It seems that no one gets this. Today people want to replicate YC because "I want to get rich like they did." because for them, it is all about the money. From what I've read, PG wasn't about the money he was all about helping people realize their ambitions.
Self help types and management coaches will say "Focus on the things people need and the money will take care of itself." And for so many of us that sounds like "start walking and have faith that you'll find food and shelter along the way." The existential threat of our voluntary action resulting in our own demise, inhibits our ability to act on the advice.
On a much smaller scale, and very much closer to home for many, is the advice "Work like you don't need a job." Which is essentially do the Right thing, always, and if it gets you fired or you lose your job, that is okay because you were doing the right thing.
But the thought of "What would I do if I didn't have this job? I've got rent and food and car payments and bills, I'd be homeless and never work again!" works against this advice and so people compromise their principles or their morals or their willingness to do harm to others, because they are just doing what the boss told them to do and they really need this job.
My personal experience is that you definitely take an impact in your promotion/raise/advancement when you follow your principles an speak truth to power. I don't know that I've ever directly been fired over it but I have had some interesting conversations with senior leaders who did not appreciate having their ill-conceived choices called out. But I can assure you that if you have a moral compass and you follow it, even over the objections of people who would have you do otherwise, you can sleep better at night and you can look back on your life with way fewer regrets.
I will give an anecdote - take it for what you will:
Once upon a time I was driving in India with my FIL. If you don't know about India, traffic is nuts. We were going down an one-way street and folks were still coming in the opposite direction :). I was raging as expected because it was so dangerous - my westernized sensibilities meant I was remarking how come these folks can't follow such simple rules! My FIL responded in a way that has stuck to me till date: You have a job in a multi-national company and have comfortably crossed the base level of Maslow's hierarchy. That guy who's coming in the wrong way, if he is late to his job, he doesn't eat today. Strong morals are sometime a privilege :)
All this stuff about “do things you love” and “work as though you’ll never die”, or how they were successful because they thought so differently...
What they did differently is they had a ton of money before they started it, and they decided to make a fun club for themselves. It’s a club for smart people of a certain bent, and the number one thing that made it work was that they established that brand (as the in-nerds) and had enough money to pull it off.
The brand says you have to be really smart and nerdy, and willing to sacrifice money to prove you’re worth being in. People who can sacrifice a lot of time and money? Generally well connected, well educated, well off nerds like them. Of course it’s successful. By being the first to get that brand they set up a self-selecting system that brought them those people. Simple as that. And it only works in tech because not many other industries will gravitate towards a brand of (nerdy * altruistic).
Sam is the epitome of smart kids club. He hasn’t really ever done anything impressive (in public, that I’ve seen) but he certainly talks the nerd talk. In every speech, interview and article I’ve read of his I come away thinking 98% of his success is just literally that he nerd-speaks so well and always makes sure to mention mental models or reference some paradigm, and always makes sure to triple-counterfactual himself. But when I look at what he’s actually saying, it’s never interesting. Like this article. I think it’s fundamentally not getting why YC worked, but because it’s so altruistic sounding and has a few counterfactuals, he gets a pass.
It’s the first mover brand, exclusivity, required sacrifice, the club-like aspect that made it filter for already-going-to-be-successful people that made it work.
Take Mozart or even composers coming from poverty like Beethoven or Brahms. They were all privileged in various ways, either from being born in a musical family that recognized the prodigy early on (Mozart and Beethoven -- a poor musical family for Beethoven), and I mean extraordinarily early. I think the greater shame would be if we did not appreciate their prodigy. That people have different potential for different things is an inherent consequence of human diversity. As long as individuals are significantly different both culturally as well as physically/mentally (and as long as variation is as unpredictable as it is -- which is probably inherent), we'll need to discover and give opportunity to the right individuals to lead or create what they have to create. I think diversity (and its limitation -- which also allows understanding each other and our internal worlds) is one of the most interesting traits of the human condition.
I certainly would prefer we had a wide ranging system for detecting potential and providing exceptional conditions for the development of certain people (I don't know if this could be called privilege or not), less sensitive of their initial economic condition, class, or place of birth.
Perhaps if it was more widely distributed it would be more broadly appreciated. ;)
(or taken for granted, YMMV)
Originally-originally, "privilege" meant being subject to some special dispensation that e.g. exempted you from laws that applied to everyone else. (Latin: "private law".) The term then broadened to apply to other sorts of advantages held by individuals and groups, and indeed earlier uses of it are concerned only with unusual advantages enjoyed by (say) the upper classes. But these days it's commonly used to mean any substantial unearned advantage that people have as a result of belonging to one group rather than another.
And by that definition, a kind of privilege absolutely can be widely distributed.
For instance, it is widely and plausibly held that being male confers substantial advantages in life -- that people take men more seriously, are more inclined to promote men to senior positions, tend to give credit to men rather than women for projects in which both are involved, etc.
(In, let's say, Western Europe and North America.)
Some people disagree with that, saying that maybe it was so 30 years ago but that that sort of sexist discrimination has basically gone away now. Some of those people go further and say that actually now it's being female that confers unearned advantages.
I'm pretty sure that almost everyone would agree that at least one of the following two propositions is true: (1) 30 years ago, being male conferred substantial unearned advantages in life. (2) Now, being female confers substantial unearned advantages in life.
Either way, we've got an example of a widely-distributed characteristic that confers substantial advantages for reasons other than merit.
This should be a primary goal of education. Then it becomes very personal, exciting, ready to bring out the best in ourselves.
Yes it is needed to succeed, and yes it is unfairly distributed. However, people think that's all that is needed to succeed at a high level, where really that is about 5% of what is needed. The other 95% is a lot of hard work and self improvement. Which is hard. I know i personally probably don't have the self control to work hard enough to truly make it big.
For some reason humans seem to fixate on the part of the equation we cannot control, even though its the part that probably matters the least.
That is not my experience. I see that as Magical Voluntarism.
It's also not true for the 99% of humans who are having to make do with a plundered commons .
It's unequivocally true that privilege plays an important role, and that we should strive to give everyone that same level of opportunity. But the people that succeed at the level of PG or Mozart are clearly working harder, and/or are more innately talented than their equally privileged peers.
That aren't the only things that qualify as "succeed" though, are they? Most of those that are privileged succeed. They may not turn $10mm into $10bn, but they'll likely see it turn into $20mm.
I agree generally that the money & connections you start out with aren't all, but 5%? No, certainly not. We'd see many rich people fall into poverty if that was the case.
> But the people that succeed at the level of PG or Mozart are clearly working harder, and/or are more innately talented than their equally privileged peers.
