Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
YCNYC: A lost opportunity (justinjmoses.wordpress.com)
89 points by justinj on Sept 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 78 comments

"Perhaps he’s not a great speaker, but I’m not so sure."

I'm not a great speaker. The awkward delivery he describes is unfortunately pretty much the norm. Believe it or not, I used to be even worse.

Hi pg - I admit, I was surprised by your speaking style when you first started but in a positive way. The surprise was in contrast to the mental model I have formed of you after many years of reading your essays (perhaps a Gandalf-esque character was what I was expecting). Overall, I left inspired about technology startups and even more enamored of both the hustle and humility of the YC team.

Smooth delivery is overrated.

The pauses convey information about the speaker's state of mind about what he is talking. I usually find that such talks contain much more digestible information than surface-level slick talks.

Don't change your style! The talk rocked, but there are valid points in the article about setting about booths etc.

"Smooth delivery is overrated."

Agreed, though it depends on your audience and your message.

John Carmack is the most awkward public speaker I've ever seen and also one of the people whom I most enjoying listening to.

Carmack is a long way short of the most awkward public speaker I've seen. Carmack knows what he's talking about, and can monologue stream of consciousness from that. Far more awkward is watching someone who only just barely knows what they're talking about, but gets tripped up by e.g. interjections or questions from the audience. You see it a lot with consultants doing presentations at conferences, pretending competence in some domain or other. I can find myself either cringing with embarrassment on their behalf, or shaking my head in disgust, depending on the personality and the degree to which they try to BS their way through.

The content of PG's talk more than made up for his lack of flair. And besides, he was honest and funny. IMHO several of the more charismatic YC alumni spoiled their talks with Powerpoint abuse -- either not-actually-funny pictures or too much text. On the other hand (ahem), the guy who had all the graphs used his slides really well for that.

(Loopt CEO, I think you were saying really interesting stuff, but I found it hard to take in, because I was trying to read the words on your slides at the same time. I think your talk would have been much better with zero words on the slides.)

Oh, and if anyone's worried about their public speaking skills, remember Knuth. Content trumps flair. :-)

Supposedly, Toastmasters can help with that. I have no idea if you have ever participated in a Toastmasters (and I have not personally) and I realize that once you are a big name, there are challenges to trying to do something like that (I mean it might be a wash because people might treat you differently due to who you are). Just tossing it out there on the off chance that a) you haven't done this b) you didn't know about it for some reason (or hadn't really thought about doing it yourself) and c) you actually have some reason to want to work on this. If you don't do that much public speaking, it may not really matter in the grand scheme of things.


I can vouch for the effectiveness of Toastmasters in addressing the problems the article describes in the first paragraph of "this is Paul Graham". http://www.toastmasters.org/

The rest of the paragraphs in that section are off. I didn't see the presentation, but just reading the writer's complaints about unanswered questions tells me that pg's speech was effective. The goal was to get the audience to want the answers to those questions.

I was there, you did a fine job. Inspiring, everyone liked it. Yes, you were there to drive enthusiasm for your mission, it's not cynical to note that, and it's naive to be dissapointed by it.

EDIT: removed silly domino's in NYC joke

YC served Domino's in NYC? I lived there most of my life, swear I never even knew one existed.

If this was downtown (Tribeca/Soho), John's would have been the choice. Talk to them a couple days in advance, I'm sure they could handle it. If not, go to 3 or 4 places and get a variety. Just not Domino's.

It was Papa Johns and it was due to a matter of scale. What local pizzeria could handle 300 pies?

They had both Papa Johns and Dominos. It was free pizza ... why are we discussing this?

It's not a huge deal, but it's a matter of NYC culture. It just would have made a better impression to do it differently. Little things can matter.

Have you priced out buying good pizza vs cheap pizza for 800 people?

Yeah, it's true, it's probably possible but a logistical nightmare. Can't actually fault them for that, was a good event all around.

