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How Instacart (YC S12) Hacked YC (techcrunch.com)
209 points by olivercameron on Aug 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

Amusing, that this thread pops up the day after the "Why I hate HN"/"How to Fix HN" discussion. The 50% of this thread about sexism is a bit off-topic, and about another 25% is claiming the application process is broken or that beer equates to a bribe. I feel like this would have been more valuable if people had simply taken it as a lesson for success through tenacity. Here's what I take away from this: delivering the beer made the YC partners realize that Instacart was already up and running with a functional app, at which point it became a quasi-Pascal's Wager - if Instacart busts, it busts, but it looks like it could pay off big already, so why not bet on it? This is similar to how we got into YC with Light Table. Our initial application for a completely different idea didn't even get an interview, but when we applied late with numbers from Kickstarter to back us, it was a different story. I would wager that for a late application to be successful, the founders have to show a certain above-average mettle, but must also have some demonstrative additional value (like a functional app that can deliver a six pack in 30 minutes) that makes YC take the risk of a late acceptance.

Having known Apoorva since our days in UW, everyone should know this is par for the course for him. Many of us in our class were exceptional people, and have gone on to do exceptional things.

Apoorva's different. He takes the tools and abilities he has, and just applies them differently than anyone else. It's tough to put my finger on it. When he first told me this story, I just laughed. I just thought, classic Apoorva.

Think what you may about Instacart, but this man is going places.

I don't know him, but reading this story it doesn't sound like he learned anything. Sounds like this sort of behaviour is him. I'm jealous - it took me years just to get to the point where I realised I'd been taking "no" as an (unnecessary) absolute, never mind consciously changing that pattern of behaviour.

I've talked with a lot of startups who got in YC in the past several years, and none of them got a call or an interview without having connection inside or using some kind of a hack.

Still, it's sadden me a little bit. You send the best possible application you can create, you're refused. You contact the YC team, you're refused. You send beer to one of them, oh you get the chance to have an interview.

If they liked the idea so much to admit Instacart so late with a single founder, it's hard to believe they're doing a great job at screening the applications.

IMO, every (no-spam) applications should at least have a 2 minutes skype call with one of the YC members. I know it takes time but it's in their interest.

You think the difference between interview and no-interview with a seed fund is "six pack of beer"? That doesn't sound naive to you?

My read was, the difference here was between the idea of a business being discussed on the Internet, versus an instance of the actual real-world execution of that idea.

Reciprocity isn't something to take that lightly, by all accounts. It's not that a six pack of beer buys your way in; that's absurd, it's that when someone has handed you something, you feel inclined to give something back.

Chapter 2 of this book covers it in some detail:


(no offense, anti-referral link guys). I thought "Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow" did as well, but a cursory search didn't turn anything up.

Of course, something that's sort of missing from the story is how this showed Instacart in action: it sort of sounds like some guy driving up and handing them some beer, which in and of itself doesn't demonstrate a lot.

It's funny, because _Influence_ was the boy's assigned reading this summer. I'm pretty familiar with reciprocity. I don't think it's that easy to trigger it with a YC partner and a six pack of beer. I don't know, maybe it was Russian River.

Mostly what I'm fixated on here is the difference between trying to prove your commitment to an idea on the Internet v. proving your commitment to an idea in real life. Lots of people are "Internet-determined". Give them a sequence of keys to punch, and they will do it, no matter how long that key sequence is! I can imagine, if my job was filtering through many hundreds of long key sequences from people on the Internet, that any signal of real-life commitment or execution would stand out.

Read a little further in that chapter, and it's made abundantly clear that abuse of reciprocity is worse than doing nothing at all: the Hare Krishnas almost never hand out flowers in the airport anymore, because everyone is on to the game. Not only did airports start to box them in to special areas, but people began to hate them.

The same book goes into the importance of the magnitude of the reciprocity request: even the Krishnas, at the height of their success, couldn't ask people for huge donations in exchange for a flower.

> magnitude of the reciprocity request

The beer did not get him into YC. It got him a few minutes on the phone and subsequently a meeting, which then led to the rest because of the quality of his startup/resume/tenacity. So to me, it sounds about right in terms of what reciprocity got him: a foot in the door that he otherwise did not seem able to get.

> it's that when someone has handed you something, you feel inclined to give something back.

> Charlie [Munger] also talks about Ben Franklin working the system: "As he was rising from obscurity in Philadelphia and wanted the approval of some important man, Franklin would often maneuver that man into doing Franklin some unimportant favor, like lending Franklin a book. Thereafter, the man would admire and trust Franklin more because a nonadmired and non-trusted Franklin would be inconsistent with the appraisal implicit in lending Franklin the book."

The concrete example of this being the classic high school girl strategic gambit: "Can you help me with my homework?"


I've talked with a lot of startups who got in YC in the past several years, and none of them got a call or an interview without having connection inside or using some kind of a hack.

Then your sample must be strangely biased, because most startups we fund don't.

Having worked outside in the "real-world" with large corporations, and having tried to sell my software as a 1-man crew, you're really going to have to get used to this.

Most of us here know how difficult it is to build a technology-based startup and have it shine. YC has been through enough batches to start making judgements about what works and what doesn't.

That means they can cut through the bullshit. You may be able to wow some guy at a Fortune 500 with your whiz-bang product, but being assessed by people in the know (i.e. your peers) is a whole other ballgame. Moreover, if you can't make it past YC's criticisms and processes, how are you going to do the same with people outside the startup community?

