Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
PG and Jessica (samaltman.com)
555 points by janvdberg 61 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 323 comments



This "This is easy to talk about but hard to do, because it requires not being greedy."

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.


> 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.

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 :)


Every time I read something Paul writes, or articles like this one, all I can think of is: 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.


Privilege is highly underappreciated.

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.


> Privilege is highly underappreciated.

Perhaps if it was more widely distributed it would be more broadly appreciated. ;)

(or taken for granted, YMMV)


If privilege was widely distributed, it ceases to be "privilege". The very fact that it's _not_ widely distributed makes it a privilege!


That's true for some reasonable definitions of "privilege" but not others.

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.


Which is exactly why it’s important to remind those who have it, especially when they tend to enjoy authoring ode’s of self-congratulation.


I agree! Disregarding that technically everyone can't be privileged -- taking it in the sense each individual should have the opportunity to develop as much as his potential. Things are of course never so simple, as there are limited resources, we can't always tell what their potentials (esp. of children) are, some potentials add more value to society, and sometimes the individuals don't even want to develop their potential!

This should be a primary goal of education. Then it becomes very personal, exciting, ready to bring out the best in ourselves.


Privilige is a lot like talent (i suppose talent is a type of privilige).

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.


> The other 95% is a lot of hard work and self improvement.

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 [1].

[1] https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-12-11/guy-standings-...


There are enormous numbers, in absolute terms, that are reasonably privileged in the modern world. Millions. But only a tiny number of those people go on to found a billion dollar company, or become one of the greatest composers in world history.

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.


> But only a tiny number of those people go on to found a billion dollar company, or become one of the greatest composers in world history.

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.


But the article wasnt about people who achieve modest success and (very) comfortable life styles. It was about what it takes to truly make it above and beyond.

> 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.


> 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.

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?


> I don't get the impression that they had a "ton" of money when they started.

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.


But how much went to them, vs investors, taxes, etc? It's not like they started YC with $50 million.


even if 10% went to them.. this is 1998.. it is a lot of money back back then (more than 99% of people will make in their life time) and is a lot of money now.


But not a lot of money in comparison to the VCs who could have done it in 1998. Not either a lot of connections in comparison to the VCs.

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.


I covered that in my comment with the “and” clause. I don’t deny they were radically successful at making a club. That’s my point, their success was in making an elite social group, not in any special VC strategy. The only way to replicate their success (if that’s what you define success as) would be to somehow supersede their reputation as the most desirable club.


> That’s my point, their success was in making an elite social group, not in any special VC strategy. The only way to replicate their success (if that’s what you define success as) would be to somehow supersede their reputation as the most desirable club.

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.


You may not remember what VC was like at that time. $50k for 50% was the expected seed round for a 4-person new grad team with about a year under their belt in Boston. I remember thinking the YC deal was crazy good crazy early. Anybody remember what it was? I recall something like $25k for 10% in the first batch. This was enough for poverty rent and ramen for 4 people for 1 year. The only problem I had with this was that he wanted all founders to quit their job before even applying, and then getting in was tough odds.


In my opinion, "privilege" is a little bit of an occlusive term used to paper over the complex idea of socioeconomic class and the ways that it has historically been passed down. I think it's popular because it provides a way for people who think of a world that should be (or worse, used to be) a meritocracy that isn't in a way that is only one step away from that -- it's privilege that keeps us from our meritocracy!

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."


I checked out your twitter, are you RT Altman ironically?


I did like that one, I thought, hey, gotta give it to him. I think thats my one retweet of his ever, ironic timing.. I contain multitudes!


If a solider can put down his life for a principle, he can go hungry and loose his job too.

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.


Generally speaking, a soldier lays down their life for their buddy, not for a higher principle.


> Strong morals are sometime a privilege :)

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.


I was going to say there’s a lack of evidence for this but then I looked at what people earn in India vs similar countries here: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.PP.CD?most_...

It’s amazingly clear that the trend is poverty === bad driving.


> I was going to say there’s a lack of evidence

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.


This is kind of orthogonal to the previous claim.

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".


Good point.


I travelled in India for about 6 months. It’s always been my favourite country. Low wages would be a better term than poverty.


Do you mean Maxwell or Maslows hierachy?

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.


Ah yes, enforcing the law, which, “in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.”


Welp you're right: Maslow's.

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.


Traffic rules are not for the privileged who can afford nice cars witj airbags and good medical care, the are more useful for the people who cant.