That I agree with, completely. Hard work is a multiplier. But working three times as hard with $1000 won't get you close to just working normally with $10,000,000.
> re 10 million to 20 million
It would be interesting to see actual stats on that. Doubling your money over 20 years isn't super hard. However rich people are people too with vices and whatnot. I wonder what percent of those rich people blow their money on blackjack (etc) instead.
I don't get the impression that they had a "ton" of money when they started. Sure, they were wealthy, but no more than, say, a successful doctor or lawyer. Certainly mere peanuts compared to the institutional venture capital funds that existed at the time. "Who would win? Name brand VC firms with hundreds of millions of dollars and all the right connections, or some guy who founded a mildly successful startup who now paints and writes essays for nerds?"
> The brand says you have to be really smart and nerdy, and willing to sacrifice money to prove you’re worth being in. People who can sacrifice a lot of time and money? Generally well connected, well educated, well off nerds like them. Of course it’s successful. By being the first to get that brand they set up a self-selecting system that brought them those people. Simple as that. And it only works in tech because not many other industries will gravitate towards a brand of (nerdy * altruistic).
It's always easy to say this in retrospect, but don't you find it a bit odd that you are essentially declaring that this absolutely massive pile of money and influence was just lying there untouched for 50+ years and no one noticed it until, IIRC, some kid at MIT asked pg why, if startups were so cool, he wasn't funding any?
Viaweb was PG's first company, which sold to Yahoo for $49 million in 1998. Just as an FYI -- I think PG/JL/YC are great.
Ten million dollars is a lot of money, but not especially rare among financial types and tech titans.
But the people who actually make something like this are much rarer.
The reason their particular club became elite is that they developed a reputation for helping people to succeed. And they developed that reputation by doing it, repeatedly. That is what I would call a successful VC strategy.
But it's not. There's class. There's caste. There's a lot of things that have to do with where in society's proto-aristocratic ranking system almost every person is born into. A lot of societies have managed to make large parts of this more uniform than others (an achievement which I would like to see more of).
For the vast majority of societies over the vast majority of history, class ossifies into caste in all kinds of ways. So when I read what folks term "privilege" it just makes me think it's talking about folks who have engineered a new caste and a new class. And isn't it always the case that the "old money" which pejoratively calls a new class "new money" was once given such a name by the previous holders of "old money?" And so perhaps we really are saying the same thing here because I couldn't agree more with your final statement:
"It’s the first mover brand, exclusivity, required sacrifice, the club-like aspect that made it filter for already-going-to-be-successful people that made it work."
While it true you are not in position to make that statement to him, it is no less true.
We did not get independence by doing the convenient thing. thousands of years of caste based discrimination is not going to go away without people standing up and sacrificing.
To abolish slavery, Lot of people lost lives and faced real pain to stand up to injustice, It is true in every fight for racial equality or women rights or anything else in each society.
Social change does not happen by doing the easy thing. It is always a sacrifice to make our community a better place.
In your example it has nothing to do with morals but everything to do with enforcement. If there was a traffic cop standing at the start of the one way street almost no one would have entered wrong way.
It’s amazingly clear that the trend is poverty === bad driving.
Just go to India, you will notice lot of people running the light, they dont do that if there is traffic cop.
Nothing to do with poverty, since poor people cannot afford cars and motorbikes.
Morality is what you do when no one is looking.
If traffic laws are being enforced, it changes the calculus from "if I drive recklessly I can eat today" to "if I get caught driving recklessly and am fined I don't eat today or tomorrow".
I dont buy the argument that poor people have to break the rules. Of course in India you have correlation a lot of poor people and a lot of people evading the rules, but does this imply causation? Probably the causation is in the other direction.
I believe weak and corrupt enforcement (the latter beeing the worst) leads to this. If you know the police will fine you anyway no matter what you do, some probably stop following the rules and then it becomes a culture.
Re breaking rules: I think it is more of a spectrum. As you become richer, you become more able to follow the 'nicer' rules. Poor people generally don't go around murdering for example, but I did see a lot of relatively smaller rules broken.
I am sure there is a very human mix of laziness, mob mentality, corruption that feed into it - but his meta point is still true: Some rules are meant for privileged people.
Unless the party line is that 'you should be willing to die for your morals': There are very few who live by this and I admire them a lot. But I like a more practical approach to life - meaning the above anecdote consoles me.
This shows how difficult it is for the common man to follow the rules. I am sure the rich people in Mumbai are following social distancing.
The parable is upside down:
The man was almost assuredly 'not late for his job' (though possibly), he was probably just driving the wrong way because he could, because that's what everyone else does, and it's the 'de facto' rule.
If he and everyone else actually followed traffic rules - then they would all be less likely to be late, they would all be probably somewhat wealthier, especially if they followed the other rules as well.
"He took a bribe to feed his family" - maybe - but we need to stop taking bribes.
I think there's a good bit in Sam's point about why PG and Jessica were able to do it, but it also has to be taken in context: they were starting from a place of exceptional place, arguably from 'privilege' (is how some people would describe it).
How does obeying traffic laws make you wealthier? Unless you're just referring to the cost of the infraction (assuming you get cited).
There are a ton of second order effects:
+ Considerably fewer accidents, meaning more efficient use of medical staff.
+ Considerably cheaper insurance (all things being equal)
And tons of 3rd order effects:
+ A completely chaotic transportation system means it's probably difficult to transport a lot of things efficiently - and certain industrial systems may not be possible.
+ If people don't generally obey traffic rules, there are probably a ton of situations wherein driving would be literally too dangerous. The example is Germany: where they are very well socialized and follow the rules (even in auto making and quality) they can drive a zillion miles an hour on the highway, still relatively safely. You can't do that unless everyone plays the game.
'Intelligent Social Organization' is literally the foundation of civilization.
It's not 'natural resources' that make us rich, it's our institutions, intergenerational intelligence and 'rules' of various kinds: social, legal, cultural upon which the former two artifacts depend.
The irony of the parable is that the 'traffic cheater' may be doing something he 'needs to do' but it's that very activity which is limiting he and his own community's ability to be successful.
Some laws favor the rich, many laws favor whatever special-interest group a politician is beholden to (whether that's a union, an ethnic group, a key industry in their area, or a group organized around a particular issue or ideology)
You know how they say "Trying to explain privilege is like explaining water to a fish, they can't see it until they're out of it?" Now I understand that saying.
One way to interpret this comment would be to imply the author of the quoted statement, having overwhelming advantages conferred upon them by circumstances out of their control, cannot possibly expect that their so-called "experiential wisdom" would have any applicability whatsoever to the masses for whom those same circumstances were not conferred.
