Seems like you thought the same about YC: that they'd do the vetting for you. And yet you're set on making the same mistake again by relying on someone else to do the vetting.
Almost every start-up is a huge gamble. Naturally, the later stage you join it, the lower the general risk. In that case, why stop at Series A? If risk is all you care about(and it sure sounds like it from your post), why not just join profitable companies that are no longer startups? Much lower risk, promise.
This is important, as people seem to forget that startup is a subset of small business and not vice versa. There are a lot of incredibly profitable businesses with head counts less than two dozen that don't optimize for growth. These are generally companies that have been around for longer than the majority of startups, which means you sacrifice youth for maturity.
(A lot of them aren't in Silicon Valley.)
A big way those companies stay profitable is by NOT hiring people.
I did not make the same observation at all. I left my last job largely due to founders ignoring the facts (revenue trends, employee turnover, etc) in favor of pursuing a vision that was clearly debunked. It is enormously frustrating being in a position where you thought a company hired you for your overall knowledge, but all they choose to exercise is your ability to write code.
A well written article with an appropriate disclaimer. I say props for calling attention to situations other could easily find themselves in.
I don't care if the company is two guys in a garage or has thousands of employees and is on every single list of "Best Companies to Work for". You should diligence the hell out of any opportunity: meet as many people on the team as you can, get external references, do online research on role, ask for key numbers, and even ask fired employees for their opinion on the company.
If you come from a top tier tech company and you are skilled, you can afford to say no to any startup as supply & demand is completely in your favor. I'd also vehemently disagree with the post Series-A remark; there are many companies with these exact same issues at Series A.
I think the key point is always vet the company. Always.
It's a bit counterintuitive, but that's why I actually do the opposite from most founders who are trying to hire: I tell potential hires everything that's horrible about our company--all the reasons why we suck, why we'll fail, etc.
It turns out that the candidate that's a good fit really values having that conversation and relishes the opportunity to think through what the problems are and how they can help. It's also extremely differentiating from how most companies hire. I say, if you suck, embrace it.
It did in fact turn out to be an accurate representation of the cofounders' culture of transparency, too.
The reality is that we all suck in our own way and we have strengths that we may or may not recognize. But the only way forward is to let go of your ego, embrace the fail, and learn as fast and as durably as you can.
A common observation people make about founders of successful companies are that they are really "down to earth" and "approachable." I have come to understand that it is their ability to not let their own ego interfere with listening and learning that makes it possible for them to be successful.
If the only reason people join is because they want to ride your rising stock, they're probably a brutal hire.
In some sales technique philosophies, sales people try to give prospects reasons to NOT buy, or ask them things along the lines of "why would you want to join this, given that I'm revealing $shitty_fact_x and $shitty_fact_y?"
You might lose some good people, but candidates who are willing to see that really want it, feel like its a great fit, and probably think of those problems as challenges where they can really make a difference.
In other words, other factors aside, does this negatively impact your hire/interview ratio?
In other words, you want to make sure you hire the kind of person who really wants to join an early stage startup, in spite of all the risks associated with it.
I mean it's easy to extrapolate who the person is, call around, figure out which recent YC startup is laying off people, figure out which biz-dev person they let go, which YC startup is raising money via AngelList.
If I was going to do a Yelp-style tell all, I'd definitely shield my identity much better. Instead of giving away where they are raising money and at what round they are failing to raise the money at. The nature of my position and specific's of my work history.
I wish the man's identity remains shrouded lest he becomes the next Mr.X from American Airlines.
> I wanted to have a significant impact so I was constantly asking the founders to work on the long-term vision and culture for the company.
Anybody could waste months and months working on the long-term vision and culture. In a startup, that's next to useless as everyone should contribute to the long term vision. It's the day-to-day that's important.
> I also told them that VCs invested in talent and not the idea.
VCs invest in traction. "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."
> The leadership was struggling with the vision of the company. It was pulled in many directions - sometimes ad-hoc based on customer feedback or angel advice.
That's what an early startup is -- figuring out product/market fit, largely based on ad-hoc decision making like this. Picking a vision that just works is incredibly rare.
I know dozens of YC founders and in my experience they're really good at what they do, but you can't expect to stumble on Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Evan Williams by joining a random YC company. There are probably less then a dozen people of this quality in the entire world, and YC invests in ~60 companies per batch for god's sakes!
EDIT. And also:
> The culture was bad. Engineers were constantly told what to do.
Engineers should be told what to do (but hopefully not how to do it). Being good at engineering doesn't in any way qualify you for being good at managing product.