Thankfully there is this virus going around and we can all see the correlation between the wealth of the people and their propensity to break rules.


What correlation do you observe? Where i am, it seems all rich and poor follow the rules (with some minor exceptions). I mean makes sense who wants to get sick?


> What correlation do you observe? Where i am, it seems all rich and poor follow the rules (with some minor exceptions). I mean makes sense who wants to get sick?

https://twitter.com/sheela2010/status/1309053011168288769?s=...

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 rules are made by the rich for the benefit of the rich and applied in that manner. There's a reason a millionaire with a rape charge spends about a half hour at a police station and a poor person with the same charge won't see daylight until after his trial.


Traffic laws especially are absolutely made for everyone as are most laws and social rules.

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).


> 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.

How does obeying traffic laws make you wealthier? Unless you're just referring to the cost of the infraction (assuming you get cited).


If everyone obeys the traffic laws, everyone saves time, every process in the country is more efficient, everyone is wealthier and safer.

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.


By getting less involved in accidents.


The rules are made by representatives for the benefit of the voting block that elected them.

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)


The commonality between all special interests groups that have influence over politicians is money. The rich have more of it.


Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral!


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.

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.


Language is a tricky thing, words are exact and meaning is inexact.

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.


> "Success makes you stupid, failure makes you smart"

Failure makes you dead, unless you have the means and support to try again.


It's a simple point. If you need your job to pay the rent and the bills, then you can't really work as if you don't need your job (unless you're nuts). The people giving this advice are either unaware of their privilege, or aware of it and simply giving bad advice.

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.


I agree with that to a point, if you need your job to pay the rent and the bills, and there is no other job you can do, then you are well and truly trapped.

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[1]. And I have been grateful that I happen to have opportunities and have supported financially organizations such as Homeboy Industries[2] 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.

[1] The most common situation that I've personally interacted with are ex-felons.

[2] https://homeboyindustries.org/


There is an inherent cost to switching jobs, regardless if one potentially could, that one may not be able to afford.

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.


Personally, I've never had a job where I didn't feel ethnically compromised in one way or another. If I'd quit all of my jobs to date, I wouldn't be a model of self-actualization. I'd just be unemployed and broke. I wouldn't even be ethically pure, as I'd be failing in my responsibility to people who depend on me financially.

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.


Thank you for this clarification, I appreciate understanding where you are coming from.

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[1]. 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[2]. 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?"

[1] Using the pandemic as an example, the pathetic capacity for the US to manufacture PPE was not widely understood (visible) until the pandemic.

[2] https://github.com/ChuckM/CarEarthquakePrep


Your advice is well meaning, but unsolicited and rather obvious as far as it goes. Lots of people consider quitting their jobs and starting their own companies. Not everyone is in a position to do so, or indeed wants to do so. There's a fine line between offering advice and implicitly judging people for not making the choices that you think they ought to make.


I understand this point of view. From non-profit leaders who core activity is grooming relationships with rich or powerful people. To startup who's sales strategy is to lure one giant customer at a loss free to reel in other companies who purchase based on what others. To poker based companies who uses bots to fake engagement. To government entities who are funded on data points hiring teams of data specialists to crave up the raw data into misleading stats to be presented as fact. The little self funded startup finding creative ways of not paying staff or for services rendered.

I can't think of one business who has pure ideals and has successfully implement them without inventing something new.


"Deciding to compromise your principles to keep earning money is just as much an exercise of agency as making the opposite decision." In real life Its not the same . First is often exercised in denial or exercised by default where as Quitting your job on moral ground is a decision taken in full awareness.


People all across the privilege scale, up to and including people who would never need to work another day in their lives, fail to do the Right thing.


Not really. It has nothing to do with privilege .

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.


A substantial portion of university graduates do not, in fact, need a job right away. Gap years are common. And with small income you can get by (ramen profitable).

Obviously there’s privilege there. But it’s not top 1% or anything.


I guess if you're talking about a subset of the 31% of graduates who don't have student debt, you might be right. [0] Sure, it's not top 1%, but it's certainly closer to the top 10% who have this luxury, as opposed to, say, the median college graduate.

---

[0]: https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/20/how-much-the-average-student...


Yup. Even broader than that actually. When I left school to start a business, I had student debt. But the govt also had a low income loan assistance program, where you don’t have to pay till you’re above a certain income.