Ah bummer, I thought that was funny.

For what it's worth I agree. It just sounds like the OP couldn't find anything big to complain about, so picked on Paul's style rather than the substance of his talk.

I was there and really appreciated the talk. The message was clear, NYC is good enough to found a startup in, and nobody will promise that it will be an equally strong startup hub as SV.

PG.... I believe that this article displays a problem in culture with NYC. Here there's a culture of complainers, while in the valley there is a culture of do-ers. I mean this article mentions why you didn't give an introduction as to what Y combinator is. For any real hacker, that would have been a waste of time just like anything else that is similarly a Google/Wikipedia search away.

The event was great. We are trying here in NYC, but one of the largest problems here is because (as you said) startups are not culturally accepted as the norm, its harder to get word of mouth about your product going. Therefore allow me to plug spottmusic.com here. :)

Thoughts appreciated....

Hmm. It's been a few years since I saw you speak in person, but at the very first startup school (2005?) I thought your presentation was perfectly fine.

In other recorded presentations of other events it just seems like you take the casual/personable approach to a presentation vs. an overly formalized approach.

I would not give you any negative points for your stage presence at these events. I would suggest some more upscale footwear at times though...

eh for what its worth, you kind of amaze me in Office Hours being able to ferret out the nuggets of idea's you've barely heard. That plenty makes up for being on stage.

Seems like the OP's post stems from just being over-critical (seems like he really wanted to find issues with the event), as well as expecting a bit too much from the event...almost too much to really live up to.

While nothing presented was especially groundbreaking, I'm just happy YC decided to venture to the east coast. That in itself is better than nothing. It's their first event over here, and a decent one at that. As for next time, the OP's request of getting MBAs to wear ties and developers to wear black shirts is a bit opposite of startup atmosphere. Dress codes are kind of frowned upon. Plus, if you did that, it'd turn into a high school dance with ties on one side and black shirts on the other.

Oh, and if PG and company would have spent a good amount of time on "YC, the school, their process" I think there would have been a large amount of disappointed folk. Why go to a YC event of you don't know what YC is? I'd speculate most there were quite familiar with YC and its process and were looking more for startup advice, similar to the stuff given.

I'm just happy YC decided to venture to the east coast... It's their first event over here

As a Boston resident, I'd laugh at this ridiculous statement if I weren't too busy crying.

YC used to spend half the year based out of Cambridge, MA before they decided to concentrate exclusively on the west coast, so no, it isn't the first time they're heading east.

My bad. I'm new to the east coast (been here a little over a year) and PG said something like this was YC's first NYC event at YCNYC, so I reached an incorrect conclusion. Should have said something like this was their first time back in awhile I suppose.

Having gone the other night, I understand what the author is saying and agree with a lot of it.

That said, one of main points of the keynote was that chance meetings are what make places like NYC and the valley so conducive to startups. The loose structure really lent itself well to socializing, and so this was the perfect event for those chance meetings.

I personally got a lot out of it, and would love seeing more meetups like this.

Chance meetings are wonderful. But when you have an opportunity as rare as this one, why fall back upon chance when you can facilitate? When you can do more, you should.

For instance, what if the color coding was expanded upon and added to the invite application? Each individual could place themselves in the category that describes them the best and then know at the time of the event the people they should be talking to rather than wandering around hoping their next chance meeting is the one that makes the difference.

I still never figured out what the colors even meant.

The original invitation did clearly state it was geared towards jobs seekers under the premise of a meetup. YC even asked for your resume, and one of the qualifying questions was related to your interest to apply. Not sure why OP is surprised.

PG delivered, if you observe his prior interviews you will notice that is his style. Personally, it feels authentic, and transparent. A trait many speakers lack.

The serendipitous nature of the event added to the allure, it encouraged folks to have a conversation.

Video department could of used some help but that's just nitpicking.

This all comming from someone who didn't get invited, yet drove from Philly, one of the first one there, waited in line, and was magically allowed in.