Remember, we may be a tech-savvy community, but you need to convince the rest of the world why you're worthwhile. They need to see why they should buy/invest in your product. If showing off your product in the best light possible means delivering beer to a YC partner, then do it.

This is an inaccurate assessment. Our experience was exactly what YC say it will be for most founders. We applied and were rejected because we were little more than an idea and two business founders. We applied again next batch with an alpha site live and several more people on the team, we got an interview. We didn't know anybody, and never sent any communication to YC beyond our application.

Since then, I have recommended around 3 applicants to the YC partners. One did not get an interview despite over $100,000 in sales. One did and was rejected. The other was also rejected, and was recently acquired. Maybe I'm not the "connection" you're referring to, but from everything I've seen the application process is what they say it is. And then you have people like the OP who do enough to show that they are more remarkable than you thought.

"I've talked with a lot of startups who got in YC in the past several years, and none of them got a call or an interview without having connection inside or using some kind of a hack."

I'm not sure that is a correct conclusion, at least the first part. The applications are screened by multiple people before it gets to the "interview" stage.

My List of likely factors;

* Team (do they work well together and have long friendship?)

* Tenacity (Can they make it from concept to launch to growth?)

* Technical skills (Do they have what it takes to execute the plan, without outsourcing the core development)

* Growth potential

The "Please tell us something that you (name) most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage?" question is in there for a reason. IMO The partners want to see that you can come up with new and different ways of solving problems.

By doing this they're selecting for people that have a strong understanding of social interaction. That's understandable, social interaction is the fundamental skill of business and I wouldn't expect many startups to succeed without someone who's very, very good at it.

On the other hand YC can't teach someone to hack, but it can teach advanced social/business skills (or help a strong technical team find a non-technical cofounder) so maybe they should take that into account.

On the gripping hand they have plenty of applicants to choose from. Why spend resources sifting through the purely technical teams when plenty of applicants already have both sides covered?

EDIT: P.S. Instacart looks awesome though, so purely for personal benefit I'm glad they got in.

pg talked about this last year before Startup School. The gist is that they are always modifying their methods for acceptance and that sometimes, they miss founders who later go on to be successful elsewhere. Indeed, pg said that because they have a massive amount of historical data (i.e. previously funded companies) they use this to guide their selection process during each batch.

I've applied 3-4 times over the years. We got the interview once a couple years ago but not accepted, and had a phone call with Harj early this year but not the interview.

So the point is that while knowing people who know people is useful, it's not necessary. The team is really looking at who the founders are, what kind of stuff they've built, how they get along and more. This fellow pulled the strings he could and was impressive enough that it worked. Final thing to note is that he's a solo founder. They almost never accept solos, because it most often takes a team to be successful. This guy was exceptional himself, and he proved it, which is why they accepted him.

(Note: I don't know the founder at all. These are just my suppositions based on previous experience and encounters with the team.)

Does it matter? Just go out there and create a company, be successful etc. Need money? Go work and save it. I moved back to my parents house and saved all my money so I could bootstrap my startup for over a year. It was tough (especially on my relationship with my girlfriend) but we worked through it.

I strongly feel the biggest reason a lot of people apply for YC is simply to get funding. I even noticed this vibe when I met a few founders at Work at a startup.

When you put your own money on the line you'll find you'll be hacking your way to make money in any way possible. You won't have much of a choice.

Ignore this post if you're already doing these things :).

> I moved back to my parents house and saved all my money so I could bootstrap my startup for over a year.

That's easier to do when your parents live in a metropolitan area rather than Podunk, Flyover State. Just saying.

My parents live in a really shitty neighbourhood in Melbourne Australia (40 kms from downtown). I sold my car $50k car and bought a $2000 Corolla that would stall if it was too cold in the morning. Believe me it wasn't easy :).

It doesn't seem impossible to get a connection with people inside YC. The OP, for example, asked YC alumni for some introduction. Maybe YC's way of selection is just a way to weed out people who would simply send an application and wait, instead of being pro-active.

Maybe keeping at it and deploying the beer hack - a very good marketing tactic, really - what made Y! make up their mind. Anyone that dedicated is bound to at least get stuff done.

"Dedicated enough to send a six pack" is not a very strong signal. Probably don't everyone start sending gifts to yc now.

I think you're kind of missing the point. He didn't just send a six-pack of beer, but rather he sent a six-pack of beer with his own product. I don't think getting food delivered to their offices is going to help your pitch for a new way to share photos.

Dedicated as in contacting all Y! partners. Dedicated as in running up against a wall and finding a way around it. And it really wasn't about the beer but generating interest in Instacart.

Is a liquor license required to deliver alcohol in CA? I don't see Instacart on a quick scan of CA ABC - http://www.abc.ca.gov/datport/LQSMenu.html

If a license is required, and they did not have one when applying to yc, it makes this story even more impressive!

I don't think so. IIRC UPS can deliver alcohol but when I search for UPS on that site, I only get one UPS store in Napa (are they selling wine too? I would think maybe given the location). So my thinking would be no. There might still be rules as to what one could do and alcohol rules in many states are just insane.[1]

[1] I haven't read the California laws but Washington State exempts from all such laws any beer or wine which is produced in the home and not sold (the only law that does apply interestingly is a section for home-brewing competitions which is another exception!). If a 17 year old brews at home and then invites friends over and drinks beer with friends his age that violates no laws but if his parents had bought the beer that would. Similarly you can do paid workshops for brewing and let people under drinking age sign up, attend, and learn to brew but if they are under drinking age they can't take what they actually make out of class--- they are required instead to go buy more ingredients and make a new batch at home.