If that was your intent, I do not think it serves you well.
I say that because attributing survival, much less success, to a vague notion of privilege is dismissive of an individual's agency. What is more, as a salve for the jealousy of the success for others, it really doesn't work all that well.
I have met many people who have come from many backgrounds and with their own challenges. In that time, the quality of "success" was strongly correlated with fundamentals, not with where they started.
There is a great saying, "Success makes you stupid, failure makes you smart" which speaks to the value of failing in order to better understand success, and why some succeed and others do not.
In the majority (perhaps all but I really couldn't say that as a definite) the ability to fail, take ownership of the failure and then seek the understanding to not fail again, results in success. In contrast people who fail and then externalize the reason for failure to some aspect of the situation that was out of their control and do not seek out a better way, invariably continue to fail.
Privilege exists, that is painfully obvious to me as a white male who is not habituated into getting nervous when a police officer approaches. Privilege exists in toxic organizations where friends of the boss are evaluated differently than everyone else. And privilege exists when people who conform to behavior, dress, and language norms of a group are treated differently than people who are different.
In spite of that, it has been my experience that complaining about what other people have done more easily than you did, and attributing it to privilege, doesn't actually help. Not that I'm saying you would do that, I am saying that in my life I complained about a lot of things, one was a kid my age who was interviewed by the local news station for building a robot, FROM A KIT HIS PARENTS BOUGHT HIM, as if he was some genius robot builder. Was that privilege? Of course it was, his parents could afford it and mine were trying to make sure we had some money left over at the end of the month to save for those future problems that always took money. But it didn't help me get any better to focus on him having these advantages and me having none. I befriended the owner of the TV repair shop (yeah I'm that old :-)) who would give me broken TVs and radios to take apart and learn from. I built a complete Shortwave receiver out of a couple of otherwise non-working AM/FM radios and some additional tuning components scavenged from TVs and other radios. As a result, when I got into college on a scholarship as a EE candidate I already knew the basics of how electronic circuits worked and to analyze them. The kid with the kit robot may have entered college knowing no more than how to solder according to someone else's directions.
My point is that one should not dismiss the power of one's own agency to make a better future for themselves. And I see complaining about privilege as a crutch to avoid doing the work, just like training wheels on a bike means you don't have to do the work of balancing. It is important to recognize privilege exists but it would be wrong to let it define you.
Failure makes you dead, unless you have the means and support to try again.
There's no dismissal of agency. Deciding to compromise your principles to keep earning money is just as much an exercise of agency as making the opposite decision.
There are people for whom the circumstances of their employment, whether it is strict visa rules or the fact that they are being employed illegally, or some other extenuating circumstance such as disabilities that do not give them the freedom of action that being able to leave one job and move on to another. In this we are completely in agreement. The fallacy here is to extend this circumstance as if it will never change.
It is absolutely true to say this advice does not apply to every living breathing human on the planet. However it does apply to a lot of people in the workforce today.
In many economies, the number of people who lose employment and are always having difficulty finding employment again is relatively small. And I have been grateful that I happen to have opportunities and have supported financially organizations such as Homeboy Industries that work to address that. It is inspiring to meet the people who have taken that step to invest in their own employability and versatility so that they can increase their options and live a life they are proud of. Are their periods in their life where losing a job would be really challenging? Absolutely. Does it have to always be like that? Absolutely not.
So in the general sense, I don't think it is a simple point. I think it is a state of mind. Either you take responsibility for your failures and your successes, or you only take responsibility for success and blame your failures on things outside of your control. I get the whole learned helplessness thing, it's a real problem. But it can be overcome. The motivation for that change has to come from inside a person. I do not believe there is any amount of coaching or cheering or reward/punishment cycles will force it.
 The most common situation that I've personally interacted with are ex-felons.
It’s not just as simple as “finding a new job”. Runway for bills, the time it takes to find the right opportunity, etc, are all definite resources that are required to make the switch - which I’d argue far more people have trouble affording as opposed to your proposed statement that few people have trouble finding new jobs within their space.
I feel that your point of view makes more sense for someone who finds consumer capitalism and the tech industry ethical on a fundamental level, bar occasional aberrations. Not everyone sees it that way.
I really wanted to make a point only about the ethical issue. I think it's fair to say that most of your comment is fairly generic "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" advice. The efficacy of such advice has already been debated a thousand times over. In the midst of the present economic crisis it strikes me as less helpful and relevant than ever.
I'm wondering if the ethical compromises you feel/felt ever inspired you to try something to avoid them.
For example, one of the people I knew at Sun was pretty depressed about the sort of crap that went on in tech companies. Her response was to create a company that she felt aligned with her views of ethics. Took her a long time to get to "Raman profitability" but that work was offset by the benefit of knowing that the place where she worked didn't subscribe to the kinds of ethical compromises that make people uncomfortable.
I agree that this sort of advice is less actionable during a crisis, whether it is a pandemic or the Great Recession. Just like it is never helpful to tell someone in a car crash that if they had been wearing a seat belt they wouldn't currently be on the way to the emergency room. That said, large unlikely stresses to the system, like the pandemic, tend to "light up" areas of risk. It is why in operations at a tech company you will stage mock outages (with real equipment failures) to be able to "see" whether or not your mitigation processes work and where they can be improved.
I still think it is always good advice to learn from adverse circumstances, regardless or origin, to create additional resiliency in your life. That's how I started figuring out what to put in my "go" back in my car. Looking at disasters that hit the Bay Area and asking myself the question, "Okay, when this hits and I'm in my car somewhere, what will I want to have?"
 Using the pandemic as an example, the pathetic capacity for the US to manufacture PPE was not widely understood (visible) until the pandemic.
I can't think of one business who has pure ideals and has successfully implement them without inventing something new.
While it is dramatic in the current context it is the same excuse half of Germany used in Nuremberg, if you didn't stand up to atrocities in front you are just as guilty no matter whether you gave the order or just "doing your job".
People fight and die based on their moral convictions. At times they are not even fighting for their own lives, families or communities. If soldiers are ready to die half way across the world loose a limb in someone else's war without a second thought, anything less is insignificantly trivial.
If you can die for your principles you can loose a job, go hungry or suffer any other pain too.
It is as simple as what will cause you more pain, going hungry or doing something you don't agree with.
Obviously there’s privilege there. But it’s not top 1% or anything.
I had some loan money still in my account, and mostly worked “like I didn’t need a job”. I did a bit of consulting work within my industry, but just enough to get by and avoided it where possible. I think I made about $11,000 in my first year.
