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What I Didn't Say (paulgraham.com)
1289 points by twampss on Dec 30, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 567 comments



A word about credibility. It comes from the Latin word credo, meaning "I trust." Its value exceeds that of money because it marks you as a person - as someone who is respected, who is trustworthy, and whom you would want to count as a friend. It marks you not as perfect but as special. It makes others ponder not so much that they did the last deal with you but that they would want to do the next deal too. Just as we build credit through many transactions, so we build credibility by the very pattern of our lives. Credit and credibility derive from the same root and signify the same thing: when in doubt, we can trust the one who has either trait. Not blind trust, just a benefit-of-the-doubt level of trust.

Well, pg has earned our trust and deserved the benefit of the doubt when something so off kilter as this is attributed to him. He did not get it here, and that is a sad testament to how crowd-inspired frenzies can bend our perceptions in such faulty ways. Let us only hope that we can learn some good lessons from this.

pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see. Indeed, the mob looks pretty much like an ass at this point and kudos to pg for his more-than-able defense. Very lawyer-like, in a way, but far more classy.


Fine, he was mischaracterized and he replied.

But jesus,

> pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see.

What's with the almost cult-like reverence for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?


You mean like the cult-like reverence for the pseudo-intellectual issues commentary on Twitter and Medium? The people who have less than a decade in the industry but are experts on compensation, ocracies, power dynamics, and psychology? The ones who work at Silicon Valley startups and lecture the entire industry about how things work, then surround themselves with like-minded people to have strength in numbers?

You are seeing respect for Paul Graham because, as flawed as some of his opinions might be, he also has the experience backing them. Louis CK said this best:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXcWeFn-YYM (NSFW in the latter half)

If you're under 40, I'm largely uninterested in your take on the world. That includes my own; I know I still have things to learn and I make a proactive effort to listen more than I talk. I don't always succeed.


I don't mean to get in the way of your hyperbole, but the person above you seemed to have no objection to "respecting" pg, he was taking issue with this:

"pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see."

Which you don't mention at all in your response...

"If you're under 40, I'm largely uninterested in your take on the world. That includes my own; I know I still have things to learn and I make a proactive effort to listen more than I talk. I don't always succeed."

Are you actually being serious? Your brain works in such a way that any person who has lived less than 14,610 days couldn't possibly add any value to your life? I don't mean to be harsh but this could be the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life. Certainly worse than anything I've seen on Medium.

If I was pg and this was these were the type of people and defenses that were coming to my aid, I would be mortified.


> I don't mean to be harsh but this could be the dumbest thing I've ever heard in my life.

If that's the case, then you're a very sheltered person.

Lay off the hyperbole next time.


A day later I see no hyperbole here. If the logic one uses is:

-Should I listen to anything this person has to say or take value from their life experiences?

-Well I dunno, have they turned 40 yet.

Is very certainly in the top 5 dumbest things I've ever heard if not the dumbest. A human being going well out of their way to avoid learning things and gaining more experience. But thanks for contributing with the random insult. Hope it helped rebuild your self esteem?


The quote was "If you're under 40, I'm largely uninterested in your take on the world."

See the words 'largely', and 'uninterested'?

Do you understand what those words mean? Fucking hell.


> Hope it helped rebuild your self esteem?

Why would you think that?


"largely uninterested in your take on the world" is far from "couldn't possibly add any value"

Now I am 33 and I tend to ignore what most people my age and younger think about things like global politics or new programming languages. This has less to do with intelligence than perspective. Basically, if the 'Arab Spring seemed like a new and good thing you don't know enough about the situation to make informed commentary.


I find there's some truth to his philosophy, though. There doesn't seem to go even a week between my having said or thought something, and then realising I've been a fool or at best not quite correct in my reasoning.

I'm 25 years old, and it's been one of -if not the- most important discovery of my life so far that compared to those older than me, I know hilariously little about (all aspects of) life.

Of course young people add value, we do after all make our own world by our subjective views, but those older than you generally have had more time to explore more of those views, and have a much richer notion of how things are and can be.


> If you're under 40, I'm largely uninterested in your take on the world.

pg isnt peddling his "take on the world". He talks about serious academic topics in a chronically under and misinformed way. My 50 year old plumber knows jack about Metaphysics, Quantum Field Theory or Abstract Expressionism despite - as in a Louis CK bit - his seeing a dead body "one time".

If you want to have a fire-side chat with him - be my guest. But I ain't fetching the scribe because he's had a few decades wandering around.


>My 50 year old plumber knows jack about Metaphysics, Quantum Field Theory or Abstract Expressionism despite - as in a Louis CK bit - his seeing a dead body "one time".

Well, most of the stuff guys "under 40" think they know about "Metaphysics, Quantum Field Theory or Abstract Expressionism" are a half-understood mismash too (I'm not talking about someone with a PhD in Physics here).

And, as some they will find out later in life, not only knowledge of those "serious academic topics" doesn't matter as much as they thought, but also most of them are inherently bullshit too.


I agree that a lot of the time intellectual pursuits are misdirected ways of solving life's problems (though the worst culprit here is wealth acquisition, doubling the critique of pg here).

There is a kind of wisdom that arises through knowledge of oneself and other people that comes with age. A kind of knowledge which helps you predict what is going to be worthwhile, etc.

However we shouldnt fall into the trap of saying "academic persuits might leave you unsatisfied therefore you can be blase about them whilst discussing them". You cant dispense with the particulars of physics when discussing gravity because your interest in "the universe" owes to a unfulfilled religious need.

"age" is a different category of knowledge and doesnt excuse or justify glorified amateurism in another.


>(I'm not talking about someone with a PhD in Physics here)

But that's kind of the point isn't it? We should judge people on their qualifications and achievements, not their age.


I see a lot of "two wrongs make a right" stuff here in rebuttals. The problem OP is pointing out is the cult like reverence for PG in this responders comments. Coming to his defense by pointing out that there are other authors on Medium and Twitter who also have a cult like reverence amongst their followers is a mis-direction at best. I think the point is non one deserves cult-like reverence. Maybe Ghandi but certainly no one sitting at the top of a money optimizing fountain.

I too was very uncomfortable when reading that paragraph. When I read comments like that I can see why it's possible that PG is starting to run into this recurring theme with the outside world. First it was a misunderstanding around founders with accents. Now it's a misunderstanding of women in technology. If he's becoming inadvertently surrounded with such adoring followers he's likely to find few of his assumptions challenged by such a receptive audience. He speaks, no one challenges him, he becomes emboldened. Then he speaks to a third party not under his spell and all heck breaks loose.


PG only suffers from trust/naivete in dealing with reporters. Here are some ways to avoid the tricks reporters play on those they interview:

1. Keep the interview short and stick to the script. This is what Laura Bush does better than almost anybody. Don't give reporters any "gotcha's" to their tricky line of questions.

2. If possible, do the inteview by email, not phone, videochat or in person. This way, you can give a considered response to their questions, which is what folks like PG excel at.

PG is not a professional interview giver. It shows.

And I'm no PG fan boy. I think his Startup = Growth article is flat out misleading w/r/t startups that start from a base of one user or one cent in revenue (to take extreme examples) and then say a startup is growing if it has 5% weekly growth.


What people (entrepreneurs, other investors, the public market) respect about PG is his judgment and pattern recognition. This comes from starting a few companies, and more importantly having the best seat in the house for watching new companies sprout and grow. This gives him pattern recognition well beyond most people. And this is why people respect what he has to say about both starting companies, and the raw inputs (people, ideas and money) needed to create them.


I suppose you wouldn't listen to Einstein when he was under 40 too, hmmm? There are numerous examples of younger, less experienced people being in the right while the older, more experienced are at fault because of one thing or another. Of course, this is the exception, not the rule. However, less experienced people often have an interesting take on things that more experienced people miss. When you're 35 you might be better served reading a brilliant 35 year old's thoughts than a brilliant 55 year old's. In many ways, you may be able to better relate and understand the younger one's thoughts.


Did Einstein say something profound about social issues or people interactions when he was younger than 40? I don't say I agree that younger people have nothing of value to say in these areas, but I think you are mixing a bit different things there, experience in some field and life experience. And while age has some correlation with life experience it does not mean that someone older will be wiser at all.


>Did Einstein say something profound about social issues or people interactions when he was younger than 40?

Jefferson was 33 when he penned the Declaration of Independence. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed when he was 39. Marx published The Communist Manifesto when he was 30.

Seriously, this list could go on for ages. Dismissing the perspective of youth is as indicative of an ignorance of history as youthful naivete.


Most people are not Jefferson, MLK or Marx.


Nor will they turn into those figures upon their 40th birthday.


"The ones who work at Silicon Valley startups and lecture the entire industry about how things work, then surround themselves with like-minded people to have strength in numbers" - Love this... this phenomenon sounds so familiar in my job I really think it should have a name. Anyone know if it has a name?


the investment banking model


consulting


yeah it was that all along :-)


The first couple of years in industry you (generally) know you are a newb. It is that awkward 2-6 years of experience range where you a fair bit of experience but really you don't. You just aren't a newb.

People with high confidence in themselves often over estimate their experience around this time and look silly to anyone with actual experience.

I don't think 40 is some magical number. In fact many experiences that happened over 10 years ago in high tech starts to "fade" and become less relevant.


What's with the almost cult-like relevance for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?

- Founded a successful web apps company back in the 1990s when that wasn't common, and sold it to Yahoo

- Founded Y Combinator to advise and invest in startups

- Smart investor with substantial success and track record (Dropbox, AirBnB, etc)

In other words, he's earned a reputation for doing some very smart things, and documenting them in clear, easily understood language, over the past 20 years.

I'm not being a mirer or a nuthugger here. I participate in HN because it benefits me and I learn useful things amidst the noise. (And of course pg started this site too.)


Indeed, if pg is a pseudo-intellectual, then the word "intellectual" has so little meaning as to be useless.

That's not ball washing. That's a comparison to the journalists, academics, writers, editors, analysts, etc etc who aspire to that public identity.


Not to mention his academic qualifications: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Graham_(computer_programme...


And was one of the first people to use probabilistic methods to fight spam, which is what finally made spam an almost non-issue.


For what it's worth, I wrote the code that did this in SpamAssassin just slightly before Pg published "A plan for spam". Although he had some very useful improvements to the algorithm which I rolled in.


Ha neat! Thanks for your part in the war on spam, we all owe you a debt of gratitude :-)


And was quite prominent in the Lisp community, back in the day too.


That might still be an understatement. He wrote one of the top books for (Common) Lisp: http://www.paulgraham.com/onlisp.html

Peter Norvig on the book: http://www.amazon.com/review/RRFAH7G81ASUL/ref=cm_cr_dp_titl...


"Founded a successful web apps company back in the 1990s when that wasn't common, and sold it to Yahoo"

While that is awesome, it is a substantially different game we play nowadays than in the 90's.


Correct, and pg is not writing code for startups now, but investing in them, sharing his experience with them (mentoring), connecting them to follow-on investors, and supporting the process of growing those startups in which he has an active interest.

Hence, YC, etc.


You say this like he stopped learning and stopped getting more experienced since the 1990's.


pg, a pseudo-intellectual?

I'm frankly surprised you've been here for 2 years and never realised.

You see the ycombinator in news.ycombinator.com? In this website?

That's pg's company.

Do you know what ycombinator is? That he started the seed funding movement? That he was blogging about hacking startups before people even really realised you could hack startups? Before lean startup existed? That he's written his own dialect of LISP? That he started and sold his own startup in the early days of the web? And that, now this is some serious respect, it was actually written in LISP?

That's not cultish, it's earned respect and pg's got it in buckets around here.

Crikey.

Little drunk, but crikey, talk about having absolutely no fucking clue. The guy's a machine of intellectualism, most things he turns his mind to he de-constructs, encapsulates and then explains brilliantly. Yeah, occasionally he's wrong, especially when he tries to justify certain aspects of exploitative capitalism, but damn he's good. Very good.

And that response was classic pg as grellas said.


None of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on. I granted him "entrepreneur" status. He can have "compu-sci" intellectual too.

You can see my comment here on his pseud-osity: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6988150 to save repeating myself.


>None of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on.

You don't get insights into these by getting a degree from some university on the subject. You get insights into those things by studying them, practical experience, and more importantly thinking.

If anything, the most clueless people in those areas I know are tenured professors.

And REAL thinkers, the kind that leave a mark in history, from Socrates to Sartre and from Kierkegaard to Popper and Wittgenstein to leave it to philosophy, are full of scorn for academia in general and professors in particular, and even if they sometimes happen to be working as such themselves, they are greatly atypical to their "churn papers" colleagues.

Not that pg is on that level, but critisizing him because "none of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on" is bullshit.

Your a priori abstract attack that he lacks insights has no meat at all behind it. You could just as well have said that "he has tons of insight into what he writes" -- and it would be exactly the same.

If you want to provide something worthwhile, do a SPECIFIC critique of what he wrote somewhere, and tell us what is wrong with it by providing counter-arguments and rebuttals.