Federal law is a little more complicated however, and involves issues of gallonage taxes and complicated questions as to whether home-brewing exceptions apply. In a college environment this involves the question of what constitutes a household and if there is anyone above drinking age in the household. I don't know of any case where BATF has stepped in to enforce gallonage taxes for home brewing that was legal under state law though.

You are mistaken if you expect alcohol restrictions to make sense. They usually don't and anyone with some effort can usually find enough holes to get whatever they want legally.

Can I call my friend and have him bring me some beer? What if I pay him a bit extra to cover the hassle? Now what if it's my personal assistant, or butler?

After reading jwz's horror stories about that bureaucracy, I wouldn't be surprised if all of those were illegal but very selectively enforced.

And now, what if it's a stranger employed by someone else, and they deliver the beer to under-aged individuals?

It's a real and valid concern, and dismissing it with silly questions about friends like a weasel doesn't resolve the concern.

If a stranger (or anyone) physically hands alcohol to a minor, then a crime has been committed. What is so complicated about that?

I don't know. You were the one proposing questions regarding liquor laws. Apparently it isn't as simple as you'd like to believe.

But no, ignore questions and remain ignorant of realities or laws.

Edit: I mean, seriously, you try and act like some smart guy proposing "insightful questions" about how there is no difference between paying your friend to bring you beer and paying a company to bring you beer, but it doesn't work that way. Instead of coming off as smart, you come off looking like a smart ass.

I remember PG's essay about "relentlessly resourceful": after reading this dude's story, it's pretty much exactly that. It's still surprising that he got in late - but not as surprising. He demonstrated, in a visceral way, that he had the trait that PG has described as a top success factor for YC companies. Good for him!

Its nice that these types of stories put a face on the fabled "determination" trait that YC always say they select for [1].

Good timing on the story too, right before demo day... :-)

[1] http://paulgraham.com/founders.html

That's a great example of the power of demonstration. Showing someone what your product can do, as opposed to what it will do is about 10,000x more powerful.

However, this sort of begs the question, if you already have a successful product, why give up a significant amount of equity to an incubator? To help sales?

> However, this sort of begs the question, if you already have a successful product, why give up a significant amount of equity to an incubator?

I think the idea is usually that the extra cash on hand right now and/or the networking and direct help you get from the incubator will help you grow your product so much faster that it's worth giving up the equity. In this case specifically, the capital could go to starting the same proven service in a few other cities, instead of somebody else becoming "InstaCart for Atlanta". Or maybe the most valuable part will be advice on how to scale out to other cities.

Advice, mentorship and other intangible network effects that may only come about by being a part of YC.

Reading this article I thought about two things:

1) This guy is a real entrepreneur. He made a deal. I am thrilled! Congratulations! :) Reminds me of the book from Donald Trump about the deals.

2) Y Combinator partners are undoubtly clever people and they can't afford themselves to apply each pitch or idea and you should look for a hack to stay out of the overall group to be noticed and given a chance to win or fail.

There is ONE thing I don't understand :

> No matter how large your order, we only charge $9.99 for 1 hour and $3.99 for 3 hour deliveries.

How can you make it profitable if you only charge 10$ an hour (when you have to pay for the driver, gas etc...)?

You're looking at it wrong. They don't take an hour to deliver your items. The driver should, in theory, be running around grabbing the items you requested (which are put into the store based on them being quickly available: "All items on Instacart are sourced from the stores closest to you") and the items of other orders in their queue. Because of the locality, it may take them only a few minutes to get you those items, not a full hour.

You're also assuming they don't charge a small markup on each item, thereby offsetting the size of each order.

The time refers to the time from order to delivery, not the time the order will take. If they streamline the system well enough and have a large number of delivery drivers in each area they could have delivery take ~15 mins, 4 deliveries an hour is $40/driver. Not great but more than enough to cover costs and wages.

I doubt in most major cities with traffic you could manage 4 deliveries/hour/truck unless your volume was big enough to have very close-by drop offs. Factor in the time taken to unload from the truck and hand off to the customer and it's even worse.

One thing I don't understand is who is doing the delivering. I doubt Instacart is using their own trucks, and instead is piggy-backing off somebody else's infrastructure.

They're delivering things like groceries, I assume they're similar to exec (https://iamexec.com/) but specific to delivery. It's just "some guy" hired by Instacart to pick up groceries and then deliver them when they're told to, no trucks needed, bicycles or cars would be fine.

I can't understand how it'd be profitable either; it seems woefully underpriced. Unless, as timdorr said, individual items are marked up 10-20%.

When a family like mine goes shopping, it's for a cartful or two of groceries, and it takes an hour just to get all the items. Add travel time and checkout, it can be a whole evening. $3.99 for them to cover all that and bring my order to my doorstep just seems silly.

So I have to wonder if there's a "cart size" limit, or there is a per-item markup, or they just really hope they get small orders!

Personally, I mostly got the feeling that he was just publically congratulating himself - showing off.

I live in Cape Town, none of my alumni could put me in contact with any SV VC's, even in 24 days. He reinforced the idea of 'it's who you know in the v(V)alley'.

Due to the success of his application, the OP is applauded for his tenacity, his unwillingness to give up. If he had failed though, he would've seemed a little more like the annoying guy who just doesn't get the message. His post, and process isn't particularly helpful to most others.