> Then another round of raising Series A started. The “nos" started piling up. Our last hope said “no" 2 weeks back.
Of course the nos started piling up. Having a few rejections is nothing, we went through ~60 rejections before raising the first round for our company.
Excellence in the absence of pressure wins you no accolades. How you act when the house is burning down is what ultimately defines who you are. It's cool if the guy wanted to leave because this kind of pressure isn't for everyone (and that's fine), but blaming two measly rejections on others is off-putting. It's easy to blame failure on others, much harder to take responsibility for it yourself and help turn a dire situation into a victory.
Being good at engineering is exactly being good at building products, whether its civil engineering and the product is a bridge, or software engineering and the product is an application.
Being good at engineering may not be the same as being good at deciding what the product should be, but no one should mistake "deciding what the product should be" with "building the product".
I get that not everyone is cut for figuring out markets, sales, etc. But this crap about "you're only an engineer, you have no clue how to make a product" is a blatant lie.
Good engineers are all about the product. Coding is just part of it. The assumption about people that don't graduate in business can't create businesses is just pure ignorance.
To me this is the single most differentiating philosophy between great product managers and very mediocre ones.
> "being good at engineering doesn't qualify you for managing product"
Which is demonstrably true. They're two different skillsets. If we reversed the statement:
> being good at product management doesn't qualify you for engineering
We could also agree on that statement. That doesn't mean that there aren't engineers who are/could be kickass product managers, and it doesn't mean that there aren't product managers who could sit down and build the application.
But they're two different roles. Product managers are supposed to identify problems, design requirements, provide engineering with clear context and business data to help inform the priority, and then engineering should get to, based on that information, build the best solution.
Traditional management isn't just becoming less relevant because of "convex work", its become less relevant because it is an outdated social technology even for concave work, for which more-efficient replacements have been developed in the last several decades.
At particularly early stage startups, it not unheard of the developer having a decent say on what product to build. But it largely depends on company to company.
Adding nitpicking over nitpicking, this sentence do not mean anything. There is only one guy with the same quality as Jeff Bezos in the world, it's him. And you can say the same for anyone else. If you were talking about capability, then I assure you there are hundred of thousands Bezos (or Jobs) in the world. The old lady picking empty bottles in my street (Beijing), she might have gone through much harder time, have shown much more resilience, and have all the courage and strength of hundreds of Bezos. Given another life who can say right now she would not have been very capable of running a successful multinational?
Since I read Kahneman I reject this exceptionalism which is good for aiport books. A big boss has at most 30pc influence on the trajectory of the company.
Right before the 'significant impact' sentence is this one:
One of the first things I did was steer the company
in the right direction from a strategy perspective.
I constantly butted head with one of the founders
but my strategies were clearly impacting the revenue
numbers. For example one of the tactics doubled the
I'm curious how much do PMs really do push backs and shielding for the development teams and to what extent are they just taking marching orders from upper management.
It depends on the specific company and politics, but I'm guessing for me personally, if I was a PM, I put in the work to get into lowest rung of management. I make more than a engineer but not in a worker-bee role anymore so I'm pretty expendable. So I'm going to look out for my own self preservation first with upper management. Some engineers have combative attitudes and analytical view on creating business value without taking into consideration of expending political capital to get things down and massaging people's egos. Sounds like this guy is approaching a social game with still a programmer's mentality. PMs, please feel free to chime in how you pick your battles and push back with upper management correctly.
And yea, you're seen as much more expendable than the engineers since you're not writing the actual code, so you have to play a little politics (the better the company, the less of that game you have to play). When a bad idea comes down from up top, you have to push back. You can't put all the CEO's product ideas on the fast track, as tempting as it is. Ever since that goddamned Steve Jobs book came out, every senior exec in the Valley thinks they're some kind of product visionary. You've got to have the judgment to marginalize and stall the bad ideas and go all-in on the good ideas--work with engineering to make them awesome.
But once in a while, something's gonna get rammed into the product over your objection, and it's going to suck. You just have to deal with it. Make sure when it's released it "sucks less". Make sure there are analytics all over it so in a few weeks/months you can point to hard numbers showing how much it sucks, and hopefully the product can pivot away from it.
I've been a PM for about a half decade now, and was previously a software engineer for some big name companies. I'm telling you, PMs, if they know what they are doing and are educated properly, are worth their weight in gold - because writing code can be outsourced, management can't.