> the most clueless people in those areas I know are tenured professors.

Not about the subjects they research. That is the purpose of research.

> are full of scorn for academia in general

All of those people are academics par execellance. I'm not talking about business-ified institutional academica. I'm talking about spending a long time on a topic, researching it and thinking deeply, clearly on it before you offer your opinion as though it were valuable.

> do a SPECIFIC critique of what he wrote somewhere

I have on one of his essays, but I took it seriously to write that critique.

The audience I would be targeting in a critique of the man (via a critique of his under-informed rants) are those who equate money with success and "money-making" with intelligence. I value my time too much to spend the amount required undoing that confusion.


So, I should probably point out that pg went to Harvard specifically to study Philosophy. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy in 1990. Therefore your critique that he should have a degree before writing about philosophy is interesting.

All of those people are academics par execellance. I'm not talking about business-ified institutional academica. I'm talking about spending a long time on a topic, researching it and thinking deeply, clearly on it before you offer your opinion as though it were valuable.

pg spent weeks on each of his early essays. He spent a solid month writing What You Can't Say. He spent at least a couple days writing this one. They aren't opinion pieces.


> pg spent weeks on each of his early essays. He spent a solid month writing What You Can't Say. He spent at least a couple days writing this one.

Stephenie Meyer spent years writing the Twilight books. Time spent on a work is in no way indicative on the quality of that work.


How are we measuring "quality"?

Reaction from literary critics? Reaction from the target audience? Financial success?

It seems to me that by two of those standards Stephenie Meyer knocked the ball out of the park. It is not clear to me why we should care about the other standard of quality.


Analogously, pg's essays being very popular with a number of people in no way translates to other standards of quality :-) They may resonate with people, but without solid grounding in reality, they may be no better than "pop philosophy".

Personally, I agree with some of his essays, but on some others he's way off the mark. For instance, his writings on anything Hollywood or copyright-related betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what artists sell. Yet those essays were extremely popular simply because they confirmed people's biases (hence "pop philosophy"). However, if you check the so-called "blogosphere", you can find many others who have posted well-reasoned criticisms of those (and other) essays.


You won't have an argument from me there. I don't count myself among the PG fans.


> It is not clear to me why we should care about the other standard of quality.

Yeah, I think this is a fairly good characterization of pg's audience.


Do you honestly not know what a Ph.D is, or are you just making a flabbergastingly disingenuous argument? He has a doctorate in CS, not philosophy, despite the ceremonial Latin name of the degree.


Instead of going on about a "flabbergastingly disingenuous argument" and blaming it on him not understanding that a Ph.D is not a philosophy degree (seriously? you think he doesn't know that?), it would have been much more productive, and correct, to assume he made the simple mistake of thinking pg has a Ph.D in philosophy, where in fact he has a B.A.


Yes, I think he doesn't know that, and the way the comment was written seems to make that the obvious reading. What makes you so certain he does?


He seems to have made a mistake. pg has BA in philosophy.


I would consider this to be the definitive comment that puts to bed the argument being pushed.


I know his academic background. His article on philosophy cannot have taken "weeks" because it is so woeful.


Your credentialism and elitism doesn't impress me.


>the most clueless people in those areas I know are tenured professors.

>>Not about the subjects they research. That is the purpose of research.

They are cluless _especially_ about the subjects they research.

Most philosophy, political economy etc academics are beyond mediocre -- not only in advancing their field, but even in understanding the greats who contributed to it and rightfully presenting their knowledge.

Most real development comes from outsiders to this system -- people incombatible with academic life, even if they happen to work as professors (like Adorno or Wittgenstein did for example). And that was true already in the '40s and '50s, were academic discourse and research freedom in those fields was extremelly better compared to (market driven, low quality, paper churn) today's reality.

>The audience I would be targeting in a critique of the man (via a critique of his under-informed rants) are those who equate money with success and "money-making" with intelligence.

Oh, those poor fools. Because there are other, proven, definitions of success that everybody should ascribe to, right?

>I value my time too much to spend the amount required undoing that confusion

Yep, I expected this part.


> Not about the subjects they research. That is the purpose of research.

The purpose of research is to farm grant money and citations. Any actual learning that happens during the process is beside the point.


I read the linked comment, and some of your other comments on the topic on this thread. You took this into meta meta (yea, 2x) territory. Not the actual issues, not the person who wrote the linked essay (pg), but the people discussing the person discussing the issues.

Why would you do that?

And furthermore, how can you possibly feel you survive your own critique of "pseudo-intellectuals"? This is you [0] spouting amateur social science:

> Umm... how about in a capitalist society money is the vehicle of positive freedom... to increase ones ability to do something on has to have more money. Therefore under capitalism there is always a fundamental tie between money and power.

Which, by the way, I have no problem with. A well-regarded logical fallacy is "appeal to authority", the contrapositive of which implies that we should judge arguments on their merit regardless of where they come from. So if people find some writing illuminating, attack the logic, not the writer, and not the readers.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6988150


It's "amateur social science" in the sense that it's an "off-hand comment". I could write a 5k word essay on this very small point and make it respectable, I didnt because HN comment boxes are not vehicles of long essays. If pg's observations were confined to small discussion threads on HN i wouldnt have much issue. But he presented the article I mentioned at Defcon. And his "Essays" section are presented as essays, not "off-hand comments".

> Why would you do that?

I'm responding to the questions raised in the most convenient way. I'm not going to give a serious critique of the many essays which require it to make a small point about his blase approach to serious academic topics. Far too much effort to spend on a crowd whose faith in pg's intellectual status is based on his money-making ability.


>It's "amateur social science" in the sense that it's an "off-hand comment". I could write a 5k word essay on this very small point and make it respectable

Pics or it didn't happen.

>I didnt because HN comment boxes are not vehicles of long essays. (...) Far too much effort to spend on a crowd whose faith in pg's intellectual status is based on his money-making ability.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backtracking


>It isnt back tracking when at the time you made the comment you said it was an off-hand comment.

So, it isn't backtracking if you pre-emptively declare that you are backtracking. Right.

>It isnt "backtracking" to criticize a person for one thing while you are doing another. Jon Stewart criticizes news programs whilst his program isnt a very good news program. Fortunately he's in the comedy business.

Unfortunately the similarity doesn't hold, because Jon Stewart doesn't also say "I can do a much better news program than them", whereas you did said that you could write a respectable "5k word essay on this very small point" (and then didn't).

>Equally, my off-hand comment isnt a very good essay but fortunately I didnt post it to an Essays section of a website and then go and read it to a conference audience

As if the section of website where something is published matters one iota. It's not like having an essays section necessitates that you only put George Steiner quality material in it. Heck, Zed Shaw has an essays section on his website.

Also, you keep mentioning this conference audience a lot -- Sounds like sour grapes to me.

As if Defcon is some elite philosophical conference, and Paul Graham failed to keep to the level of previous speakers, like Plato or Heidegger.


I'm reacting to how he is treated and how he writes (playing up to this image of himself as a Heidegger). If we attribute his writing to a small time blogger who's writing on a few topics for fun then all of my critique looks insanely harsh.

You have to put what im saying in the context of how his work is read (as some kind of obviously briliant religious text).


It isnt back tracking when at the time you made the comment you said it was an off-hand comment.

It isnt "backtracking" to criticize a person for one thing while you are doing another. Jon Stewart criticizes news programs whilst his program isnt a very good news program. Fortunately he's in the comedy business.

Equally, my off-hand comment isnt a very good essay but fortunately I didnt post it to an Essays section of a website and then go and read it to a conference audience.


> I'm responding to the questions raised in the most convenient way.

Absolutely not the case; here (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6987798, the relevant comment that sparked this discussion), you are simply taking the conversation into new territory and insulting people.

> But jesus,

>> pg's response is actually priceless: it is like a soft-spoken witness upending a bullying lawyer who had just viciously attacked him, leaving the attacker reeling for all to see.

>What's with the almost cult-like reverence for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?


I come to HN for the interesting links and discussion, not for pg. You really aren't prosecuting your case very well. In all your comments, I can't see even one solid example supporting your arguments. All your arguments are ad hominem, I'm less than impressed!


Nothing he said is out of line with what a lot of classical liberals were saying throughout the 19th century and they were refining ideas that basically go back to Aristotle. If echoing their thoughts qualifies one to be a pseudo-intellectual then I'm going to guess in horror at what you consider to be genuine intellectual thought.


He isnt "echoing their thoughts" any one who has read Adam Smith systematically would know that the very first few lines of this are explicitly rejected by him.

They're childish research-lite versions of a 50s-style classical liberalism. It is much the same as Ayn Rand another amateur philosopher who knew very little on the topics she was writing about.

I dislike the "talking head" approach to serious topics. I dont think "giving your opinion" excuses a lack of serious research. Half-baked, under-informed opinion isnt truth or even the attempt to reach it; regardless of whether it is phrased with feigned objectivity. I wouldnt be too annoyed if he wasnt glorified by other $-eye'd idiots.


You obviously appreciate thoughtful investigation into serious topics, and that's commendable. But I think you're going a bit too far here. I think most people on HN enjoy pg's essays because they tend to be well written and logical. You're annoyed by some of the things he's written/spoken about, but that doesn't mean everyone who likes the guy is a "$-eye'd idiot". You're getting a negative reaction because you've gone totally off topic for the sole purpose of personally attacking people.


Spot on. I mostly agree with the content of mjburgess' comments, but I feel they're not really justified in this context. I occasionally read a comment here that seems to be fawning a bit too much over pg, and just shrug and move on. I don't get the impression that there's a serious personality cult thing going on, nor do I get the impression that pg actively cultivates such a thing.

pg writes candidly (but respectfully) from the perspective of someone who has been very successful in some areas, and has opinions on other areas. His world view shines through clearly and he doesn't seem to claim authority (or not too often, anyways) on the issues. In fact, I started enjoying his articles long before I was even aware of HN or of who he was. He just seemed like a bright dude with interesting articles to me.

I find everything he writes fascinating, and the closer to his expertise, the more 'value' I ascribe to his writing. But he isn't, nor does he seem to want to be, some kind of guru on all matters of life. He seems pretty honest.

The fact that he has a relatively small group of starry-eyed followers exhibiting cult-like behavior is not really his fault, but just a natural consequence of his fame/success. I don't think it warrants mjburgess' response.

But maybe I'm missing something or underestimating the degree of cult-like following going on?


The number of defenders coming out of the woodwork may perhaps suggest something. Whenever one writes something critical about pg or one of his articles you get many people making cultish appeals to authority, "what do you know, he's founded x/y/z" though this has nothing to do with his credibility on Q topic.


As I have said elsewhere you have to take my comments in the context of his fawning fans. As a guy "writing about shit", fine. But as a guy who plays up to this praise and receives it whatever he talks about, he aint anywhere near the intellectual ballpark for that.

I mean if he wrote an article about race and Cornell West wrote a critique, you'd have hundreds of people coming to defend pg on the back of the cultish Bay Area mentality.


I think most of HN agrees with pg because it gives them ideological cover.

The tech world is meritocratic, politically concentrating on wealth disparity over wealth creation is nonsense, Silicon Valley's problems are minor look elsewhere, etc. etc.

It's a very Panglossian outlook meant to make you feel good about yourself, generally.


And anyone who has done any serious reading of economics is well aware that Smith is hardly considered authoritative on any subject in economics. His only insights are almost word for word copies from Cantillon. I'm not the biggest fan of Rand but she's far from a joke. Her writings deserve to analyzed and taken as seriously as any other philosopher.

I don't know if PG is the right about everything he says or even most of what he says but he has inspired a lot of people to do things (largely for the good of society). A philosopher could hope for little more I suspect (not even suggesting PG would self-ascribe that term but I would ascribe it to him).


>I dislike the "talking head" approach to serious topics.

Similar to your unsubstantiated comment about Ayn Rand?


It's the opinion of any academic philosopher who has ever reviewed her. It also has nothing to do with her individualistic/libertarian view - Nozick, for example, who shares many of the same conclusions wrote a detailed review of her books in which he exposed her arguments and philosophical analysis as barely at an undergraduate level.

This is why Nozick and others are taught in political philosophy and not ayn rand. You can listen to a somewhat detailed introductory treatment by people well-read in philosophy here: http://www.partiallyexaminedlife.com/2013/07/01/ep78-ayn-ran....

One of her greatest sins is her perpetually trashing people like Kant whilst having no idea what theyve said - because she makes many of the very same points. pg does this too.


Most of this is just bluster and argument from authority. The only substantive critique I see you making here is that pg's suggestion about decoupling wealth and power won't work because wealth is power. But your definition of "power" is "increased ability to do something", whereas pg's implicit definition of "power" was "the ability to corrupt important social processes that are supposed to treat everyone fairly".

So I don't see the force of your critique: pg and you can both be right. Wealthy people can have more ability to do things even if there are systems in place to prevent them from corrupting particular processes that are considered worthy of such protection.


I read your comment. And the article you were commenting on.

To be honest I found your comment shallow and mean spirited. You didn't present a true criticism of the article. You simply alleged that it was lame.

Ironically, whilst you may be correct that being an entrepreneur will not give a person insights into philosophy, he happens to have a degree in philosophy so perhaps that gives him some insight. More specifically, he has a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Cornell University.

As for his achievements not giving him insight into 'anything else he writes on' that appears to me to be patently silly. A good deal of what he writes on is about entrepreneurship.

All in your criticism smacks to me of small minded jealousy. It's a familiar pattern - small petty people trying to boost their flagging self esteem by trying to tear down those who have achieved.


The comment you linked fails to substantially address the article you claim to critique. You basically quoted him once on a rather controversial point and said "I disagree with this quip!". This particular sentence is hilarious:

> if you have any serious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques of capitalism, wealth and power

It seems like you're calling Paul Graham a pseudo-intellectual not because he's posturing, but because you disagree with him. You don't address any of the actual claims in the article, but you do call them "silly".

Here's the problem with your response to that one quote you took out of context:

>"The problem here is not wealth, but corruption. So why not go after corruption? We don't need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power."

>Umm... how about in a capitalist society money is the vehicle of positive freedom... to increase ones ability to do something on has to have more money. Therefore under capitalism there is always a fundamental tie between money and power.

It's a matter of degree. Many countries which rank low on various measures of corruption are nonetheless capitalist (New Zealand, Sweden, etc). Many countries which are socialist nonetheless suffer nepotism of the form Graham described in his previous example (Argentina, Zimbabwe, etc). Sure, it's a "small off-hand point", but it's the only part of your comment which isn't simply an insult without any backing.

>One's ability to make money - to have one's skills suit the market; or to be lucky - has nothing to do with the value of your opinions or how frequently/prominently they should be offered to the rest of us.

This is not related to the essay you had claimed to respond to. It apparently represents drawback of inequality, but it is left up to the reader to magically grasp your intuition that this drawback exceeds the benefits Paul Graham claims may be derived by rewarding those who are successful in business endeavors.

One way to phrase this comment in a mature, reasonable way would be the following:

"I think that the lacuna between the abilities of rich and poor to communicate to a large audience makes the level of inequality Graham advocates in society unacceptable."

I might respond as follows: since people can only consume a finite amount of information, there will always be a situation where only a tiny minority have the ability to broadcast their views effectively. It is not clear to anyone how to identify in an objective manner who is most deserving of a wide audience, and so no society which has attempted to restrict this has ever succeeded in improving the quality of media reporting (but please provide examples!). In fact, essentially all societies which replace "communication by the rich" with "communication by the community-endowed-communicators" have even less reliable media than capitalist countries, consider e.g. Pravda. Thus your claim about inequality does not really provide much basis for an alternative, nor is it a problem specific to monetary inequality per se.

>None of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on.

Actually, a great deal of the essay Inequality and Risk focuses on the motivations of entrepreneurs, which, considering that he has worked with dozens of them, one would expect him to be in a uniquely important position to address. He usually does a pretty good job sticking to what he does know in this and many other essays.

I downvoted you. In this and your subsequent comments you show little willingness to contribute to the discussion in any but a superficial way, and you provide little substantial argument or evidence to back up your repeated insults. Since you have been commenting on this thread (we can see your timestamps) for over an hour, one would expect it to be worth your time to write a comment that is worth reading.


I would need to go through many of his articles to expose their chronic lack of information. It's not a case of disagreeing, it's that others have disagreed and he hasnt bothered to make himself aware of how. This is no good for an "intellectual" idol.

> It's a matter of degree.

It has nothing to do with "degree". "Corruption" has nothing to do with the mixture of wealth and power: in extremely capitalist societies the Law codifies wealth as power (eg. Citizens United) and in extremely Socialist societies it codifies the opposite. "Corruption" is perceived to be prevalent in societies (eg. italy) in which the public and private sphere are blended and the Law tracks this lack of clarity.

This is why its not sufficient to say "abuse of wealth" is corruption and we need to fix corruption. Because "corruption" is defined by and against the norms of particular societies and does not measure how much wealth distorts the political landscape. Americans do not see owning many news outlets as "corruption" for example, but it is arguably an abuse of wealth to gain political power and influence.

To treat his articles seriously and engage with them (I have written about his essay on Philosophy before) is to give them too much credit. If i wanted to contribute substantively to this debate I would go and find someone informed on the matter and reply to a essay they have written. To reply to pg is to educate him.


It seems the reason you disagree with PG's article is because you're making a transgression that people who contemplate political philosophy know not to make: you've positioned economic power antecedent to political power. Specifically, that money buys votes. This is false in a democracy of any economic flavor -- though admittedly deceptive by appearance. The data is indeed somewhat reliable for those involved in political campaigns: money appears to translate to votes. Philosophers distrust this. For them, the simple requisite of having to buy votes is evidence a democracy still exists; that political power is prior to economic power. The issue then becomes the character of the voter being bought, and thus the character of the people in general.

It is easy to dismiss PG's entire article -- from its foundation to conclusions about transparency -- if you've already concluded that democracy does not exist; that votes do not translate to power in any meaningful way; that capitalism has become the real foundation on which political power is merely a simulacrum. In doing this we've hit philosophical bedrock with the shovel of pessimism, and the discussion ceases to be productive.

The law only codifies what the people, through their votes, decide to codify within it. Capitalism does not a priori codify wealth as political power. The law merely aids the confluence of capitalism: money, a signifier -- to represent resources: the signified. Capitalism is contained within the theater of democratically held political power -- until it corrupts that containment. PG's mention of secrecy in a democracy is a useful one: secrecy subverts the power of the informed voter, it is a breach of that containment. It allows the potential for capital to slip out into the realm of realpolitik -- which is reserved for the people alone through their vote.

I think if you review what PG is saying about corruption through the prism of philosophy without the distortions of politics itself (and all its frustrations) you might not consider it unsubstantiated idealism or what have you.


The irony here is how you're able to leverage the publications[1] of PG to explain how the arguments in the parent-post are falling short in substantively criticizing the publications by PG.

Head: explode.

1: http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html


None of his achievements as an entrepreneur give him insights into philosophy, political economy or anything else he writes on.

It's pretty creepy calling people "intellectuals" if they babble on about "political economy".


That's not cultish

I am disinclined to acquiesce to your assertion.

Listing accomplishments is okay. Listing accomplishments paired with fawning and idolatry is cultish.


disinclined to acquiesce

Oh dear.

But anyway, given that I actually pointed out I disagree with him in some aspects, how is that fawning?

The guy's got a history that reads better than any of us here could probably hope for and he writes some amazingly well thought out and well reasoned essays.

I'm don't idolize him, I think he's more intelligent than me.

Which I say about very, very few people.

I think it's absurd to call him a pseudo-intellectual.


> Which I say about very, very few people.

Going by your personality as demonstrated here it seems you idolize intellect so when you "think he's more intelligent than" you you're going to put him on a pedastle. This may seem natural to you, but it comes across as fawning and misplaced.


...but you've invented the idolatry here.

To dig into word choice here a bit. You attack someone for placing a value on "intellect", but criticize pg for being a "pseudo-intellectual". One interpretation of this is that you regard an "intellectual" to be something other than person who effectively used their intellect. Instead, you seem to regard an intellectual as a person who expresses conformity with the majority view of American academia (i.e., a modern liberal who isn't fond of markets.)


You can determine my personality from a single comment? Wow. I'm sure the NSA wants to hire you.


*pedestal


If I list the accomplishments of the current Pope and explain how great I think he is doing and has always been doing and how he is just an awesome person, then I'm being cultish... even though I'm an atheist?

Your argument does not make any sense at all. It's a string of words ordered to seems to mean something rational, while it is in fact complete gibberish. Listing accomplishments paired with fawning and idolatry is ... exactly that. Reverence, not cultism.


I don't know you, Matt, and I certainly don't have a beef with Paul Graham - I have much respect for him. But, the specific components of your encomium do not recommend you. More specifically:

> That he started the seed funding movement?

Um, people were doing seed rounds before YC. For like, decades. They weren't blogging about it, because there was no HTTP and HTML and always-on broadband, but crikey, how the hell do you think half of silicon valley started?

> That he was blogging about hacking startups before people even really realised you could hack startups?

I don't even know what this means. Every true startup is fundamentally a hack; it's probing at the boundary of the risk frontier. (I'm not talking about those VC dice rolls on the flavor du jour, manifest as a bunch of brogrammers with zero understanding of the time value of their own risk profile.)

For "hack startups <v.>" to make sense, one would have to infer a new usage of the word "startups", namely, to refer to the pattern-matching herd mentality of tech VC dealmaking and The Great Game of Deal Flow. Partially driven by real opportunity and partially driven by the wealthy exodus from equity markets in a post-HFT world, the modern funding bubble has led to a difficult climate for seed-stage companies, and Paul & YC are merely taking advantage of that impedance mismatch between them and traditional VCs. But to imply that there is some fundamental new structure that Paul discovered with YC is absurd. Incubators & incubation is a decades-old concept: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_incubator

> Before lean startup existed?

The term "lean startup" started being popularized in 2011 by Eric Ries. This is less than three years ago. There are innumerable things older than this. Actually, there are few truly noteworthy things in the technology space that cannot be described as existing "before lean startup".

> That he's written his own dialect of LISP?

I think many LISPers have done this. Isn't the whole point of LISP to write your own dialect of it for each problem?

Anyways, I just wanted to point out that your list is not very impressive at all, and the fact that they impress you doesn't really reflect well on you.


I would be curious to know what PG has done to earn your respect as nothing above does.


1. He has extremely well-written essays on technology and business. Being able to think clearly and articulate cogently in this space is a rare skill, and I have deep respect for those who possess it. Joel Spolsky (who I also respect) is much more verbose than PG. Few tech writers achieve the level clarity of expression that Paul does in his writing, and he achieves it while writing about difficult and subtle things.

2. He has mentored a great many startups. Granted, he gets his pound of equity for cheap cheap but nonetheless this devotion so the cause of helping other geeks start companies is very admirable. Note that this is not the same thing as what the parent poster claimed: "hacking startups" and "starting the seed funding movement".

Also, building HackerNews is a very cool badge of honor but frankly it is nowhere near as sophisticated as Reddit (c'mon, "Unknown or Expired link" and hellbanning?). The fact that there is a driving function behind pageviews to it makes it a go-to place in the tech world, but the technology and codebase of HN itself is not anything terribly impressive.


pg started the seed funding movement? puh-leeeze.


I meant seed accelerator.


Hacking startups ? Is there such a thing ?


The guy you're responding to is George Grellas, who is a lawyer. That's probably why he couches it in terms of lawyer and witness.


It's interesting how people are attacking you for using 'pseudo-intellectual', while completely disregarding the 'cult-like reverence' bit. Your question is just as damning without the 'pseudo-intellectual' adjective, yet they are trying to change that to 'intellectual'.

This is a nice demonstration of 'framing': you frame pg as not deserving cult-like reverence because of his 'pseudo-intellectuality' and people respond by explaining how he is a true intellectual. Except that the arguments they give for that assertion are wrong, because that is not the assertion for which they have arguments. Their arguments actually explain why pg is revered and they are now contorted to be arguments that seem to be meant to explain why is he is cult-like revered for his intellectuality.

The result is that it seem like people are tacitly acknowledging the 'cult-like reverence' and are giving completely ridiculous arguments in support. The ridiculousness of those arguments is pointed out and we get into pointless discussions about what things mean, completely losing sight of the original point.

The bottom line is: pg is revered and reasons for that reverence are given. There is nothing cult-like about the reverence and the pseudo-intellectual part of his writings (I would use another word to describe that quality of the writings, but that is beyond my current argument), are not the reason for the reverence.


You're right. I shouldve emphasized the "pseudo" part had more to do with the gap between how people treat him and how he really is.


You confuse respect with reverence, and pseudo-intellectualism with lively intellect; I can't imagine why. Incidentally, your malaprop is showing.


pg's writing has made a big impact among a lot of people, the majority of whom don't view him as a cult-like leader or personality at all.

It sounds like you disagree with his ideas; what qualifies someone as an intellectual in your book and not a pseudo-intellectual?


"pseudo" was a little strong. But if you have any serious familiarity with his "off-topic" rants, youll see he writes about issues glibly and with a severe lack of information. I dont mind "academic journalism", I do it a lot myself: write on difficult topics for a lay audience and maybe sacrifice a little accurasy a long the way. I think pg likes be seen making points more than he wants further understanding/truth/etc.


I seem to have been down-voted, maybe some dont see the problem.

Here's a randomly picked example: http://paulgraham.com/inequality.html

Randomish quote from end of article,

"The problem here is not wealth, but corruption. So why not go after corruption? We don't need to prevent people from being rich if we can prevent wealth from translating into power."

Umm... how about in a capitalist society money is the vehicle of positive freedom... to increase ones ability to do something on has to have more money. Therefore under capitalism there is always a fundamental tie between money and power.

That's a small off-hand point.

