Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

While I think that PG is probably right in his observation, it is not actually very helpful. It is kind of like when he said, "When we haven't heard from, or about, a startup for a couple months, that's a bad sign. If we send them an email asking what's up, and they don't reply, that's a really bad sign." [1] Well... ok. But is that cause or effect? I doubt business was booming and they just decided to stop responding to email.

If you have a startup that is growing I am sure it is easier to take advice and get funding. ...all sorts of things. If the business is not doing as well I can see where it is more difficult to see the correct action.

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




It's true I didn't write this as a source of advice for founders so much as just a report on a surprising (to me) connection I'd discovered. But it's not useless. It should be very useful to investors, for example, because it offers a quick way to detect which startups will succeed. It even helped me understand the procedure we've evolved for YC interviews. What we do during YC interviews is essentially to start YC right then, as if we'd funded them. Now I know why that works so well.

It should also be useful for founders, as a warning sign to look for. People can change, and they can also stand outside themselves to some degree. So some founders will probably be able to read something like this and ask themselves "does this happen with us?" and if the answer is yes, to try to be less timid.


People who are timid are less willing to attack schleps, to acknowledge schleps and ask for help with schleps. Maybe this is the correlation? Maybe people are timid because they are embarrassed or unconfident in their ability to overcome schleps? Maybe they put up a wall or get defensive so that others who seem smart (and who blow through schleps) don't see them as unintelligent.

This is why successful people I have interacted with have most often been extremely welcoming and nice, because they have learned that putting everything on the table when surrounded by peers and mentors is the best trait of success.

If this is the case then the solution to making more successful companies (and not "wasting" investment) is to get around this dilemma somehow. The solution might be for founders to practice a little "mindfulness" or "self-awareness" throughout the day. This could be a check-in with your body before meetings or after an important call in the form of being aware of the breath or feeling sensations like your feet on the floor. If your body is tight or you are feeling defensive or unconfident then air it out.

Any other ways people think founders can solve this dilemma?


It's quite possible that the situation is different in academia, but in my line of work I tend to find the opposite: some of the most accomplished people are very cautious and unwilling to take strong positions without thinking them over. Usually, because they are so knowledgeable and thoughtful that they can, as soon as they start saying anything, see a million possible caveats. In the worst case that can be paralyzing, but it can also help avoid the opposite behavior: the hot-headed, confident, untimid person who just doesn't really know enough (or think over what they know) to realize why they should be more cautious about overarching claims, especially on questions that a lot of smart people have looked into already.

It's not a universal correlation, but I've generally noticed junior and less knowledgeable people (graduate students, early-career professors, etc.) to be much more brash, confident, and even aggressive in that sense than accomplished researchers, though there is a bit of an inverted-U curve (undergraduates and 1st-year graduate students tend to be very timid). Of the people I've met professionally, probably the most humble, and least willing to make strong statements without thinking them over and later offering a tentative opinion with caveats, was Bob Moog, who is also probably the smartest and most accomplished person I've met professionally.


I agree with your assessment, and I think in many ways one of the critical parts to learn is how to assess when it is ok to "turn off" the critical eye and be brash and confident and aggressive.

Some of my most valuable experiences stemmed from just throwing myself in on the deep end instead of waiting to analyze all the implications. But at the same time those experiences were terribly _hard_, and carried a great deal of risk. E.g. my first company was an ISP. Started it with some friends at 19. Knew nothing about running a business or about setting up a large scale WAN, or about accounting, or sales, or configuring Linux servers. A year later I'd had hard, brutal and effective lessons in all of that and more.

If I'd spent time carefully trying to figure out the risks and implications beforehand, I doubt I'd have started that company. It didn't make me wealthy, but it was definitively worth it in terms of what I learned, and the connections I made also led directly to my next job and overall it has been pretty vital to my career.

On the other hand, there are many situations where not stepping back and being careful and considered and chasing down the implications up-front would've had disastrous consequences.

The problem isn't being cautious, if you know when not to be, but not taking action. Being cautious because you want to chase down and understand the implications is very different from being timid about addressing weaknesses in your knowledge. Whether you address those weaknesses with research or by trying is less important than avoiding paralysis.


"People who are timid are less willing to attack schleps, to acknowledge schleps and ask for help with schleps. Maybe this is the correlation? Maybe people are timid because they are embarrassed or unconfident in their ability to overcome schleps? Maybe they put up a wall or get defensive so that others who seem smart (and who blow through schleps) don't see them as unintelligent."

Very useful insight. As someone who isn't timid at all, I think often times I may help in my own way build the wall for timid people.

I am so caught up in shooting down "schleps" that I think that ends up being even more intimidating.

And I think the counter for that is as you say, being "Extremely welcoming and nice."

Because it's always better to take "schleps" with someone who is making you feel better about it than someone that is just doing the work, and moving on with no consideration for their feelings.


This was my experience in the interview. I felt like during the interview, I held my position too tightly rather than accept the problems that showed up. It wasn't until we left that I could really digest the problems more thoroughly, and test that advice against potential customers. I wouldn't have gotten that advice without the interview, and probably would have spent more time in the wrong direction. For me, we came to most conversations except the interview at that stage looking for advice or data, and we went to the interview looking to have an unorthodox presentation. Not only was that the wrong approach to get in, but I'm sure some of what was said to us was lost, which is unfortunate.

All that is a bit strange to say publicly, and is a bit of a rehash of advice given elsewhere I think. Maybe it helps somebody else though.


I think on thing that PG is trying to get across, that he and the YC team have said so often, they like teams that are scrappy. Because this is a two way street. As PG said, people change so does everything else. What worked today might not work in a week. I think YC is trying to grasp how things are changing so they can become proactive.

But at the same time, I would kill (metaphorically) for an opportunity to get into YC. If I give in because my idea isn't working or another company in the same industry/space takes off and starts having success, what does that say about me?

On one side PG is trying notice the trend. On the other side he is saying, if we fund you, you better freaking bring it!

Everyone has to get better, including the people who are/will not ever be apart of YC. The connection is the will to win. Sometimes how you inspire that in people just needs a little bit of tweaking.




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

Search: