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New: Apply to Y Combinator without an Idea (ycombinator.com)
687 points by pg on Mar 13, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 292 comments



I'm surprised by how many negative reactions there are here. Some people seem almost offended, presumably because we're turning down people with ideas and funding some without.

This really just reinforces the fact that fund people, not ideas. The way it works in practice is that we work with the founders to find a good idea that will work for them (the idea needs to match the founder). The truth is that most people have good ideas in them, but just don't realize it. We aren't necessarily providing the idea so much as helping them to discover the idea that they already have :)


I think the negativity is a result of hn being a community where what you are is meaningless, it's about what you do. Walking into YC with a nice haircut, suit and the ability to sell yourself doesn't fit the idea most people here have about entrepreneurship.

It makes perfect business sense for you, the reasons you outline are sound and I'm sure it will bring YC a lot of success, but it doesn't fit with what the (average) community member here thinks about entrepreneurship.

That's my understanding of the negativity, could be off the mark but it seems the most logical conclusion.


You underestimate us. The people we accept without an idea most likely have accomplished a lot. They simply don't have an idea that they are excited about, perhaps because they've been focused on accomplishing something else.

Also, I don't think we've ever accepted anyone who wore a suit to interviews.


Actually, we once accepted a group wearing suits. It was for the very first summer batch in 2005. We told them to ditch the suits for Demo Day.


Why ditch the suits? I love wearing a suit. Why is our industry so adverse to celebrating the art of clothing and in turn the aesthetics of the human form?

Why is it OK to be wearing ill-fitting jeans and an oversized stained t-shirt from a tech conference? Is it thought that if someone is in to dressing well that they've taken time away from learning a new technology or focusing on their product?

Disclaimer: I dress in a somewhat dandyish manner.


The simple answer is that it's identity group signalling.

This is the costume which indicates you belong to our group.

That is the costume which indicates you belong to their group.

Not necessarily rational, but certainly one aspect of how people work.


And there's nothing even vaguely approaching a hacker uniform is there?

looks around the office at a sea of jeans and t-shirts

The issue with this argument is that almost anything you can say about suits applies to all clothing.

It's no co-incidence that during the dot com boom managers started dressing down. Did that make them better managers than when they wore suits? Or were the good ones still good and the bad ones still bad, they'd just adopted a different uniform?

If you pick on a particular uniform (in this case suits) rather than the concept that uniform matters then you don't solve the problem you just move or hide it.


It's no coincidence that fashion and faction are etymological doublets.


The thought that someone like Steve Jobs would have been rejected or looked at oddly for wearing a suit is disconcerting.

Clothing is one of those odd and weird things that humanity might just shake out of the culture eventually. It is only of meaning to small minds.

It's like the priest who wears dignified religious clothing while hiding a darker side. Or the executive sporting $3,000 suits while causing financial damage to a nation. Or the clean-cut white kid wearing nice jeans and t-shirts while selling drugs around the corner. Or the cop wearing his uniform while committing a crime. Be careful about using clothing to judge and form opinion.

Now, I happen to think that a nice (not too expensive) suit can look really good. So can a nice pair of jeans and a t-shirt (particularly on a woman that can, shall we say, enhance the garments --call me a pig). I had to wear a suit my entire young life because I was sent to private schools. What this means is that I am just as comfortable in a suit as I am in jeans. I like wearing a suit for the right occasion. But if I have to code for 16 hours straight you are going to find me in sweatpants, and old t-shirt and sandals.


This is funny because I just had a long conversation with a friend about a startup idea. It would turn your smartphone into a beacon that broadcast your profile and your interests to the world, so that you could look around a coffeeshop or whatever and see the people that share the same interests and then have great conversations with them. Then I realized it had already been done, and it's called clothing.

I still think digital "clothing" would be cool, and I get that there's a lot wrong with the way we use clothes to signal today, but anything that adds so much bandwidth to communication between people can't be all bad.


Actually, its called highlight.


Cool, thanks. It's actually a slightly different idea though, because (as far as I understand it) highlight doesn't signal your interests, it just shows who you're connected to. Maybe more like a class ring than actual clothing?


I'm pretty sure it leverages your interests (pulled from facebook) in some way. FWIW, highlight is one of those ideas that seems great in theory, but I could never see it being a huge success. I just don't have the desire to randomly meet friends of friends that happen to be around me. It seems like it would be an awkward - almost forced - connection. Call me old school, but I much prefer organically developed relationships.


I think a lot of people think the same way, which is why these location/social startups haven't caught on more. It seems like the big question is whether their problems are inherent or are actually just software problems. I can imagine a program being eventually developed that's as good or better at making successful introductions than the best salonnière who ever lived. At that point it would be worth the added artificiality (at least to me).


> Be careful about using clothing to judge and form opinion.

Indeed... Including programmers who wear suits.


It's simple. To anybody who appreciates the pragmatic of "what works", suits look silly.

Let's break a suit down:

jacket: why? are you cold? there are better garments, made of better material that can keep you warm in a variety of colder than comfortable climates.

vest (optional): why? it makes you look like a poker dealer, but you forgot your green rimmed sunshade.

tie: supposedly to add some color, but looks like a noose, or a lead rope used to guide livestock around (the signal I always get from a tie), may as well just wear a shirt with some color. Predecessors to the tie are generally regarded as silly looking today. Nobody takes an ascot seriously today, bolos look ridiculous, bow ties instantly turn somebody into a fussy professor, and nobody would be caught dead these days in a cravat http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/71/Louis1667...

oxford or similar shirt: oh where to start....buttons, from a time when fabrics couldn't be manufactured with the properties of jersey. Collar, to catch sweat from...all the sweating you're doing from the 3 layers of unnecessary clothing you're wearing. Sleeves, long to be proper, even if it's hot, buttons on the end, because again another vestigial holdover from primitive fabrics, or french cuffs, because who doesn't like to assemble their sleeves when they get dressed? Oh, and it has to be tucked in, leading to constant retucks throughout the day, or embarrassing shirt stays clipped to your socks or looped under your feet looking like some kind of lingerie reject.

Toss out that mess and we're left with ridiculous, overly expensive uncomfortable shoes that need constant maintenance, black socks and what are essentially just expensive slacks.

(edit: I'm frequently caught wearing suits for various work reasons, and I feel like an idiot every time I "suit up")


Many people, with a nice suit, feel quite good. Do not misunderstand the pragmatic importance of feeling good about yourself.

As a more accessible example: Why do you think more people wear shoes with shoe laces instead of Velcro straps?


Shoe laces are more functional.


Highly debatable.

For starters, shoe laces need to be tied, and they come undone. To use Velcro straps you simply have to press them firmly into place, and they take quite a lot of force to undo improperly.

The fact of the matter is the primary reason most people, by a huge margin, chose laces over Velcro is aesthetics (which Velcro sorely lacks).


Trust me--shoelaces provide a substantially better fit, support, and closure, despite being somewhat harder to use. Shoelaces are also replaceable in case of wear. Also, shoelaces are a standard and one might not be able to find the right shoe with a Velcro closure.


If all shoes were built with those things in mind (like say, boots are), then I might buy that. However in most shoes none of those things seem to be given strong consideration.


Well, don't buy impractical shoes then, no matter how nice they might look! (A-ha, we're back to the same argument then.)


There's a whole spectrum of clothing between "suit" and "ill-fitting jeans and an oversized stained t-shirt from a tech conference" that is tasteful, casual and professional.


Suits are generally overbearing and a seeming affectation if you wear one in what others assume to be a casual environment.


I'm going to go against conventional hacker wisdom and say that if you are comfortable in a suit, wear a suit. As long as you are also completely comfortable being the only one around in a suit - and that is an open question.

I think part of the problem with hackers wearing suits is that they tend not to be comfortable in them, and they tend not to fit well, so they don't look quite right in them.

Personally, I like to wear nice jeans with nice shoes and a nice dress shirt, all which fit me well. It's somewhere between casual and dressy that's not the standard "business casual," and it's a style of dress I am comfortable in.


It's basically wrong for the same reasons not wearing a suit is wrong at a business meeting - it makes you stand out for something other than your accomplishments. A businessman's uniform is a suit, and a hacker's is a hoodie, and there's not much anyone can do about it in the short run.


If you dress differently because of what other people think then perhaps you're not the rebel hacker you think you are ;) that includes not wearing a suit if you're comfortably in one. Personally I don't get get why not more people wear suits, you have lots of pockets for your gear, they make dressing well easy (as long as your suits fit you) and effortless. Just go suit and a nice t-shirt to dress semi-casual, so suit up! :)


"Personally I don't get get why not more people wear suits, you have lots of pockets for your gear"

Or just wear cargo pants.


You're honestly making the argument personal. There's nothing inherently wrong with wearing a suit. If people are content, comfortable and happy wearing what they have, then why bother all of your ad hominem comments. We don't need reminders that the 20th century has created the "cargo pants."

We know that cargo pants exist, but maybe they prefer a suit?

I've acknowledged your point no need to berate everyone down the line as well =/


Cargo pants are baggy and in my experience tend to get caught on furniture.

(Not to mention they make you look like some sort of ex-marine wilderness survival nut or something)


I think there is nothing wrong with it as long as you are conscious of the image it sends, and are willing to counter the obvious negative stereotypes, namely that you are not a hacker, not part of hacker culture, and therefore incapable of starting a tech startup..... ;-) Of course, low expectations can be made to work to one's advantage.


if you show up wearing a suit, I'll assume you're a lawyer or an MBA.


by same token if you show up in hoodie I can assume you are drug dealer ? Not a kind I would like to do business with


well, of the three, I'm more likely to trust a drug dealer to write code.


You turned the argument into a joke, but jes5199's rebuttal was very valid.


And that is a problem?


Yes.

It's lazy thinking. The whole ethos of casual dress at work was that it didn't matter what you wore, it was about what you did and thought and that we shouldn't make assumptions based on something so superficial.

That's now flipped and become some form of inverted snobbery where the people who objected to being judged on what they were wearing (or not wearing) are now doing exactly the same.

The point isn't that wearing a suit or jeans or whatever is good, bad or indifferent. It's that it doesn't matter.


If it didn't matter what you wore, no one would wear suits. They're either uncomfortable and impractical or incredibly expensive, and sometimes both. The only real reasons to wear a suit involve either social pressure to do so or narcissism.


I think this may say more about your personal circumstances and world view than anything much wider.

I've got suits that aren't uncomfortable and weren't incredibly expensive. As for impractical that depends entirely on your life. I certainly wear them less now I have small children but when I was younger I never found it an issue.

In terms of social pressure, well yes, but that's true of a many many things that we do. If you've ever pulled on a clean pair of jeans to go out and meet a friend rather than the dirty (but still hygienic) pair you'd worn the day before, that's social pressure, when you don't just fart in front of people, that's social pressure.

Are those worse than my occasionally wearing a suit to go out with my wife because it makes her happy because she likes the way I look in it? Or because I've just been feeling a bit schlubby lately and fancy looking smart for the day? Or simply fancy a change?

I say this all as someone who typically wears jeans seven days a week and has casual dress as a significant factor when I choose a job.


I didn't say there was anything wrong with it; people do worse things out of social pressure and there are far more obnoxious ways to express narcissism, but I don't see any of your rationales falling outside of those two categories.


" The only real reasons to wear a suit involve either social pressure to do so or narcissism. "

You say that as if it is an absolute truth. This might be true for you, but it certainly doesn't hold for everyone.


My argument should be pretty easy to refute then; name one reason, other than social pressure or narcissism, to wear a suit.


Name one reason to wear a band t-shirt other than social pressure or narcissism?

Your argument isn't an argument against suits, it applies to any item of clothing other than the absolutely most basic, utilitarian items. It's an argument against fashion and self expression through clothing of all sorts.

Now if this is what you genuinely believe then that's fine but I hope you're applying the same standards you apply to those wearing suits to people wearing band t-shirts, anything branded where an equivalent non-branded item is available, or frankly anything that has been chosen for any reason at all other than it's absolute functional value.


I appreciate and wanted to support the band, it's comfortable, and all my other shirts were in the laundry. You still haven't answered my question.


How about: Because I don't subscribe to the philosophy of Diogenes.


OK, I wanted to appreciate and support the tailor because I like the idea that people make clothes that are about craftsmanship and skill not just utility.

Or my other clothes were in the wash. Happy now?

Is that not a clear enough example of why your argument isn't just about suits when I can just reuse your answer an it works?


Both of your reasons are circular--one buys a suit to support the manufacture of suits? Buying a shirt to support a band is quite a different thing. And if all your clothes are in the wash except your suit, well why did you own the suit?


You're missing the point, I'm buying the suit to support the designer / tailor, the creator NOT the mass manufacturer. Like you I'm supporting the creative endevour of an individual or group.

In this sense it's a far better reason for a suit than for a band t-shirt. A suit is the primary output of a tailor, a band t-shirt is a commercial by-product of a band. There are better ways to support a band than buying a t-shirt - buying their records or seeing them live for instance. There is no better way to support a tailor.

As for the circular reasoning on its dirty - I agree but it's the same for both suit and band t-shirt. You have to have a reason to own it which I've given you.


How am I missing the point? Whether the suit is made by a tailor or a mass manufacturer, it's still circular reasoning to buy a suit to support the manufacture of suits.


Fashion is a creative industry. If I admire the creativity in that industry and I think that the things that they produce are beautiful examples of design (which you may not agree personally appreciate but I'm guessing that you won't refute the basic premise that fashion is a creative design industry). How am I meant to support them and to encourage and ensure the survival of that industry, other than by buying the things they produce?

Regardless of that owning and wearing a suit because I think it is a beautiful example of clothes design, regardless of whether it supports the creator or not, is a valid thing to do in itself that is neither narcissistic nor an example of social pressure.

And in case you think I'm desperately trying to come up with reasons but that they're not actually things any real person would do, I own only two suits, one of which (by Oswald Boateng) I own precisely for this reason - because I believe it to be a beautiful item (or more precisely two beautiful items) of clothing.


Ah yes--so now we're up to narcissism, social pressure to wear a suit, or an aesthetic appreciation of suits in themselves. I will take you at your word that you wear suits purely to appreciate their beauty in and of themselves, and not in a narcissistic attempt to make yourself more beautiful by nature of being wrapped in such beautiful garments.


I didn't say it was the only reason I did it, that wasn't your question. The reality is few things we do can be ascribed to a single motive, more normally they're a mix of several things. But your question was name a reason which wasn't the two you gave of which this is one. There are others but given how much work it's been just to get you to gracelessly accept that there might be something here I really don't have the strength to talk about any others.

But the problem is still that your argument applies to lost of clothes, not just suits. Shirts are less practical than t-shirts. Buttons are fiddly and unnecessary, collars a pointless throw back to necktie and don't get me started on the practicality of cuffs. Most shoes are sub-optimal from a pure practicality point of view. Ironically many trainers aren't actually good for running because of the way they're balanced.


The problem is that you danced around my point rather than addressing it; perhaps if you had been more direct and to-the-point, you would have the strength to address it more convincingly.


Here's a reason: it's the most comfortable piece of clothing I own.


Actually, my suit (there's only one) fits nicely and is comfortable.

But I only wear it to interviews.


I agree. In Vancouver (slob city) people for the most part don't even dress up to go out. They ask why should I? Here is an answer: Dressing down, ubiquitously known as "being comfortable", says that you don’t care about how you look, as if your appearance were an entirely private matter that has nothing to do with anyone else. It’s the exact opposite: what you wear is part of the visible environment, as relevant as the architecture, the decor, the food on the table, the scents in the air. http://betweenmypeers.com/2007/09/20/why-dress-up-for-social...


I think there is a fair distance between caring how you dress and caring about architecture. For one thing, architecture tends to be more permanent and won't exit the train at the next stop. I don't go into restaurants I don't like and criticize their decor and their food, so I'm not sure why I should care about what others wear.


Hackers and engineers believe in substance over style.


Style is substance, unless you think that things like user experience are meaningless buzzwords and the command line is the only proper way to interact with the internet.


This is one of the pitfalls that hackers and engineers fall into, yes. But in good user experience, form still follows function, not the other way around. "Form follows function" is simply another way of saying "substance over style".


May be the same reason 'lorem ipsum' is used in web templates :)


If you wear a suit, cut off the arms and work out until you have rad biceps. Under no other circumstance will you be accepted.


> I don't think we've ever accepted anyone who wore a suit to interviews.

How about basic hygiene? Is that a no-no, too? "She is clean and doesn't smell. Must be covering for her incompetence." /s

I feel perfectly comfortable working in a T, jeans and sandals, and I pretty much wore a shalvar-jaaf (Kurdish pants) my entire graduate years, but if I am to meet anyone initially in a professional context I will wear a suite (fully aware of the reactionary views of the sub-set that apparently is so focused on surface matters that they would ignore technical competence and make decisions based on the fact that one wore a suite to, say, an interview.)


Wearing a suite is something I'd pay to watch.


Honestly, I once wore a McAffe suite to an interview and it gave them an impression that I'm secure. I was hired.


One of the very best people I ever hired wore a suit to the phone interview.


One of the very best people I've ever hired wore a dark navy 3-piece suit with pristine french cuffs and gold cufflinks, if I remember correctly. The team almost dinged him for that, if not for his amazing technical talent, problem solving skills and eidetic memory.


A friend of mine used to where a suit for exams. He said it helped him get in the right mindset.


It probably helped him to feel in the right way for an interview.


How did you know?


He told us after we hired him.


Note to self: If offered an interview, do not wear a suit.


Isn't this kindof given on the west coast? I can't imagine a single hacker I know wearing a suit (and meaning it).


> I can't imagine a single hacker I know wearing a suit (and meaning it).

With the exception of the very small companies, every company where I've worked has had at least one hacker who wore a suit.

The suit-wearing hackers may outlast the lumber-hacker look.


I'm fine with wearing suits on sales calls in the right contexts, but it's more about wearing what is appropriate. At YC (or really any tech event on the west coast), a suit isn't appropriate -- at most, a button-down shirt w/o tie and MAYBE a jacket in the evenings.

It's kind of obvious when the guy on the other side of the table is wearing shorts and sandals that perhaps a suit and tie is inappropriate...


Is there some hack for those people who like wearing a suit but don't want to come off as try-hard status-whores?

For instance, wearing a scruffy t-shirt and jeans with the suit to signal non-pretentiousness?

Personally, I enjoy wearing suits but if I ever go to Silicon Valley, I would like to avoid committing a faux pas :)


I can't speak for the US west coast, but it seems to me a good start is to actually know how to wear a suit. It absolutely has to fit correctly and be the right size. Unbutton your jacket when you sit. Tie your tie correctly and tighten and straighten it, top button of your shirt buttoned - OR loose it completely, opening the top button - there is no middle ground.