But if you have any serious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques of capitalism, wealth and power that whole article will just seem silly.

I'm sure he means well. But it takes a certain kind of "pseudo"-something to think that this kinda hackney "thought-lite" material should be delivered at a major conference (Defcon 2005). If i were asked, on the back of my reputation, to speak on this, I would at least spend a week watching/reading/etc. as much as I can in the area.


>But if you have any serious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques of capitalism, wealth and power that whole article will just seem silly.

If you have any "erious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques" you'd know that ALL articles and books will just appear silly in isolation. Especially since most of the important critics are vehemently opposed to the ideas of other important critics.

The role of an isolated piece of writing on some topic is not to provide a summary of the ideas ("the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques") on the topic -- that's just what you do for a bad academic paper.

Its role is to showcase the ideas of the author in a clear light and within his frame of thinking.

>But it takes a certain kind of "pseudo"-something to think that this kinda hackney "thought-lite" material should be delivered at a major conference (Defcon 2005).

Then again, it also takes a certain kind of pseudo-something to value Defcon as a venue for intellectual thought, as opposed to a mostly technical conference and get-together.


Preface: Occasionally, I disagree with pg too. But I respect him since I find most of his essays insightful and I appreciate the effortless precision of his writing style. I.e. too many bloggers beat around the bush and rarely attack the crux of their topic directly, let alone adequately support their thesis.

That said, I'm one of those who "don't see the problem". I reread his essay about inequality. I tried to imagine your thought process. I agree that money, freedom, and power are joined at the hip. I don't see how this contradicts pg's quote.

Here's how I understand things. Corruption implies power by definition. But does power necessarily imply corruption? Lord Acton believed power consistently causes corruption in practice. But it doesn't have to be that way. I think we can agree on this.

Here's where I imagine our disagreement lies (best guess, low confidence). Corruption connotates "immoral behavior". But pg's examples indicate (to me) that he wanted to address not immoral behavior per se, but the double standard society imposes between the privileged and the less fortunate.

This distinction frames the discussion in a more actionable way. Like you said, power enables people to do what they want... which isn't always moral (or fair [1]). It's inevitable. So society won't be able to prevent this consistently, lest reality resemble Minority Report. But one thing society can prevent is punishing offenders according to a double standard. Another thing society can prevent is lack of transparency. I imagine either would decrease corruption while allowing the privileged to enjoy their power (money) in more socially acceptable ways.

Personally, I'm especially upset with the U.S. lobby system. In theory, democracy is supposed to afford one vote per capita. In practice, the lobby system allows the powerful to undermine this principle.

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


I didn't read the essay in question, but from your quote it sounds like you are deliberately misinterpreting his point. He is talking about political power.


Political power is one form of power; political action are one kind of action. The point I made encompassed them. For example "the ability to be heard" increases with wealth: having your opinion be prominent in a democratic society is politically powerful and the more money you have the more you are able to finance outlets for your views.

One's ability to make money - to have one's skills suit the market; or to be lucky - has nothing to do with the value of your opinions or how frequently/prominently they should be offered to the rest of us.

pg doesn't even begin to engage in anything like this critique of inequality. I dont really think he knows anything about why serious academic researchers and writers have seen inequality as a serious problem for democractic societies. Because he hasnt spent the time to find out.


I do happen to have such serious reading and I don't find the whole article just silly. I may agree with some parts more than others but it isn't idiotic. He's exploring an important issue, wealth distribution and economic growth and outlining some of his ideas on the topic.

btw WTF is a 'vehicle of positive freedom?' This is not a term of art in any serious social science or philosophy that I'm aware of but apparently it is important to your theory of money and power in a capitalist society. A theory, incidentally, which you don't take the trouble to outline. You simply state that 'under capitalism there is...' It is indeed a small off-hand (and unclear) point.

And why the heck shouldn't he be able to give a talk like this at a tech conference? Defcon isn't an academic conference. Unlace your girdle and give yourself a break from your half digested pomposity. :)


I agree with you that reducing inequality is important in order to correct imbalances of political power. But if that is just an off-hand point, then what is your actual point? You said "if you have any serious reading on the last two hundred years of economic, political and sociological critiques of capitalism, wealth and power that whole article will just seem silly." Are you going to give us anything to go on there, or just assume no one will speak up for fear of appearing equally gauche as pg?


I'm not sure if I've read all of pg's essays, I may have. At the time I read it, that one stood out as the weakest by far. Pick another one.


Would you mind naming some; I'm curious now. I don't follow pg very closely.


I haven't read the submission yet, neither am I fully up to speed on the topic, but I'm going to go all meta on you and ask what a pseudo-intellectual is?


There are two definitions. The first describes one who believes himself to be both intelligent and thoughtful, but fails to recognize his deficiency in at least one of those two habits. The second describes one who is both intelligent and thoughtful, from the perspective of one who fails to recognize his deficiency in at least one of those two traits.

Determining which definition is in use, in a given case, is not always straightforward.


Honestly, this is a troll comment.

By making the comment you will assuredly elicit the response you expect, imply, but it is not necessarily for the reason you state.

pg was misrepresented and held out as a misogynist. We think highly of pg, why should we not defend what is merely slanderous nonsense?

I'm the first one to disagree with many ideas in our echo chamber ... That's healthy. But the idea that pg said anything wrong is ridiculous.


Most of the reverence for this guy (regardless of whether you find it pseudo-intellectual or not) can probably be explained by the fact that Paul Graham is a co-founder of Y Combinator, and you're on ycombinator.com.


pg is a nerd who got rich without being any less of a nerd. He also helps other nerds get rich. Any clue why that would be popular?


>What's with the almost cult-like reverence for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?

Who, pray tell, are the real intellectuals?


It's his website ;)


It was reverence for his reply, which is indeed quite skillful and restrained.


Go change how an entire industry works, help found more successful startups than you can count on your fingers, pile up few billions while you are also coding a prime destination on web for hackers - and then you too would get a cult-like reverence for your pseudo-intellect.


> What's with the almost cult-like relevance for this largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur?

People worship and idolize their heroes all the time.


He writes for hackers, not for Nature, his articles take a week, not a year. People like to read his perspective and he's got some street cred. Why does it bother you so much if he has a following? So do sportspeople, businesspeople, graffiti artists. That's ok. It takes very little from your life. Personally I'm glad he takes the time.

If you can do better, go for it.


I have a problem with the term "pseudo-intellectual". What's an intellectual, and what's a psuedo-intellectual? Please define your terms.


If you have some sort of actual experience in Philosophy and enter an opinion on a subject relating to Philosophy, that is an intellectual argument. If you are an entrepreneur with no training in Philosophy and enter an opinion on a subject relating to Philosophy that is a pseudo-intellectual argument. Pretty simple really.

Note: I don't think that he actually is a pseudo-intellectual, just giving you the example you were asking for.


The people at the bar down the street are not engaging in pseudo-intellectual discussion when they discuss an instance of the current foreign policy that was in the news that day, even though they know nothing about political science and the art of foreign policy. Your definition includes that and is thus just silly.

Just entering an opinion on a subject you don't know 'enough' about is not pseudo-intellectualism. Pseudo-intellectualism is making it seem like you have significantly more intelligence on a subject than most other persons or have put significantly more thought into it, often connecting a subject to other subjects, and are thus qualified to make more informed comments on these subjects. You can lend more credence to your comments by using the correct academic vocabulary, but can be caught as a pseudo-intellectual by using it in the wrong way.


Ignoring the fact that it was pointed out elsewhere in the comments that pg has a BA in Philosophy (apparently confirmed by wikipedia), this assumes that someone without training has nothing worthwhile to contribute[1]. While that may end up being true in the majority of cases, I don't think it's valid to apply the term to individuals just because they don't have credentials, in the absence of other evidence. I do like Merriam Webster's definition[2].

1: I'm not trying to argue with you. You plainly qualified it as a clarification, not a position. I just think your definition falls short in some respects, so thought I would clarify your clarification. :)

2: http://www.learnersdictionary.com/definition/pseudo-intellec...


So you knew the answer, but you asked the question anyway? Okay...


I think you are mistaken about something, since I didn't ask any questions.


Hm. So you're saying that the distinction betwen "intellectual arguments" and "psuedo-intellectual arguments" is the experience and/or training of the arguer? Isn't it possible for an experienced, trained philosopher to make psuedo-intellectal arguments? Isn't it possible for an inexperienced, untrained person to make a valid argument?

I would think that the validity of the argument is what matters!


reverence


largely pseudo-intellectual entrepreneur

Seriously, wtf. What does this even mean when talking about a person, and not a particular essay? Do you honestly not think that Paul Graham embodies a life of the intellect?


Can we lay off the cheesy deification of PG? He was called a sexist, and he responded well. He is not a paragon of society, he is simply someone who is very good at tech and making money. And he is probably a good person too, but come on, this is just silly.

On a second note I'm also curious as to what exactly you're referring to when you say he has the credibility that should make us know that he isn't sexist. I'm not saying he is sexist, I'm just saying that all of his credibility lies in making good business decisions, not gender relations.


"On a second note I'm also curious as to what exactly you're referring to when you say he has the credibility that should make us know that he isn't sexist. I'm not saying he is sexist, I'm just saying that all of his credibility lies in making good business decisions, not gender relations."

I agree. This willful blindness to bias and prejudice because smart people are not biased or prejudiced prevents us from examining our thoughts and behavior.


Let's not praise Paul Graham just yet, based solely on his response. The Information's founder Jessica Lessin offered comments like: "We reviewed the transcript again and shared it with Paul. We stand behind our excerpting and editing for clarity. We continue to believe that the quote is in its proper context. Thanks for checking in." (http://valleywag.gawker.com/paul-graham-says-women-havent-be...)

More importantly, it's not about some beloved leader besmirched by a drive-by interview. The focus is best on YC's track record — and what it'll do to fix it — not a quote/misquote.


Look you are getting credibility and trust confused with respect and other things.

Personally I don't trust anyone, I've been burned too many times. Yeah that makes me paranoid, but it comes from too many bad professional relationships were I was backstabbed by the other person to further their career goals. I must state that this does not happen in every organization, and that there are a few people I would trust if they showed some good faith and helped me out with things. But since nobody I know wants to help me out, and once I reached the age of 40 I get old I am too old for this industry.

But PG is worthy of my respect, he has paid his dues in this industry, he knows what he is talking about and has experience, he hasn't backstabbed anyone that I know of so he has credibility, yes he is one of the few that I would trust had he helped me out in some way.

Look there is a lot of jealousy in the industry for experienced people. We get called nerds, geeks, dorks, etc by all of the people in other industries. They claim they know how to use a computer, and sure maybe use a Wordprocessor and write on a blog using Wordpress, but every once in a while one of them gets a bad case of jealousy that 'hackers' or 'IT workers' know more than they do, so they lash out and do a hatchet job on someone who got some attention in the media. This is basically politics, and how one person can backstab another.

I've had my words taken out of context a lot as well. It is but just one way to backstab someone. It is not just the Internet trolls who do it but the news media and these people writing blogs that hate the startup community.

In street terms, these people are 'haters' if I used that term correctly.

My sister who got into discoranism calls such people as 'greyfaces' and here is the Urban Dictionary definition. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=greyface

You can use either the first or second definition, and it would define the person who did this to PG quite accurately.


Do you give people who you respect the benefit of the doubt? By that, I mean that if they say something that could be interpreted charitably or uncharitably, do you tend to tentatively assume that they meant it the charitable way?

I think that is what grellas means by "trust".


Ah I see what you mean.

People I respect I give the benefit of the doubt and interpret it as charitable, but I still have to verify what they say by checking other sources.

People I don't respect, I assume they are lying to screw with me and in 90% of the cases when I try to verify what they are claiming is true, ends up being untrue. The other 10% of the time I had a mistake and had misjudged them.

I have a respect for the Hacker community here, because most people are honest about their feelings and speak from experience and cite sources and stuff.

On Facebook there was this guy on a friend's group who asked me to prove what I was saying, so I cited seven peer reviewed sources. He said he didn't need to prove anything he said was true and that I was wrong for simply disagreeing with him. He then went into a rage and sent me threats via private message. I then blocked him and reported him for abusive behavior, he then accused my friend of censoring the posts to hide the truth because when I blocked him all of my comments vanished from his view. My friend explained to him that he had been blocked by me and that he could no longer see the comments of a user who blocked him. He still refused to believe it. This guy claimed to be a programmer, had no clue how math and science worked, couldn't even figure out how the block feature of Facebook works. Guys like him I have no respect for.


As you observe yourself, PG's credibility didn't work in this case; I'm not sure it ever does.

For example, how does the non-credibility of the press work? We all know from experience that the actual business of the press in general is to produce catchy headlines based on a forced interpretation of the "facts" (or based on no facts at all).

And yet, we're always ready to trust an article and get all upset as if the press was doing its theoretical job of uncovering some hidden truth (last sentence of PG's post: "even now I'm still fooled occasionally.")

Why is that? Why does the press still have any credibility left?