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.


> 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.

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. [0] 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. [1] 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. [2]

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.

---

[0]: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/educatio...

[1]: https://degree.lamar.edu/articles/undergraduate/parents-educ...

[2]: https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-03-05/even-harvard-pedigree...

Edit: Clarified my income growth.


I think this is a case of, "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer".

Having some privilege snowballs into more opportunities and thus, more privilege.


Sure, but I explicitly restricted my comment to university grads. And I literally said “there’s obviously privilege involved”.

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.

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/09/04/a-majority-...


It makes me wonder what kind of safety nets are available to people who can afford to think like this. I wish I was able to do this.


Anyone who lives below their means can do this. Not everyone can do that, but a substantial portion of people reading this comment on hacker news can do that.

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.


> in four years they will have a year’s salary saved up.

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.


Oh right. I’m Canadian, so I forget how tied to their jobs Americans are.

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.


Americans aren’t tied to their jobs because of health insurance. Anyone can purchase it on healthcare.gov.

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.


> so I forget how tied to their jobs Americans are.

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.


Just because some people might have an unexpected expenditure doesn't mean the OP's comment isn't true.

Something can always go wrong, but it doesn't happen to everyone.


You also have to factor in the effect on your future earnings of looking for a job while not having a job. You're bound to get lower offers (unless you can credibly give the impression of someone who's so wealthy that they never need to get a job). So even if you have a year's salary saved up and find another job within months, it could still be a big financial hit in the long term.


Are you assuming $50k take-home pay?


This is fundamentally why I think a UBI is a good policy. It will empower everyone to engage to take risks and engage in entrepreneurialism.


Consider asking the flip side of this question, "I wonder what kind of safety net I could create that would allow me to think like this?"

I can recommend the web site Mr Money Mustache[1] for some ideas along that line.

[1] https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/


> From what I've read, PG wasn't about the money he was all about helping people realize their ambitions.

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).


You're interpreting ChuckMcM's phrase to mean "wasn't about money [at all]" but that's the wrong place to insert the quantifier. The stronger plausible interpretation (see https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html) is "wasn't [all] about money". Chuck is contrasting PG and Jessica to people who only want to get rich "because for them, it is all about the money". That's also what Sam is saying and also what you are saying ("wanting to make money and help people"). Problem solved.

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.


> 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.

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.


>BS. If that was the case, then YC would be a non-profit and they would accept everyone.

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.


If YC were a non-profit, they definitely wouldn't have been able to raise money from LP's to scale the program, and would therefore been able to accept far fewer teams than they do now, certainly not everyone!

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...


I call BS on your claim about everyone being in. For anything to work only a particular type of people must be in especially at the start. To be honest most of PGs writings are dedicated to defining that, including your quote.

At least that's what I take from it. Cultism is just something that follows success.


"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"."

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?


>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.

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. :)


Along the same lines, in business school, 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.

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.


It's not that you need money to say no to evil orders, it's that when you say no to evil orders, which anyone would do anyway, being prepared means you won't have as much trouble as a result.

>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.


> It's not that you need money to say no to evil orders, it's that when you say no to evil orders, which anyone would do anyway,

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.


"Honor is a luxury". Unfortunately, I don't remember where I read that.


David Graber in Debt : The First 5000 Years ??


Very natural sure, but it doesn't have any impact on the real ethics, to which average behavior is only an approximation.


It is what people in my biz school meant when they said it - the alternative concept of "fuck you money" meaning having so much money you can tell everyone else to "fuck off" is a peculiarly american meme, possibly even more of an east coast finance thing? I could definitely imagine the people I knew doing finance in Chicago and on wall street using it in that way


The concept you're describing is "Doing Well by Doing Good".

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.


> 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 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).


>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'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.


I agree w you regardless, but FWIW my personal experience has been the polar opposite: speaking up and pushing back has only ever helped my career. I've seen my ups and downs, but overall have quadrupled my annual income since starting in the field some 22 years ago. Of course you need to be tactful; don't just be argumentative or contrarian! But I strongly believe that staying silent for fear of making a career-limiting move IS a career-limiting move.


PS I don't know why I wrote "quadrupled"; the word would be "octupled". I've doubled it 3x, or 2^3, ie 8x.


> 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.

Relevant: https://youtu.be/rdN_hijtnGk?t=89


I take issue with this:

> 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.


