personal attack?

Aren't comments here to be able to show/tell my own opinion on a article/blog/whatever?

I'm really not sure what exactly is an attack.

Stating an opinion and being open for discussions.

You're welcome to share your view of the underlying topic or interesting questions, but please don't frame it as a supercilious analysis of the author. That's cheap, and a step into nastiness.

Privilege... love it.

Can you please not be a jerk in HN comments? Maybe you don't owe better to people you feel are privileged, but you owe better to this community if you're commenting here.

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and sticking to the rules when posting here, we'd be grateful. Note that they include:

"Be kind. Don't be snarky."

"Please don't post shallow dismissals, especially of other people's work. A good critical comment teaches us something."


I wish we could take comments from threads like these and turn them into a kind of compendium of HN, so that outsiders can know what to expect of this site.

Need to determine if it fits under the "Race Baiting" or the "Educating Adolescents on Privilege" category.

I feel like cherry-picking from a particular thread is the exact opposite of what a "compendium" is.

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