As a female founder, I think this is a well-thought-out, articulate response, and I appreciate pg stepping up to say something about women in tech.

In a similar vein, I'd love to see YC take on one or both of the following:

1) Do at least one application cycle completely blind. How could you accomplish this? Much like in the concert auditions where this was first tried, put people behind a curtain--and then use technology to change their voices so every voice sounds the same. I think it would be a really cool experiment to see if different types of companies or a more diverse founder set would get funded.

2) Publish more stats on the success of YC companies, and publish stats on % of female(, black, ...) founder applications submitted, % accepted, % funded after acceptance, etc. Of course, I'd fully expect that this would be "opt-in" from the founders as well--i.e. each set of founders would need to agree as part of the application to have their data anonymously shared. You could also share data on % who opted to not have their data shared. (Techstars is doing some great stuff with their stats here: http://www.techstars.com/companies/stats/ )

I've talked to many female founders and YC does have a reputation as a "frat house" (I told one of the YC partners that personally when he asked me to apply.) I decided to not apply to YC and instead was in the first Techstars Austin cohort, which was a fantastic program overall. Techstars definitely seemed more welcoming to women from my perspective as a geek-turned-tech-entrepreneur.

I'm hoping this is the start of breaking down the "frat house" reputation around YC and getting more women actively involved with it.


A reputation can be a blessing or a curse. YCombinator has a great reputation as the best startup incubator and it's founders have sterling reputations as being the people you absolutely need to talk to if you're considering a tech startup. It takes a lifetime to become known as superlative, the proverbial gold standard. It's as true on the mean streets as it is in the halls of power: You are what people think you are.

I'm not sure where this "frat house" thing comes from (scare quotes, not direct quotation). Have you ever been to a frat house? Believe me, they have nothing in common with a summer at YCombinator. I've described yc dinners as being "like a high school lunchroom where everyone is happy to see you and every table is the cool kid's table". Women are utterly and completely welcome. Minorities are welcome. Bring them your nerds, your socially inept, your ambitious hackers yearning to be free. Frat houses are all about pecking orders and childish humor. YC is genuinely about mutual support and an open exchange of ideas.

If "frat house" means that there aren't many women present, I can only guess as to why. There are a variety of social and cultural factors that push the majority of women away from hacking at a young age. I can't point the finger of blame at anyone in particular, but I can report on what I have observed. Women are generally underrepresented in computer science departments, engineering programs, computer clubs and yes, startup incubators. It has nothing to do with Paul Graham or the YC partners. We're all responsible as members of society at large.

I understand your reasons for not appliyng to YCombinator. TechStars is a great program, and I'm glad that you've thrived there. But there's something to be said for seeing things with your own eyes. I would be very unhappy if someone dismissed me out of hand because of something that they'd heard. I can only believe that YCombinator’s positive reputation will outweigh whatever negative reputation that they have fairly or unfairly received.


Hey I think your intentions are in a good place but I think you're placing the onus on the wrong party. @ericabiz is very open, transparent and direct about what she has seen and heard. It sounds like she's quite talented and had a choice available to her in the marketplace. Based on her market research she went with what she believed to be the better option for her situation. It's possible that she may have decided to go against her instincts and research and go with YCombinator anyway but it's odd to argue that she should have taken the risk and done it over her preferred solution. These are very big decisions involving where you live in the short term and how your life turns out in the long run. The onus really is on YC to address the perceived or real notion in the marketplace (that it's not female founder friendly) to continue to attract the best startups. That is, if there is an onus on any party here it's not on the buyer but rather the seller to address these issues. If these notions are false and unfounded it won't be too hard to clear them up. If they're based on something that does have a grain of truth then go tackle that. (Female founders focus FTW!) I just think it's unfair that you have a somewhat lecturing tone in your comments. It's a little bit of shooting the messenger.


> had a choice available to her in the marketplace

Well, that's not actually true, because she didn't apply to yc to begin with, so we don't know whether or not the choice would have been available.

Oddly enough, I think I met ericabiz (hello ;), she briefly stayed at my house through airbnb. I totally agree that she is talented, and that if people like her are not even applying because of such a perception, it is a problem. I feel it's a false perception, but not well-addressed by statistics trying to prove or disprove a lack of bias (as she had suggested).

But, really, it's a one page form and it was designed to be useful for founders whether or not you are accepted. The worst outcome (which 95%+ of applications receive) is not getting an interview. So apply! (erica and every other female, male, white, black, green, 40-something etc in this thread).

Fear of rejection (not just from YC) is simply a dumb fear if you think about it, particularly if your doing a startup. Because you are going to be rejected over and over anyway, and ultimately no one can save you from building something no-one wants (the only rejection that means anything in this context).


The worst thing that could happen is not being rejected. Just one hypothetical worse case scenario is:

1. Being accepted, signing over equity and giving up on the chance to move to another accelerator.

2. Getting to YCombinator and realising that all of the group bonding indeed happens over heavy late-night boozing sessions.

3. Trying to find a way to remain part of the group experience without participating in the boozing, but failing and becoming disillusioned and demoralised.

4. Abandoning your startup because you can't join another accelerator anymore and are afraid having to explain why YCombinator didn't work for you.


"@ericabiz is very open, transparent and direct about what she has seen and heard." Really? Sounds like she just sat around with some friends who all agreed with each other without any knowledge of anything.

Erica: "I've talked to many female founders and YC does have a reputation as a "frat house"

"Genuine question: Did you reach out to any female founders who went through YC to ask about their experience?"

Erica: "The straight answer is no. Here's a slightly longer version of the story..." goes on to ramble about unrelated bs.


Those statements don't conflict. Not surprisingly, the female founders I talked to who felt that YC is a "frat house" did not apply or go to YC.


What does YC being a "frat house" have to do with applying though? I can understand why that perception may discourage someone from participating in YC, but the acceptance rate is so low that it seems like premature optimization to think beyond the application.


There's not much more I can say that I haven't already said, as some of the conversations I've had were explicitly off the record. But I can say this, in a generic sense: All of the top accelerators will seek out people they want to attend and encourage them to apply. When this happens to you, as a founder, you're well aware that if you apply, you're very likely to get an interview and also very likely to get in. I can say on the record that this happened for me with Techstars Austin.

So the decision you're facing as you're applying, knowing what you know, having the conversations you've had, is not "Will I get in?", but "Do I really want to do this?" And that's when I found the frat-house aspect of YC to be discouraging.

(Edit: I suppose I should expand on that since people will invariably have questions. I'm a 32-year-old female. I'm in a different stage of my life than a 22-year-old who just got out of college. I didn't really want to deal with keggers full of falling-over-drunk guys, jokes about "chicks", guys hitting on me, etc. I'm just kind of over all that, and I'm weary of fighting battles I have no inclination to fight over casual sexism--I'd rather focus on growing my business, so I choose not to be around those types of people. Yes, you could say I'm painting YC with a wide and potentially unfair brush, but that was my impression.)

This year, I decided to do Techstars instead, and have no regrets about that.

Today, having gone through one accelerator with my company, I'm done with accelerators for this business and I'm moving on to doing a seed round. If I have another business that might be a good fit for YC, and they've made an effort to change (this article by pg is a good first step), I'd potentially consider it again.


"and they've made an effort to change"

This is weird. What should YC change? Tech Stars doesn't do blind apps or publish all the stats you request so that's not it.

"I didn't really want to deal with keggers full of falling-over-drunk guys, jokes about "chicks", guys hitting on me, etc." "I have no inclination to fight over casual sexism"

Very difficult to work with if you're concerned about imaginary things or looking to read into things that aren't there. This sounds much more about you than YC. Good luck.


@argumentum: Please feel free to contact me offline; you've met me through Airbnb, so you have my contact info.

I'm going to repeat what I said above: "There's not much more I can say that I haven't already said, as some of the conversations I've had were explicitly off the record." I'm not going to repeat things that aren't true or that I don't have data for. But I also can't break the trust of people who've spoken with me privately. I will say I did my homework on YC. I've reached the limit of what I can say publicly.


Yes, you've pretty much said everything that could be said, without heed to whether any of it was true.

Ugh .. disappointing to say the least.


Why would you apply for something when you've determined that you're not going to accept even if you get in? Also, it seems irrational to spend time completing a form when you know there's a very small chance you'd be accepted and even if you were you would decline it? If the chances were very high, say 80%, you could say "Well, I have no intention now but I'll apply anyways just in case circumstances change and I do want to go" You can't even rationalize wasting time on a form when you know there's a small chance you even get the option of changing your mind.

(just to get more tangled the fact that she was accepted into a well known accelerator probably means she's not in the 'so low" category of acceptance)


Why would anyone make such a "determination" on hearsay that the clearly #1, gold-standard program is a "frat-house", promulgated at that by founders who were never part of that program?

The acceptance rate is now ~1%, so according to you nearly all those applying are irrational (the vast majority of even high quality applications will have a less than 80% chance).

The order just doesn't make any sense. Even the best students don't assume they are going to get into a particular dream school (MIT, Stanford etc), unless they are nuts. And those have about 5-10 times the accept rate of YC.


It affects the opportunity cost.


> There are a variety of social and cultural factors that push the majority of women away from hacking at a young age. I can't point the finger of blame at anyone in particular, but I can report on what I have observed. Women are generally underrepresented in computer science departments, engineering programs, computer clubs and yes, startup incubators.

I don't think women have to even be pushed away. I would assert (and am more than happy to be proven wrong) that in many if not most undertakings where the ratio of hours of fun to non-fun (I wish I had a better way to describe what I'm thinking) are low, you will find a lack of females. One example is "hardcore" personal investing, I'm talking investing forums, twitter, etc - if you are familiar with them, once again you will notice it is a sausage-fest. Women aren't pushed out of these communities or discriminated against, they simply are just extremely disproportionately not present.

For whatever reason, I think woman who choose to excel in a field tend to focus on endeavors with clearer and more structured formal paths. For example, you will find plenty of female representation in finance in universities and as career professionals. But after quitting time, the people putting in the extra hours in forums and on twitter are disproportionately male, as are the people who have been coding multiple hours per day since under 10 years old, or multiple hours after quitting time once in their professional lives. These are simple facts. Only when race or gender is involved would anyone ever suggest this not relevant to success.


I've really got to disagree with you there. When I think of female-dominated careers, nursing and teaching are what come to mind. And neither of those careers strike me as having a high "ratio of hours of fun to non-fun". Particularly since I've been a teacher before. My ratio is faaar better as a hacker than as a teacher.


Does your company respond to customers like this: start by pointing out your "sterling reputations" and end by claiming "I understand"?

The person you responded to offered two doable action points. A litmus test is if YC moves on at least one of them. YC does not have the excuse that it doesn't have the technical know-how. And it would be a laughingstock if they didn't have the hacker spirit to figure out how to implement them.


not sure why i can't reply to ars_technician, but fwiw sexism is a problem that we need protections against.


HN hides the reply button on some comments that it deems might start flame wars (or similar). If you click the link link, that will let you reply from there.


The "reply" link is also hidden on comments posted less than some (0 < n < 9) number of minutes prior to page load, but the same trick works in that case as well.


ah, thanks, i didn't know that trick.


They would be a laughingstock if they did implement a voice adjuster. It makes it appear that rampant sexism is such a problem that they have to implement protection against it.


I don't get this at all. Even with just names discrimination has been shown to occur at places like universities, so it wouldn't be revealing a problem, it would be being proactive in case there is one. Trust but verify.

Second, a perfect excuse was provided: for science! Its not that they think they are sexist, but an untested hypothesis is less strong then a tested one.


Am I missing something here? Is there a single case of a female founder with very compelling business/tech that was rejected by ycombinator, whose rejection was at least somewhat widely controversial?

Or, are we talking solely about the lack of females accepted, and explicitly disallowing discussion of what they brought to the table?

I honestly don't know, but if there's a controversy with no specific examples, at least for me, it's pretty hard to take seriously.


>Even with just names discrimination has been shown to occur at places like universities

Source? Also, universities are much different than ycombinator so I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.


What kind of hacker refuses to test contentious hypotheses by gathering more data?


I think you're discounting her experience, maybe you don't mean to but it comes off that way.


Self-selection, as you have done, is a hard problem to solve.

Not just in tech, but in our entire culture. As noted elsewhere, Americans are sorting themselves by demographics.

It feels awkward to be a woman in a predominantly male organization. It feels awkward to be a republican in San Francisco. It feels awkward to be gay in Mississippi. It feels awkward to be black in Portland. And so we place ourselves in locations (and organizations) where it's less awkward to be ourselves, and the problem gets worse.

What's difficult about this problem is that it's nobody's fault. There's no conspiracy behind this trend. (In fact there is a conspiracy to try and reverse it! But to little avail.) Counterintuitively, perhaps it's the fault of the people who choose the comfort of sameness over diversity, but that feels too close to victim blaming.


As you said, victim blaming. It isn't just feeling awkward about things - there are consequences both psychologically, financially, and physically being an outcast. Being uncomfortable with a place isn't something the person can fix themselves - they neither have the power nor the ability to do so.