And it all worked. I didn’t increase my debt, and the business grew after that.
There’s obviously privilege involved, but I try to push back because people write as if you need some insane level of privilege. I’m guessing 30-50% of college grads could try something like that without too much risk. (If I had had zero traction in the first 6-12 months I would have potentially stopped and gone back to school)
Circumstances vary: I’m in Canada, so that accounted for loan repayment + not worrying about medical expenses. I could also stay on my school secondary health insurance (dental etc) through August of my first year.
But, your own story showcases a huge level of privilege that you don't seem to be acknowledging.
I know you said you're Canadian, and that changes things a bit, but let's look at this from the perspective of an American college graduate.
First of all, being an American college graduate puts you already in a rather privileged category. Only about 36% of Americans over 25 have at least a bachelor's degree.  Consider, too, that most people with college degrees probably grew up in homes where education was considered important, making this, at least partially, a form of hereditary privilege.  And, children of non-college educated parents who do go to school finish at lower rates than those who have a college-educated parent. [ibid]
So, now that you're in roughly the top third of "people with privilege," let's just grant you that 30-50% of those people can afford to take a gap year, during which they will likely need significant parental support (remaining on insurance, probably still living at home, etc.) Leaving aside that simply having parents who can afford to float supporting a young, college graduate for an additional year beyond college itself, this puts you in an even higher tier. If we just multiply the numbers, it looks like you're still talking about, population wide, 10-20% of individuals who could even theoretically think about doing what you did. And, that's if your 30-50% number is correct, which I doubt.
There is also no mention of luck in your story. I'm sure you were the recipient of several lucky breaks that year, some of which may have not come your way if you were not a college-educated individual who could afford to take a gap year.
All of this is without layering on race, or any of the multiple other forms of luck and/or privilege that certainly got you where you are. Example: you were lucky enough to be born in a developed, Western country. If you were born a Dalit in India, you may have never even known that opportunities such as you have had even exist. 
My own story, likewise, is riddled with privilege. I was born white and to parents who valued education. I got extremely lucky getting my first tech job. I got even luckier with my second and third tech jobs, to the extent that when I got that third job, I was making 2x as much as my first job, only a couple years earlier, and I'm currently making 3x as much as that first job.
Right now, I could almost "work like I don't need a job," but, go back a couple of years, and that most likely would not have been the case. Go to the grocery store and observe all the people working there, and tell me if they can "work like they don't need a job." Even being able to say "work like you don't need a job" with a straight face to someone implies a certain level of privilege on the part of the speaker.
Edit: Clarified my income growth.
Having some privilege snowballs into more opportunities and thus, more privilege.
My point is that people often talk like nobody could do businesses or be independent except the top 1%. But it’s actually a fairly broad swath of the educated class. I would guess a majority of the people reading the posts here could work like they don’t need a a job. And yet many also do not.
Lots of non americans read this forum but a lot of this is actually easier outside america as COL is so low. Again, for those in the class I’m talking about.
My point wasn’t “anyone can do this”. Obviously there’s privilege involved. My point was that a larger swath of people can work like this than you’d think.
Also, university grad is not a prereq for, say, trying to start a business. A majority of young americans now live with their parents. This is in some ways a gloomy statistic, but it likely also indicates their living costs are very low in most of those cases. Most people in that circumstance can take 1-2 months to fiddle with an online business idea with no startup costs.
If you tell people “something is impossible, only the rich can try” then a lot of people won’t even attempt something, even if their life circumstances actually permitted them to do so. What frustrates me about discussions on these topics is people assume the level of privilege needed is much higher than it actually is.
If someone earns $50,000, spends $40,000, in four years they will have a year’s salary saved up. With that in the bank you have a fair margin of safety.
Most people don’t need a year to get a job, and can also reduce expenses in such a period. By doing so, you effectively buy freedom.
I’m guessing you wrote this because you are not able to have such a margin of savings. But I’m leaving this comment for the many readers who could do so, but have not arranged their lives such that they have it.
That assumes no unexpected expenditure though? Any medical emergency (and even a lot of non-emergencies) in the US (from what I've seen) would blow those savings quickly. Also car problems, child problems, storm damaging the house/apartment, any number of things can swallow those savings quickly and you're back to square one.
Though the non medical ones you mention can generally be handled by insurance. That usually is not tied to work. If you have a year’s savings you can generally afford insurance.
They’re tied to their jobs because healthcare costs so much. It’s unaffordable to pay $400+ per person per month plus up to $8k for out of pocket max which resets every calendar year ($16k for family) without having a job.
The $400 per person is for a young person. It goes up to $1,000 per month as you get into 50s/60s. So if you’re being prudent and factoring in the probability of not having income in your 50s/60s (age discrimination, disability, obviated from automation, outsourced), then you also need to save to plan to pay at least $12k a year in today’s money plus out of pocket maximum.
That's another thing - aren't most of them in at-will employment? Meaning they can be let go with almost no reason with no notice at any time. That's also going to put a dint in the savings.
Something can always go wrong, but it doesn't happen to everyone.
I can recommend the web site Mr Money Mustache for some ideas along that line.
BS. If that was the case, then YC would be a non-profit and they would accept everyone.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money AND help people, but pretending like PG/Jessica are some benevolent leaders is disingenuous. You're falling victim to some of the cargo cult nature of YC.
As PG has said himself (paraphrased) "I think most tech entrepreneurs want to become incredibly wealthy, not to simply be wealthy, but to work on things they truly want to do". My interpretation is that he is no different and he gets personal enjoyment out of helping others (the financials give him the freedom to do this without ever having to worry about financials ever again).
Of course nearly everybody will say "I want to make money and to help people". The question is what they do when those two wishes come into conflict. Which is the high-order bit? There were many cases when PG and Jessica chose the interests of founders over optimizing their own money outcome—in fact this happened so often that it became proverbial, and many experienced people in the investment business were puzzled by it, as if there had to be some other explanation.
There's another characteristic that PG and Jessica had/have, which doesn't get mentioned as often: they simply wouldn't spend time on things that they didn't enjoy and didn't feel were essential. That's also true of Trevor, and probably of Robert too (I don't know him as well), so it was something all four of them shared.
That quality was for sure more important than optimizing for money, and may even be the high-order bit. Things that were supposed to be the 'proper' way but which weren't satisfying and didn't have an obvious justification, they simply wouldn't bother with. Complex negotiations, for example, or paperwork that wasn't absolutely necessary—even if nontrivial amounts of money got forfeited as a result. This approach turned out to be incredibly efficient and in retrospect looks like a superpower but I think a lot of it was just refusing to do dumb or boring things. Which actually is a superpower, but not one that most people would see that way.
And I think this interpretation is incorrect or perhaps doesn't uncover the reality of the strategy. Sometimes in business you sacrifice short term gains for long term ones. That is basically what they did. PG/Jessica have infinite deal flow for life, how many VCs can say that?
> they simply wouldn't spend time on things that they didn't enjoy and didn't feel were essential.
Agreed, I think we're all saying that and was the essence of my point. I took ChuckMcM's point as if they were acting in some benevolent favor - which is a trope that needs to die.
> "because for them, it is all about the money"
This'll just eventually slide into a philosophical debate about what money really is. Either way, my point is that this is certainly a very nice position to be in when you already have money. To pretend that people who run a financial services firm (which is what an investor is) aren't geared towards making money is laughable. To be very clear - let's not pretend as if that this notion is evil or doesn't allow you to do things that you are truly passionate about. There's a subtext here that assumes that "being all about the money" is somehow inherently bad.
I could see the argument for the first (non-profit) but not the second (accept everyone). Filtering down to a set of folks that they think they'd be able to most effectively help would make a lot of sense regardless of reason for doing.
I agree that there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money AND help people, but I also want to add that strictly maximizing the positive impact does not mean strictly minimizing making money either, sometimes making money enables you to help a lot more people too...
At least that's what I take from it. Cultism is just something that follows success.
This demands another question: What do tech entrepreneurs truly want to do? Certainly, there's Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Peter Thiel, and PG himself. But how do most of the YC successes do to help others?
I have been really careful to save money for paying bills on bad days, largely with the intention of building a "wronged for doing right" fund. A responsible person has to proactively protect their soul just the same as they would anything else. :)
Of course, I’d argue that we shouldn’t give ourselves the excuse that “I don’t have the money to do the right thing” - but the concept that sometimes fighting an ethical battle requires financial “ammunition” is an interesting one.
>people would talk about the importance of saving up “fuck you” money in your first few years of work - so that when you’re asked to do something unethical at work, you have enough money that you can say “fuck you” and walk way.
Haha, that is definitely not what that phrase is talking about.
Orders aren't black and white evil. If you have an insecure situation, and especially if you have dependents, than it's very natural to let lighter shades of grey slide.
There's a qualitative difference between the pure, easily exploited Calvinist interpretation of this concept (hard work and sacrifice will be rewarded by some nebulous power that is keeping score) and the more assertive flavor you see in well-run organizations - confidence, openness and a dash of charity gets people to trust and want to collaborate with you, and you all benefit. Being the nexus of a bunch of such collaborations means you benefit the most.
I have very much experienced this and have navigated options ranging from "if they don't care, I don't care" to "I don't care if I lose my job, I have to speak-up".
Like you, I can't say any of this resulted in direct firing. In one case I am pretty sure the consequence was that my consulting contract was not renewed, costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars. The irony of that particular case is that the CEO held regular all-hands meetings during which he explicitly said he wanted people to bring up issues and that he actually wanted to promote and appreciated that level of honesty.
What I brought-up cost them millions of dollars and was going to cost millions yet. In fact, the group managers I was working with were lying to the CEO. The operational costs after deployment of the ill-conceived design would have been in the tens of millions of dollars and untold delays. Well, the rest is billion-dollar-corporation history (in more ways than I can describe on a public forum).
I've had similarly interesting conversations and I agree. However I have a good salary, a spouse who works, and I live in a "first-world" country with a reasonably good social safety net and sane healthcare policy (i.e. not America).
Therefore I thankfully have never been forced to choose between working ethically and paying the bills. I've never had to seriously weigh speaking truth to power and saving for my daughter's university tuition. Or putting food on the table.
Too often it seems the people who advocate things like "working like you don't need the job" are the ones who don't actually need the job because they're supported by a working spouse, investment income, or are otherwise wealthy enough to float for a few months until something better comes along.
Getting advice like "prioritize ethics over income" from a gazillionaire like Sam Altman who can afford that luxury (yes, it's a luxury) seems particularly tone-deaf.
> But the thought of "What would I do if I didn't have this job? I've got rent and food and car payments and bills, I'd be homeless and never work again!" works against this advice and so people compromise their principles or their morals or their willingness to do harm to others, because they are just doing what the boss told them to do and they really need this job."
This seems so out of touch with reality and totally ignores the day-to-day struggles that many people have. PG (I'm not sure about Jessica's situation at the time) was doing well financially after having sold Viaweb. This doesn't take away from PG's desire to help or his accomplishments, but most folks are not rich or making $500k/year working in Silicon Valley and can't afford to throw away their jobs.
While this is certainly the common natural path, not everyone does and the "financial independence" movement is a community of those who actively try to avoid this natural path
Maybe it's a class thing? When you're middle class and you're making twice the average income, you're not immediately turning into a jet setter or by a sports car. If you live a middle class life, you have a whole extra income each month that just sits there.
The other thing that's avoiding forcing these sort of problems into the light is low interest rates and a lack of a housing market bubble pop. In the UK they've used all sorts of tricks to make sure the housing market doesn't pop.
If those change, that brings out all the people who over-stretched themselves on things they couldn't really afford.
But it seems to be general policy around the world to penalize savers and reward spenders. That's good for growth, but could potentially cause some serious problems.
I wouldn't put a house into the category I understood the parent comment to talk about: it's not consumption, it's an investment. Still, you're right that it's something you're committed to and that would make it hard to "just walk away" from a job.
Savers get punished, but so do those that buy insurance, until the day they need it, I suppose.
The mortgage debt has to be serviced, and your kids have to go to the schools in the richest areas (aka best schools). Hence once you have kids, most are innately pushed to stretch themselves so their children have access to the best possible future.
A house is a terrible investment. I don't understand why people are so obsessed with them.
The only reason I can think of is that there's something very human about your house being yours.
Including me. I said this 20 years ago, I said this 15 years ago. But house prices just went up and up and up.
Houses you could buy for 20k are now worth 160-200.
I essentially just meshed up both your comments and it still holds.
In short, incomes are high, and so are costs. That being said, I've definitely come out way ahead by living here by staying somewhat sane with expenses.
From what I've heard, In YC's case:
+ Paul was a successful technical founder with the money and reputation. He could rally the troops with "suits and MBAs don't matter, hackers rule the world" rhetoric.
+ Paul had a giant megaphone with his blog (not initially done to market YC)
+ He had a partner who was good at reading and sizing up people, crucial in picking the first batches whose success was crucial to the whole thing working.