But I appreciate the insight given by YC, or those connected with the process. My take-away (play intended) from the post and comments is: 1.) If you believe in your product, and you feel it's commercially viable, build it before you even start asking for money, and 2.) Use your product as the pitch. Yeah, everyone demos their product during a sales call, but using it directly on the client even before an introduction seems like a nice differentiator. Not very easy in the Enterprise, or if your clients are anonymous, but a targeted start might work - warrants further thought.

Anyway, good luck to the OP!

Don’t take no for an answer! YES is around the corner!.There are always back doors to opportunities if you want them badly enough.The key is transforming the 'no' from a flat refusal into an obstacle to be surmounted. If you can deal with the obstacle,your request is more likely to be granted.Whenever someone tells you 'no,' there's almost always a way to turn it into a 'yes.'Period!

trying really hard is a hack?

The title of the story - specifically the liberal use of "hack" - irritated me greatly, because it made the story sound bigger than what it is. Whoever wrote the story please reserve the word "hack" for true breakthroughs in future.

For everyone who thinks the conclusion is "Send YC partners gifts", I personally know a smart guy who sent YC gifts related to his startup before the deadline (and therefore, before Apoorva), and still wasn't invited for an interview.

You have to realize that YC isn't doing this for gifts, they are doing this with the expectation that you have the potential to be breakout success like Dropbox, AirBnB or even better. They are savvy investors, and unlikely to fall for mere gimmicks.

Seriously? Sending things is an interesting strategy if it's your business, but bribes are counterproductive. Unless premature desperation is a trait YC seek.

Did you misread my comment? I don' understand the "Seriously?" part of yours, since we seem to largely agree.

I wasn't having a go at you, rather wondering about who'd try such a strategy.

wow why hasn't anyone tried this business model yet!11

tl;dr: Beer.

tl;dr determination, creativity, and a good product demo.

If you copy those things, you'll have a good chance of getting into YC.

If you copy "Send Garry Tan beer," you'll look like "the guy that didn't have any original ideas, so he copied Apoorva" :)

>tl;dr determination, creativity, and a good product demo.

Sure, but aren't those things that are normally expected of applicants? "Hack" implies a clever trick that routes you around the normal mechanisms. And, quite seriously, the only hack I found was beer.

He used his product to deliver the beer. How many times has that happened to you?

Next best thing: pizza

> most importantly I learned that I’ll never take “No” for an answer again.

There are two types of challenges in life: the first ones are generic and depend mainly on you, such as (1) double the revenue in the next 6 months, or (2) double the team size. Even if one of your staff quits or the market dips, as long as you're passionate about, have a plan that is doable and work hard enough to get there, it can be done.

The other type of challenges are the ones about specific people or entities. Impressing girl X strong enough to kiss you, making Y lend you money or convincing Z to fund you. It's a wrong lesson to learn not to accept NO for an answer in these kind of situations, mainly because it's not something depending mainly on your ambition and productivity but rather on the subjective freedom of a specific person to act with respect to you. By refusing to take "No" for an answer in those cases you can easily end up being depressed or a jerk in the long run.

Does not work with girls. When they say "No" - that usually means "Yes, but later" or "Yes, but you'll have to work on it". So I would not take "No" for an answer here too ;)

Oh no! Women are being attacked on the internet, to the postmobile!

The replies to this post are hilarious and sickening at the same time. Whenever the social/cultural accepted image of women is questioned, everyone gets into this mode of "must defend women!". Just look at the amount of replies and rage this reply has caused. Any other undesired reply would have simply been downmodded, but when WOMEN are being slandered, (oh the humanity,) you just can't leave it alone (and of course, rape is brought up).

Not only are you not simply downmodding a comment that you feel is inappropriate and then leaving the post alone, a civilized debate is apparently also out of the question. If the post said something like "we should legalize guns in country x", we would not see a reply saying "delete your post, it's inappropriate" (it might've started an argument, it would probably just be downmodded). On any other topic a different opinion would be accepted, but on this subject you're just not allowed to even joke about it, let alone have a conflicting view. The White Knight in Shining Armour mentality is so deeply ingrained that all politeness, reason, and guidelines go overboard when the socially acceptable image of women is questioned, even on the supposedly enlightened board that is Hackernews.

Next time when a reply like this comes up, no need to get out your horse and armour, just downmod. If you feel the need to feel all Just and Righteous in defending the Female Honour, please start your Round Table elsewhere. These replies have done more to derail the thread than isalmon's original comment.

On top of this, consider that sexual interactions thrive on ambiguity and mixed signals and that both men and women play on this and use this to create sexual tension. "No means no" is a very narrow statement and is not at all incompatible with the idea that "No means not right now, maybe later, or keep trying." It simply means that as far as one's bodily autonomy, one has veto power over any actual contact.

So "no means no" does not mean you have to take no for an answer even there. It does not even mean women want no to be taken for an answer. It just means certain specific limits are to be accepted.

Thank you for putting this way more eloquently than I could. Sometimes HN feels like it's full of real-life Leonard Hofstadters.

This isn't eloquence. It's angst.

You really should delete that comment. It's entirely inappropriate. When a woman says no, she means no. End of story.

What a comical overreaction. The history of cinema and literature is replete with love story cliches just like that -- a boy being rejected by a girl and eventually winning her over with perseverance and charm. Of course, the over-correcting HN crowd instantly interprets such a comment as the words of a misogynistic psychopath.

>The history of cinema and literature is replete with love story cliches just like that -- a boy being rejected by a girl and eventually winning her over with perseverance and charm.

Fun fact of the day! Literature and movies are, in fact, not the same as real life!