Its difficult to throw away your job even if you make good money -- because you naturally take on debts and consumption to match.


> because you naturally take on debts and consumption to match.

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


Sure, some do. But that’s a choice one can make – or choose to do it another way.


I read that a lot, but I've never actually met anyone that does that. If by "consumption to match" they mean "have children", maybe, but otherwise, I don't know. All of my friends that are making good money are putting away significant sums.

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.


How would you even know? People won't be telling you they're overstretching themselves. Or they've got huge credit card bills. Or got a ton of loans.

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.


Good point about not knowing in general. I believe I know my friends well enough (and long enough) to be certain that they aren't constructing elaborate webs of lies to fool me, so their rising wealth is likely real - as I said, it's hard not to put money aside when you live a middle class live on a higher income. None of those I was talking about own property though, while many of those with children do.

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.


How is the biggest purchase of someone’s life not consumption? It’s can be both, although, I would argue the investment aspect of a house is minor and irrelevant since you always need somewhere to live.

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.


> 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

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.


In some markets, finding an appropriate rental at a good price is nearly impossible. So instead of renting, people get a mortgage. Which can be a very reasonable decision as long as the mortgage isn’t a crazily high multiple of your yearly income.


Here in the UK, any one who said this any time in the last 20 years now looks a complete fool.

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.


Middle-class people tend to buy the maximum amount of house they can afford. That sucks up the bulk of discretionary income. It also is one reason why home equity one of the bigger sources of savings for the middle class (that owns homes) and big source of nimbyish (since networth is tied to home value).


Why do you take issue with the excerpt then? It agrees with your follow-up point. People have bills to pay. It's a day-to-day struggle. They can't afford to throw away their job, so they have to compromise their principles and morals in order not to lose it.

I essentially just meshed up both your comments and it still holds.


Do most folks in Silicon Valley actually make $500k/year?


FAANG engineers definitely do, especially with a few years of tenure. My SQL-slinging data analyst friends at Netflix start at 350-400 base, and the sky is the limit. Now, if you don't work at FAANG, you're probably averaging in the 200-300 range total comp. A couple can easily clear 500k a year for 5 years, and still not feel comfortable buying a house the size of which I grew up in the Midwest (i.e., small).

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.


Damn, I'm at a startup making ~$160k with 6 years experience. Maybe it's time to move on...


Just like to point out that "some engineers at some top companies" is pretty far from "most folks in Silicon Valley".


No.


I’m only talking about engineers. Look at compensation on levels.fyi. Staff engineers should make north of that.


There's also a little bit of the "DARPA effect" where several key things align perfectly in time to create such an outcome i.e. The Economist did a study on numerous attempts to create another "DARPA" that would lead to break through innovations of the kind DARPA did. Not one has succeeded.

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:


I have absolutely no clue if this actually played any role, but pg is also one of the people credited with creating what's considered the first web app, and it seems plausible a vision of a future giant world of web apps could've influenced the startups he picked and the advice he gave. For example, the reddit co-founders say the site was his idea:

>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.

(https://www.inc.com/magazine/201206/christine-lagorio/alexis...)


Wasn't Reddit just a slight iteration on Digg? If Digg hadn't self-destructed then we might all still be using it instead of 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.


Not just YC's success. Most successes. This is one of the reasons it is dangerous to listen to advice from successful people.


This reminds me of the Anna Karenina principle: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


Reddit actually wasn’t much of a financial success. The anecdote merely shows PG/Jessica were right the two founders could make big things.

Removing Reddit doesn’t materially change yc financials.


> the reddit co-founders say the site was his idea

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.


With this context in mind, can anyone elaborate on the similarities between Reddit and HN? Which one copied the other?


HN copied reddit.

> "[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." [0]

[0] https://techcrunch.com/2013/05/18/the-evolution-of-hacker-ne...


I was going to write a similar comment, but yours is much better. I would add one thing though, just luck and some random accidents.

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.


It was also the perfect moment in time. The .com gold rush was still in an early phase and the iphone hadn't yet happened. The tech industry is much more consolidated and mature now.


Tech industry was pretty consolidated back them with MS having an outsized sway over most of it.

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".


In a similar vein, "You Are Not Late"[0] by Kevin Kelly is a great read.

[0]: https://kk.org/thetechnium/you-are-not-late/


There was no substantial argument anywhere in this to support his claim.


Wechat in China perhaps?

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.