+ The cost of doing a start-up had fallen dramatically
+ and so on. I am sure there a few others.
Similarly, everyone has tried to replicate the Kenya's mPesa, the world's most successful mobile money system. No one has succeeded because there hasn't been the same confluence of factors that led to mpesa's success:
>The next morning, on the train back to Virginia, hung over, somewhere in the middle of Connecticut, I get a call from Paul. He says, "I'm sorry, we made a mistake. We don't like your idea, but we like you guys." We got off the train, and I was able to sweet-talk the Amtrak lady into not charging us to turn around. In our conversation, Paul said, "You guys need to build the front page of the Internet." That was all Paul, and that became Reddit.
It seems like a lot of YC's success comes down to luck. They happened to be in the right position at the right time.
Removing Reddit doesn’t materially change yc financials.
Reddit's cofounders, sans Aaron, planned to make a food order service with SMS before smart phones. PG rejected their idea, sent them packing. Meanwhile PG was also talking to Aaron and somehow got the idea for the "front page" thing. He called Steve and Alexis and said they should work on this new idea with another guy. They said sure.
That's what I remember from reading "We Are The NERDS" anyway.
In some ways it is sad because reddit was not Alexis/Steve's first idea, and that idea did go on to be big. Then again they probably just wanted to be tech founders.
> "[Graham] wanted to make Hacker News a place to recreate the way Reddit felt in the good old days, when most of its community was made up of hackers." 
In general in life humans like to go back and understand why some things were successful, and do that to replicate them. Very often that one thing was luck and being at the right place at the right time.
This is in no way trying to take anything away from Paul and Jessica. They are probably super amazing people, and I could certainly never replicate what they have done or even try. I don't think they could replicate it if they tried either, even being the awesome people they are.
There are probably companies created right now that will tower over IT in 30 years and we'll say "yeah but (that part of) industry wasn't consolidated back in '20".
Other places have solutions which work well enough to prevent dominance. The combination of Contactless and Faster payments in the UK solves most uses cases. You can send payments to people via app instantly. I never carry cash any more. However, this requires everyone to have bank accounts and modern high availability payment/POS infrastructure.
Mpesa neatly solves the problem that many people don't have bank accounts, many places don't accept cards (let alone contactless) and there are rolling power outages. However, most people have a mobile phone and you can topup your mpesa account like normal phone credit. It's incredibly accessible.
So, yeah, the DNA of the founding team matters a lot. Seems like for scaling companies (like Y Combinator, itself, is a company – and by Sam's definition of creating more value for others than itself, has become a platform) – traits are extremely heritable (not so much the case with children!)
This has been conclusively debunked.
> All psychological traits show significant and substantial genetic influence
> Most measures of the “environment” show significant genetic influence
> These are “big” findings, both in terms of effect size and potential impact on psychological science
edit: Did I get shadowbanned for this?! Post not showing up on different device..
"Like much of that literature, Blueprint plays fast and loose with the concept of heritability. Sometimes Plomin treats it (correctly) as a variable property of a population in a given environment. As population geneticist Richard Lewontin pointed out in a scathing critique of Jensen’s approach in 1970, in times of plenty, height is highly heritable; in a famine, much less so (R. C. Lewontin Bull. Atom. Sci. 26, 2–8; 1970). But elsewhere, Plomin, like Jensen, treats heritability wrongly as a property inherent in a trait."
"The most troubling thing about Blueprint is its Panglossian DNA determinism. Plomin foresees private, direct-to-consumer companies selling sets of polygenic scores to academic programmes or workplaces. Yet, as this “incorrigible optimist” assures us, “success and failure — and credit and blame — in overcoming problems should be calibrated relative to genetic strengths and weaknesses”, not environmental ones. All is for the best in this best of brave new worlds.
"Plomin likes to say that various components of nurture “matter, but they don’t make a difference”. But the benefits of good teaching, of school lunches and breakfasts, of having textbooks and air-conditioning and heating and plumbing have been established irrefutably. And they actually are causal: we know why stable blood sugar improves mental concentration. Yet Plomin dismisses such effects as “unsystematic and unstable, so there’s not much we can do about them”."
I wouldn't jump straight to foul play. New throwaways are probably pretty sensitive to downvote/flagging/etc, it's unlikely you were moderated out of existence.
Not super relevant, but it's funny that the guy who has famously criticized credentialism  also thinks the best way to describe his artistic achievements is "studied painting at RISD and the Accademia di Belle Arti" .
If the rest of the world operates on credentialism, you either go with the flow and just play along, or refuse to acknowledge how the rest of the world works, and get caught up in a lot of stupid arguments.
It's important to understand, there's a cost to being unconventional. I think pg understands this better than most. Sometimes that cost is worth it. A lot of times though, it isn't.
(I don't mean to pick on Paul Graham, but it's kind of hard to resist with all the essays.)
I believe his church was disappointed that they didn't get Purcell, when he was first hired. I may well have that wrong - it's a vague memory.
My point was that experts don't necessarily do a good job of recognizing which other experts are great quickly. It can take a long, long time for the best to rise to the top.
Right idea, some details wrong. It was Telemann they wanted, and it wasn't his first job but his last, at Leipzig.
Bach was actually their third choice, after Telemann and Christoph Graupner. (Who? I've never heard any of his music either. I hear tell it's actually rather good.)
(Also relevant: they weren't exactly hiring a composer; they needed someone to compose and conduct and teach and organize. Telemann was in fact a very fine composer, but it's entirely possible that that wasn't why they wanted him more than they wanted Bach: they may e.g. have thought he would be easier to get on with, and they may have been right.)
Some people put Mozart and Beethoven up there (I think he was better at his best and I believe more prolific generally, but YMMV).
The point is, though, that almost no one in history has rivaled Bach for his compositional feats, yet it took a hundred years after his death before people really started to realize that.
If that was true for him, I question whether it's realistic to count on human ability to recognize accomplishments as a useful metric.
Platforms thrive if you match supply and demand in a highly relevant way, and once they thrive, they generate network effects.
So PG & Jessica were sort of the equivalent of the seller terms and conditions on the Amazon marketplace platform haha. They were able to spot and shape promising founding teams.
There's a reason for this - PG/Jessica never set out to replicate anything. Same thing went for people like Jobs.
This is the problem with trying to emulate highly successful people. We assume there is a pattern and then try to replicate it. The reality is that these people found a path that no one was looking at and exploited. Many people attempt this and fail.