If you are able to, you might be able to pull of a "dishevelled Tom Waits" look. Very hard to do without looking homeless or hungover though.


I think the hack is jeans + (t-)shirt + blazer look. I haven't had the context to try it, but it's supposed to be a bit more "trendy" than a suit.


People who're not on the west coast apply to YC too.


For me personally, I've always worn suits to interviews, but they haven't been for hacker positions. For me it was to show that I took the application process seriously and I really wanted the position.


I'm in the same city as you and I wear a suit... but only to interviews. Wait, I guess I wore it to my brother's wedding, too, but other than that it stays in the closet.


If offered an interview, I would be tempted to show up in silk batik....


This is why I'm excited about this experiment - without it we probably wouldn't have been able to apply (though we were going to try anyway). It's not like my friends and I don't have ideas floating around, it's just that we have no one concrete idea to apply with. I do't think this means we're not good startup material. We have the excitement, it's just not directed towards a very strong idea yet.


I imagine you'd prefer a team that at least has some general market/problem/area in which they have a strong passion, yea?

I know there are some great entrepreneurs that can build great things, but I have a feeling that great entrepreneurs + passion would go a lot further due to their irrational optimism and tenacity in their market/problem/area.


> The people we accept without an idea most likely have accomplished a lot.

I'm taking that to mean, as an engineer, accomplishing a lot would entail building a lot of things? Or at least a few neat things? Even if they're in my spare time for fun, like the cummy OS I'm trying to write or for startup ideas I have that probably won't pan out?

I can't think of anything else because everything about my resume and past is just unimpressive at it's kindest and failure at it's honest.


The more I read comments down the thread, the more I realize you are right. It looks like people are afraid of the idea that YC could evaluate personality. But this concept is quite visible in pg's essays - he often mentioned that good founders have something distinct in themselves. My guess is that YC already did quite a bit of research into that topic, and is just exploring this concept further.


"Walking into YC with a nice haircut, suit and the ability to sell yourself doesn't fit the idea most people here have about entrepreneurship."

I walked into YC looking like an unshaven hobo with a stupid linux t-shirt, and nappy unkept hair. The rest of my team was only slightly less homely. After being accepted into YC, I'm proud to say that I wash my hair but I haven't adopted a suit yet...


Hmm, I think of what you are as being based on what you've done.


Precisely. What you have done, not necessarily in the context of a start-up. That's why this experiment will be interesting.


I've managed to publish an interesting (IMHO) magazine in print and online without spending any money. Does that count?

http://www.interestingtimesmagazine.net


Here's what I would worry about. Obviously the YC folks know what they are doing generally and this is an experiment that may fail or may succeed. So this is offered in the spirit of addressing a possible issue. If you haven't thought about it, at least thinking about it may help you avoid it.

What I would worry about would be the fact that there is a difference between being given an idea and turning around a general idea into something new. If you are already in business, and you are going to be successful, turning around an idea you already have into something different is a familiar process and a necessary skill. On the other hand, the question becomes what happens with those who don't have an idea?

I can't speak for the people who will apply, but I know there is a huge difference between the attention I put into working on my own ideas and working on other people's. Ok, these categories aren't mutually exclusive. These aren't really comparable. Even if forced by circumstance into doing a specific thing for a business, it's different than being essentially hired by investors to implement their ideas. Again these aren't mutually exclusive categories or anything, but they represent something I would hope you'd be careful about.

One way to go about this would be to work with such people to find ideas after accepting them.

Being excited about something is important in running a business regardless of its size or scope.

Your response suggests you are aware of this. So maybe all of this just acts as validation that you are on the right path.


The main downside I see is that it will be harder to evaluate teams if they don't have an idea to talk about in the app and interview -- even the idea is totally throwaway.

It doesn't seem like a bad idea, but I think the RFS already fills this need (as long as people know they can apply with an RFS but then do something different)


I agree. If you don't have an idea, on what basis are they judging you? what is their filtering process? If you are in your early twenties, what exactly have you accomplished that would separate you from the herd? Nothing, except which schools you have attended. I'm guessing the main filtering process YC will do is to filter based on which schools you attended, so in that way, YC is basically adopting the recruiting process that investment banks do.

I wonder what % of those YC funds attended the Ivy League or other private u's vs. those who went to state schools?


We have an idea for that actually.


The other side to this (as I am sure you are aware) is that if this experiment fails it means one of two things:

1) It's a bad idea, or

2) The implementation needs work

I think the biggest difficulty in assessing things will be if it doesn't meet expectations, determining which of these applies after the fact.


Assuming the YC guys get about 3000 applications (based on published acceptance rates and class sizes), they can probably either do some a/b tests in the reviewing process, or just substitute extra manual labor to evaluate based on other metrics if something goes wrong. It's not all all-or-nothing single test.


That misunderstands the problem.

Metrics only get you so far. They don't really tell you why you fail. They only tell you how far you are along your plan to succeed, and whether it is matching expectations.

But if things are failing, they can't tell you why, particularly in an experiment like this. Maybe it is genuinely a bad idea and nothing will make it succeed. Maybe it is a good idea but needs to be gone about differently.

In other words, you can show that you are doing what you think you need to do to be successful, and that you are not being successful, but you can;t show what changes you need to make in order to be successful.

The solutions do require manual labor, but they require creative labor. This area is more art than science.

If I was doing this I would assemble a list of reasons why this experiment will fail up front. I would revisit the lists in a year or so. I would ask which ones played into the problem. I would then ask what could be done about it. But that's me. Others have to find their own ways.


I meant for the application-reviewing process, which has much faster feedback, vs. the "are the applicants qualified" process, which takes waiting at least through the session, and possibly a few more years.

They should be able to tune the app-review and interview process pretty easily, at least to get the same amount of information as from teams with ideas. Figuring out if those teams, if accepted, are markedly different from those who came with existing ideas, that's a much harder problem.

Remember, 28 March deadline! Apply!


The team that finds their perfect-fitting idea is the team that's going to prosper. Couldn't agree more.

I think the reason that a portion of the public is acting negatively is because they're afraid that these changes will cause YC to become a playground for non-technical cofounders and nutjobs with ideas. I have confidence that the partners won't let this happen. They've already shown their willingness to revert back if it doesn't work out (limited trial run), so I really don't understand why people are pissed.


Perhaps it's just me, but I feel like HN comments overall have gotten significantly more negative in the past few months. I can't recall reading the comments section for any recent startup launch or sale without at least half the commenters tearing it apart, often with almost no information to back it up.


Considering all signs point to "we fund people not ideas", I'm surprised by the reaction as well.


I'm curious -- it looks like there is nowhere on the application form to describe your idea. That is, you're not just letting people apply without an idea, you're stopping them from applying with an idea. Is that intentional?


This is a separate application form for people with no idea. You can still apply with an idea via the regular application form: http://ycombinator.com/apply.html


Clicking through that link still shows the no-idea app for me.


Same for me. PG et al, you might want to look into it.


That's because your application this cycle is now a no-idea application. You can change that using http://news.ycombinator.com/change-idea-status.

(There will be a FAQ about this sort of thing, but I wanted to get this launched today and only had 10 minutes to do it in before I had to go to office hours.)


We still prefer that people apply with ideas. All that's new is that we've added an option for people to apply without one. All else equal, a team with a good idea has a much better chance of being accepted than one without.


Granting that startups frequently change direction quickly and radically... I would still evaluate someone who is moving in a direction differently than one who is not. Choice of a direction (including an active decision and specific concrete work on a project) is also a reflection of character (a personal characteristic - not merely ideas).


Given the number of acquisitions that are really about the talent - this makes a lot of sense.


Paul, it's an image thing. You even put a teaser out there about the next step ("We'll consider single founders too")...

You already said that experience is not necessary. So we are ALREADY at: "Apply with no experience, no idea, no team."

There is only one next logical step. You're still 'buying the man/woman'. The last step is:

"New, apply to YC anonymously, without ever going or revealing who you are. No need to come even if you're accepted, we'll webinar the whole kebab and you can stay behind a skype handle and email."

Paul, I would like to do this! Please allow me to apply anonymously, without ever going or revealing who I am. (Of course, you'll know everything about the resulting company.) You might just be surprised...


I'm not surprised to see this reaction. The folks who react strongly against this announcement have ideas, and think these ideas make them special.

We've all worked with that girl who succeeded at everything she touched. We'd hire her in a heartbeat, for any project, because she figures out how to make it work the best it can. If she's around, we can step back a bit and trust, and the project turns out better than if we'd run it our self.

She's worth way more than the guy who farts great ideas.


As someone with a negative reaction to this idea, I think your characterization is off base. Nor is it a problem of fairness—I don't care who yc accepts nor am I interested in participating in yc.

I have a negative reaction because although I agree with the principle of funding people in general, I'm skeptical of the idea of people who "want to be entrepreneurs" rather than people who become entrepreneurs to achieve something specific. (I've already made one comment to this effect that was downvoted to oblivion.)

It's not that ideas are worthwhile and are what you should get into yc. I am skeptical that a good founder wouldn't be able to come up with scads of potential ways they want to change the world.


I think by definition (and having attended an entrepreneurial program at a fine school, coming from an entrepreneurial family, and having hung around entrepreneurs most of my life) I can't imagine someone who is an entrepreneur not having a zillion ideas that they think of all on their own. To make money that is. The problem with most entrepreneurs is that they have to many ideas. That doesn't mean they are good ideas of course (by the definition of YC).


yes it's the main problem actually.. How to pick the best one between to many ideas to start.. Maybe they can start a program for it, apply with many we help you to choose one..