Diversity begets diversity. The only way to do that is to set up systems and infrastructure that supports and enables that and it requires support from community leaders.


I'm not saying people should stay in places where they are ostracized. That's not healthy. But I think it's also a mistake to withdraw from places and activities before we've even had a chance to become ostracized.

An example: I'm a gay atheist from Idaho. I have extended family members that look like they belong on Duck Dynasty. Each family event, me and my husband are presented with a choice: we can skip the event and its awkwardness, or we can join the event and face it head on.

Each time we attend these events, we leave with the same impression. "That wasn't so bad," and from my husband, "Your family is actually super nice." And because of this interaction, they become less homophobic, and I grow to understand redneck values a bit better.

Besides, I've learned over time that what I think they're thinking about me is actually much worse than what they're actually thinking about me.

But each time I'm invited to one of these events, my first gut instinct is not to go, because it's work, and it can be awkward, and it's much easier for me to spend time around people who are more like me.


> there are consequences both psychologically, financially, and physically being an outcast

I think nerds and geeks are acutely aware of the costs of being outcasts. The period of their life when they typically turn to computers and programming is the same as the period in which they are socially marginalized (middle school / high school).


Yes, but how any individual responds to a treatment like that is not obvious. Some people respond with understanding and compassion, actively avoiding similar behavior. Others learn marginalization as the standard forms of group interaction and propagate the same behavior towards other groups - see the way women are treated in the video-gaming community as a good example, or as a less direct parallel how violence in a home usually leads to children either desperately avoiding or repeating the same mistakes in adulthood.


..that it's nobody's fault

THIS. And this is the problem. People don't understand this. It HAS to be somebody's fault. It has to be black OR white. Gray is beyond the understanding of many.


What's difficult about this problem is that it's nobody's fault. There's no conspiracy behind this trend.

Well, it's not really any one person's fault who set everything up. But we can change it. There are tools to undo the "death by a million cuts" that make it this way.

I would say that the people who don't do these things are partially at fault for not attempting to fix a broken system.


Blind applications would be great if they were possible, but I suspect they would be as helpful as a blind audition for concert conductors -- i.e., not at all.

When you evaluate a team, you need to be able to judge their confidence, see how they interact with each other, get a feel for the trustworthiness, the way they look at you when they answer a question, and so on. If you can't see them, and their voice is distorted, then you might as well just ask for a slide deck and forgo an in-person interview altogether. Which doesn't seem like a good idea.


That's a plausible hypothesis, but it'd be interesting if someone were willing to test it experimentally. Some evidence for the hypothesis could be found if a "blind" YC batch did much worse than a typical YC batch, measured say 3 or 5 years in the future. Of course, with relatively small sample sizes nothing is likely to be proved beyond doubt, but it'd be interesting to know, and the amount of money needed to test it wouldn't be huge, since YC isn't making VC-level investments. Of course, it's not free or risk-free either, so I could see if they weren't willing to test it.

I've long wanted to see in general some more experimental testing of selection variations. What if YC (or some other funder's) candidates were just selected completely randomly from the applications? What if they were selected solely according to some dumb criterion, like take everyone with the most degrees, or the longest CV, or the most GitHub LoC? What if they were selected purely based on the applications (without the dumb-criterion requirement) but without interviews? For a few tens of thousands of $$, someone willing to try those kinds of things out could get some pretty interesting information on how reliable different selection methods are.

My own hypothesis is a negative one: that beyond screening out a few obviously-bad candidates and taking a few obviously-good candidates, the bulk of the YC selection process is randomly related to outcomes, and the YC mentoring/contacts/press/etc., rather than predictive value of the selection process, is the main driver of their generally strong outcomes. But I can't prove that. :)


While that might be worth experimenting, there's a high cost to it. Having high selection standards makes the network (YC's or any other) exponentially more valuable to those already in it. If you add a few not-so-good apples by mistake, there's no going back.

Also, you have to consider how much quantitative and qualitative experience YC has accumulated, the partners are pretty good at telling in a couple minutes conversation if you're a strong founder. This advantage would be lost with blind interviews.


> the partners are pretty good at telling in a couple minutes conversation if you're a strong founder

This is the part I doubt, though, if by "strong founder" you mean "statistically more likely to exit successfully than people selected according to much simpler 'dumb' criteria". These kinds of claims to predictive ability based on un-quantified holistic properties like "experience" rarely hold up under scientific scrutiny.


Your idea is reminiscent of the Rosenthal-Jacobson study, so it might have some basis in reality :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_effect#Rosenthal.E2.8...


1.)The fact the female founders are asking for this, tells you that they don't feel on par with the way things are being done today.

2.) Paul has admitted to being susceptible to the Mark Zuckeberg effect, at least he was honest about that and should be respected for the fact that he realizes that. Most VC's i believe also fall into this trap but don't admit it.

3.) Now what are we going to do about this? Shrug our shoulders and just say this or that won't work or get to trying solutions and iterating on that?


>1.)The fact the female founders are asking for this, tells you that they don't feel on par with the way things are being done today.

How many are asking for this? Where are your stats?


You appear to be requesting science in order to justify doing science. I am here to tell you that is silly.


And I'm here to tell you it's not silly, it's very appropriate to do cheap but possibly flawed research first, before diving into an expensive "science" experiment that would cost some multiple of 1/2 a year of many people's lives.


"forgo an in-person interview altogether. Which doesn't seem like a good idea"

I would disagree strongly in that YC has a measurable financial risk of excluding potentially profitable founders solely for meaningless cultural woo woo reasons. For example if some Finnish dudes conduct perfectly normal business transactions nude in the sauna, a prudish American who refuses to participate has an obvious measurable economic loss solely because of irrational cultural woo woo. Now extend that far out example into female communication style.

Now what would work, or at least would be interesting, is having a female partner interview female founders separately from the male partners then study the female partner's impression vs male partner impression. I don't suspect there would be a huge difference; but at least this would be a somewhat more effective way to test the proposed effect. For my ridiculous made up example, you'd need a Finnish partner; probably easier to run this test on the somewhat easier to acquire and categorize male vs female test subjects.


> Blind applications would be great if they were possible, but I suspect they would be as helpful as a blind audition for concert conductors -- i.e., not at all.

While I agree that blind applications would be somewhat tough for startup founders, conducting seems like a bad example. You could fairly easily judge the resulting music without being able to see the conductor.


I'm going to assume you don't have a lot of familiarity with conducting. It often takes an entire season to rehearse with a group in order to produce music that could accurately be 'judged'. And a conductor is about far more than the music -- how is their rapport with the orchestra? What are they like to work with? What kind of an artistic vision do they have for the group, and how do they communicate that? Ultimately, what kind of a leader are they going to be, along 20-odd different dimensions?

Even with world-class orchestras, where performances are regularly put on with guest conductors after only a few hours of rehearsal time, no permanent conductor would ever be hired on the basis of merely listening to their music. It's a leadership position. (Unlike orchestra players, where it really is more directly about musical proficiency.)


Maybe analogies that require programmers to have a lot of familiarity with conducting aren't super helpful here :)


Guest conductors are hardly unheard of, but you're right that it's not a perfect analogy. Still - it'd potentially make for a decent first go to narrow things down, I'd imagine.


Time and time again, studies have shown that people attribute more positive attributes like kindness and honesty to people who are more physically attractive, irrelevant of sex. This holds even when people are explicitly warned beforehand and told to keep their bias in check.


As another female founder I concur: blind applications would make me more comfortable to consider applying to funds in general, not just YC. As an audio processing geek, getting male and female voices to sound the same is actually pretty hard without losing diction, but at least having the application have a separate cover-sheet for the founder's names and any information that might give away identifiers about gender, race and nationality would be a good start, so applications could be read 'blind'.


blind applications would make me more comfortable to consider applying

What kind of pressure are you feeling about applying to funds now?


The pressure of not being a 25 year old guy, basically. Or 25 for that matter.


This. Although there is no age limit on YC applications, there appears to be a natural bias towards younger candidates. Women, however, tend to move into being an entrepreneur later in life, when they have more experience.


When you don't want to do something, any excuse will do.

You chose not to apply. No one else forced you to walk away from the opportunity.


What would make you feel more comfortable?

Edit: Is this a bad question? I was trying to be empathetic.


Blind applications would make me more comfortable to consider applying.

A lot of this has to do with impostor syndrome which is why the idea of a blind applications would, in my opinion, help many other talented founders think of applying.

Thanks for your comment on empathy. That is something that makes me feel really welcome to comment here.


This raises a good point, but informal inferences about age, ethnicity, and sex can be made from other parts of the application. Statistics on the discrimination of Ivy league schools show that (east) Asian face a stacked deck in college applications at "selective" schools[0]. Its plausible that much of this is inferred from ethnic names. To the extent it impacts the short-lists for interviews (ie, before candidates are seen in person), it's obviously detrimental.

Which brings up another point: it would be interesting to see a YC batch where the colleges/universities' names were redacted from the screening process.[1] Again, I don;t think this will ever happen...but as a thought experiment I would likely be of equal interest in terms of "opening" access. At some stage, business is as much about trading favours as it is about measuring "competence". There are some good game-theoretic reasons for this (ie, establishing trust in sequential repeated games), but there is more to the story than that.[2]

___________

[0] http://www.businessinsider.com/ivy-league-discriminates-agai...

[1] Even if this was replaced by a sort of rating system, eg. that placed X schools into N buckets. This could be done so that the information was recorded but never made visible (say by online application). And the data could still be verified later prior as part of due-dilligence/ affadavit to avoid a problem with gaming the system.

[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-30/jpmorgan-s-mistake-...


The last time I was hiring, I wished I could easily review resumes without seeing the names, email addresses, physical addresses, school names, or even telephone numbers as I felt that I was bringing in my arbitrary bias.

Telephone numbers? I found that I identified a lot more with area code 206 than 425 or 253, just as I identify a lot more with an @gmail.com address than @hotmail.com or @aol.com.


That's a great idea. Next time we put out a request for resumes we might just make something that allows for this. And put it on github..


If you wind up doing that, let me know. I would be willing to help if at all possible. Contact info is in my profile. Thanks.


Don't you think, though, if you have such arbitrary biases, it would be better to work on them than hide the problem?


I would like to think that I could do both. I really want to believe that the playing field is level no matter if your first name is Paul or Venkatesh or Bambi or LaTonya, but I don't have absolute trust in that. The "screen" is a tool in helping with that.


It wouldn't be hiding biases, it would be making them inconsequential. That's pretty much the best you can hope for, once you admit the possibility that there's no such state as bias-free.


So what, you're going to get all the way to the job offer without knowing their name?


Let's imagine an totally awesome resume from this candidate:

- Kaytlyn (female, youngish, spelled unconventionally)

- who graduated from WSU (the rival of my alma matter)

- who has a 253 area code (my least favorite suburb)

- who uses Papyrus for headings (my least favorite font)

- with the email address belieber69@aol.com (triple yuck)

I would want to get that person in for an interview and explicitly check the subtle biases of me and other people who are making hiring decisions.

True story: when I was in college I had a classmate in my database class who was so good-looking it kind of hurt to look at her. I never once explicitly thought that she was a dumb blonde, but I was surprised when I found out that she was just brilliant. Similarly, I worked on a group project with a few prototypical "frat boys" with their Abercrombie sweaters and backwards baseball caps, and found myself surprised that they were smart as hell, too.

I just want to give people an honest chance to be brilliant and not have their resumes passed over for bullshit reasons, even subconsciously.


But how would you do that? Hiding biasing factors is a simple, actionable approach. Do you have a better idea?


> "Statistics on the discrimination of Ivy league schools show that (east) Asian face a stacked deck in college applications at "selective" schools[0]. Its plausible that much of this is inferred from ethnic names."

I wonder how a surname like "Lang" would fair. It is either Germanic of Asian, though it seems to be primarily Germanic in practice but seems strongly Asian to people who are not familiar with it[0]. If there is discrimination keyed off of "Asian-ish sounding" names then it might be apparent when looking at these sorts of names.

[0] I know a germanic "Lang". Apparently he gets asked how his family got that name a lot.


Your comments on school history etc are completely valid in the context of inference.

I'd like to think that we could genuinely make a fairly well balanced system for meritocratic selection. Yes, it's a lot of work and there is always room for error however I'd like to think that ultimately the STEM industry favours these kinds of methods and they could be improved on so we'd see some kind of futuristic system that we saw in the Starship Troopers narrative (as a crazy example that in the movie at least, no-one complained about). Maybe we just need a ton more data to be able to make better predictions. But I also think that face-to-face interviews are ultimately needed as others have mentioned: cultural fit is important to a degree as well.

On that note it reminds me of the Declara article I read (about the founder Ramona Pierson), where data is working to pair relevant people.

https://www.declara.com


Can I ask you to go one deeper there? Do you think age is more critical here than sex? Would you rather be a 25 year old female applying or a 38 year old male?