The older I get the more I realize that there really isn't a secret to highly successful people. The best advice I've given myself is to stop trying to find other's secret and to just find my own. Success is skill * luck.
“Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.”
“If the past, by bringing surprises, did not resemble the past previous to it (what I call the past's past), then why should our future resemble our current past?”
The iPod came after digital Walkmans, the iWatch came after Pebble, the iPhone came after Blackberrys.
Apple's position in the market is a fashion company, much like Rolex or Gucci, and not exactly the first company I would think of in terms of technological innovation.
Apple, on the other hand, allowed my non educated non English speaking great grandma in a rural village in a developing country to be able to reliably video call her descendants thousands of miles away.
And no, Android/Skype/Viber/Tango wasn’t an option because we tried them all and they sucked.
Also the amortized cost of apple products is far less than non apple products considering they actually get updates for 5+ years. So I fail to see how it’s like a luxury watch or belt that simply serve to show how much the owner can afford.
This is just not true. Flagship Android phones get 3 years of updates, and beyond that you can install open source OSes like LineageOS, which you just cannot do on Apple. Most people buy phones every 3 years anyway, even Apple users, since the battery life is severely reduced by then.
As for desktop computers, non-Apple computers can always have new OSes installed on them and hardware is often user-upgradable. I have rarely seen a soldered-in SSD other than in the Apple world. Last week I just changed out my 2TB drive for a 4TB SSD for a grand total of $400. In the Apple world you'd have to buy a new PC and they charge you +$1600 for that soldered-in 4TB SSD, and that's on top of the cost of a new PC that I didn't have to buy.
I mean there are replicable success factors like basic SEO or hiring a good accountant but i don't think that counts.
The secret to your non-secret is to know when you know yourself ... or perhaps given the rest of the thread, it's easier to trust your instincts when you have a couple of million in the bank.
And hard work. And perseverance.
It’s both painfully obvious and maddeningly difficult to replicate.
But there are many programs started by people from the industry. Many who understand the nature of YC very well. IMO the problem here is inherent to copying. Do you copy the 2005 YC or the 2020 YC? If you copy the 2005 one how do you adjust for the fact that the world isn't the same anymore? If you copy the 2020 one how do you make up for the 15 years that never happened? As a copy how will you get the same deal flow, why would people apply to you over the real deal? If you're trying to create a YC in country/place X how do you adjust for the fact that it's different from America/Silicon Valley?
What usually happens is the copier realizes how futile the endeavor is and introduces "changes" trying to mitigate the problems. Usually these changes only make everything worse. And you end up with a big mess.
1) There is no PG or Jessica of TechStars. No PG essays, HN, or other magnet for technical would-be founders. No clear pitch to these founders that they can actually do startups!
2) There is no cohesive TechStars community. I think that's due to the "franchise" approach. They do try to help here but at this point the network isn't really valuable.
3) Partly due to the franchise approach, there is no outsized fundraising benefit since fundraising is localized to programs.
Even from the outside, it was obvious that you could trust the founders of YC. And you would have to be stupid not to want the one investor in Silicon Valley that you could actually rely on.
The darker side of YC (and its ultimate undoing IMHO) is that they focused too much on helping people like Sam Altman: upper class people from "elite" schools that didn't actually need or appreciate the help. They were polished and flattering but, for the most part, couldn't actually do the hard work of starting up. YC helped a tiny % of the people that asked for help, and not because they couldn't afford to help more, but because they wanted people of a certain "culture fit", hence the "elite" school style interview process.
Then YC became a retirement home for these failed founders, where they confidentially deliver advice they couldn't follow themselves. Now, it is just another credential to be gamed by the wealthy with the requisite percentage of token exceptions. It became as fake and hollow as the "elite" schools are. Not bad, run by bad people, or totally useless, just devoid of anything authentic, energetic, or based on a genuine ethos.
It has become a shell of its former self, destined to slowly burn out. With every advantage possible, YC couldn't even replicate itself.
Sadly, the YC that Paul Graham and Jessica Livingston created is dead.
I wonder if Paul Graham passing the reins over to Sam Altman in 2014 kicked off the stagnation or merely formalized it.
Very interesting take.
I feel like this might be due to being out of the startup game for too long. You probably move out of startup mode and into teaching/mentoring mode, which is a very different mindset.
Perhaps if they rotated the partners every couple of years with recent founders it would help this.
Maybe it’s time for Jessica and Paul, the authors of “Founders at work” and “Hackers and Painters” to write another book, this time the definitive history of YC? Perhaps the way to get more YC’s in the world is for people to really know and understand the early stories of YC, warts and all?
He started off as a Lisp academic, then had a web shopping startup in the 90s. He is also known for his collection of essays. If you want to know more, here‘s a good place to start: http://paulgraham.com/ycstart.html
Annoying, yes. But I'm not the audience either.
What I see aren't true copycats. I see groups that are trying to replicate the outcomes without replicating the motivations. With the wrong motivations in place it's hard to see the outcomes come out either. Even if you have a PG or Jessica in place.
^ That right there is the definition of luck and timing. If it's not that hard, tons have tried, and nobody has replicated, then luck and/or timing must have been a huge factor. This doesn't seem to cross Sam's mind.
Certainly not implying that luck and timing didn't play a huge role, but I think there's often subtle unspoken but super important factors at play in these kinds of things.
But it's also the way YC itself was founded. YC didn't need to extract capital from founders by charging rent for offices, taking advising fees, etc. It is the reason YC has been able to "leave money on the table" when it comes to later stage deal making.
Adequate capitalization is the reason YC was able to take a longer term approach. Most businesses are not adequately capitalized. This means there is always pressure to cut corners. Always the need to try to "sell broke." Always the allure of coming up with an angle.
It's a dynamic I've come to know intimately over the years. Once the magician leaves, the magic goes soon after. If you want magic in your life, go where the magician is, or better yet, learn how to work magic yourself.
Then, as you say, comes the hard part. How do you embed the magic so well in the organisation that those that follow can keep it up and improve on it, or at least not wreck it straight away.
I have tried things like: make sure open source is part of the culture, start a foundation not a company, hire carefully, teach good practice in execution, only work on things that you and other are passionate about and that makes a real difference.
Edit: add some hard part
You can't make magic that outlasts you, but you can help other people gain confidence.
PG gave me advice during the negotiation with the acquirer anyway.
I was 26 and selling to a big company. It’s nice to have somebody experienced in your corner.
It changed the course of my life, both personally and professionally.
Just in case anyone misinterprets this based on "tribute" and the past tense: Jessica is still very much alive and I would assume still all of those things. (They've both just stepped down from active roles in YC, AFAIK.)