Very long thread about How Darpa Works that was on HN a couple months ago, for those interested - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23670246


India's UPI is getting close. I've lived months without any cash in my wallet, even before COVID.


On the one hand, you have a renaissance man (RISD-trained painter and Harvard-minted CS PhD) who authored On Lisp and started up and exited successfully with some of the most respected technologists as partners (Trevor Blackwell, Robert Morris). On the other hand, you have the author of Founders at Work, someone who not only thoroughly interviewed tons of successful founders (& bootstraped a pattern-matching capacity) but also has a reputation for a world-class EQ that built community and kept bad apples away.

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!)


> traits are extremely heritable (not so much the case with children!)

This has been conclusively debunked.

https://www.gwern.net/docs/genetics/2016-plomin.pdf

> 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


Here’s a nice takedown of Plomin’s theory. I’m not a geneticist, but there seem to be a lot of holes in it. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06784-5


I just read the whole thing, how is it a takedown? Plomin's paper is a meta-study which discusses results that are robustly replicated because there is a crisis of reproducibility in this domain and replication is the arbiter of the scientific method. This article you linked is essentially an opinion piece about Plomin...

edit: Did I get shadowbanned for this?! Post not showing up on different device..


It's a review of Plomin's book, Blueprint, including putting it into context with the history of similar works.

"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”."


you did, I vouched for it.

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.


I wish that writer had spent fewer words describing Plomin as undemocratic, insidious, discredited, simplistic, and regressive, and more words actually explaining why he thinks Plomin is wrong.


Well, the history of the idea that your ancestors determine who you are does have a certain smell to it.


Smell is also not a terribly good argument for Plomin being wrong.


Someone sent me this screenshot and asked to post to see if this was some kind of spam filter or if HN mods are actively hiding it (trying to invoke the Streisand effect I guess). She said the first post was also hidden until it re-appeared with your response. I am now also very interested because as far as I can tell this doesn't violate rules, just makes some people uncomfortable or something.

https://imgur.com/T7GzfeE


> RISD-trained painter

Not super relevant, but it's funny that the guy who has famously criticized credentialism [1] also thinks the best way to describe his artistic achievements is "studied painting at RISD and the Accademia di Belle Arti" [2].

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/credentials.html

[2] http://www.paulgraham.com/bio.html


This is called being pragmatic. pg is excellent at this.

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.


Isn't pragmatism about choosing actions with a clear eye toward their practical effects? My perception is that if he can't even stick to his principles on credentialism when talking about a hobby, he either takes extreme care to shape others' opinions of his hobby or doesn't really personally buy anti-credentialism.

(I don't mean to pick on Paul Graham, but it's kind of hard to resist with all the essays.)


Maybe he has a clear eye toward the practical effect of mentioning his "painting credentials". To say he wasn't sticking to his principles, I think you would have to say he was allowing his own decisions to be unduly influenced by credentials, not just mentioning his own.


Mentioning facts about your education in your bio isn't the same as "describing your artistic achievements". You wouldn't buy one of his paintings because of where he studied and neither would he try to sell you one purely on those facts.


I've never seen one of his paintings. Unless, did he paint the cover of http://www.paulgraham.com/hackpaint.html ?



Within a field, among other practitioners, credentials matter little. Outside the field, what else do we have to go by?


Accomplishments.


I personally have no idea what painting accomplishments exist and how much they mean, but I do have a vague idea of what RISD is, so that's more useful to me.


If you wanted to hire a painter, you would have an idea of what task you wanted to accomplish, and understanding that would allow you to compare painting accomplishments against your intended goal. If you want to hire a painter but don't know what you want them to do... that is not a recipe for commercial success!


Bach was not recognized as a world-class composer until over a hundred years after his death, IIRC.


No composers were world recognized in the Baroque era. How would they be? There were no recordings and no music publishing industry. Bach was not well-known as a composer until after his death because he worked as a church organist as opposed to traveling and staging concerts. His employer St Thomas Church didn't release his composition until 1850. He was certainly well-regarded in Germany as an organist though.


I did not say "world recognized", I said recognized as world-class.

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.


> disappointed that they didn't get Purcell [...] a vague memory

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.)


Why would someone in Bach's era needed to have recognized him as a world-class composer? If his music appealed to them personally they would know, and if they were a "record label," the fact that it wasn't popular at the time is all they would need to know.


My point was that Bach accomplished more than just about any composer before or since.

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.