Maybe it's different in Silicon Valley (which would explain a lot of the risk-taking, lax attitudes and failure rates of startups), but the rest of the country is the opposite of what you describe as the "expendable" PM.
Unfortunately in my experience (on both ENG and QA sides), PMs only serve to try and fuck you over or overload your "plate" in one of dozens delicious ways. I'm desperately trying to avoid having my experience color the rest of my perceptions (and interactions) with PM, but it's a losing battle. It's becoming all the more easier to just say "fuck PMs" and be done with it :(
I read this in the original article and thought "so it wasn't all bad"
1. He was sold on promises, hindsight is 20/20
You make your points with the hindsight of having actually been in that position. The OP made the clear point that he's coming from a stable Job, and the expectations outlined to him when he was hired were different form those he experienced.
2. The Article is meant to educate those who don't know 1
He was HIRED as an EMPLOYEE. The whole issue feels like a testament to how bad startups are at employing people.
It depends, no engineer wants to be micro-managed.
Months and months for culture? I've spent the better part of a decade and multiple companies trying to perfect the perfect culture startup culture. Not having a vision for the culture of a startup is, in my experience, plain crazy for the mid-to-long term health of the company.
Not having a long-term vision for the company itself also seems crazy for any of the founders. I always have a long-term vision. It usually overlaps heavily with my other founders. It changes when it is clearly the wrong path, but then we come up with a new vision and it certainly doesn't take months to develop. Sure, you take input from the team to smooth out the rough spots, but it is the job of the founders to be the genesis.
For goodness sakes, the center of my pitch when raising VC money is getting people to buy into the long-term vision. I use the long-term vision to hire employees. I use it on early customers. I can't imagine not having one.
> That's what an early startup is -- figuring out product/market fit, largely based on ad-hoc decision making like this. Picking a vision that just works is incredibly rare.
It is not normal to scrap your product every time an investor suggests something different. That way be dragons. Every time you pivot, you have to have a rationale for doing so. It certainly isn't willy nilly ad-hoc decision making. Pivoting is a deliberate act. It involves developing vision for where the company will go, who the customer is and why they would use your product. You don't just take a random stab in the dark every time you try to get user adoption and don't immediately see 100 million users. And on angel money, you certainly don't have the runway to pivot more than a couple times.
You must be talking about the Google style engineering.
"The leadership was struggling with the vision of the company. It was pulled in many directions - sometimes ad-hoc based on customer feedback or angel advice."
"I wanted to have a significant impact so I was constantly asking the founders to work on the long-term vision and culture for the company. I also told them that VCs invested in talent and not the idea."
Being pulled in many directions at once is characteristic of new companies. Furthermore, you yourself were pulling it in one direction (it would appear). So, then, were you also guilty of this ad-hoc influence? I'm not sure what to take from this apart from "my pulling was good, their pulling was bad."
"The culture was bad. Engineers were constantly told what to do."
I think that this is pretty status-quo (you're an engineer, not an idea guy/founder after all). Not only that, but someone needs to hold the reigns. I couldn't imagine being a founder and not telling engineers what to do. Like the other HN'er, I need some clarification here. Were you being micromanaged? (And even that may not be a bad thing..)
Let me make a small aside about culture while I'm at it. I don't really buy into this "company culture" bullshit. It seems (to me at least) that it's mostly self-gratifying mental masturbation. Instead of being so obsessed with "culture" -- it's mentioned two or three times in the essay -- why not bring up more substantial issues up? After all, maybe it just wasn't a good fit (but that has nothing to do with culture). That would be like a girlfriend breaking up with me because of my "person culture." It's a meaningless platitude that's thrown around far too much in startup circles.
>Being pulled in many directions at once is characteristic of new companies. Furthermore, you yourself were pulling it in one direction (it would appear).
The author was being pulled in many directions, then he wanted to help the founders and the company's direction as a result of being somewhat misinformed. He was trying to solve the lack of direction by pointing them in the direction of their vision. Saying they were being pulled in many directions is kind of like saying they had no direction, so your analysis is baseless.
>I think that this is pretty status-quo (you're an engineer, not an idea guy/founder after all). Not only that, but someone needs to hold the reigns. I couldn't imagine being a founder and not telling engineers what to do.
Secondly, it's not the status-quo, or at least, it doesn't have to be. You're being too literal - I think it's clear he means micromanagement and arbitrary instruction without needing to say that, not that he thinks engineers should exist in a utopian state of telepathic productivity where nothing needs to be said to them for them to accomplish their goals.