That much is pretty evident, following their story from afar.
> They set strong norms and fought back hard against bad behavior towards YC founders. They trusted their own convictions, were willing to do things their way, and were willing to be disliked by the existing power structures.
I don't think this is quite as well known, from what I've read. I'm sure that's in part, by design, since Silicon Valley can be kind of... 'cozy'. I'd be curious to read more though.
Has a good antidote about taking care of founders. Someone threatened to sue the protagonist of the book because they started the company while still employed (iirc), and basically PG, after lunch in his Palo Alto house, promised to take care if it.
The author alluded to the fact that the person doing the suing would never be able to get funded again if he carried out the suit (essentially canceled).
It’s ironic because cancel culture is something PG loves to rant about: https://twitter.com/paulg/status/1280499919028195334?lang=en
It's absolutely absurd that anyone could think that clapping emojis are harassment.
In fact, VCBrags recently almost shut down. And I think this blog post is one of the many examples of bullying that led to that kind of decision.
And yes, there should be reputational consequences for this behavior. Nobody needs to be fired, I'm not advocating for that, but bad-faith critics of the tech industry and those who work in it should be identified and ignored.
Seriously? The world would be a worse place if people listen to this person. It's clapping emojis, for heaven's sake.
I also love how people who advocate for deplatforming someone pull the "Oh no, I would never advocate they be fired. No way!" act. It's such transparent sophistry.
Ugh. Enough internet for me today. Back to work.
Lol, did you read it? You have the chronology backwards.
This blog post is also literally a personal attack, which is against the site guidelines, for what it's worth. (It targets one specific person, which is partly why it's so upsetting. Don't people have better things to do than to write defamatory posts about someone posting clapping emojis? Go build something!)
> The entire secret to YC getting going was PG and Jessica—there was no other magic trick.
Never mentions her last name.
I wonder why she doesn't get public credit?
Who are these people? Have they heard of supply and demand? How can anyone think making a profitable company from ground zero 'can't be that hard'?
> 2) if you can get it off the ground, the network effects are self-sustaining.
Why would a company that's essentially a filter in between people with money and people with promises have network effects? If anything, the reverse is true - as any company gets bigger, it gets worse at maintaining quality.
This can be trivially seen empirically with how much large tech corps spend on R&D and yet how boring, incremental and downright sad many of their new offerings are (new emojis anyone?) Where are the results from all the billions spent? I guess the new macbook keyboards are an innovation, oh wait...
The only way a filter is strengthened by network effects, is if the filter is increasingly irrelevant and through-put is what matters (spray and pray > being picky).
So either it is spray and pray and then it 'isn't that hard' indeed if you have the right connections (born rich, have been introduced to billionaire friends of your father/mother), or it isn't spray and pray, but then there are no self sustaining network effects to be had.
If PG and Jessica were the "key" you could send them to Pittsburgh, Berlin, or Dakar and they could do the the same.
For a long time communities around the world have been asking YC to expand their business to new geographies. Except for China it has always been "talking to the hand". China didn't turn out well.
YC can't have it both ways: "we can only function in one place" and "we have some value apart from being in that one sacred place". COVID-19 may be changing this, but the contradiction is one for YC to resolve. The rest of us have to recognize a gap between what they have done (beliefs that seem to be implicit in their behavior) and what they say ("the secret to our success is...")
If what you're doing is giving people credibility in an _existing_ investor ecosystem, you can't just ... create a new investor ecosystem somewhere else.
If you look at "racism" and other forms of inequality that are intractable in the US and other countries you find it can understood in terms of "placism".
(e.g. "busing" as an answer to school inequality and the resulting backlash; if minorities lived in as a diverse set of places as white people did in the US the Democrats would have 58+ seats in the Senate, etc.)
Sam could prove me wrong by sending the PG/Jessica combo to another place (Fresno, LA, Las Vegas, Dublin, Edingburgh, ...) and have them accomplish something. People have been asking for this for years but we've always heard that it's not negotiable, YC is tied to a sacred patch of land, etc.
Someone who shows that "sacred land is everything" by their behavior is going to inevitable sound disingenuous when they try to distill universal principles out of the YC experience.
I expect you could relocate PG and Jessica and have similar results.
The trick is that you'd need to also transplant a huge social circle and startup-friendly infrastructure.
Including unintuitive things like a large collection of small café and independent restaurant owners.
Paul touched on this a bit in his writings on making cities into startup hubs:
YC was started in Boston and worked well there. They moved to the SFBA because they wanted to scale it up and knew if they didn't, someone else would do there.
Had they stayed in Boston, it likely would've continued to be successful but would not have had the enormous impact it has had.
I would actually argue that this was critical.
Boston (and East Coast in general) at that point was a closed ecosystem that had pent up startup founders and no real release valve for those same founders.
That gave YC a significant amount of traction before having to scale out.
(Before Covid) It just has a high density of three groups of people that you need for a startup ecosystem. Founders, Students, and Investors. It's actually the high density network of people interested in the same thing.
YC's geographic location is a proxy for this high density network. This high density network was a necessary, but not sufficient condition for YC's success today at the time the decision was made. The post is about what else PG and Jessica added on top of the necessary conditions.
Just as you can't pull a startup out of a market that doesn't want it, you can't pull an accelerator out of a city that doesn't have the network for it.
You can usually tell who the investors are and who the founders are at Red Rock or Coupa. The one leaning back is the investor, usually.
So yes, right place at the right time, as in, the founders said "this looks like the right time to start an incubator, and we think we have the right plan. What's the right place? let's go there".
They could have been wrong about any of those three things, but they weren't. Luck is still a component, but then, isn't it always?
If this is true why haven't there been other comparably successful incubators/accelerators based in California?
"What did they do?
They took bets on unknown people
and believed in them more than anyone had before. They set strong norms and fought back hard against bad behavior towards YC founders. They
trusted their own convictions,
were willing to do things their way, and
were willing to be disliked by the existing power structures.
They focused on the most important things, they worked hard, and they spent a huge amount of time 1:1 with people. They
understood the value of community
and long-term orientation.
When YC was very small, it felt like a family.
Perhaps most importantly, they built an ecosystem [...].
This is easy to talk about, but hard to do, because it requires
not being greedy."
Maybe people are replicating it, but it doesn't look real obvious like billionaires in SV and their flagship investments.
It can be replicated in ideas that spread, which don't need VC and people can set up shop without them. Unknown companies that bootstrap up using strategies that would be barely known on HN. Sort of like the dark matter of capital, where 99.9% is dark matter.