I appreciate Maciej Cegłowski's perspective here:

https://idlewords.com/2005/04/dabblers_and_blowhards.htm


Agree, YC is a company. Instead of owning 100% of IP and products being developed, it owns 7% of it. More thoughts here (from 2016): [0], also in comparison to Alphabet.

[0]: https://medium.com/simone-brunozzi/y-combinator-and-alphabet...


Rather a platform, isn't it? Matches founders with VC for a stake of 7% as fee.

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.


> I am not sure if any of this is particularly useful advice—none of it sounds that hard, and yet in the 15 years since, it hasn’t been close to replicated.

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.


I couldn't agree more. I had to pull a quote or two from Fooled By Randomness as it seemed appropriate:

“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 thing is, Jobs actually replicated everything. It's just that he repackaged it in a way that is more accessible to people, redesigned it to look more fashionable and clean, and closely guarded the ecosystem.

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.


Rolex and Gucci don’t tell time any more accurately than Casio.

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.


> non apple products considering they actually get updates for 5+ years

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 think you have a very skewed view if you think that the things you mentioned are something the average consumer is going to do.


Very much this.

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.


Success is skill x luck.

And hard work. And perseverance.


Well, hard work leads to skill, and perseverance (and optimism) leads to luck.


Those are just synonyms. Applying skill over and over until the luck finds you. A few people get found quickly. Others having to keep putting in the work and waiting.


And first mover advantage (works also for being the first to get some essential properties right).


cargo cult entrepreneurship


Having been in and around other “copycat” programs, I agree YC hasn’t been replicated, and it’s kind of a microcosm of startups in general: Unlike YC, most of the people starting copycat programs were not nerds, were not software developers, did not focus on encouraging programmers to start businesses, and most had not started their own startups despite having almost no business doing so (i.e. lack of traditional business background or classic business personality traits). And, to make matters worse, the people that funded these programs also self-selected for typical traits that YC proved were unnecessary (and possibly counter-productive!).

It’s both painfully obvious and maddeningly difficult to replicate.


> Unlike YC, most of the people starting copycat programs were not nerds, were not software developers, did not focus on encouraging programmers to start businesses, and most had not started their own startups despite having almost no business doing so

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.


It's probably like good art: you have to find your own niche. The "next YC" will probably be very different from YC, as well as everything else out there.


I’ve heard TechStars is a close second mostly because batch sizes are so small. More intimacy and focus on the individual founders.


You're getting downvoted which is unfortunate. I participated in TechStars (Cloud 2013), and yes while it is similar there are a number of things about it that are not quite like YC (disclaimer: I've not participated in YC but have interviewed a few times many years ago):

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.


Yes! I basically commented something similar. Motivations matter even more than management.


The light side is that they acted in a truly benevolent way towards the people they helped. They seemed enthusiastically happy to do the right thing by founders, regardless of the cost to themselves. For example, by encouraging founders to sell early, if that's what they wanted to do. And by protecting founders from the machinations of other investors.

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 would have liked an intelligent, articulated reply. Unfortunately, you merely got down-voted, for no other reason that I can see than not parroting the extolling.


I second the desire for a follow-up comment.

I wonder if Paul Graham passing the reins over to Sam Altman in 2014 kicked off the stagnation or merely formalized it.


> Then YC became a retirement home for these failed founders, where they confidentially deliver advice they couldn't follow themselves

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.


This is true and a shame. People from the upper class are genuinely blind to this phenomenon (this doesn't excuse them).


I think what’s most interesting about this article is what it doesn’t mention - the two other co-founders, Robert Morris and Trevor Blackwell. Did they play important roles that have just never been described outside of YC? Or do we have to conclude that maybe not every co-founder turns out to be equally important to an organization’s future success? Of course, that may turn out to be a “thing you can’t say”...

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?


Jessica never gets the credit she deserves. I understand that Paul’s essays give him a lot more visibility outside of YC, and outsiders probably think she’s just Paul’s girlfriend as a result. But as Sam said, those of us who were there when they were know that the reality was very different.


Though I don‘t know either of them, I was impressed by his essay about her (http://paulgraham.com/jessica.html).


That brought back a lot of memories. And was really sweet of Paul.


As an outsider without context, the articles does nothing to properly introduce the people (like who is PG and which Jessica?) it's talking about. Even if it's a response post to something, you should always reference some context so people interested in the subject matter have further reading material instead of relying on letting them figure it out by Ctrl-F-ing through hacker news comments.