I'm often struggle with the whole notion of "company culture" as well, and I can't help but agree that much of it is bullshit.
I can think of things that are perhaps "software engineering culture" like the public shaming of folks who have broken the build. At one company I worked at you had to wear a stinky old Viking helmet if you were a build breaker, at another you had to buy doughnuts for everyone on the team. There are probably more examples out there.
I guess 'shame' is relative... that would only encourage me to break stuff so I could keep wearing the helmet.
"the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization <a corporate culture focused on the bottom line>"
I've talked to several folks who shrink back from the term... but I can't really imagine a better one for it. In my experience, various shared values and practices emerge in any team.
I've found cultural fit to be one of the biggest factors in determining whether I'll be happy at any particular company. After all, It's very hard to do good work if you can't agree on what good is.
Edit: fixed a typo
Er, no. A good leadership knows how to frame questions and let the engineers find the solutions. You don't come the engineering team with a solution already decided down to every last detail. It's what they're good at, after all, solving problems. Ideally you have someone who's leading the tech side who can call shots on the product AND work on the technical stuff.
Too many biz-dev types starting companies treat their engineers like code-monkey servants, to the detriment of the product and the company.
And you've already concluded that that is indeed what was going on at this start-up. Just from the mere use of the word "micromanaging"?
Sorry, that might have been true a decade ago but today, everyone knows that engineering and coders rule the world at most start-ups. If anything, we may have gone too far to the other extreme where coders don't value a good business guy as much as they should.
Nope, I was responding directly to the parent of my comment, to the line I quoted, which was phrased to state that engineers have no business making product decisions.
> Sorry, that might have been true a decade ago but today, everyone knows that engineering and coders rule the world at most start-ups. If anything, we may have gone too far to the other extreme where coders don't value a good business guy as much as they should.
That may definitely be the case in a few firms in SV, but outside that little bubble, the rest of the world still often falls into the "old view", something akin to "management" and "labor"
I for myself prefer to listen to people hat do the job while I expect people to listen to me when my job is concerned. If not, it's easy to interpret it as distrust.
So I agree with both points here.
Not the OP, but I would like to note that influence in this context has a couple of different flavors. One flavor is that of adding on directions/ideas/possibilities, and another flavor as that of focusing on directions/ideas/possibilities (i.e. remove clutter and narrow down your scope). It seemed to me that the OP was addressing the former with his complaint, and trying to steer them towards the latter. Which makes sense given that he/she was hired on as a 'business' person.
> Were you being micromanaged?
Again not OP, but that's kind of orthogonal to his point given that he was addressing 'micromanagement' of engineers, whereas he was hired as a 'business' person. Personally, I think that sort of quasi-outsider perspective to the whole situation gives the observation a bit more merit.
We could argue about what 'micromanagement' actually means, but usually nobody uses that word without a negative connotation, and a negative connotation in a management relationship context usually means butting heads -- which, unsurprisingly, the author claimed to have experienced himself. And there is a difference between having respectable disagreements, and the concept that the phrase 'butting heads' implies. Hence, the negative tone of the post.
Did they tell you that VCs were lining up for Series A? Because when you just say "you got the sense", you say little about what they said and more about how you perceived whatever they said.
When you join a startup, when you think of startup statistics, you should think that the company you're joining has a 90% chance of failing and returning less than $0 (ergo wasting your time in addition to a lack of financial return). With this in mind, joining a startup is not for the faint of heart, and it's also not for those who exemplify hubris.
YCombinator is signal. Investing is signal. Intelligent cofounders are signal. They are not surefire guarantees of a great return on investment. Nothing really ever guarantees a return on investment.
It seems like basic vetting of a startup just didn't happen. Everyone has a linkedin, is it too much to ask that you do some googling to figure out the accomplishments of the people you're about to invest 10 years with? Yes, when you join a startup you should imagine what doing 10 years with that company could be like. If you can't see yourself there in 2 years, don't even bother (90th percentile advice).
Look. I'm all about Venture Capitalism, but you have to ask yourself. If there's no possible way that this business could do what they're trying to do without VC money and they're still on a seed stage, what is your risk? I would argue that your risk is almost incalculable (which is also true of your reward). When you trade security for potential, you can gain or lose liability in exchange for risk. Joining a YC startup is only marginally less likely to fail than joining a regular startup.
In short, every startup is a huge gamble and you have to play the game with that in mind. Your experience at a YC startup is no different than countless friends I've had over the years. Go and talk to anyone who has lived in the Valley for more than 10 years, we all know people exactly like you.