I'd rather have been me, 10 years ago (i.e. 25yr female) applying to an accelerator. Looking back however, that me needed an incredible amount of guidance regardless of talent and I'd think it's a million times easier to get productive work out of a me-now. In that sense I don't need an accelerator like YC at this point, more guidance and mentorship on how to get past the post-startup phase. And that's perfect for a 38 year-old anyone.


There is no age limit for YC. Many people in their 30's (some in their 40's) have gone through the program.


There is no age limit for going to college either, but I have seen many people feel reluctant to begin/return to college later in life, for many reasons - they think they won't fit in with other students and hence will miss out on shared experiences, they think it's "too late" to get any use out of the degree by the time they finish, they think other people will think they are slow/stupid for being in college at their age, they think that colleges might not want to admit older people, they aren't sure if they can afford to support their family while being in college (not a concern for the traditional student), etc. I think that most of these fears are unfounded, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. One way to reassure them is often to give them specific examples of 'x went back to college to be a doctor when he was 33, and has had a long and successful career since then that totally let him pay off his student loans even though they were so huge!' or 'z did a degree in Mathematics in her 40s, and she said sure nobody invited her to keggers, but she was able to find partners for her group projects easily'. Are any of the older previous alumni open to being known as 'the guy who did YC in his 30s', or to being contacted by prospective entrants, to provide similar success stories?


I agree that people fear to do something if they think they might fail or have that the something might have a bias against them. However, I would argue YCom graduates are people who do a thing even if THEY ARE TERRIFIED. Being afraid of failure is not a justification for not trying, it is in fact a thing any healthy person has.

The successful among us are the ones who operate even though they are afraid of failure. Otherwise only the people that were born with a perfect hand dealt to them would ever succeed.


That mindset could justify any arbitrary barrier to y combinator, but I don't see pg instituting a mandatory cliff dive as part of the application even though startup founders need to be able to show courage and deal with unexpected and crazy obstacles.


That's true! However, another quote that I thought was relevant to this same way of thinking: (this was just posted today on HN, and I thought, exactly!)

    “Fear is the greatest obstacle to learning. But fear is your best friend. Fear is like fire. If you learn to control it, you let it work for you. If you don’t learn to control it, it’ll destroy you and everything around you.

    “You think you know the difference between a hero and a coward, Mike? Well, there is no difference between a hero and a coward in what they feel. It’s what they do that makes them different. The hero and the coward feel exactly the same, but you have to have the discipline to do what a hero does and to keep yourself from doing what the coward does.”
~ http://blog.garrytan.com/

When I read this, it exactly encapsulated what I was trying to say. You are allowed to fear everything, but if you let fear control you or decide what you will or will not do you will not become great. You may even regret bitterly not taking the jump off the cliff.


Well, you might. But I think you're either having a different discussion to 'is it a good thing for arbitrary barriers exist to entering YC?', or else you're conflating heroism and entrepreneurship in a way I find a little overblown.


Why not apply to YC? Worst case, you'll spend a couple of hours answering questions on the application, then get a rejection email. On the bright side, simply answering the questions can help hone your idea and execution. If you do get an interview, great! Then you have an opportunity to meet some YC partners, applicants, and alumni. If you're turned down at that point, feedback from the partners will be personalized, and you'll have gained experience interacting with investors. If things go well and you get an offer, then you can accept or refuse based on the information gleaned from the whole process.

If you're unsure about applying, I recommend doing so. No matter what happens, you stand to benefit.


Well, honestly if they're going to do this why bother with distortion and just interview via chat, what is the difference at that point?


At least in real time...


"I appreciate pg stepping up to say something about women in tech."

"Do at least one application cycle completely blind."

Sorry but this comes off as insulting (I know that wasn't your intention), you applaud and agree with him then turn around and pull a "but I still don't trust you". As if PG can't be trusted, or you think that he's secretly sexist and want him to change his successful interview process just to prove himself to you.

I'm positive that women get discriminated in many fields, I've heard my mother's own stories. There's something about seeing a strong woman succeed that makes men feel weak. But this assumption that women are absent or less represented at Y-combinator simply because they are subconsciously discriminated against by Paul and Jessica Livingston just seems absurd. Especially seeing has how politically correct everyone's trying to be now a days. Many people (especially those running Tech Crunch events) are purposely looking for that unicorn female developer to rid themselves of male guilt. The one that's worked on algorithms, programmed since a kid, and coded up numerous apps.

Rather than focus on discrimination ask yourself this: How many times have we seen a female coder's blog? How many frameworks/api/apps have we seen created by females? Is it discrimination or lack of ambition? Take a look at the 10 industries that women rule http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2009/01/26/10-industries-where-.... Are men being discriminated against (one can argue the day care industry) or do they lack the desire and ambition to get into these industries?


> as if PG can't be trusted

Just because we're in pg's house, it doesn't mean we have to treat him like a god. He's a fallible human being, just like the rest of us.

The whole point of a blind interview is to prevent implicit bias that the bearer might not even be aware of.


Paul Graham is assumed guilty of being sexist and he's probably unaware of it. Got it.


There are many studies showing that nearly everyone has unconscious biases including minorities. This is normal. I assume it's true of you and I assume it's true of me. It's a sensible prior, not an insult.

[1] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/between-the-lines/201204...


THAT is a really good point. Thank you for bringing it up. Even after considering your evidence as truth I still have one question left.

1. Isn't a woman, Jessica Livingston (Paul Graham's wife) on the interviewer panel and a part of the application process? It's not just Paul Graham himself.

I'm quick to defend Paul in the same way others are quick to blame him. It seems we as a diverse society are so conditioned to enforcing equal extremism that any time we don't see an industry, a workforce, or a group equally divided between male/female, black/white, gay/straight we immediately sound off the alarm and go on a witch hunt. All of this without considering that certain groups of people are better at something than others. For instance, African Americans make up only 12-14% of the population but over 60% of the NFL. Jewish people make up less than 6% of the population yet they make up almost 100% of entertainment industry executives (see Joel Stein article in the New York Times if you don't believe me). We hold up the majority to a level of standards that the minority cannot even reach. There's this stigma that if you have nice things, you cheated to get them, didn't earn them, and must divide them and share them with everyone else or else you are sexist/racist.


Putting emotional reactions aside for a moment, I think the real point is that unbiased behavior is quite difficult to achieve and requires discipline. If you're not doing anything systematic to root out bias and just relying on good intentions, it won't be enough. Yes, having a variety of interviewers helps somewhat, but people can be biased in similar ways - it is possible for women to be unconsciously biased against other women, for example.

The solution isn't bias in the other direction, but to look for ways to remove the bias. This is why in science we have things like double-blind studies, for example. In music, doing auditions behind a screen seems to have been effective.

Putting systematic measures in place against bias also tends to help with self-selection, since it assures applicants that they have a fair shot. I believe that's what the original poster was asking for. I don't know what the best solution is for something like Y Combinator, but it seems worth giving it some thought. Of course, it's not going to be so easy as performing music behind a screen.

The percentages you cite show this is a problem in many industries. I doubt that 50% is achievable, but I also don't think it's helpful to either say "these people are sexist" or "yeah, but everyone does it." Those are both examples of moralistic thinking. The solution is to move beyond that sort of thing and treat this as a problem to be solved.


"The percentages you cite show this is a problem in many industries" No it's not a problem. This is where you and people like you, differ from me and people like me. You see "differences" as a problem, I see "differences" as a reality and not something that we need to play God with in order to equalize.

So the reason why I'm not on the football team isn't because I'm 5'8" and 125 pounds and can't compete with the other players but because football has a bias against my kind? So instead of me trying to bulk up, gain muscle, gain weight, and try to better compete with the other players I should instead blame the recruiters and coaches for discrimination? Maybe if they lower their standards and we implement some sort of forced quota more little guys like me will feel more welcome in the NFL.


Hey, you're the one bringing up quotas, not me. I think I said that aiming for a specific number isn't the goal.

Football has a lot of numbers associated with it so I'd guess it's pretty fair, especially since Moneyball was published. (Assuming football coaches learned from it; I don't actually follow football.) I was actually more interested in your other example of entertainment industry executives.

I am pro-analytics: I think you should measure all the things you can because the numbers can be interesting. But just as you wouldn't judge programmers by lines of code, raw numbers about hiring are only a suggestive data point. To figure out if there's a real issue, we would need to go deeper and look for other things to measure. (But obviously we're not going to do that here in a chat room discussion.)


This doesn't have to be about assumption of guilt, as it's not a binary "person X is or is not sexist/racist/ageist/whateverist" distinction.

We all have some biases, and taking reasonable efforts to mitigate them has worked very well in other fields, the typical example being the screen for orchestra auditions.


Given that PG is a human living in America, psychological studies suggest that is statistically very likely.


[citation needed]


I was under the impression that this was pretty much common knowledge, but sure, I can point you in the right direction.

One interesting place to start is Harvard's "Project Implicit". They have a massive publication list[1] and you can even test your own implicit reactions[2].

There are plenty of other scientists testing things like whether people judge women as less competent. A quick google search pulled up a PNAS paper where they did an experiment on women in science, for example.[3]

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. There is a whole host of related work, testing other sorts of biases and using other methodologies. I'd suggest a search on your favorite academic search engine for "implicit bias".

[1] https://www.projectimplicit.net/papers.html [2] https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ [3] http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109#aff-...


I'm a programmer, not a psychologist. I have, however, some slight familiarity with IATs as a purported measure of unconscious bias; they have never impressed me as being particularly reliable as such, given what seems to be their questionable repeatability, not to mention the ease with which they are manipulated, and the way most of the results so obtained tend to hover just outside the margin of error. I won't even talk about the tendentious nature of the investigations themselves, because experience suggests there's no point in so doing.

You disappoint me, sir. I had such hopes of finding something new and interesting, only to discover that your mere vagueness led me astray.


Goal-post movement detected!

So even if we arbitrarily exclude a perfectly valid psychological technique because it "doesn't impress you", there's still the matter of my third link. Didja click it?

EDIT: The most surprising part of the PNAS study, to me, is that people who agreed with statements like "Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States" were statistically more affected by implicit gender bias.


I fail to see how questioning the validity of the technique constitutes "goal-post movement". I requested citations and you supplied them, which I appreciate. I fail to see how said exchange requires that I respond "oh, hey, there sure are a lot of papers, you must be right!"

On the other hand, I must concede that I previously failed to look closely enough on first inspection at your third link. In my opinion, it does a great deal more to substantiate your statement than the IAT stuff does. I'd like to see similar studies with much higher n, but it's hard to argue with the analysis.


You asked for a citation. That's the original position of the goal post. When you were provided with multiple citations, you decided that wasn't good enough, and so started complaining about the veracity of studies in general and finished by ignoring those citations and claiming "vagueness." That's the second position of the goal post. Those two positions are different. Therefor, the goal post has moved.

Your response was filled with bitterness, like someone who was flustered at having been proved wrong. It sounded just like a child crossing their arms and yelling, "Well citations are stupid anyway!"


I can't wait for "[citation needed]" comments with zero content to fall out of favor, along with other low-effort "you're wrong but I don't have the time to prove you wrong" shots. There are many things I don't like about Wikipedia, some fairly, some unfairly, but that contribution to our discourse is one reason in my mind to burn it all down.


Perhaps you would prefer that I say something like this:

"You assert that these studies exist, but you don't bother to identify them for those of us who are not au courant with the journals in which they presumably appear. Would you care to link at least a representative example of the studies to which you refer, so that those of us who are unimpressed by argument from authority may examine them for ourselves?"

The semantic value of these two rather long sentences being identical with that of the two words I actually posted, the only apparent reason to choose the former over the latter would be an interest in pandering to your prejudices. I harbor no such interest, and therefore feel no urge to replace what I did post with what you seem to prefer I post.

All that aside, the request stands. Do you intend to cite a representative sample, &c., or do you prefer to settle for the bare-faced argument from authority you've made so far, without even bothering, as I gather is customary in the use of that fallacy, to name the authority from whom you are arguing? "Studies suggest," after all, is rather weak tea.

Finally, there's probably a name for the fallacy inherent in tossing out an unsupported assertion followed by " -- now prove me wrong!", the way you're also doing; I can't be bothered to look it up, though. Between trying to find the studies to which you cannot possibly have referred more vaguely, and trying to do the impossible by proving a negative, I've got too much on my plate already; you'll just have to find the name for that fallacy yourself, I'm afraid.


I'd prefer if you noticed that you pointed your vitriol cannon at a third party to your conversation who was simply remarking upon your comment. Suggest you check usernames before replying.


You seem perfectly willing to stand in loco auctoris for the poster to whom I replied in such fashion as to draw your ire, so I don't really find your latest plaint particularly compelling; given your clear failure to recognize the problem with "-- prove me wrong!", I can't see how you could possibly wriggle out of more than one of those four paragraphs. (But don't let me stop you from trying.)


Actually, I didn't even read the comment to which you left "[citation needed]", and I'm not interested in trying to wriggle out of anything. Thanks, though, and I wish you best of luck finding someone to fight with over your perspective.