PG (Paul Graham) is the founder of the seed funder Y Combinator. (A bit later, he also started HN.) Jessica is his wife and co-founder of YC.

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


To paraphrase other people at other times, if you don't know what the article is about, you are not the audience of it.

Annoying, yes. But I'm not the audience either.


I think a lot of it comes down to intentions and motivations. I see a lot of the YC / Techstars / accelerator copycats are motivated by honestly not-so-great intentions. Maybe they're run by a for-profit group. Maybe it's run by an outfit that wants to monetize in a different way. Or maybe it's run or supported by a government / quasi-government agency that's trying to spur economic development. Or perhaps it's being run by a social benefit group trying to grow economic activity for a given group or population. Or perhaps it's being run by a large company using startups as a way to further their own business development / marketing / community development.

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.


"none of it sounds that hard, and yet in the 15 years since, it hasn’t been close to replicated."

^ 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.


That doesn't seem obvious to me. It could be that it is actually hard despite not sounding hard.

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.


It could be, but this is Occam's razor stuff. It doesn't sound hard, nobody knows what the factors are. Other people have tried it, they have not succeeded. Sama doesn't know what the other people look like. You'd have to prove that it's not luck by repeating it.


I guess I don't really agree that it doesn't sound hard. Like, at some point I might have thought it didn't sound hard, but I've come to view good leadership as much more important, subtler, and rarer than I once did.


One feature of YC that rarely gets mentioned is adequate capitalization. That's the whole basis of YC's bets on individuals rather than companies.

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.


People would do this for each other, but there's really nothing to keep them focused. Magic is the art of maintaining people's focus long after they would have otherwise moved on. Making magic happen requires a magician that understands how it works. You can't cast a spell that will stick around after you bounce. Once you bounce, the people that succeed you won't understand how the magic works quite as well. They'll argue with each other over how best to keep it going.

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.


I have experienced this several times in people first hand. I had a colleague who we would say sprinkled fairy dust over the customer and us. But once he left the room nobody else could maintain the magic for long. He couldn’t teach me directly, but hanging around him, a lot, helped. My own experience tells me that it takes a deep understanding of the area you work in, often intuitive understanding mixed with facts, to get to this point. You also need to be able to communicate easily with people. I am nowhere as good as some, and the little I have took years and years of practice, hard work and immersion in a subject area to achieve.

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're helping me along to a realization. The magician has to put themselves first, and create a world that is inviting enough that others want to join. Magic is more powerful than anything else in life. As soon as you stop working magic, it disappears. You are the source of magic. So create a life that makes you able to constantly work it.

You can't make magic that outlasts you, but you can help other people gain confidence.


and some of them turn into magicians. When it works it is a joy to behold.


You can't stop and talk about how wonderful your magic was, but you can help people learn from it and improve on it . You can create a world where it's cool and everyone wants to get involved with it. If you're willing to learn , then you can help people learn how to do magic in a safe and positive manner, even if it's not something they have ever done before.


Just adding a data point. I got into YC in 08 but didn’t do it because I sold my company before I had a chance to accept.

PG gave me advice during the negotiation with the acquirer anyway.


I think I remember this. It was a fantasy football site selling? I think you were the first company to get an offer to WC and then decline. Congrats!


What was the advice?


No particular words of wisdom.

I was 26 and selling to a big company. It’s nice to have somebody experienced in your corner.


Reading PG's essays and Hackers and Painters back in 2005 got me to believe that entrepreneurship could be something for me, too.

It changed the course of my life, both personally and professionally.


I don't agree with the idea that YC "left money on table". YC made a ridiculous amount of money and is one of the most successful VC funds of all time. It's true that PG and Jessica did a lot of things to defer making money in the short-term. But I'd argue that over the long-term, it was the right optimizations both for having an impact on the world and for making money.


Sam’s point is YC could have taken more money, and by not doing that it creates better chances for startups to succeed. And you are right, it is the optimal strategy in the long run and win-win for both YC and startups.


They also could've taken far less money e.g. asking for less equity in startups.


Jessica is Jessica Livingston. From Paul Graham's tribute [0], Livingston was a shrewd judge of people, which was an essential complement to the rest of the team's skillset. She is not a self-promoter. Her YC bio mentions her book [1], Founders at Work. The story from Sam Altman and Paul Graham is that diverse talent and decency was necessary for YC's success, and I would say the sentiment on thread here is that that is neither necessary nor sufficient for replication of YC's success. My view is that decency is under valued in business. Perhaps if it were easier to measure ...