What happens from here on in matters greatly. Will you let the experience cannibalize your ambition or reinforce your drive? You don't need to join a startup to change the world, and you shouldn't let a failure like this destroy your dreams. If anything you've learned a ton of what not to do next time.
In short, be brave, be foolish and do. I applaud the writeup and hope that it becomes fuel for future endeavor.
Do you consider that a due diligence failure on the employee's part or a misunderstanding regarding the general nature of numbers?
I have to say, as much as YC has a great rep, I was kind of shocked when I heard the sizes of their classes in recent years. When I participated in another accelerator last year, our class had 10 teams, and that seemed like a fairly good size in terms of the folks running program being able to keep on top of the startups involved. I have to imagine when you are running classes of 80 teams (though they temporarily scaled back recently to more like 50, it sounds like they are going to grow the number per session again soon), not only are some going to be duds, but some are going to be outright scammers.
Without knowing exactly what was said (and what the actual situation of the company was), I can't credit the author's assertion that the numbers were "half-truth", especially in light of the misunderstanding and naïvety evidenced by the rest of his post.
If you're looking to join a startup and expect the same experience as a large company, I don't know if you'll find it. It doesn't excuse bad behavior. The CEO at that startup I mentioned was pretty bad (at the time; I'm sure he's better now because he has moved on to bigger and better things) and got fired by the investors a few months after I left.
Early stage startups are probably not going to feel much like a normal job, based on what my friends tell me it's like (Google: you can work 30 minutes during the day and you're basically done).
The tech industry has this bad habit of hero-worship and name dropping (well, I guess it's probably every industry). I think it's good to see that the entire process is not as glamorous as it seems, and that just being associated with a huge pool of talent/success/prestige does not guarantee your own success or future prestige.
Kudos on the experience and the lesson learned, good luck in finding a job :)
Just because a company hasn't found product-market fit doesn't mean it's okay to lie when recruiting.
I'm well aware someone has posted a mirror to the original article, and I've read it. I'm just sort of baffled by the deletion in the first place. The article made it to the front page, so clearly a decent number of people liked it. A lot of others didn't, hence, the flurry of critical comments. Either way, the article generated a big response. Was that not the intent?
I don't think your experience is generally true of YC companies, though. They vary in so many ways, including those unrelated to success.
The biggest problem seems to be communication. None of the things you discovered were inherently enough to make them toxic -- but not learning those things sooner was bad. (I suspect even the best company would have a hard time raising an A in certain markets).
The "VCs doing vetting for you" with a Series A has a big cost -- if you're otherwise the same and going into the same job, you get a lot less equity, and on much less favorable terms, after an A. Assuming you're in a position to take the risk, being one of the first employees is ideal, or being an employee in a later stage company which is already knocking it out of the park (if I had to get a job today, I'd be looking at employee 1-5, or going to a place like Tesla or Apple or CloudFlare or whatever, where success is already apparent, and the team is obviously already awesome.) And, manifestly, VCs fund shitty companies at Series A (and later!), too, so it's not even great vetting.
Once you "satisfice" on hard location, cash, and stability requirements (which, for many people, especially those who want to startups themselves, can be pretty easily met), probably picking for "how awesome are the founders and how much do they like me" is probably the next thing to optimize for. "How much responsibility and room to grow/learn will I personally have", too. Then just make sure "if the company is super successful, I will be super successful too", and then focus on maximizing the odds of the company being super successful.
I'm not sure I understand this point. Were the founders micromanaging?
A cozy job at a top-tier tech company != start-up life (YC or otherwise). Larger companies have a culture, well define pathways for information to flow, you get acclimatized to this, etc. Startups typically have none of these, it is like a culture shock, imaging moving to a different country.
ps. no comment on the numbers bit.
The real fault lies with both parties for not setting expectations. A lot of the requests from the founders seem very reasonable; I fully expect them to be telling their friends about this bad hire who never executed on the details for them. Neither of you seem to have done the hard work up front of conveying what you needed and expected from the other side. I can see the other side of the data points you show - weekly revenue need not be the right thing for the company, startups need detail often more often than execution and guess what, VCs do care about the actual idea. It also sounds like you were surprised by the risk profile of an early stage startup (and your notion of VC vetting might be in for a harsh reality check).
What I don't understand is this post itself - you seem to blame YC for what seems to be a typical startup experience (not raising funding is the median outcome and even folks like AirBnb struggled with this for a long, long time). I'm wondering whether the way you've constructed this post with an anonymous post on a blog, the callouts to their funding situation, etc is meant to hurt the company's future prospects by making them identifiable (and maybe take a swipe at YC too). I hope that's not the case here.
Why are so many here thinking this? I didn't even remotely interpret this post like that. If anything, the post seemed to overwhelmingly present your exact same point here: that even a YC startup is in fact, just another startup. He seemed to be more concerned with giving people realistic expectations (like you are) than trying to discredit any of the entities involved.
What I don't understand is why people are so quick to attribute malice to this. Clearly there was a communication breakdown, I'm just not entirely sure where... the post felt pretty simple/clear/genuine to me.
If that wasn't "overwhelmingly" the point he was trying to make, and he was in fact trying to imply that YC startups have an inherently better chance of success than "just another startup," then your comment is moot.
Malicious or not, telling the world over the Internet about bad experiences you had with co-workers probably isn't a great idea in the long run. Hash it out with them directly, or learn a personal lesson and move on.
This seems like an awfully cynical view to take. YC has accepted quite a few startups in its lifetime (564 to be exact ), and he mentioned no other specificities aside from that. He could have titled it "My experience at an incubated/accelerated startup", but then there wouldn't be much of an anchor back to reality to drive it into people's heads that: 'hey, this does happen, and it could happen to you'. Not to mention that any of the other 'large' accelerators probably still pale in comparison to YC's startup numbers. Either way, trying to anchor a helpful point into reality does not seem like good evidence for maliciousness. Trying to frame another person's legitimate attempt at helping others as malicious feels more malicious.
>If that wasn't "overwhelmingly" the point he was trying to make, and he was in fact trying to imply that YC startups have an inherently better chance of success than "just another startup," then your comment is moot.
No, because that's a given. The post was talking about cultural aspects, and I in-turn was talking about cultural aspects. And thus here you are (either intentionally, or unintentionally) arguing that there is some deep correlation between a company's specific set of cultural decisions and a company's success. Personally, I'm not entirely convinced that's the case.
> Malicious or not, telling the world over the Internet about bad experiences you had with co-workers probably isn't a great idea in the long run. Hash it out with them directly, or learn a personal lesson and move on.
I agree that being a bad sport and gossiping over the internet is in poor taste, but telling someone to bottle up their insights when it seems like they're trying to help other people avoid the same mistakes is just counterproductive. We live in a society and we should help eachother out. Depriving the community of potentially useful insights out of fear that you'll run into the ~0.1% (1/564 * 100) chance of accidentally gossiping about somebody is just not productive for anybody.
 http://www.cloudave.com/29767/y-combinators-startup-math-2/ (Granted, the number of remaining active startups is definitely less, but it is still a large number.)
#1 reason to not join an early stage startup. either found one yourself, or go learn from a place that pays top dollar for actual experts so you can learn how to be one.
Borderline dishonesty is also common. Every startup is trying to pitch itself in the best light possible, and they all got a hockey stick graph sitting around somewhere no matter how poorly they're doing.
It sounds like he made the poor assumption that YC = Success = Millions for everyone involved.
Edit: Just read the post, here is a tl;dr:
I thought joining a YC backed start-up would lead to easy and guaranteed riches. Boy was I wrong.
1. Where is the evidence that any of this is true?
2. You could have named the company in question and given them a chance to respond..
3. Instead your claim aims to hurt the reputation of hundreds of YC startups.
Growth solves all problems. If the startup mentioned in the post had a healthy/steady growth, no one would have complained and the OP would still have stayed with the startup.
If you are looking to join a startup, join one that with explosive growth. "Get on a rocket ship.", Eric Schmidt to Sheryl Sandberg, early Google.
This is just one engineer warning people that you should still take a solid look at a company before you hop on board, even if it is a YC startup.
Are you somehow involved in this? Do you recognise the situation?
My experience at a YC startup
This story needs to be told. I am an engineer turned business guy who recently left a cozy job at a top-tier tech company and joined a YC start-up. Needless to say I took a huge pay cut and a big risk. I talked extensively to one of the co-founders and he/she did an amazing job of selling me the opportunity. I got the sense that VCs were lining up for Series A (it was still early stage) and the company had amazing growth curve (numbers like growing 100% Mom etc.). Once i joined the startup, to my horror, I discovered a few things:
The company tried to raise Series A earlier and failed.
The numbers that were shared were not entirely true. It was kind of half-truth and part of the marketing pitch to VCs.
The leadership was struggling with the vision of the company. It was pulled in many directions - sometimes ad-hoc based on customer feedback or angel advice.