I am with you 100%, but let me explain what they are thinking: "I have a 6 figure job, a nice home, a luxury car, but she choose this artist without 30 cents in his bank account." The attitude says more about the commentor than the concept they are complaining about.


The response to this seems mixed so I think it's worth saying: it's very important for them to at least try this.

The current YC model may have been met with the same response when first proposed (I expect it wasn't even this good, I don't know the history) but all indication is that the model works very well. And if they don't look for ways to improve further on that model, someone else may come in and eat their lunch. YC is a business too, you know.

Besides, if "execution is everything" then doesn't it make sense to not worry about the idea and focus entirely on the team? Even if it doesn't work out, I think there's no question that they should give it a shot.


Seems similar to Alan Kay's often repeated observation that what made ARPA and PARC so innovative in the 1960s and 1970s was that they "funded people, not projects": http://www.vpri.org/pdf/m2004001_power.pdf

This is very, very rare.


Thanks for the link. Here's the full quote (see page 4):

"Thus the "people not projects" principle was the other cornerstone of ARPA/PARC’s success. Because of the normal distribution of talents and drive in the world, a depressingly large percentage of organizational processes have been designed to deal with people of moderate ability, motivation, and trust. We can easily see this in most walks of life today, but also astoundingly in corporate, university, and government research. ARPA/PARC had two main thresholds: self-motivation and ability. They cultivated people who "had to do, paid or not" and "whose doings were likely to be highly interesting and important". Thus conventional oversight was not only not needed, but was not really possible. "Peer review" wasn't easily done even with actual peers. The situation was "out of control", yet extremely productive and not at all anarchic."

Sounds remarkably like YC.


That's a big complaint in modern CS research funding as well; traditional NSF and DARPA funding came in bigger chunks, with longer timeframes and less strong micromanagement of projects it was to be used for (there even used to be completely non-specific "center of excellence" type block grants, which gave a huge pile of money for a group of researchers to use on good research in a given topic of interest to the funding body). Now it typically comes in small chunks with very narrow parameters that have to be pre-approved and checked up on on a yearly basis, which not everyone thinks has improved the quality of CS research.


You're definitely right to quote this, but I think it was the exception to the rule.


How is this not brilliant?

Like Hollywood that created the studio system and theater chains, and Music Labels that created radio promotion and recorded music sales, Y Combinator has created the cookie cutter vertical for this century's hot new tech opportunity- the Internets. And God Bless them. They invented it, this model, it works and they are going to be billionaires cause they are creating the Value.

If I could buy 7% of a the future (earnings and primary asset) of an elite college super achiever (with a proven skillset and a track record of cool hacks,) in exchange for 7 Grand, man oh man, that is a no-brainer. Like signing Marilyn Monroe to a studio contract or getting half the Beatles catalog for a ham sandwich, or whatever they were advanced by Northern Songs.

And no, I'm not being snarky, because Marilyn Monroe without the movie studios would have been a waitress or whatever, and the Beatles without the music copyright machine would have been guys who worked day jobs who had a cool weekend band that was their real passion.

Sign all the boys who can sing and dance--its Menudo Monkees Backstreet madness!! If your Johnny Bravos can fit the suit, I say sign them up! Everybody wins, except the wannabes who find a reason to complain instead of doing anything awesome because they are, in their hearts...and in their lives, afraid.

Hooray for (New) Hollywood.


This is why YC is amazing and why anybody who says they ask for too much equity is an idiot. Most investors won't invest until you have traction and prove out a bunch of risk. YC used to invest when all you had was an idea, and now you don't even need that. Bad ass.


I dunno, it feels like there's enough noise and low-value startups in the ecosystem already I can't help think this is a little predatory and simply further dilutes the perception of value to investors outside the YC fold.


That's actually why this is great. There are low-value startups out there because naive people start companies that aren't good ideas. Meanwhile, great founders realize their ideas aren't that good and don't build companies. YC is going to find those people, help them curate their ideas, and get them on their way to building meaningful companies. It's as far from predatory as you can get. It's giving great people the tools, resources and support they need to do big things.


This is a great experiment given how many YC teams change their idea midway. For teams who have many ideas (but have not implemented any), would you advise them to

a) pick one and apply through the normal process (thus demonstrating they're capable of coming up with good ideas, and perhaps prototyping one), or

b) go through this new no-idea process instead (thus making it clear they are flexible in terms of what idea they pursue)?


Show me someone who is qualified to be a founder but happily shrugs about his/her utter lack of ideas... and I'll show you someone who should be in a corporate sales job making $600K per year, not someone who has seen a glimpse of the future and is driven to make his/her vision a reality.

Hmm, maybe selling companies to investors is a form of corporate sales after all.

Most successful entrepreneurs have ideas that seem bad for various reasons. YC's focus on critiquing founders' ideas (PG's sneers about mobile/social/local) suggest that YC is very confident that it knows which ideas will work and which won't.

In terms of predicting which companies will be successful in 10 years, nobody would ever have sufficient hubris to claim such foresight. But if the goal is to sell a company to VCs in 6 months, it's not hard to have a pretty good idea of the market dynamics.

Personally I'd rather see YC post "drafts" of business plans and let would-be teams start their own incarnations of those businesses and apply to YC with them. At least then it feels more like an authentic entrepreneurial spark than a search for pedigrees the VCs will buy into a few months down the line.


This bothers me too, perhaps it's romanticism, however I feel it's taking away from the authenticity of the process. VCs investing in a company are investing in the team. The team should be more than some technical folks.

This situation makes me wonder how much of the ideas and direction came from the incubator, and how much came from the team - and who's specific vision, etc.. I don't know how far ahead, long-term thinking (re: strategy, future features, etc) could be figured out if ideas weren't solidified over a period of time. The depth of the ideas I don't think in most cases would go very far.

From my own experiences putting time into development without first having a solid idea of what you're wanting to create ends up being a lot of extra development time.

For myself, I have spent years evolving my ideas and now I'm very ready to find technical co-founders / core team members. I've been told by some very experienced and very wise folks that I have everything else figured out.

Also, I don't see any company posting drafts of business plans. It would give away too much. I do always wonder where these 'other ideas' come from though. I would think people would keep their best ideas that they'd hope to be able to do someday, for themselves, and only share their secondary ideas that they'd never see themselves doing.

I do see this being beneficial for incubators in being able to experiment with relatively minimum costs to them, though is this really going to yield big results for the team members or are they selling themselves short?


> corporate sales job making $600K per year

This job does not exist.


Most sales roles are commission based, and it's hard to get solid numbers. http://www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Oracle-Sales-Manager-Salarie... lists 5 Oracle salaries averaging $211K (including commission), but that almost certainly under measures those making really good commissions.

600K is high, but maybe possible.


Disagreed. I'm on my 2nd startup (b2b SaaS) with 2 other cofounders. We're profitable but stagnating with $6,000 in revenue per month for each of the last 3 months. Although we are working on interesting problems, we aren't exactly passionate about what we are doing. We've been talking about a pivot for a while now but nothing compelling has come up. I have always wanted to go through YC and this sounds like an amazing opportunity - I love it. Now I have to run it by them....


How is a 3 person company profitable with 3 founders and only $6000/month revenue?


Our margins are really good and we don't make a lot - the only reason I listed numbers was to highlight that we are a capable team that has track record of being able to make at least some money. We work well together and I think what we are working on now is small beans compared to what we could be doing. Applying to YC without an idea would be a really cool opportunity for us and other groups like us.


This. A thousand times this.


I think this is awful .... I'm sorry, you'll have to excuse me, I'm a bit of a romantic when it comes to startups and innovation.

Sure, people who come up with an idea to do a start up usually change it midstream, but they actually come up with one and set out to achieve it. If you can't even think of something to work on, then I don't think people should be falling over themselves to give you money to just come up with something just because you're 'smart' ... it just seems to commoditize and cheapen the process in my opinion. Plus if it doesn't work out, now they have the easy out ... "It wasn't even my idea".

Yes, I know the founder of Yelp got handed $1 million to come up with something and they got Yelp ...

Yes, I know I haven't done this day-in day-out for years like you guys have ...

but it still upsets me. maybe I just need to give it 5 minutes.

I'll sit down now.


Think of how many people YC has seen flow through. Successes, failures, one's they can't predict yet. There are probably certain patterns and traits in the good ones. They've also seen what types of idea's work best with certain types of people.

YC is directly integrated into the heartbeat of Silicon Valley, gaining more insight into where the puck is going to be, far better than any outsider. If they can match traits of a group/person to an idea only they have the privilege to imagine, you might have a winning combination.

The fact that people are complaining about this likely means it's a good idea, or should at least be tested. Occasionally throwing a monkey wrench into the machine is always good practice.

Colleges do this already by accepting smart students who don't know what to major in yet. Who cares if it takes them some time to figure it out? They're smart! They'll get it!


> Colleges do this already by accepting smart students who don't know what to major in yet.

Colleges do this to get their tuition money, not out of the goodness of their hearts. Who cares if they don't know? Society standards dictate most of them will stick it out and pay for four years of something.


That assumes that the most important thing to a college is present earnings and not potential future earnings. Colleges regularly compete for top students (at a loss via scholarships) in order to pump up their stats and increase their prestige (which comes largely from what graduates do long after leaving school) both of which are intended to increase future earnings. And that is only considering universities from the cynical, profit-driven perspective.