[0] https://www.ycombinator.com/library?query=Jessica%20Livingst...

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Founders-Work-Stories-Startups-Early-...


>Jessica is Jessica Livingston. From Paul Graham's tribute, Livingston was a shrewd judge of people, which was an essential complement to the rest of the team's skillset.

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.)


> What did they do? They took bets on unknown people and believed in them more than anyone had before.

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.


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaos_Monkeys

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


Not throwing shade on this article as I don't know anything about PG or Jessica, but I couldn't help but be reminded of my current favorite satirical Twitter account: https://twitter.com/VCBrags



Give me a break. VCBrags is harmless fun.

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.


> 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.

Lol, did you read it? You have the chronology backwards.


Yeah, I figured as much, but this kind of vitriol has been leveled at them for so long that whether it's this particular blog post is irrelevant. People have it out for this person.

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!)


I can't help but wonder if this post was written as a response to Kanye's tweets about starting a Y Combinator for musicians. [0] Which Sama offered to help with. I would love to see another post about whether Kanye and Kim could function like PG and Jessica for a music based YC. (Which twitter has already dubbed Ye Combinator.)

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/1305977929180966913


I suspect that one of PG and Jessica's attributes is the ability to let their clients spend time in the spotlight when necessary. I don't know for sure, but given their joint histories of monomaniacal self-aggrandizement, it's hard to see Kim and Kanye letting anyone else in their orbits take any attention.


Completely agree, and that's only one of the many potential flaws I see with Ye Combinator.


That was the specific inspiration, yes.


Wow that's a great idea if they can do it well


Why is it titled "PG and Jessica"? I was little concerned reading a title like this.


I imagine that's the title because this is his main point:

> The entire secret to YC getting going was PG and Jessica—there was no other magic trick.


Any chance it's their anniversary? Or a special date for them?


"Jessica still sadly doesn’t get nearly the same degree of public credit"

Never mentions her last name.

I wonder why she doesn't get public credit?


Funny complaint; PG didn't even get a first name in that article.


Haha. I think these nitpicky pointless comments are lamesauce.


>In general, people seem to assume that: 1) although there was some degree of mystery or luck about how YC got going, it can’t be that hard

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.


IMO the next YC will be whatever gives founders the fastest and most straightforward process to raising their first $50-500k. Currently YC itself is #1 on that dimension (an underrated part of their success), but it doesn't have to be that way. Someone who focuses on unbundling that aspect could probably become the best at it.


A competing hypothesis is that YC's success is tied to a geographical location.

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...")


That's kind of a weird take. The vast majority of startup funding happens in the SF bay area. It is true that YC wouldn't have worked in another city (they did move it from Boston after all), but that's unrelated to PG and Jessica's efforts.

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.


It's a problem. A big problem.

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.


It's about the community, not the land.

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:

http://paulgraham.com/pgh.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/siliconvalley.html


Outlier successes are rarely because of one factor.

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.


> YC was started in Boston and worked well there.

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.


Silicon Valley isn't really a place. Plenty of people come here for a "tour", but there isn't actually a single place in the bay area you can visit to see Silicon Valley in action.

(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.


To your point, I always thought of Red Rock and Coupa as the most physical manifestations of Silicon Valley, since you can see a bunch of teams brainstorming, others pitching VCs, etc. The personification of the network you're talking about. But yeah, SV the place is mostly boring suburban and office park sprawl.


Yeah, I guess it's as close as you can get, even though people come here for tours of facebook or google.

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.


Paul told me directly back in 2009 that YC had to be in SV and he had a bunch of reasons for it. Whether those reasons are still true today could be debated, but it was clear to him, at least that location mattered. Like most things it's a combination of factors that give the best result.


To refine what others have been pointing out: YC being based in the Valley wasn't inevitable, it was a deliberate decision on the part of the founders.

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?


> A competing hypothesis is that YC's success is tied to a geographical location.

If this is true why haven't there been other comparably successful incubators/accelerators based in California?


>"The entire secret to YC getting going was PG and Jessica—there was no other magic trick."

[...]

"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."


I think that "A lot of people want to replicate YC in some other industry or some other place or with some other strategy" is a bit of a narrow lens.

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.


Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: