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How I got into YC as a non-technical single founder (alexkrupp.typepad.com)
181 points by Alex3917 on Apr 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

I'm sorry, this is completely irrelevant, but Einstein did design refrigerators and they were commercially unsuccessful: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstein_refrigerator (edited for clarity)

That's the essence of a startup: having brilliant people do work that's beneath them. Big companies try to hire the right person for the job. Startups win because they don't-- because they take people so smart that they would in a big company be doing "research," and set them to work instead on problems of the most immediate and mundane sort. Think Einstein designing refrigerators.


I wonder if that was deliberate. I also wonder if references to YC lore raise or lower your odds of getting in.

Hopefully this doesn't sound snarky--PG's essays have lots of allusions that I end up referencing without remembering the source. I'd expect to do that much more in a startup-related context.

I think pg was just creating a vivid image, so its factual truth is irrelevant.

I'm nonplussed at how often pg sums up my own views. One cause is that the books I read about startups are based on SV stories - while pg talks to the people who actually did them, batches of startups who are currently doing them, and he's in the story himself. Also, I've likely read some of what he's read (e.g. The Innovator's Dilemma).

So, I find YC lore very helpful, because of the truths it contains. But citing it purely as lore (without understanding it) would probably count as a severe negative. I'm not sure about the case of providing an alternative expression of the same idea, especially if pg's is more succinct/appropriate - but it's always helpful to speak the same dialect as your audience, if only for communication.

i could see why someone would infer otherwise; but i think this is actually the point of the quote.

"Have a mindmap with the answers to all the questions they might ask."

Really loved this piece of advice and highly recommend. It's something I always do before an interview/presentation/important talk.

1) As Alex mentions, this is FAR more useful in the moment than a list of bullet points or the like.

2) Like a lot of note-taking, I find that the act of thinking about and creating the mindmap has advantages in and of itself. Often the act of carefully creating it means that I don't actually need to refer to it later. I personally find this with a lot of note taking. I spend a lot of time carefully taking notes - generally a bunch of notes, comments and citations connected by a bunch of lines in different colored inks, kind of a mix of "traditional" note taking and a bit of a mindmap. The time I spend really thinking about how to best present and relate all the ideas on a single page often leads to internalizing the content so well that I never really need the notes unless I'm coming back months later.

This is really helpful. I'm a non-technical founder, and I'm glad to hear that there is hope.

Do you think having applied previously was a positive or a negative for you? Do you think it matters that these applications were for different ideas? I'm just trying to figure out when I should apply--if it is better to wait and develop something fully functional before applying or applying now with the caveat that I need the funding to help develop the idea.

I am planning to apply with a technical co-founder, but I have concerns about how we could effectively develop our product without some substantial financial backing. I don't want to put something out there half-assed and have it fail because we didn't have the right tools, only to then have someone with the resources to execute steal the idea.

If you don't put something out there half-assed, you'll wait too long to ship.

Nothing is ever truly finished. You just ship it.

Corollary: fail early, fail often. Failure is often the best learning experience you can receive (if you're ready to receive it).

I love this quote from the article: 'The coach of the Yale rowing team has a saying about high school recruiting: "7:20 2,000m time, 720 SATs. 6:20 2,000m time, 620 SATs."'

In other words, it pays to be a winner.

Hmmmm, I read it as it costs to be a winner, as in the faster rowers have a lower SAT score (presumably from training more than studying).

wrong. the idea is that if you have a good time, yale will look the other way when it comes to your academics. the better your time, the less the school cares about your SATs. the idea is extremely applicable to everything in the real world, where excellence in one dimension compensates for mediocrity in another in the eyes of others. think attractive girls or star football players. a valuable life lesson.

This is correct.

"a valuable life lesson."

It makes sense though. I never understood why classes you fail are averaged into your GPA as a 0.0 instead of just ignored. After all, the amount of stuff you don't know or can't do is always going to be effectively infinite. So how is getting an A in one class and failing 99 others any different from getting an A in one class and not taking 99 others? The current system is just an attempt to punish people for wasting university resources, it has zero to do with actually assessing the abilities of a person.

That's what dropping classes is for.

If you try to do something and fail--especially something that the median undergrad in your school can do successfully--it says something about you.

That sounds backwards though. If you try to do something and fail, it should be more positive than if you don't try to do it at all.

For some pursuits, yes. For a corporate job, which is the default next step from a university education, no: a company would rather hire someone who knows their limits than someone who tests them, especially since the former has a more established market price.