Let's just say I am a lot less idealistic about colleges than you appear to be.

The top students who will become prestigious alumni are by and large not the same students who don't know what they want to major in yet. For every Steve Jobs-like outlier you have a ton of executives, accountants, doctors, and engineers who know that's what they want to do. The major-less students will generally either pay for four years of psychology or be successful for unrelated reasons (legacy status and family connections, the occasional dumb luck).

If YC thinks trying to pick out the outliers, the lucky, and the connected from their application pool is worth the trial, power to them.


Most staff who work in admissions at most colleges do not care in the slightest about tuition money.


Perhaps, but people who set the colleges' enrollment targets certainly do.


My gut feeling is strong and very similar to yours. But, I have learned that when something bothers me this much it usually it means I'm not looking at it correctly.

I don't know what happens when you take smart people who are confident they can solve problems and give them problems.

Maybe they can actually solve them, maybe they can't, I have no idea, but I look forward to watching it and seeing what happens.


For me the important thing is caring about what you're doing, not that it was your idea. Certainly that's my experience working in a startup-esque non-startup.

I know YC wouldn't ever say "right, here's your new business plan", and I suspect the aim here is to be able to find ideas that these idealess-founders will be passionate about.


Looks more (not completely) like they're looking for a CEO and not a founder.


As someone who has gone through YC, this makes perfect sense. My company, along with 15 others in our group, radically changed their idea to the point where it didn't matter what idea we came through the door with. We started out with a Facebook app for sports stuff and ended up as a successful video advertising business. Absolutely zero correlation. PG bet on us in the beginning, not because he loved our idea (it actually was a pretty bad idea), but he saw that my co-founder and I gelled and that we were determined to make whatever damn thing we touched into some form of success.

The other thing to think about is that everyone, i mean everyone has some idea they have thought about which could be a business. If you're the 1% that have never thought of something that could use a change in this world, then the no-idea application probably doesn't apply to you. For the other 99, you can come in with a handful of things that bother you in the world which could be solved by software and YC will more than likely help you pick something they know has a pretty good shot if you are willing to put in the hours.


I, for one, think this is misguided. While I agree that team is one of the most important important aspects to consider when funding a startup, I fail to see how a team without a vision or an idea will have the passion necessary to stick with it.

Even though many companies pivot to ideas nothing like their original, the original shared vision by the team is what keeps it together and unified.

I have no doubt that there are groups you could hand an idea to that would go at it with gusto, I just don't think most will.


Like I said in the announcement, one of the reasons we're pretty sure this will work is that we're already doing it. I.e. a lot of the people who applied to YC in previous cycles were applying without a viable idea; they just didn't realize it at the time.

Also (I'm starting to wonder if you read the announcement) we don't hand people ideas. We encourage them to solve problems they already knew about but had been overlooking.


I didn't mean to imply that you would force an idea upon them, but helping someone come up with an idea can easily turn into that if you're literally accepting people with no ideas (which you state you are and yes I read the announcement).

In the end, the person is going to have to become passionate about the idea. That's hard. When you're talking about a group that comes in together and wants to start a company together, it is much harder.

Honestly, if someone comes in just wanting to start a company without an idea, it sounds to me like they are more in love with the idea of being a founder than solving a problem close to their heart. I don't think that I would be interested in people like that.


Well, it is a cheap experiment. What is the worst that could happen?


What's up with all the negative attitude at HN that's being up voted for things that until recently at HN would have been applauded. This announcement is one. Sam altman's exit also had a negative tone. Also fred's post on yahoo also had some BS comment about VCs encouraging patents being up voted.

This is a great idea and people at most should at least have a neutral approach.

edited- I didn't mean this as a comment to Daniel's comment. It was meant for the grandparent


People calling it as they see it, by nature of this place YC is going to be very popular and generally have lots of fans and positive feedback. Not everything they do though has to be agreed with all the time by everyone.

Same with Sam Altman, just because someone is a very prominent YC founder doesn't mean everyone has to agree with everything they do.


Comments are getting meaner in general as the site grows larger.


It would be interesting to run sentiment analysis on the archives of various online communities to figure out where the likely phase transition point is. Probably a PhD in it for someone.


As HN gets larger, it gets more and more likely that there will be some negative comment made. When it was smaller, there was just a greater chance that no one would make the negative comment.


HN is turning into Reddit /s


When helping brainstorm ideas with founders, YC takes strong consideration as to what type of startup the team is best suited to build.

We considered switching ideas in the middle of YC. One of the reasons the partners talked us out of it was that we weren't particularly well suited to tackle the new space we were thinking about.


That's the great thing about experiments: you can try them even if you're skeptical of the hypothesis. (Although it sounds they aren't skeptical.)


I agree with this. PG responded that he believes in the idea because they already did it, but it doesn't seem quite accurate.

Teams initially accepted by YC were accepted on the basis of an idea. I am going to take a bit of a leap of faith and suggest that a significant portion of self worth was placed in the nurturing of that idea. When it came time to pivot or in some cases completely alter their business plans, I suspect that a lot of that initial value was then grafted on to the new plan as a way of salvaging ego meaning that the same level of devotion then seeded the second idea.

Will this work? Who knows...it is certainly an interesting experiment. To be frank, it seems like a step away from the wild west toward the corporatization of start-ups. Essentially hiring talented people, pushing them in a direction and seeing what they develop.


I agree that the original shared vision is crucial, but I don't see why they can't come up with that after acceptance.

If a team knows how to go quickly from idea or concept, to market definition, to customer discovery, to validation very quickly it's not a problem. Most people don't even get out of the building to talk to customers routinely. They build something and see what sticks.

I would rather take a team with no idea but were really good at customer development over a team with a concrete idea but no customer development experience. The no-idea team can quickly figure out if an idea solves a problem for a big enough market and if they are willing to pay it.


Wait, aren't ideas worthless?


No experiment is misguided as long as everyone is willing to learn from it.


This is definitely a good idea. I think a lot of talented groups struggle with finding an idea because the two easiest means of doing so -- solving a personal pain point or uncovering an opportunity in your current domain/job -- are bearing no fruit. After those avenues are exhausted they may not be sure of what path to take to find an idea. As a result, these otherwise talented folks are meandering around until they stumble upon something, which can take quite a bit of time.

My co-founder and I were in a similar boat until we found a process that worked for us to uproot unmet needs, but, if we hadn't, we'd definitely be exploring this track.


Is this the first step in YC pivoting away being a "seed investor", where the goal is to pick winners? Does PG see the future of YC as being an alternative to post-graduate education where the goal is instead to develop winners and have a stake in their success?

If this model works out, I wonder if we'll eventually see traditional universities funding startups for top students out of their endowments.

Very exciting experiment, if you ask me.


Agree. I think this is exciting and fascinating, and I'd love to see how this works out. I say this as a person interested in the directions societies take. As someone with opinions, however, it makes me a little sad, because I think education should be as far removed as possible from business. This isn't to say that getting your hands dirty in actual markets doesn't have an educational value, but the most profound knowledge about the world is not gleaned by doing business. Still, interesting.


perhaps YC should think of becoming like a business school. Most business schools charge upwards of 100k for two years, and most students borrow that from the federal government. YC could instead "charge" half that amount, teach all the major business principles that one needs to know in a few months (which could basically be teaching pg's essays to a class audience) with the caveat that all or most of the tuition charged will be returned as seed investments to the students at the end


>"YC could instead "charge" half that amount, teach all the major business principles that one needs to know in a few months"

You really think you can teach all the business principles you "need to know" in a few months, huh? But I bet if I said lets take some business guys and teach them everything you need to know about coding in a few months, you'd probably think I was crazy.

Seriously, the "what it takes to successfully run a business" is so underestimated around here it makes me shudder. But, I guess that's probably why most people here aren't actually running successful businesses.


My understanding of YC is that applying with more than an idea was pretty much necessary to actually validate the idea. Having an actual live product, with some semblance of customers and/or revenue, made for a much stronger application and a much stronger pitch in general. I imagined that a lot of startups that were accepted into YC effectively got feedback along the lines of, "this is a cute app with some impressive technology and it seems like some people like it, so why don't you pivot to this concept that has a much stronger change of scaling," or something along those lines.

So if these applicants don't have an idea, then are they expected to not have any sort of work on a product? And if so, doesn't that make it a lot harder to evaluate their body of work and quality of their team?


This could work.

To make an analogy, PhD students usually don't have a project to work on when they start and if they do, that usually changes. Yet many of them become excellent researchers and leaders of their field in the future.


Yeah, for example I was looking at NSF funding for grad school research and while your application is based on a research proposal, your research doesn't actually have to be what you proposed.


Both true but there are limits. Grad students are still defined by what they've done previously so while there is a lot of choice, it's still within a particular field (i.e. limited to a subset of the whole 'PhD-space').

That's probably stating the obvious (but sometimes it's worth doing that).

Edit: The analogy does works but you might want to consider subjects as 'startup areas' e.g. consumer, enterprise, infrastructure, etc


Seeing "(e) None of the founders are programmers." on the form, I was wondering - and I fear this has probably been answered before but it's not an easy thing to look for - pg, would you mind saying how often, if ever, you have taken in founders who literally couldn't code their way out of a paper bag, and if so do you have anything you can share on success rates / examples?


I think we have twice funded groups that didn't include a hacker. One was a math major as an undergrad though.

One of these groups was Auctomatic, which did pretty well. Another is in the current batch and isn't launched yet.