The culture was bad. Engineers were constantly told what to do.
The quality of the people were much lower vs my previous company.
Then another round of raising Series A started. The “nos" started piling up. Our last hope said “no" 2 weeks back. And then I was asked to leave last week (though I was already planning to leave). I think they got what they needed out of me and now the first person to go would be the business guy (along with some other engineers and business folks). Actually the team is paying for the incompetence of the founding team.
I would add the disclaimer that my experience may not be reflective of every single YC startup. But I don’t want you to make the same mistake so this is my piece of advice before you join an early-stage startup:
YC doesn’t necessarily mean sure shot success. Paul Graham is a human and bound to make mistakes.
Talk to as many team members as possible before joining. Try to gauge culture by visiting the office quite often.
Preferably join a startup where you know the people.
If you don’t know the people, work part-time for some time before making a decision.
Ignore marketing pitches by founders.
Go for post Series-A. VCs have already done the vetting for you.
I agree with your point, but would only like to point out that there is a middle ground between "early stage startup" and "huge corporation." I work for a small company that's been around about thirteen years, is profitable, but only has about twenty employees.
I wouldn't want to work for a huge corporation, but there are certainly alternatives to tiny startups and megacorps.
I have a hard time believing that view. At the very least, you did not do a good job of evaluating your future employer, and once in there, you did not do a good job of influencing them to follow your lead (without pissing them off).
I wouldn't call it vision problem. Vision is generally very high level. When it comes to actual implementation you need to dig 100 ft deeper into the problem.
Moreover, isn't it the case with most of the early stage startups that are yet to hit product market fit? I run my own startup and I get constant feedback form all the stakeholders. Of course, my team makes decisions based on the feedback and insights. But we are constantly evolving as a company and decision making is very quick.
In fact, from my interactions and readings even successful companies were like that. For example Google -
"Key decisions made in the cafeteria line while a founder is loading his plate with baked organic tofu"
 Early Google Employee experience: http://xooglers.blogspot.com/2011/04/so-different-yet-so-ali...
You should speak to former coworkers, friends, customers and investors before joining an early stage startup. Don't ask the company for references, but rather use your own network to find these people via mutual contacts and talk to them about the founders and the company.
This is a great time for the company the OP is talking about to reflect on possible mistakes they've made. I take what the OP says with grain of salt, but no startup is perfect. This is the time to think about the culture they created and how they can improve it to stay alive.
Most of the time, it just takes an honest conversation with the team. Lock yourselves in a room and have an open talk about what's going on. Let no feeling go unspoken. Don't make any excuses- just focus on how you guys can be better in the future and make every effort to do that.
At least four of the five problems listed near the beginning of the article could've been discovered without leaving the cushy job.
Also, being post Series-A will in NO WAY eliminate many of the issues he talks about (struggling vision, etc).
Seems like this guy should stick to the corporate world..
I had the tab open, posted the text in a comment. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6170145
here's a readability-google-cache version I preserved: https://www.readability.com/articles/zdsdagi (click readability)
edit: oops, looks like someone beat me to this by a couple hours.
- The company tried to raise Series A earlier and failed.
- The numbers that were shared were not entirely true. It was kind of half-truth and part of the marketing pitch to VCs.
- The leadership was struggling with the vision of the company. It was pulled in many directions - sometimes ad-hoc based on customer feedback or angel advice.
- The culture was bad. Engineers were constantly told what to do.
- The quality of the people were much lower vs my previous company.
One of the first things I did was steer the company in the right direction from a strategy perspective. I constantly butted head with one of the founders but my strategies were clearly impacting the revenue numbers. For example one of the tactics doubled the weekly revenue. I wanted to have a significant impact so I was constantly asking the founders to work on the long-term vision and culture for the company. I also told them that VCs invested in talent and not the idea.
- YC doesn’t necessarily mean sure shot success. Paul Graham is a human and bound to make mistakes.
- Talk to as many team members as possible before joining.
- Try to gauge culture by visiting the office quite often.
- Preferably join a startup where you know the people.
- If you don’t know the people, work part-time for some time before making a decision.
- Ignore marketing pitches by founders.
- Go for post Series-A. VCs have already done the vetting for you.
I just heard they are planning to raise more money via AngelList or FundersClub (not listed yet). If you are an individual investor, do your due diligence before investing via AngelList or FundersClub - don’t invest blindly.
* The company tried to raise Series A earlier and failed.
* The numbers that were shared were not entirely true. It was kind of half-truth and part of the marketing pitch to VCs.