That snark is not warranted. The point is also not so relevant: we're talking about cultural acceptability, and popular literature/movies are a reflection of that to a large extent.

For the record, that particular love story cliche did actually work out for me personally, as the guy. Maybe it's not common, but it's not ridiculously unrealistic.

That particular love story cliche did actually work out for me personally too! :D

I got 'no', won her, lost her, won her back and she's my wife for over 20 years. I guess it worked for me too :-)

You're right, there is nothing important we can learn from centuries of art -- they don't reflect "real life", where the aforementioned love stories always end with a woman screaming and being torn into. Keep your propeller hat on and your mouse on the refresh button.

Ok, I have a bit of an issue that maybe other people here can give me guidance on.

When I decided I wanted to get into this industry, I was a teenager in highschool who figured it all seemed fun and exciting. Creating stuff for a living was awesome, and I wanted to be apart of it.

Fast forward a highschool and college diploma, 10 years in the future. I have gotten where I wanted to be, and it is pretty great. Only now though is something else about this industry really starting to sink in for me: the stereotypes. Not the nice "those guys make a lot of money" stereotypes, but rather the vicious kind. I am talking about stereotypes portrayed in media and and embraced by society that suggest anyone who interacts with computers for a living has bad hygiene, long hair, likes fantasy and sci-fi a little too much, is rude or otherwise lacks social skills, etc. A lot of them don't even make any sense; I still can't figure out if all programmers are supposed to be drinking mountain dew all day, or beers. Even the stereotypes that are not seemingly contradictory rarely apply to any particular programmer. I like to think few if any apply to myself...

This is just how stereotypes work I guess, and I am learning to deal with it. I can't say it is easy though, and I have altered my behaviour in many cases to distance myself from it. When people at parties ask me, "What do you do?", I no longer actually answer the question. Instead of saying that I am a computer programmer or that I work with computers, I say, "Oh, I work for [company name]". They still know what I really do (if they give it a little thought at least) but the reactions I get are noticeably better.

This is all more or less inconsequential though. These are not great hardships; these are "First World problems". What is an issue though are certain very particular stereotypes that our industry has acquired: sexism/misogyny. I don't think it is really important how deserved or not these labels are; but what I do know is that these labels are social kryptonite. They are the things that can end friendships and careers.

We hear about these issues in our industry a lot, particularly here on HN. Usually the poster of the story makes it clear that they think these are issues that the industry only has because a few men act this way. Everyone is not guilty, except perhaps so far as they turn a blind eye to it. The apparent idea behind raising awareness for this issue is to get people to speak up when they see it. I understand that, and I understand why it is necessary. I don't like having these labels anywhere near me, that they are applied to my industry at all makes me uncomfortable, but I understand it is important.

So what then am I supposed to do when I see comments like the one by isalmon above? I am pretty certain he meant nothing untold by it, I am sure his intentions were all decent. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt there. Even so, I can absolutely see how a comment like that could be read as being rather offensive and could help solidify the sexism/misogyny complaints that have been levelled against our industry. It should not be hard to imagine a blog post making it to the top of HNs about a comment exactly like that being overheard at a tech conference. I don't want to burn isalmon for something I am sure he did not mean to do, but I feel that I must do something.

So what am I supposed to do?

If you think he meant well, yet you think his comment could be misinterpreted, you could highlight where you think his comment could be misinterpreted and offer a more suitably qualified statement that all parties could agree upon.

Both mekoka and TazeTSchnitzel did just that, and I do it when people make stupid racist comments, too, for instance (I live in South Africa and sadly this still happens more often than I'd like).

It's a non-confrontational way of dealing with the difference in opinion, and critically, gives people an opportunity to move forward while saving face.

Some people don't think giving a diplomatic exit is appropriate in -ism scenarios, but I prefer giving people an opportunity to change their opinions - and the reality is that if you try to tell someone they are sexist or are racist you will never get through to them because their ego defences will kick in, but if you point out, with sensitivity, that their statement is unfair in some way they 'seem' to have missed, you give them an opportunity to grow because you didn't involve their ego.

Remember that most people's opinions are handed down from friends/family/social programming and seldom subject to introspection; they may be just embarrassed by what they've said as you are, but most people lack the self esteem to admit they're wrong openly. If you give them some sense of self respect despite their gaffe they often appreciate it.

In my experience most people pick up that if they don't deal fairly with reality as you propose then they'll have to admit they are sexist/racist/etc. and they quickly learn to revise their statements. Of course some people really are sexist or racist and don't care, but then at least you won't have to worry about misinterpretation once they freely acknowledge that.

> When people at parties ask me, "What do you do?", I no longer actually answer the question. Instead of saying that I am a computer programmer or that I work with computers, I say, "Oh, I work for [company name]". They still know what I really do (if they give it a little thought at least) but the reactions I get are noticeably better.

"How are you?", "Nice weather", and "What do you do?" are typically throw away interactions. Most people aren't expecting a conversation thread to fork at that point. However, if you want to inject a little energy/entropy into the conversation say something that reveals your own real interests

For example: "I am a programmer. Yeah, it's geeky but I like being able to craft stuff for a living - I'm very luck to be able to build something that other people can use - though sometimes it requires a sledgehammer to bang stuff into shape. However, what I really like doing is drawing caricatures. It's taken a while to get to the point where I can actually make it look like the person...in less than a day. How about you, what do you enjoy doing?"

> So what am I supposed to do?

Like dinner parties in France, the best conferences/meetings are the ones that have more than a minority of either sex represented.