How do you feel about non-tech, consumer products? I noticed it wasn't expressly prohibited and was thinking we might apply.


We're open to anything.


Is there an essay subject lurking in there on your opinions based on these three examples?


I may add Swagapalooza, I think.


This is correct, although there wasn't any code to be written, at least not in that phase of the business.


Oops, yes, make that 3.


Weren't there a couple of guys from Toronto doing something tangential to eBay that fit this profile (non-programmers, successful exit)?


I think I read somewhere that the octoparts applied without any programming knowledge between them.


I'd wager about zero, with a zero per cent rate of success.


I'm not sure why you'd think that. If you take a few examples of Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Dropbox... I don't think any of these needed coders to think of.

Obviously having technical founders can have many benefits, including:

a.) Can create technical product yourself, spend less on coders initially (e.g. Zuckerburg)

b.) Some products may need complicated code even for a POC (whereas sites like Twitter, less so. Any mediocre dev could make a badly written Twitter clone)

c.) Easier to think of technical ideas. For example I doubt a non-technical person would think of creating BitCoin. On a smaller level, could fail to think of feature-sized ideas within a company.

I think that, if Twitter didn't exist and I decided to create it, lack of coding skill wouldn't be a problem, as long as I had funding for coders to replace the technical founder's early role. Don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming I could do what Twitter have done, but I don't think that the things I'd have done worse would be because of technical ability, the same as if I was hired as a lawyer my failings wouldn't be for tech/code reasons.

Edit:

As an example data point, the company I work for is a digital publishing company, creating and managing content websites. Founded by people from hardware distribution industry, and successful - yet I would argue that our core business type is similar to Reddit, in that success/failure comes more from business decisions than "wow, you coded a better website than other people!" (Reddit being better than Digg, for example, is much more than "Reddit is coded better".)


The advantage that Zuckerberg got from writing Facebook himself wasn't that he could "spend less on coders," it's that Facebook got created at all. Meanwhile, he had been contracted by the Winklevoss twins to implement their idea, which he didn't do because why would he?


Meanwhile, he had been contracted by the Winklevoss twins to implement their idea, which he didn't do because why would he?

Well, let's be fair here - he did implement their idea, at least the important part of it, the bit without which Facebook probably would have been a flop (the early elite school exclusivity, which was a major selling point especially at the first few schools, since there was nothing else particularly special about the site itself).

He just decided to keep it for himself rather than hand it over when it was ready.


Suppose your idea is to build a brilliant sculpture. Who will most likely succeed: a sculptor, or a guy who's instructing a sculptor? Would it work better to hire a sculptor and explain to them exactly what it should look like, or would it work better to be that sculptor and directly build what you have in mind? Even if you are explaining it to somebody else, it helps your ability to explain tremendously to be able to sculpt yourself. That's not to say that other roles aren't very important, like marketing for example. But unless your "business decisions" are truly brilliant, you're probably not adding a lot of value in a startup if that is your only contribution.

Despite your opinion that it they are unnecessary, is it a coincidence that all the startups you name had technical founders? Obviously your chances of success are not zero without a technical cofounder, but empirically a technical cofounder does seem to be a common factor.


I like your analogy but it didn't quite convince me, and I was trying to work out the best way to explain why, and here it is: How many of the world's buildings were commissioned, and had fantastic architects working not on their own ideas but on the ideas of people with money? Or painters hired to do a portrait, or composers hired to write an opera around a libretto.

Of course, in most of those cases I would assume that the person/s providing the money would have a lot less input into the final product than a non-technical founder would have in a company, so perhaps they're better compared to a VC than a founder?


If the business decisions guy was also bringing money to the table, then that changes the story. But now the important contribution is the money, not the decisions.

I imagine a conversation with Mozart went something like this:

"Mozart, I want a libretto."

"What should be in it?"

"It should be about birds."

"Okay, I'll get on it."

The corresponding conversation in our world would be:

"Jack, I want a piece of software."

"What should it do?"

"It should be like a blog but every post limited to 140 characters."

"Okay, I'll get on it."

It is Mozart and Jack who end up making 99% of the design decisions. What I'm saying that once the guy hiring the creator gets so involved that a good portion of the decisions are his/hers then that's a very inefficient way to compose a piece of music or a piece of software, and you're better off doing the composing yourself. Of course in many cases marketing is more important than the technical side, but this is no different. In a startup with just a couple of people the contribution comes from the guy doing the marketing, not a guy deciding the rough marketing strategy. In a big company the influence reverses because the business decisions have a lot of leverage simply because they affect what a large number of employees are going to do. Simply put, the question you're asking is "Could twitter be done by me getting YC (and later VC) money and then hiring a programmer and a marketer?". The right question is "Why would the YC give the money to me instead of the programmer and the marketer?". Note that a perfectly valid answer for a lot of startups could be "I have connections and experience in the field" (especially for e.g. medical or payments startups), but the answer needs to be something.


And yet...Reddit, Facebook, and Dropbox ALL had highly technical founders.

I'm not sure about Twitter, but I think so too in that case.

So maybe it IS important.


But does that mean that the difference between technical and non-technical makes the difference between success and not, or does it just mean it's the difference between "got an idea, might as well code a bit and see what happens" and "got a great idea... I wonder if I can get some investment"?


I have no source to back this up (I tried):

Didn't the airbnb founder(s) have little/no coding experience?


No, one of the three airbnb founders has a CS degree from Harvard (http://www.airbnb.com/founding-team).


This is a great idea because great teams can find great markets and then build great products. Investors care about 3 things in order of importance.

First, is market size. If you have a great team and a great product in a small market, you won't make much money. Conversely, you can have a bad team with an okay product in a large market, and still make a decent return. The market is assessed first because you can't change it. It is what it is.

Second is team; the quality of the team is more important than the product in the earliest stages of a company. It's the second hardest thing to change. It's really hard to replace a cofounder.

Third, and last, is product. It's really easy to change a product. The classical/somewhat cliched pivot.

With this in mind, YC can attract stellar talent, point them at a big market and say "innovate and iterate!"

As PG mentioned, this has already happened to some extent. I think this is a clear pathway for exceptional engineers to come together.


Fascinating, at least from an outsider's perspective (you mention you've kinda been doing this already).

This effectively opens the floodgates but it might also reduce the number of poorly thought-out ideas since teams now have a different access point.

Fits well with the 'replace university' comments in the PyCon talk.

edit: Makes me wonder how about the proportion of people who apply with demos (and how advantageous that is -- or is not).


I think it could be really positive. Just the fact that this option exists will re-orient everyone's YC applications toward thinking about making sure they've got the best team. I would presume that there would be a very high bar to be accepted as a group of founders without an idea. (I would also expect that with a high-potential team the problem would be choosing from a large number of potential ideas.)


Interesting. For how many people is "working at a start up" the goal in and of itself?

I've always thought "I want to be an entrepreneur, now what should I do?" was backwards. Rather, it seemed to me that history of real innovation is full of "I have this great idea, I guess I have to be an entrepreneur now". For example, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Ford.

But maybe my perspective is skewed by a type of survivorship bias -- were Wozniak/Jobs initially working on other projects that failed and pivoted towards Apple? Or maybe they happened to hit on a good idea first, but what about others? I guess YC has the data, so maybe it's time for me to re-evaluate how successful companies are born.


Did anything ever come of this when YC tried it back in 2007?


What if I am a single founder with an idea, would I be paired up with those without ideas to make a team?


Why don't you post here and see if anyone is in that boat already?

edit: not here, here. Submit to HN. Write a blog post.


I think this could be a very good thing. I would like to come in as an "old guy" single founder, and hook up with a Bus-Dev guy(or gal). I have quite a few ideas, but most would need a few people to get off the ground. A few things that I am interested in are: Solar, bio-fuel, an Arduino competitor, small PMSM motors for the medical industry. I was thinking that if several "single" founders were selected, there could be a few arranged marriages. I am guessing that after seeing quite a few groups the Y Combinator crew would have a good feel for what might make a good group


> Solar, bio-fuel, an Arduino competitor, small PMSM motors for the medical industry.

Getting funded for anything including hardware and/or medical stuff is quite hard.


So what happens here, exactly? Say John Doe is picked without an idea. What does John do during his YC time? What does YC get a piece of in return, exactly?

On another aspect of it, the negative reaction of some, I think there may be a subconscious message that this makes it more about what someone has done than is doing or will do. That probably threatens some folks a bit, even if it doesn't practically make any actual difference to their chances.


Idk, I imagine someone in YC without an idea would work just as hard if not harder than, say, someone who already has a product with some traction. I imagine John Doe would wake up every morning thinking "crap, I'm already behind everyone else! I better get moving" (and he'll have to get something together for demo day, which presumably is what YC will get a piece of).

I'm sure this is impossible to generalize, but I wonder if in some circumstances it might even save people a few weeks of time. If a lot of teams change their idea during YC, presumably in some cases it takes them a while to decide (or to be convinced by the partners) to do so. Whereas if they go in not attached to any particular idea, it might be easier for pg & crew to talk them out of their bad ideas so that they reach a good idea more quickly.


I want to prelude my question with my own personal belief: I think Paul Graham and company are not only ethical, but good human beings.

Is there ever a risk of unintentionally assigning one of the ideas of a lesser group to one of these "All-star" groups without an idea? Like in a brain-storming session, who gets the embers going? I know there's a statement about this on the application (if you're worried about copying not to apply) but it would be interesting to know.