Well done, YC.

Someone else mentioned resume that I met there, but I don't recall seeing that. I definitely didn't submit a resume. Was this for all applicants?

It was in the second page of the invite request form, I believe the qualifying question was in regard to your interest to applying for a job at YC startup. Second page requested your resume, at least for me.

MBA's in ties and hackers in black tees. What is this, YC Presents Grease.

A more accurate title would be " Why I was disappointed with YCNYC". I personally had a wonderful time and gained several future leads.

I know I shouldn't say this, but does anyone read this critique as just so east coast? Someone goes to an event on startups and they are annoyed because no one handed them action items or facilitated their networking more?

On the west coast it's mostly a matter of things arising from chaos. You do what you can in terms of nailing the logistics (pizza, beer and fast moving lines) but the meat is who you get into the room, not what the person at the microphone is saying.

I'm not saying YC and pg couldn't have made it better, the OP should be lauded for some of the critique. (Criticism of YC tends to be controversial.) But the OP seems to have accidentally discovered exactly some of the differences between east coast and west coast cultures.

That's an interesting point. I shared a bit of the sentiment about networking. I thought it could have been facilitated better. For example, nametags already were color coded, but nobody ever said what the colors meant. I figured out YC orange and that's it. I can't blame the guy for wanting to know why he was there to begin with. It's a night with YC people and that description alone probably would fill up the place every time; however, defining it a bit more wouldn't hurt - is this an event to learn about startups? for founders who are considering applying to YC? something.

Why do you think they knew that much better what the event was about? These things are usually what you make of them. Who are they to tell you why you're there? Isn't that more your decision?

It's my decision based on the information I am given. Very little was given, but given that it was a YC event on the east coast, I was happy to travel from DC to attend without any other knowledge. That doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement. It also could change the nature of the event and those who attend.

The fact that you say 'these things are usually what you make of them' leads me to think there is tons of room for improvement with the way these events are run. I've been to quite a few tech meetups and some are definitely more well run than others and are easier to access (people wise). A lot of that has to do with how the organizers set up the event and the information they pass along.

I think the feedback is helpful and there are always improvements that could be made. I think what really annoyed me was the underlying assumption was an entitlement to some sort of definition of an event that was perhaps too new to be fully defined. Good people jump in and help define the event.

I would not be critiquing a blog post full of specific, useful advice on how the event could have been made better. There is advice like that in this entry, but you have to reach through piles of raw "someone should have told me more about something" thoughts before you can get there. I would have been much more interested in a blog post that read something along the lines of: "I attended this event and I thought it was a bit unfocused. Here's what I would have wanted this to be and here's what I think it should look like."

I hope YC listens to the feedback anyway. It's valuable, but count me personally disappointed.

It's called leadership.

Which is a quality that's important in founders. You should be bringing your own leadership to the room, not expecting a potential investor to lead you.

actually PG said it at the event, but to prob only a few people. It wasn't communicated well. Even though a simple e-mail, before hand could of explained everything.

Though I think they should have a special color sticker, for MBA's without programming/design skills, Managing Consultants and general Harvard douche-bags who think they are the smartest person in room.

> Though I think they should have a special color sticker,

> for MBA's without programming/design skills, Managing

> Consultants and general Harvard douche-bags who think they

> are the smartest person in room.

Seems to be a common problem over there. It is on the west coast too, but... it seems maybe not as pervasive and I think it's easier for them to realize here that their skillset isn't the most important one in the room.

I think they made themselves visible with their attire.

Good write-up, Justin.

My frustration was this:

I feel like diversity fuels creativity and innovation. I like finding myself in a room with a variety of different sorts of people, and the YCNYC event felt like I was in a room with approximately 1000 copies of myself. The most visible example of this was the number of women present. I personally know many times more women in technology than I saw in that entire crowd of a thousand or so.