If you really want to do something, you can't just write a blog post or a comment. Organize some sort of hacker/meetup and actively reach out to the minority population (this can involve women, urban youth, heck - even senior citizens) - do it and then write about it. Or you can write about it to challenge people (before doing it), as this person has (below).

> Which is where this conference thing gets interesting. Rather than throw up your hands and say it’s the nature of the business, you can embrace this challenge. You can read about what other people have done in this realm, and you can apply your considerable problem-solving skills to come up with new solutions that will benefit us all.


I think you just did it pretty well.

It kind of depends on the question, don't you think?

I thought the context in which isalmon made their comment was obvious. Are you suggesting that OP wasn't referring to romantic/sexual questions?

I doubt it but even if one charitably assumes that the OP meant professional interactions with women, isn't your reply assuming that the isalmon's assertion is a valid one? What reason do you have to believe that women don't mean no when they say "no", especially in a professional context? Do you really subscribe to the (IMHO rather sexist) view that women say no but don't mean (with the implied subtext saying that men don't do this)?

But even there, "no means no" really only means "if I tell you to, keep your hands of my body." It is a strong statement in context but it is a narrow one. That isn't incompatible with "no" meaning "maybe later."

It doesn't mean "if I tell you I don't want to go out for coffee, don't ever ask me again." And there is no way that asking a woman for a date 100 times and getting rejected is the same as so-called "rape culture." (scare quotes because the term really is over-used. I have no problem with the term applied to some idea that mixed signals means "yes right now" but mixed signals are an inherent part of generating sexual tension and both men and women do this a lot. )

I thought it was pretty clear that the great-grandparent post was referring to being asked out, not being raped. In fact, the latter interpretation didn't even cross my mind until I read comments like yours, although I see now how the post is textually ambiguous.

But which seems likelier to you: that the poster is reflecting on women playing hard to get--something that most straight guys experience frequently--or that he at best finds rape funny and at worst is advocating it?

I'm guessing you missed the smily face at the end. But even if he was dead drop serious, social reality is that "No" generally means "You're gonna need to try a little harder" this days. "No, I really don't have any interest in getting to know you as you're not my type" is a total negative, but a regular "Sorry no" with a smirk or small smile, is generally females being hard to get. Besides, I really think that "A NO is not really a NO" in HN is most probably not a Julian Assange type of rethoric, but a "I'm gonna try to win the girl over unless she really tells me she's not interested, even if she said NO before while at the same time licking her lips seductively and winking over 9000 times at me...". Being very politically and socially correct this days is really an obstacle while meeting new people or trying to express your opinion. I say keep it fun but courteous, not safe and conservative.


When someone says no, they mean no at that instant, but of course they may change their mind later, or be somewhat unsure.

Which is why a no can later become a yes, in some cases.

When a man says No, it means No. Yes means Yes, and a man never says Maybe.

When a woman says No, it means Maybe. Maybe means Yes, and a woman never says Yes.

When a politician says Yes, it means Maybe. Maybe means No, and a politician never says No.

a man never says Maybe

unless he's absolutely sure that his mates aren't around.

Also, do you only know three people?

Actually I think that men who are good at seducing women say no and maybe while obviously meaning yes all the time.

After much consideration, the only stereotype I have found that consistently works in most situations is: People do lots of things. Most of them are crazy. And the more people there are, the more crazy the things are in general.

Well, the fact is that human interactions are rarely reductionist or logical. Courtship and dating are especially that way. You have social expectations, hormones, and so forth that together more or less create these elaborate emergant ritualistic dances where nothing is what it seems.

It's not what you say, it's how you say it. This is a well-researched aspect of human communication.

The internet desensitizes people in that respect because nothing is ever said, it's just written.

Yes and no. Sometimes they mean "hell no", sometimes they mean..."I am shy, let me see if you really are interested."

That's what happened with me & my wife.

We went to a co-ed camp, and she was one of (if not) the 'hottest' girls at camp. Being pursued by many potential suitors and I had a leg up. One of her new 'girlfriends' was a long time 'girl friend' of mine. So my friend was telling me that she thinks she likes me, even though she would ask her and she would say 'No'.

She (my wife) was giving me subtle signals here and there - but she was giving everyone else no signals at all.

She was telling everyone that she didn't like me though, and many other girls actually tried to actively discourage me from pursuing her.

I was 15, and relatively innocent at the time - so I wasn't pressuring her from a sexual perspective. It was all innocent.

Suffice it to say, after coming back from that weeklong camp, we started dating about a week later.

As of tomorrow, we will be married for 7 years and together for 13 years, with 2 kids and 1 on the way...and we're both still happy.

So, in short...know when to hold them, know when to fold em.

I wouldn't say that it usually means, but rather that it could mean "Yes, but later". Usually, "No" means "No".

I think the fundamental problem is that everyone (men and women) use mixed signals to create sexual tension. There is simply nothing wrong with that. It's partly about keeping the other person guessing as to what you will be doing next and this is what it is about. People drink as part of courtship. People use no to mean maybe as part of courtship.

"No means no" means "everyone gets veto power over actual contact." It does not mean "no" applies to anything more than the present moment. Otherwise every aspect of courtship on both sides (men and women) goes out the window.

No, no, no. If you are told "no" by someone who actually means it and decide that this really means "I should keep trying" it means you are being totally creepy by disrespecting their clearly-stated wishes and may well be crossing the line into sexual harassment. "No means no" does not apply strictly to contact only.