How does one know his or her limits without testing them? I'd much rather hire the kid that attempted 99 failed classes.

the way you're thinking of classes is very romantic and idealistic. another way to think of them that may better model the way employers think about your GPA is to think of your GPA as a signaling game in game theory. your GPA is less of a reflection of what you know and more a reflection of your ability. if you have a high GPA you've demonstrated yourself to be a high ability intellectual, whereas if you have a low GPA you've demonstrated yourself to be a low ability intellectual. in this model the content of the class is completely irrelevant, but some employers may just be trying to employ based on potential ability, rather than on specific knowledge base or content exposure. for this reason, a kid that failed 99 classes has "signaled" that he is a low ability type. while this kid has great resolve and has probably been exposed to some interesting things, it is unlikely that his ability is very high, and therefore employers would not be psyched about hiring him.

obviously this kind of model gives a very bleak valuation of education, but i think its a thoughtful one that probably is truer than we'd all like to think.

That depends on how you're going about taking your papers. For instance, I took a little over double the maximum course load my second year at uni. As part of that I ended up failing a paper that turned out to have some more time intensive portions than I was expecting, but I also graduated a year early as I got B's or better for everything else. I was much better off enrolling in more stuff and then ignoring one when I found myself swamped towards the end of semester, too late to drop the course, than I would have been if I'd just taken a normal course load. I saved a years worth of living costs in student debt as well.

People fail things for all sorts of reasons in Uni, they're also often going through Relationships 101 which is great for knocking people for a loop.

You should have gone to Brown :)

Thanks for writing this post.

>When it came time to reapply, I did so with someone who was widely recognized as one of the smartest technical folks on HN

Who was it?


I'm a bit surprised that YC hasn't funded another non-technical, single founder yet.

Even though there's only one Steve Jobs, I'd bet several non-technical people will go on to build great tech companies in the future.

Perhaps these people have just found quality technical talent to partner with, so they're co-founders.

How long had you known dfranke prior to applying?

I had known him for a couple years, but we'd only started working together recently. That was probably the biggest reason, although when we got to the interview we discovered that rtm had apparently done his dissertation on something similar, so he had some technical objections also.

All the references to rowing reminded me of these guys: http://www.rowrenegade.org/ . I used to go out regularly for their recreational rows (http://www.rowrenegade.org/rec_rows.html) on the weekend and would recommend it to anyone who happens to live in the SFBay area, or is just visiting, as a fun and interesting experience and a cheap way to get out on the bay.

Oooh, I think Alex has just designed my next business card -- just my name, and underneath it: Google me.

Taking it one step further, Matt Mullenweg's old card: http://www.flickr.com/photos/glsims99/506973719/

A bit pompous and egotistical. Just give the person your contact info and stop trying to be cutesy.

Well, business cards are by definition pompous and egotistical... http://youtu.be/qoIvd3zzu4Y ;)

Getting in is really a step number 1. Your real goal should be making your "core" idea for the business a success. Being a single, non technical founder in an environment that is very, very technical will present you with a massive challenge ahead... So, good luck...

what was the problem here? was it because he was single (against pg's 5th guideline http://www.paulgraham.com/founders.html ) or because he was non-technical?

I'm also a non-technical founder and have also proven that "if there's a will, there's a way", the path might be longer but by no means should stop anyone. Congrats.

I still don't really get what Swagapolooza does...so you're a product launch platform in front of influencers?

It's like a book tour for physical consumer products. That is, if you write a book then your publisher sets you up to speak in 16 or 18 major US cities, but if you've created a product like Bacon Hot Sauce there is no such thing. That's what we're creating with our events, specifically with an audience of the most-followed bloggers and twitter users in each city. The idea is that in recent years new tech startups have been blessed with a ton of amazing opportunities, and we're trying to bring these same opportunities to everyone else.

From the bloggers' point of view, one of the ways they create value is by writing about interesting new products, and what we're offering is an ethical and transparent way for them to discover these products while at the same time getting to meet and interact with the entrepreneurs behind them.

Here is a good writeup that explains it better than I can:


"It's like a book tour for physical consumer products."

And just like that, I understand your plan. Nicely phrased.

How does a non-technical single founder get "recognized as one of the smartest technical folks on HN"?

Other than that, enlightening post.

"When it came time to reapply, I did so with someone who was widely recognized as one of the smartest technical folks on HN."

Oh duh, I read the "with" as "as". Thx.

I did the same thing, then I read his comment on a previous post where he said the same thing and realized my mistake. I wonder if the prior paragraphs where he talks about building his online reputation may have inadvertently primed us to read the sentence that way?

"I wonder if the prior paragraphs where he talks about building his online reputation may have inadvertently primed us to read the sentence that way?"

It's because I wrote this in a hurry so I didn't take as much time to polish the white spacing as I normally would, which makes it more difficult to read. The issue is that there are basically three or four separate ideas that are all chunkified together. I edited that sentence though to at least make it more clear.

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