I know that YC is going to appeal to a certain sort of person, but I would've been much more impressed with the whole event if it had been apparent that the organizers had gone just a little bit out of their way to reach out to different kinds of people who work in technology in the city. There are so many, doing so many amazing things, coming from so many backgrounds. Get people together who don't normally talk and see what new ideas start forming.

If NYC has any chance of outranking the Bay Area when it comes to start-ups, it's going to be because the NYC scene learns how to leverage the extreme diversity of talent out here. Not because a thousand young, male nerds get in the same room together to talk about the same stuff they all just read on Hacker News.

Anyway. That's my rant. I did enjoy PG's talk, even though he has a kind of odd aspect on stage. Glad I went, but it could've been something more than what it was.

I think the post is just too harsh. I understand where you are coming from, but:

- “be transparent”. You have to expect that startups are going to be looking for talent (founders are always recruiting).

- “tell us what we don’t know”. They don’t know what you don’t know (nevermind what a 1000 people don’t know). They just tell you their stories and at best you would be inspired and motivated. They succeeded at that.

- “engage”. They spent several hours talking to people. I would rather them engage this way than to engage stage to audience.

Having all these people in one room was the great thing about this event. I met other founders who are trying to make it, MBAs who are looking to join startups, cs students and YC alum. Not to mention pitching to many people, engaging in discussions about my startup and getting feedback. I would not label that a lost opportunity.

I had a nice time and got to meet some great people. The only suggestion for next time is to somehow label the name tags with either company name, programmer, designer, etc. Everyone was just a name to me so I didn't know what they did until I approached them.

I didn't know what they did until I approached them.

After thinking about it for a while that night, I came to the conclusion that this was the point.

I'm not quite sure it was the point. With nearly 800 people in the room, tons of time could have been wasted trying to find out who was who and trying to find the types of people you wanted to talk to. Going up to everybody and asking them what they didn't clearly wasn't an option..so just putting the company name, or developer, designer, etc. below the name tag would have been extremely helpful. All they had to do was put an extra field for this on the YCNYC signup form and it could have been printed on the name tags.

pg, overall, I did enjoy the event. As did many others, so it appeared. Sure, it wasn't perfect, but great insight from YC partners and founders. Thank you.

It was a bit difficult to network, however. As other posters have pointed out, there were so many attendees and since there were no indicative markings on the badges, it was impossible to distinguish between a potential "match" and a friendly (but potentially unproductive) conversation. But hey, hindsight is 20/20. Looking forward to next time.

As you mentioned in your talk, you're unlikely to run into Sean Parker while strolling down 5th Avenue. NYC-area Meetups are enjoyable, as are, at times, General Assembly and other NYC institutions. But as you joked about on stage, they are not a substitute for the daily serendipity and access to talent that Silicon Valley has to offer. This is one of the Valley's greatest strategic advantages. That being said, there is a tremendous talent pool in NYC and last night helped reaffirm this fact. Over the course of my two entrepreneurial decades in this great city, I have never seen a NYC startup event attract such a targeted, valuable and eager audience. It's very possible that the YC brand-name was responsible for this feat. Would YC have any interest in sponsoring a regular NYC networking event? In addition to increasing YC-startup visibility and access to local talent, this could serve as a great boon for the NYC startup community.

FWIW, my 2 cents:

1. I thought PG's informal speaking style was actually quite cool, no issues with that. However, he did seem a bit distracted. At times, it felt like he wasn't sure what he wanted to say next.

2. There were too many people. Maybe I shouldn't complain, since I am not sure if I would be invited if YC didn't invite so many, but it meant that the speakers/alumni were crowded-out most of the time. Having booths would make it easier to find alumni, but it makes it more like a career fair so I am not sure I like that too much either. Another alternative would be to split up the area into multiple sub-areas for each of the speakers, and have a separate parallel Q&A. I have seen this done successfully in other industry conferences.