"No, no, no. If you are told "no" by someone who actually means it"

That suggests that it is not actually meant that way at least a significant portion of the time, correct?

The problem of sexual harassment though is that it is usually something that is going to hit the employer (or public accommodations provider) before it hits the individual engaging in the offending behavior (because of standards like "severe" and "pervasive" which often involve multiple actors to prove). So it is not usually a personal cause of action although that may vary in some states.

> That suggests that it is not actually meant that way at least a significant portion of the time, correct?

No, it merely suggests that it is sometimes not actually meant that way, anywhere between a single occurrence and always. Extrapolation into actual numbers is both difficult and meaningless. Even if 99/100 people never actually mean "no" it would not make it okay to harass the 1/100.

> The problem of sexual harassment [...]

This entire paragraph seems to be written from the perspective that harassment is only a problem if you are actually held legally liable which is both wrong and a dangerously horrific place to come from so I hope I am misinterpreting what you say.

No, it merely suggests that it is sometimes not actually meant that way, anywhere between a single occurrence and always.

So you think that sometimes but not a significant portion? Not enough to pay attention to?

This entire paragraph seems to be written from the perspective that harassment is only a problem if you are actually held legally liable which is both wrong and a dangerously horrific place to come from so I hope I am misinterpreting what you say.

Well, you have a problem. Yes, harassment generally is a bad thing. Most people you would hope wouldn't keep asking someone out on a date after getting shot down a bunch of times. That's not necessarily harassment though. It could be socially clueless or stupid, or whatever. Moreover at a bare minimum such behavior smacks of the sort of failure that builds on itself.

But being afraid of committing harassment is as big a danger (or perhaps even larger) as actually harassing someone. You can't have the confidence that people find attractive if you are always afraid of crossing lines. Sexy men are unafraid of sexual harassment lines. They don't need to be. It will never become sufficiently severe or pervasive because there are always greener pastures and one isn't going to waste time with the uninterested.

If "no means no" means you don't get to ask again for a date even if it is not made crystal clear that no means never, then if you are ever turned down by your spouse for sex, I guess you have to get a divorce if sex is important to the marriage. Nobody believes that. And between those extremes it is impossible to draw articulable lines.

It's like these recent cybercrime laws that makes it a crime to knowingly cause offence or embarrassment. Sometimes people should be offended or embarrassed. As Eugene Volokh has pointed out these on their face criminalize on-line complaining about cheating significant others.....

Oh also one point on the absurdity of how sexual harassment laws are interpreted (in part because of vague standards like "severe" and "pervasive").

In the Jacksonville Shipyards case, there was a real sexual harassment problem. This included some pretty vile behavior including male workers opening up a female co-workers tookbox and placing pornographic images there. The behavior was vile, included real trespasses of personal space (the toolbox) and was pervasive. She rightfully won her case.

However because the judgement ordered Jacksonville Shipyards to have a policy banning pornographic images in the workplace (reasonable even given 1st Amendment issues in the context of the specific behavior at issue), everyone has cited this case as an authority that presence of pornographic images in the workplace equals sexual harassment, in part because the standards are so vague that lawyers can't give any bright lines aside from "ban all behavior that anyone might find offensive." But this flies in the face of logic. In a nation where porn consumption is rapidly approaching gender parity no such rule makes objective sense. This gets even worse when looking at hostile public accommodation harassment because there have been cases where businesses have been held accountable for customer actions. Perhaps someone should sue reddit over the fact that they have subreddits that are for porn? After all, reddit is a public accommodation, right? But that would be silly and it would not be ok first-amendment-wise, would it?

Also I think your post fails to realize that semantic systems really do require negotiating possibilities. If "no" may or may not mean "never" I think you have to give people any benefit of the doubt, and require that the person wishing to establish any no-further-contact rule be absolutely clear. Otherwise rules no longer rule, and whoever takes the greatest offense gets the most power. Such a subjective approach is wholely unacceptable any view that people should have reasonable opportunity to stay within rules defined ahead of time. Otherwise where do you stop?

To generalize the point a little bit, I'd say that "no" can sometimes mean "maybe, but you'll need to increase my confidence first". This seems to apply to OP's original dilemma too.

10/10 troll. hats off.

You do realize that some use this exact argument to justify date rape, right?

He clearly didn't mean it in a sexual context. Your sarcasm and cynicism is detestable.

It was in reply to the comment "Impressing girl X strong enough to kiss you [...]", which would suggest he did.

Still, if persistence to get a "yes" is to be equated with rape, then this ought to be really offensive to all rape victims out there because it totally trivializes the crimes perpetrated against them.

"No means no" means everyone has a right to control bodily contact. It does not make asking a girl out for coffee the 100th time and getting shot down the equivalent of rape. It does not mean taking that as "try harder" (however stupid that may seem to be in context) to be the equivalent of rape. It is only when non-consented bodily contact is at issue that any equivalence can be drawn.

I agree that blanket rules are dumb. However The OP's original advice is dangerous because those who don't know any better could misinterpret what he is saying. It's better to start from the default safe postition of "no means no" and work backwards rather than listening to random strangers of the internet who tell you otherwise.

But that's violating a very specific line and you can't generalize out.

"No means no" means "everyone gets a veto power over actual contact." That's all it means. it means you can't say "mixed signals mean yes." All it means is that the specific line, over contact, is one where people retain a (legal as well as social) veto power over.

Does that in itself prove the point wrong?

Not necessarily, but it should definitely make him question whether his phrasing/thought was the most pertinent reaction he could come up with.