We're very careful about that. We'd never do it intentionally. There's some possibility we'd do it unintentionally, but I don't think we have so far.


I think this is a great idea that YC are allowing people to apply without an idea.

Personally, if I applied to YC I would apply with an idea but remember most investors won't invest without seeing traction and if the company removes some of the risk etc.

YC used to let you just apply with just an idea. The HackerSchool/HackerRecruiter guys were accepted with just an idea (although they built a prototype before their interview)[1] and now you don't even need that.

Awesome.

The reason that I think its awesome is because, there are a lot of startups that I have seen recently that are not actually viable or a good idea and this has created a lot of low-value startups (you know the ones I'm talking about)

I personally believe that great people/founders will only start a company if they believe their idea is good and viable. The reason they haven't is because, they know their idea sucks - this is where YC comes in as they will help those great people/founders by providing the tools and resources to help them curate their ideas so they can build meaningful and valuable companies.

Sure, YC focuses on people but great people often have great ideas, even if they don't know it yet and this is why this is awesome.

[1] http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3667055


I have shit loads of ideas, but I'm not really passionate about any of them: http://ideashower.posterous.com

I also have a few currently that I'm slightly more passionate which are not on the list. But still haven't found The One True Idea. I do know my general area of interest, though, which is e-learning, personal development, and skill acquisition.

In hindsight, several of "my" ideas have been turned into workable startups (example off the top of my head: Verbling).

I think I have two main challenges:

1) I'm too critical of my ideas.

2) I have a hard time getting started and evaluating my ideas. I would like to be able to create quick mock-ups of lots of ideas and test them quickly against the market.

My strengths:

1) Lots of ideas, very creative

2) Technical skills (programmer)

3) Already have a team in place around the world and locally + lots of potential team mates who I trust

4) Already have execution/management experience on a project (Interesting Times Magazine) - sure, it's not software but I'm still VERY familiar with the entrepreneurial emotion roller-coaster

All in all, this new stance from Y Combinator is giving me some hope for the future. Now I just need to sit down and write a good pitch. How would you guys rate my chances? Any tips?


I think you should research a bit after coming up with an idea. For a lot of ideas I see in your website, there are existing solutions(which is not surprising, since I assume you haven't really delved a lot into it).

I have experienced it a lot while doing projects; starting with something i thought was cool, did a bit of research couldn't find anything similar, worked on it for a couple of weeks, then finding out the product does exist in the market already.

Overall, I think you have a really creative mind and should start working on some of your ideas, to make best use of it :).


Overall, I think you have a really creative mind and should start working on some of your ideas, to make best use of it :).

Me too :) I just need to partner up with someone who is more grounded and has the mindset of testing everything. I live too much in my intuition and ideaspace.


It would be great if YC did more of these kinds of experiments that could be to their benefit.

For example, there are people who would pay to be part of YC and also fall in the gray area where it seems they aren't bad investments but it isn't clear that they are likely good investments. A handful of those people may be invited to participate in YC with the exception that their investment is conditional: a don rag would be held half-way through, and if they weren't doing considerably well, they would be cut (otherwise, they would earn the investment).

An argument against that example may be that the applicant ought to prove worthiness beforehand, but that's just the point: maybe all the applicant needs is the right environment (YC) to dominate.

"One might be tempted simply to take the best individuals and ignore the other. However, that would lead to a quick loss of diversity. Those individuals currently not doing as well as the others may have properties that will prove superior in the long run." Understanding Intelligence (ch. 8.2 / pg. 239; Pfeifer & Scheier)


Hackers are not the sole proprietors of provocative and disruptive thought. Is it unreasonable to consider that a non-tech visionary could be the catalyst for the next tech breakthrough? Vision, the ability to translate it into code and create a scalable product may be rare indeed. The failure rate of startups bears this out - do startups fail because an inability to implement, or an inability to see a novel idea that will truly change the world? The "no idea" application may illustrate the need for tech to become open to the possibility that brilliant code does not define innovation and that hackers may have become "too close" to the problems to see them on a larger scale outside the tech community. PG has said, "How can you see the wave, when you're the water?" Has the proliferation of tech startups resulted in hackers becoming the water? I applaud the "no idea" application and the possibility that what those gifted coders may need is a non-tech visionary that can still see the waves.


The form doesn't work for me. When you go to the 'no-idea' landing page - http://news.ycombinator.com/apply-noidea - you are then sent to the regular application form - http://news.ycombinator.com/s2012form

Is it broken or am I missing something?


If you have previously edited the regular form using this username, the link will direct you to the regular form. To see the "no idea" form, logout of your regular username, follow the link, and create a temporary username/password.

FYI, the "no idea" form is exactly the same as the regular form, except it is missing 18 questions that are idea-specific.


YC is seen as a leader because they do things like this, however i think other people are catching on to what it means to be get more success from start ups.

I did apply to YC but i changed my mind and erased everything. Not because i wasn't confident in my idea, or anything on YC's part (i think at least) but just pure numbers: too many people know about it so even for the brilliant ideas (or people) that get through, even more would be left out.

Sure i may be taking myself out of the race before its started, but i've applied to some other places around the country that seem to offer the same type of quality (more money,more impressive informatics resources), even one not to far from where i live (midwest) which is awesome (especially since its the first year for it) Always been a risk taker and i like my chances else where.

Besides we should be spreading this throughout the world and not just hoarding it in SV =)


Interestingly enough, there is already a tradition in the valley of doing this with VCs. It's called the "EIR" program, standing for "Entrepreneur in Residence." Basically, the VC pays for people with a proven track record (Former COOs, CEOs, CTOs, Principal Engineers, etc..), a salary to evaluate startups and business ideas that come their way, and, on occasion, get involved with them - sometimes as managers, or contributors, but also quite often to reboot them under the auspices of the VC. In general, these EIRs of the "reboots" consider themselves closely akin to being "Founders" - though their equity stakes are usually somewhat less, but, at the same time, they usually have a guaranteed round of funding from the supporting VC.

What YC is doing, (particularly with the guaranteed convertible) is extending this concept to people (presumably) somewhat earlier in their career.


We've heard/read countless stories of YC companies pivoting, but I can't find any hard data on it. I'd be curious to know what the pivot rate is for YC portfolio companies during their funding cycles; given this change, it would seem that the rate is high-ish, but I'd hate to presume anything.

Just curious.


Some of this has already been said by michaelf below, but you do realize that you're getting into the education market, right? I realize there have been elements of this even from the beginning of Y Combinator, but just because a change is gradual doesn't mean it's not important.

That's not to say it's a bad move. Education is one big, slow target screaming "make money off me!" There's also a really big chance to help people at the same time, which is of course a nice overlap. But some of the dangers that make elementary schools suck, and high schools suck, and both American and foreign colleges suck will be waiting for you as well. Education has an impressive record as an institution-killer.

So be careful. We like you guys, and it would hurt to see you go down when you started out so well.


Personally, I think this is great because it has at least the potential to be used for allowing for the pairing of applicants together. This could be great for those out there who are looking for a team of other like-minded individuals to work with but are having a difficult time locating individuals who not only possess the qualifications needed (technical skills, etc.)but are entrepreneurially minded & adventurous enough to invest their time and energies into a project that (like any other startup) has no guarantees. This could really help some of those of us out there with purpose, vision & great ideas looking for someone trustworthy individuals of various needed skills to team up with us and together bring those ideas to life.


I would think that the type of person who would succeed in the startup world is one who would come up with an ad-hoc idea in order to do a startup, rather than the type of person who wouldn't do a startup because they couldn't think of an idea.

Anyway, it's an interesting experiment.


I'll give you an alternate viewpoint...

I've been involved in a lot of companies, I can code, do (simple) multi-layer PCB layout, server-admin, tons of real-world business experience, can go in cold to a group of hundreds of people and present almost any topic and manage positive or negative audience feedback under pressure.

I have an idea (submitted in the past, denied, still working on it though)... But, YC might frankly have a BETTER idea for me. Or together we might be able to identify an exploitable market.

I see this as kind of YC's version of an EIR, and frankly I think it's cool and will likely produce several successful projects.


Today there are many more startup accelerators than five years ago. MassChallenge and Start-Up Chile offer mentoring and seed cash without taking equity stakes in founders' companies. Instead these accelerators are attracting talent to their area: Boston and Chile in these cases.

Is it fair to say that YC has decided to step up their offering by guiding founders through the idea brainstorming session? Instead of playing the bidding game of taking smaller equity stakes or coughing up more cash, YC has decided to give founders something much more valuable: an idea. It is always refreshing to see companies focus on innovating the product and not the pricing. Kudos to YC! I expect other accelerators to follow through.


I'm conflicted by this slightly. On one hand I see it as a great idea for great minds to come together, and on the other hand like it was mentioned, this seems to create a lot of additional "noise". Meaning more applications that require reviewing over others with solid ideas.

What are exactly the merits to determine "good" untested founders?

My other question is, which has been eating at me slightly is the trend of the startups I have seen come from Y Combinator being "extremely" similar to each other. Of course there is going to be overlap, but even the backgrounds of founders are largely similar creating this trend of "hive" mind ideologies for startups. Is this intentional?

Overall, I'm curious to see how it will turn out either way.


The converse of this is interesting to me as well. Now someone with an idea and not necessarily all the hacker chops could apply. The idea being that you pair up the product person with an idea with a technical team that applied (but had no idea).