3. I thought the presentations were generally quite good and left me inspired (and scared as well). Talking about YC's application process would have been a waste of time since most people seemed quite familiar with YC anyway. The one thing I would have changed - having some time for on-the-spot Q&A.

4. The lack of explanation about color coding was a major complaint. I would have had 2 icons per badge instead of color coding - one indicating if you were a designer/developer etc., and the other icon indicating whether you were looking for a job, trying to hire etc. Good, obvious icons are way easier to understand than color codes.

Overall, I am happy that YC came to NYC, and that I got the opportunity to meet so many cool people. So thank you YC team for that, and for bringing me a couple of steps closer to making the leap :)

Agreed on all points.

I agree it was probably a little bit of a lost opportunity for YC. I was interested in talking to a couple of the YC companies but it was hard to find them in the crowd.

Overall I can't complain though. Personally I met some great people at the event and got to shake hands with some alumni. It was a great experience and not a missed opportunity for myself. Thanks YC for that. I will take the sentiments toward the NYC startup scene as a challenge. :)

Yes, there were too many people. We originally expected the event to be much smaller, but a lot more people asked for invitations than we expected, and we then had to choose between increasing the size and turning away most of the people who wanted to come. With some misgivings, we chose the former. But unfortunately then it no longer felt like the informal meetup we intended. I'm not sure what to do about this problem. Maybe we just can't do meetups.

Being in attendance, I don't think the size detracted from the quality of the event. It actually made networking a lot easier (merely because there were so many different people to talk to). Being that this was the first NYC event ever, I think things went well. If you decide to do another in the future, you'll know what works and what doesn't. I hope more than anything, though, the size and enthusiasm of the crowd helped to show the desire for a strong startup community on the East Coast.

YC is, in a sense, transitioning from being a startup into being a 'big company'.

I think the answer to this is to be very selective and unfortunately for them, turn down many many people. I think this would only increase the value of the meetup for those who are selected.

Ah, you need a fake name and a disguise.

I'd suggest "Richard Feynman", in honor of the inventor of this idea, but that might not achieve the desired effect.

I don't know exactly how YCNYC worked (so this may of already happened) but my suggestion would be to do seperate groups i.e. Group 1 & Group 2 and then in the Evening you could bring together as an "After-Party" type thing to facilitate networking etc.

For instance if you were to speak as well as some of the YC Alumni then the following could happen;

Group 1 - YC Alumni - BREAK - PG

Group 2 - PG - BREAK - YC Alumni

Obviously this would add a few extra problems, including increased costs although, this could easily be solved having a small fee for attendance (again I don't know the exact details of how YCNYC worked so if it was a free meetup charging $10 say wouldn't bother people and would help to recoup the additional costs etc)

This would make the event appear much smaller than what it actually is thus, making it more informal as well as allowing, people to network in the Evening as well.

Does anyone realize the size of the NYC crowd was larger than Startup School - which takes places in the heart of Silicon Valley? Last night was standing room only. I left thinking the NYC scene was thirsty for an event such as YCNYC. If you left complaining, I think you showed up with the wrong frame of mind. I met some fantastic people, and really enjoyed presenting. Props to PG and Co. for bringing a community together.

I have to say that I disagree with the author: Yes the event was a plug for Y Combinator -- but as someone who is interested in the other coast it was a great in person taste of the program that I could never have gotten via a podcast, blog entry or hanging out here. Also in the past I've incorrectly read the program as being a one way ticket to the valley — and I was very impressed that Paul was selling it as a college experience and a network to tap into above all else.

And I got to tell you something: It's the first time in my life that anybody from THE valley said out loud "I think it's cool to have a startup in NYC". I've been in the scene here for years before it was cool, and it was music to my ears to hear that. And of course we'd love it if Paul announced that they were coming to NYC -- but I came to realize that if they did that part of what makes Y Combinator so cool wouldn't come along for the ride (sort of like opening CBGB in Vegas).

I personally liked PG's awkwardness. It felt Jeffersonian.

Great event, however would be perfect if more structured networking mechanism is implemented. In addition to color-code on name tag, I would suggest to set up a Google doc to allow attendees to freely sharing their project, what they are looking for (i.e. co-founder or developers) and contact info... before the event. This facilitates to find like-minded / same-interest people effectively, more productive meetup in person at the event. Without this pre-researched info, best luck to find "Sean Parker" in the people sea.

We should consider the first iteration of YCNYC a MVP. Kudos to Renee and the YC team for taking a chance and pulling off a great event. I really enjoyed the evening (see my HN post from yesterday -- http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3043069). It was very inspiring, with lots of energy in the room and was a rare opportunity to speak with YC alums. The fact that YC provided free pizza and beer was a great gesture.

Did anyone get the speech on video?

I wouldn't count on the "come work for us" being a planned goal of the evening - it's just that those companies are always on the hunt for new hires and take any opportunity they can to connect with good people.

The same thing happened at SydStart the other day - lots of great and inspirational speakers but all of them that were involved with large companies (BigCommerce, Freelancer.com etc.) had a "we're hiring" at the end of their talk.

From the author's remarks, it seems as if this event suffered from the same ailments that our education system has - we teach/perform/guide as if everyone (1) perceives and interacts with information the same way and (2) possesses the same amount of background knowledge. These assumptions are obviously fallacious, but coming up with effective alternatives is a challenging proposition.

Any videos, please?

on first look, I'm pretty sure Justin has flattered PG. :D

Suits shouldn't be allowed to this type of meetup. I definitely saw at least 5 people in suits. so lame.

This is the second comment I've come across in this thread. At first I would tend to agree, but let's consider that the "suits" probably have jobs. And if they were at YCNYC they obviously have more interest in startup culture than the million or so suits who did not come.

Part of hacker culture is judging someone by ideas, which is why we're known for the t-shirt and shorts attire. But I don't think it's fair nor helpful to judge someone by their attire at a post-work event.

We know gobs and gobs of NYC's tech talent works in the financial services industry. I'm happy to see the diversity, even if I got a few pitches from folks looking for a l33t technical co-founder.

Isn't NYC the one city where you'd expect to see a lot of people in suits? Maybe they just got off work. Maybe their suit is your t-shirt you know?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jack_Dorsey_David_Shankbon... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sean_Parker.jpg

You should reconsider if it's more lame to wear a suit or to be judgemental.

I wore a jacket and tie to the event. I'm a developer and I've sold a company. I try to not look like a slob. It will get you further than you might think.

Please don't make assumptions.

so, I agree with your sentiment. However, you just equated not wearing a jacket and tie with looking like a slob... and then asked someone else not to make assumptions. I'd kindly suggest that his "snob" is roughly equivalent to your "slob".

If I handed you an iPad wrapped in a tattered brown bag or in the most ornate wrapping, you’d be excited either way. However, I’d have to wrap a BlackBerry in money before you would get excited about it. The same is true of people. Some people are amazing on their own, and others are so lacking that they have to wrap themselves in suits and other accessories before people will even give them a second glance. Amazing people can wear a suit without fear, while lacking people clutch at their suits in dread that they will be exposed as frauds. Out of full disclosure, I have to admit I wore a suit and tie to my first phone screen.

As developers, we've sort of earned the right to dress however we like. Why not dress well? Looking like a slob is not a badge of honor. It's the badge of a slob.

I read Kelly's article and I get the new balance (and sketchers, wtf?) aspect. However, I have some of the best tattoos ever seen before coupled with nice boots and expensive tailored skinny jeans + a t-shirt. I call this my Power Uniform. This has taken me pretty far also. Regarding girls vs. work re: dresscode - girls would much rather fuck a dude wearing my Power Uniform than Your Suit. I don't need lady advice, but most developers reading that article might need more than a wardrobe makeover.

There's this little market called enterprise software...

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

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