You realize that what he is arguing is more like "do you want to have sex?" "no" time passes "do you want to have sex?" "yes" sex then "do you want to have sex?" "no" sex.

TL;DR: YC's formal application process is broken. The new application process is to send beer or other gifts directly to the YC partners.

Actually what really blew me away was how much of the app was working and ready to go. Most people who pitch this idea end up not doing much more than some initial planning.

Apoorva had the iPhone app written, tens of thousands of items already in the database, and working with delivery people he had already hired. While the beer was nice, it really hammered home how much he had already done.

This case was exceptional because of how late he was to apply. 90% of yc startups come in via the regular process, and nearly all of the companies that send gifts are not accepted into yc.

But of course everyone is free to re-interpret the facts to fit their own self-defeating narratives...

>90% of yc startups come in via the regular process

I feel that it might then be safe to assume that accepted/applied_through_regular_process < accepted/applied_through_other_means ... the game then becomes being part of that 10% :)

In my experience this is very true for most application situations with a low acceptance rate. If you're standing out by doing something vastly different, you'll already get more consideration than most. I once got into a very competitive neuro-science grad program by claiming in my application that I won't be able to answer any technical interview questions because I'm from a different field, but I could be useful in building an interdisciplinary team and helping with modeling/simulations.

Yes, but has he not sent the beer, he would have not been accepted. Yes, or am I missing something?

Although PG is very good at politics and if tried hard he could semi-well explain you that white is black (to one of my comments he replied that the most important for YC is a team -- in that case why would he want to invest or work with one of the top 100s spammer? [1]), I have a hard time believing that when he pitched the first time, they could not understand the simplicity behind this idea and hence - get it right the first time, without a <strike>bribe</strike> beer being sent.

[1] http://gawker.com/5853754/the-seedy-spammy-past-of-airbnbs-c...

It's a grocery delivery company. It was more developed than the YC partners realized. That wasn't clear until actual groceries were delivered.

ok so what you saying is that he went through 2 or 3 interviews, afaik, and they havent asked him what business he is in? ("It's a grocery delivery company"), how far developed the MVP is? "It was more developed than the YC partners realized". and that actually a handful of smart people investing millions of dollars in never-ending train of startups couldn't imagine that a grocery delivery company is actually ... delivering groceries??

here, can we press it together? http://www.shopgadgetsandgizmos.com/product/4429/

No, the only interview was after the grocery delivery. Prior to that, none of the YC partners were interested enough to meet with him.

Too true. Perhaps the best answer to "How do get into YC with my start up?" is to just do it. Create a prototype and get feedback. Those things are needed with or without YC acceptance.

Remembering from my YC application, somebody did check the demo URL, so don't assume they wont.

It's not that he sent beer, it's that he sent beer with his own service. He was able to prove it worked, to an audience that needed that level of ease of use to be convinced it would work. The fact that he would get a free six-pack out of it was, I'm sure, an after-thought. After all, who knows if Garry even likes beer? ;)

Speaking of which, how getting six-pack of beer proves that the service works? I can ask my friend to drop a six-pack of beer at your door, does it prove I own a working grocery delivery service? Of course they already know a lot about the guy from his application, but IMHO sending beer doesn't actually prove anything. It does make the applicant stand out I guess and shows high motivation and thinking out of the box, which I guess are important.

It's easy to skim over an application and miss how much of the service is actually working. A demo is clearer.

That's a rather depressing interpretation of his article. I thought what he did was quite clever; by demonstrating his product he really made them understand quickly how it worked.

And that post shows exactly why you should never trust a TL;DR: it entirely misses the point.

1) YC's "formal application process" isn't some kind of heavily argued constitution that has centuries of tradition behind it and will never be changed. It's what a few people thought was a good idea and has changed with every intake (whether it be the questions that were asked or the way they were reviewed). I suspect YC would say of course the application process it broken, but it is what we have now, and next intake will fix something we saw wrong with this intake.

2) The "new application process" has ALWAYS been to show initiative and that what you have is something that people want.

3) I'm not a HN partner, but I'll tell you a secret way into YC anyway: deliver them 100kg of moon rocks. If you can do that I guarantee they will fund you, and if they don't then I'll do it myself[1].

4) If you wonder what moon rocks have to do with YC then understand this: Instacart did something impossible: they made YC consider accepting them late. In itself that make them interesting to YC. Yes, this is a circular argument, but action when there is incomplete knowledge is something YC has to be comfortable with.

TL;DR: missed the point entirely.

[1] This post has the legal standing of something someone wrote on the internet. That said, if you can give me 100kg of moonrock, then I'll do anything possible to give you $12,000 for 8% of whatever your (appretnyl working!) anti-gravity/space elevator/alien trade port company is. Hell, I'll take 1%.

It's not going to work for the next 100 unimaginative wannabes that are guaranteed to try it.

...and from the other side Y Combinator partners will receive 100 beer bottles for free :D Not that bad

I guess I should cancel the pizza delivery by dancing clowns then. Oh well.

YC is all about building something people want. Garry Tan clearly wanted a 6 pack of beer that day. Either that, or the other partners were jealous and wanted to know how they could order their own 6 packs.

Anyways, this guy got in because he built something people wanted. Do not try this unless you have an actual product.

The problem I see with YC is that they want to take 7% of your company AND only let in people who are doing things their way already.

I am extremely interested in listening to their way. That doesn't mean I'm already doing it.

They should let every single applicant in who is willing to listen to them and show them an existing, working product in a big market.

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