I'm not offended nor mad about this, but I don't know if this is going to work out well. There are good ideas, bad ideas and terrible ideas. Terrible ideas can't be successful no matter what (startup)dream team is behind it, and bad ideas are the kind that only a black swan event can change into a successful business.

Also consider that while some "ideas" are the classic "twitter for dogs" or some other improvised nonsense others are actually very elaborated and go far beyond the idea and into the "concept" stage. That a concept gets thrown into the garbage bin together with all the dull "twitter for X" ideas is very demeaning to all the teams that spent a long time working on that.

And speaking of teams, is very VERY difficult to build one let alone keep it together without an actual goal (idea->concept->objective). Is next to impossible to keep things going when every session can be summed up as "any ideas?", the sound of crickets and no actual work. I don't know where you guys are but here if you walk into engineering and say "who wants to be in a startup?" followed by "there's no idea yet" you are not going to get the 10X engineers there, not even the 1Xs. The only ones paying attention will be the CS101 guys, and not the ones that learned Ruby by themselves but the ones that don't even know what PHP is yet.

Ideas keep the group together, give the team an actual goal rather than a vague outcome (eg: "we're going to be rich!"). Many like to talk about failed startups, but they rarely mention that the startups that fail the most are those founded by wantrepreneurs with no idea, no concept, very little knowledge and only one clear objective: make lots of money. What's the problem? you're not making any money by just wishing, you need an actual product that gains traction, and then a coherent business plan that actually works (or will work but in that case you better have lots of investors friends).

I don't mind YC is doing it but I think they should change their strategy: 3 months is a very short time to come up with a decent non-half-baked idea considering you also have to <execute it> which is a nice way of summing up all the actual work you'll have to do to get your product out there.


It's a talent acquisition.

  Your idea is important too, but mainly as evidence that you can have good ideas.
That's an important talent. http://ycombinator.com/apply.html


Since its been discovered, then consistently reinforced that people are the indicators of success, I wonder if you can go one step further and train someone to be a good founder. I do believe these characteristics can be taught.

It would be interesting to see some kind of startup bootcamp emerge. For those who want more in life, but don't quite know how to get there, or don't yet have the confidence to do it themselves. Even better, you'd come out of it pretty well connected with others in such a program. Even more so if YC was involved.

Though perhaps the best way to get involved is still to work for an early-stage startup, if you can take the risk.


I think this is a great idea.

I personally don't have one all consuming idea that I'd choose to apply with and that has stopped me applying in the past.

I have many ideas, all of equal interest & potential, each compliments a different side to my personality/experience.

The idea of running these ideas past the YC team for their input would be amazing!

I could imagine that a team with a single-minded focus on one idea would have more difficulty changing aim if it were suggested they pivot.

I think the 'no-idea-yet' teams that get chosen will be steered well by the YC team. They'll have a much more objective view on their business and will follow head not heart.

I'm also glad they'll consider single founders :)


So what will be the plan for these people?

If they've known each other for, say 10 years, and still don't have a startup idea they want, it seems like it will take more than 3 months, I think that's the Y combinator length, to get an idea that they are truly passionate about.

Note, I'm sure that smart people can come up with many ideas in 3 months, it's the becoming passionate about it part that I have a hard time seeing.

I'm guessing that people become truly passionate about say 5 -10 things in their lives, it seems odd to suspect that they'll come across the idea in such a short time and then be able to act on it in time to take advantage of Y combinator.

What am I missing?


I'm also surprised at the negativity. If you have an idea in isolation, that you haven't tried to validate yet, what evidence so you have that it's worthwhile? At the very least, YC has heard a lot of ideas and, presumably, are better at spotting the ones without potential. So, if you have a good enough team, they can coax ideas out of you and then steer you toward the best one. You probably have a good idea and just don't know it, possibly because of the "schlep" blinder that pg has talked about. I get the impression people are angry that they can't be mediocre and get in on the merit of their idea.


I think a far more common problem is deciding which idea to pursue. It takes a lot of work, research, and magic to decide which one.

Being able to work out the viability of 5 or 10 ideas with the resources of YC would be very compelling.


"We'll consider single founders too, but we prefer groups"

I'm surprised you're willing to consider single founders at all. No team, no idea/product... what's left?

(Disclaimer: I've applied many times as a single founder and have gotten justifiably rejected.)


Imagine, for a thought experiment, that you were running YC and Mark Zuckerberg came and said "I am done with Facebook. I want to do YC but I don't have an idea right now."

You would feel pretty stupid turning him down right? It's a reasonable bet that whatever he did next would also be successful. At the very least you'd be scared to bet strongly against him.

There are many people who, while not being so famous, have accomplishments and abilities of some kind which could inspire a similar feeling.

That's who.


Did you apply with an idea / company with only you? Or did you apply as a founder who had a team who weren't co-founders?

edit: grammar


How long until you get where you're going: making seed funding a credit card application? A web form with supporting documents, a video, scan social networks, cut a check. Or better yet, a check card.

Announcing the Y Combinator Amex...


I'm wondering if the founders' share of equity is different compared to if the YCombinator partners were not only very impressed by the team, but by their idea as well. In other words, will having someone else give you ideas "cost you"?

I think one of the biggest challenges will be founder motivation. I have no supporting data, but my guess is that you'd be willing to work a lot harder for an idea that you created based on some issue you were facing in your life. I think a challenge for YC will be to prevent the founders from feeling like they're some new sort of contractors, and feel less involved.


Is it just me that can't view the normal YC app after viewing the "no idea" app?


This is what I call cranking up the rates. Here comes the bottleneck. Great to see YC iterate and scale like a software startup should. The haters will say this is irresponsible but I think it's simply brilliant.


----- Free startup idea ------

Title: A new kind of advertising company

Synopsis: Startup pays Stanford students to wear t-shirts and sells the ad space to companies that pays the startup to hand out its t-shirts. Students must submit evidence of themselves wearing t-shirt to stay on distribution list.

There are obvious ways to grow (expand to other schools, target advertising by age or gender, etc.)

The basic value prop is to create new ad space and sell it. Students get free t-shirts. Advertisers get brand awareness. You get money.

All I ask is that you take me out to lunch once you get off the ground!

Most of my startup ideas tend to be cheeky like this.


I've seen a few companies try to pull this off and personally knew someone who also attempted it and failed. Besides the chicken and egg problem they had a hard time proving to businesses that people were actually wearing the shirts.


I heard of a company that had QR codes on the t-shirts and paid per scan. (also, if its direct response advertising you can use unique phone numbers, unique web addresses, and other typical tracking methods.) There is an angle here if you understand the local printer business. The company I heard about was going to local jersey printing companies and sponsoring/subsidizing uniform and jersey printing for local high school sports teams and was working with brands like RightGuard. By tapping into networks of printers, they could bring major advertisers on board with real scale.


The startup could use a URL shortener and track individual t-shirt results. Like adsense for t-shirts.


Given how many companies are being acquired now just for the team to be added to large-company engineering teams, is this really surprising? How many co's have Google, Twitter and Facebook acquired just to toss the idea aside and integrate the dev team? This way Y Combinator can get a few really good people (who work well together!) for fairly cheap and flip them to a larger company. It's quite a decent short-term strategy and the cost of acquisition may even be less for Big Co™ than the recruiters they might normally try going through.


I think this is a great idea! This will only increase the amount of applications YC will get, which is great for the investors but more competition for the people applying. I expect that the quality of startups next round will be even higher than usual.

I hope YC is fair in their judging. I'd hate for them to accept a non-idea applicant over a more capable team who applied with a mediocre idea, just for the sake of seeing if the non-idea experiment works out.

They're pros though, so I'm sure that whatever format they come up with will be fair for everyone who applies.


Hi pg et al.,

I'm not at a point where YC is feasible for me (so I won't be applying), but I think this is a great idea which could lead to some very unforeseen ignition of sweet stuff.

If it was feasible for me, I would apply.


I have the prefect co-founder with a visa issue, so I'll just ask it straight. Can someone with an h1b, who has already started the green card process, be a co-founder in a YC company?


YC doesnt care about visa issues. You have a lot more than most people, visa-wise.

Good founders are resourceful. You'll make the visa stuff work, because you'll have to.

That said, it is a risk. If your cofounder quits, he may have to leave the country, and may not get back in on visa waiver since he has shown intent to emigrate.

So go ahead and apply to YC. They wont even ask about visas. But talk to a lawyer now, so you can get started on making this work.


This works out well for all parties. There are a lot of people out there who are in love with the idea of working on a startup more than they have passion to make their particular vision a reality. And YC realizes that they're basically playing a numbers game, and so they need to get more meat for the grist--both to boost profits and for the network effects of the YC brand/experience. At the dirt cheap prices they pay for equity, it's a no brainier.


Ooh, that's harsh. But I don't think that's the case at all, as that would be playing the short con. Too much of that and YC's brand will erode. The network-effect can carry companies pretty far but not far enough - they need to find companies with true intrinsic potential, so I don't think they're trying to take more risk at this point.


This is very exciting. If experience points to the hypothesis that this could work, it has to be worth at least trying. At the very least, YC will learn a lot. At best, YC will be thought leaders in creating a new way to approach and angel/seed investing. I don't see how anyone could think this is a bad idea to try for at least one YC season.


I think the bottom line is that pg et. al have proven that they can fish out the best from the best and trying out new things is certainly part of their success.

From a personal side note, I wonder how that affects applications with ideas? I mean pg said, that its already what they are doing, but the two track application makes me wondering


YC is really moving into the direction of some kind of university where they pay you to learn, interesting evolution


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