* The leadership was struggling with the vision of the company. It was pulled in many directions - sometimes ad-hoc based on customer feedback or angel advice.
* The culture was bad. Engineers were constantly told what to do.
* The quality of the people were much lower vs my previous company.
* YC doesn’t necessarily mean sure shot success. Paul Graham is a human and bound to make mistakes.
* Talk to as many team members as possible before joining. Try to gauge culture by visiting the office quite often.
* Preferably join a startup where you know the people.
* If you don’t know the people, work part-time for some time before making a decision.
* Ignore marketing pitches by founders.
* Go for post Series-A. VCs have already done the vetting for you.
I've worked in finance and in the startup world. Ethics in the startup world are a lot worse. Finance has more reach (see 2008) but the people who will completely fuck someone over just to make a nickel are just not as common. Even if you get politically unlucky in finance or otherwise end up being laid off, you'll still get a severance and a decent reference. They'll send you off in a decent way. On the other hand, I've seen startup CEOs ruin peoples' reputations just to do it.
OP's complaints have nothing to do with the company being YC, and certainly nothing to do with it being pre-A. The most unethical people I met in the startup scene were the management team of a well-established post-D startup in New York. (The CEO is from an extremely wealthy family and pulls connections to raise money in spite of his own incompetence and the mediocrity of the leadership; otherwise, the company wouldn't exist, but you knew that.) These people have used extortion to settle severance disputes, hired multiple people into the same exact leadership role as an explicitly intentional recruiting tactic, and were so dishonest with investors that they're known for it in New York, which might be why the Series E seems to be a struggle for them. That is in a company that has passed VC vetting four times.
YC doesn’t necessarily mean sure shot success. Paul Graham is a human and bound to make mistakes.
Well, fucking duh. No one is a perfect judge of character. No one. You have to make decisions on people based on extremely minimal information that has more to do with someone's charm and social skill than anything deeper. You only know if someone's a good person when they're really tested; you don't see that in a few hours of superficial interaction. On the other hand, if you're not willing to bet on people based on almost no real information, you can't make any deals at all and that's generally considered worse.
Go for post Series-A. VCs have already done the vetting for you.
They're not going to be any better than YC was. Judging character is just fundamentally a hard problem. Look at the Stanford Prison Experiment. A change of context turned normal people into monsters.
Most of these startups do not match the ideal we have of Google's early days: technical to the core, well-managed, etc. The bad news is that about 75% of these VC-funded startups still fail (but you knew that). The ugly news is that at least that percentage deserve to fail. Sorry, man.
So, OP drew a dud. It happens. I've drawn two and I'm still alive.
1) This could have been your experience at ANY startup and YC has nothing to do with this (you are just trolling their name).
2) You said you steered the company in the right direction? That's just a matter of perspective.
3) "The first person to go would be the business guy" - maybe they thought that a whiny child, that you are, was impacting their focus and productivity.
Like it or not, YC signals some sort of vetting (by PG, at the very least). It's a good thing for YC if people give YC companies the benefit of the doubt (it would be worse if people expected the worse or, even worse, decided not to work for those companies)
2) steered the company ... a matter of perspective.
He made it clear that it was from a strategy perspective: "steer the company in the right direction from a strategy perspective." And based on how he explained it, I suspect PG would agree.
3) they thought that a whiny child, that you are
There's really no need to sling ad-hominems. Not all startups are perfect. Many have issues, especially cultural issues. To deny it only reflects poorly on you.
The issues that the author presents is consistent with stories I've heard from others. It's not that people are bad, but when push comes to shove startup founders are willing to do what it takes to succeed.
1. YC startups, on average, are more likely to succeed all other things considered, thus the perception. But YC itself can't guarantee success, are you claiming they should?
2. "Based on how he explained it" .. therein lies the problem. He hasn't given any evidence or provided the company a chance to respond. So effectively, he's targeting the reputation of YC rather than a specific company.
3. The problem isn't that the author is claiming "all" startups have issues, but that he is attributing these issues to YC Startups in particular. Even if this particular story were true, which we have no way of knowing, it seems like a bizarre attempt at schadenfreude against YC.
You misjudged the intention of the post. Read the last few paragraphs.
Name the company, let them respond to your allegations. That would be fair ..
If you don't think there's an anti-business-guy bias in these parts (and the startup world in general), you haven't read enough comments.
I'll go out on a limb and say that a big reason most startups (and small businesses) fail is that there isn't enough thought being put into the actual business.