Certainly "I'm right but I don't have the time to prove I'm right" comments are just as bad, if not worse because, at least the "you're wrong" comments give us a healthy dose of scepticism?



That's not any more reasonable an interpretation than accusing anyone who prefers double-blind medical studies of believing that doctors can't be trusted.


>Just because we're in pg's house, it doesn't mean we have to treat him like a god

I'll be the first to agree with this, but I don't believe the guy owes anything to anyone. This idea that he should go out of his way to up-end an interview process to appease the writers of a hack-job and other whiners might be PC, but it's ludicrous.

My advice to PG: Leave it for the next person. If there is systematic sexism in tech incubators, that means there's economic profit to be made by targeting female founders. Someone else should hop to it!


Applying the scientific method to investigate whether there is an unconscious bias in the selection of founders (perhaps resulting in the selection of less than optimal candidates) should not be insulting to anyone.


> There's something about seeing a strong woman succeed that makes weak men feel weak.

Fixed.


Thanks for demonstrating her point for her!


um, no, that's just your sexism and assumptions talking. I agree with the correction.


"then use technology to change their voices so every voice sounds the same"

Right off the top I would say I don't like that for the simple reason that you can't tell confidence (and I will assume that is a factor) or even how full of shit someone is if you disguise their voice.

I do negotiating over the phone, in person, and by email. I dissect each and every nuance to try and determine what is under the hood. I've had good results with that. I make money that way. To me how someone sounds is important on many levels. If you are going to do this, why have them speak at all? (Not suggesting this.)

Along the sames lines I've had a theory for a long time that it is much harder to tell if someone is truthful if they have an accent (even american from a different regioin) that you are not used to because you can't tell nuance like you can with an accent that you know.

Bottom line is hiding the voice, for the purposes of getting diversity, is not the way to go. Especially for decision making that takes into account "the team" and/or "the individual" and not just the idea.


Yes. The whole problem of every controversy involving YC rests on the fact that there's no control population.

The great majority of YC alumni are young white males. Every time the issue is raised of some minority or another being under represented, the answer is invariably that the process is completely fair and that the problem lies somewhere upstream.

That may be so. But wouldn't it be interesting to have some proportion of YC selected purely randomly and see what happens?


Well that just does it. Someone needs to found a YC funded startup to use standardized A/B testing to implement outsourced founder evaluation as a service. Keep your finances and negotiators and mentors in house, but think of this similar to an outsourced credit check, call it a ... credibility check or something.

To say it would be high risk / low volume / high cost service would be an understatement. And just defining success would be hard. But a hard problem is a good startup problem. And you could probably pivot into (or out of?) employee interviewing.

I guess you could bootstrap as some kind of outsourced HR lady to ask those annoying anxiety producing interview questions (you know the typical HR lady questions, like explain your worst attibute, or tell me about your greatest failure, or the classic when did you stop beating your wife? (kidding about the last one)). This is a legit business opportunity to help small biz do the "HR" questions at an interview and formalize the reporting of multiple candidates, and could pivot into this A/B testing of startup founders once some cash starts flowing.

I'm not kidding about this. Someone else with more spare time that me, take it and run.


Erica, genuine question: Did you reach out to any female founders who went through YC to ask about their experience?


The straight answer is no. Here's a slightly longer version of the story, in case you're curious:

I first met pg at SXSW several years ago, when he was swamped by hungry startup founders. The whole scene was intimidating to me--I hate crowds! I finally got to ask him a question, which I can't recall the exact content of now, but was something about women and YC. He suggested I email Jessica about it. I didn't do that--probably because I had been intimidated, and partly because I felt like he had punted on the question instead of giving me an actual answer (I now know that this was just part of his characteristic bluntness, and I definitely don't hold it against him especially given the environment in which the conversation happened, but at the time I didn't know pg and I found it offputting.)

Since then, I've had two good friends go through YC, both young white males. One of the companies is now "Internet famous" and shows up here on HN on a regular basis. The other one is still completely underground. Both of them enjoyed and recommended YC.

Another fellow entrepreneur here in Austin went through YC recently and we sat down and compared notes after he went through YC and I went through Techstars. Our conclusion: Techstars wins in terms of mentoring and support, but YC wins in terms of visibility and fundraising.

So, tl;dr I've met pg (briefly), I know one of the partners and a handful of YC founders, but they're not female. I didn't specifically seek out female founders who'd gone through YC, though now that you ask, I'm really curious to hear some of their viewpoints!


Thank you for sharing that.

For context: I am male and Indian. There were several female founders in my YC batch and I know female founders from other batches. From everything I heard, they felt quite comfortable and enjoyed and value the YC experience as much as I did.

Having been through it, I know YC definitely treats founders the way great startups treat customers - they pay a lot of attention to what founders want.

If a group of my prospective customers had trepidation about using my product, especially if it was because of undeserved generalizations, I would work hard to fix that. Looks like YC is going to do more of that with the female founders conference they have planned.


As a founder, with due respect, why you don't do anything about it?

I think they are good ideas. So how is that you expect someone else to do the work for you?

As a founder I know how hard is to make an idea a reality, and my ideas had relative success(I managed to get things done and most people look to me now like "all I have was given" to me, or that what I created was obvious and easy, as it is obvious now, but the same person was arguing to me how it "was never going to work" in the past). Most people are not that lucky, but they try anyway.

So if you care about this, why you don't take action?

You expect someone else, who is a man (and does not care, there are more urgent problems to them), to do something you should be doing in my opinion.

The "frat house" is working very well and there is no reason to change what works. Different systems could work, but with different people, and different focus.

You could start working on this. It is impossible to do it alone, but organizing with others there is nothing imposible.


> As a founder, with due respect, why you don't do anything about it?

There's a difference between "good idea" and "marketable business." As founders, we have to make that distinction. I'd like to see YC do blind interviews because I think it's a good idea for them to do so. I am not working on that myself because I can't see that good idea, in and of itself, turning into a business--a product a company could replicate and sell to others.

Perhaps other founders have the necessary domain expertise to turn something like what I suggested into a replicable, marketable business. If so, I support them in doing so.

> So if you care about this, why you don't take action?

I did. I took time away from my business to write this comment and make a suggestion. I hope YC takes it into account. I think it would make an awesome experiment for them.

> The "frat house" is working very well and there is no reason to change what works.

I suspect this might have been your real point. Sure, YC has worked well...but could it work better? Those are the questions we as hackers ask all the time. I think it's worth a shot to try something different and unique that could work even better than the status quo. Given the popularity of my comment here, I'm not the only one who thinks so. We'll see if YC (or any other accelerator) runs with this suggestion!


The issue arises when it comes to defining "better"...


> The "frat house" is working very well and there is no reason to change what works. Different systems could work, but with different people, and different focus.

Yes. Y Combinator could very well decide that their current process is offputting to women, but that it is so successful that they don't care, and that they're perfectly happy to keep doing what they're doing even if it effectively excludes women.

But if this is the case, then their only two options are to lie about it or to stand up in public and say that they don't care about including women. The former has significant risk as a long-term strategy, and the latter is a PR debacle that could negatively impact their ability to attract a significant percentage of male founders -- which is to say, anyone who cares about gender equality.


Part of the interview is to see how the founders interact with each other and the investors. Taking that away by masking their appearance/voice would have a pretty big impact on the interview process I think.


I agree. Blind applications would be great.


Publish more stats on the success of YC companies, and publish stats on % of female(, black, ...) founder applications submitted, % accepted, % funded after acceptance, etc.

Sorry, but this is a terrible route to go for YC as there's a huge risk of backlash to achieve nothing good. Say, for instance, that black co-founders had received more funding but achieved poorer returns on investment. A very simple interpretation of that data (not necessarily correct, but easy to formulate interpretation) would be that blacks are less successful than whites at getting a return on investment even with odds stacked in their favor. The conclusions and the data would then be deemed "racist" and YC would have shit all over its face. It doesn't even have to be right. There just has to be published data available for there to be a debate about race/sex, etc... leading to a toxic atmosphere around YC.

The reason data like this isn't collected is because VCs are interested in being politically neutral. Data on race and gender are a political powderkeg. PG said that women who haven't been hackers can't see the world as a hacker, and we see the shitstorm it's caused. Imagine if they were tracking stats based on race or gender? They'd be called nazis.


This whole episode is the first time I have ever picked up on a gender discussion in relation to yc applications. The general feeling here seems to be that some type of affirmative action of quots needs to be applied. But there already is a quota - those with the most promising teams and ideas get to go.

The last thing a successful female founder wants or needs is a quota or lower bar of entry for things like yc. Because once that happens, you're going to have to work twice as hard to get respect, because now you have to prove your place wasn't just because the quota needed to be filled. if you get picked fair and square, then being there is a strong signal that you are worthy.

There are times and places for intentionally creating diversity, but a start up incubator is a bad fit for that type of intervention.


If I were a capitalist VC, and discovered I was potentially missing out on a raft of profitable ideas only because otherwise capable founders were intimidated by the selection process... I would change the process asap to increase my win ratio.


> The last thing a successful female founder wants or needs is a quota or lower bar of entry for things like yc.

I don't think anyone is arguing to lower the bar of entry for women in YC, instead (as far as I can tell) they are arguing for ways to increase the number of female applicants to YC.


Out of curiosity, I wonder what people would conclude if YC was able to perform blind applications, and ten years later that class performed significantly worse than classes from the traditional application process.


the whole notion of blind studies I would love to see implemented not just for tech startup funding, but jury selection, and a few others I'm having trouble imagining at the moment.


Blind application can be accomplished with IRC interview.


One thing that nobody is mentioning is that many "fratty" companies have been wildly successful. That's why VCs aren't cracking down on startups to make them more professional. (Although it is a good idea to become more professional as your startup grows, for cultural appeal to the median tech worker)

This fratty culture certainly drives away slightly older founders (by that, I mean 25+!) and others who don't appreciate the atmosphere. Ultimately, I expect differentiation in the ecosystem, with different incubators forming to attract talent from different pools of talent.

Creating an atmosphere where your founders feel like they belong is a competitive advantage for an incubator. But no one incubator can make an atmosphere that appeals to everybody. If you make an atmosphere to appeal to 40-year-old females, someone else will lure the 19-year-old males away with beer pong, dorm living, and video game breaks.


lol.....25+ is considered old? This is why most of the big startups of this year are social like snapchat, tumblr, etc. The opportunities where customers are willing to spend shitloads of money like enterprise, hardware are not funded anywhere near as well as social. This is beacuse 19yr olds dont know much about HR or disrupting the Investment Banking software industry. This requires some exposure to the problems firsthand, which require being around the block. We are totally overextended on social, techcrunch is like replaying the same movie over and over.

The truly break-out companies founded in markets where customers are willing to pay, are started by entrepreneurs over 28. Age is not a hard rule but we talking about averages here. Steve blanks spoke well about how he started up his companies while still managing family life. Check quora for famous tech founders over 30 and their take on it.

An example about how a person over 30 starts a business from Quora:

Marc Bodnick, Co-Founder, Elevation Partners

We did it by starting with a profitable service line.

I was 34 when I founded Arcstone. We had three young kids (we now have four). I was coming off a VC salary of ~$250K, and yet didn't have much savings to speak of. I started Arcstone with $18K borrowed from my brother-in-law, and a couple credit cards to service revolving debt.

We started a service business targeting a specific, relevant pain point, which has a quick sales cycle. We became profitable immediately; with our profits we both fed ourselves and invested in technology and infrastructure. We were careful not to overbuild on our way up, though some expenditures (like our 5-year lease) were taken with a leap of faith.

Three+ years on, we are a nationally respected financial services firm (primarily in the valuation niche) with a healthy top (and bottom) line, and a very happy and dedicated team of seven.

Getting out of the Silicon Valley mindset -- Seed/A/B/C/Exit -- has been incredibly liberating.


I would not say that 25+ is old, but I would say that it is slightly older. Slightly older than the people typically interested in a "fratty" culture.


You should read "The fall of Long Term Capital Management by Robert Lowenstein". Fratty culture is not limted to the young or inexperienced.

John William Meriwether - born August 10, 1947

Myron Samuel Scholes - born July 1, 1941

Robert Cox Merton - born 31 July 1944


The book is "When Genius Failed", and though it's been a a while since I've read it, I don't recall either of the Nobel Prize winners (nor Merriwhether, for that matter) participating in any "frat-like" behaviour.

Not everyone who works at a hedge fund comes from the cast of Boiler Room. Talk about painting people with the same brush...


I read the book, read the part about the way they carried on at Salomon Brothers, very frat like without the wild parties & shots. Nobody labelled the Hedge Fund industry as boiler room types, especially since i spent 4yrs in the industry on the stat arb side.


I didn't say that I think it is limited to the young.

I said that I think that people interested in fratty culture tend to be young.

Beanbag chairs and a constantly flowing keg are not meant to attract older talent. Certainly there are some older people who are attracted to that type of climate, but that really is not the target audience.


Meriwether apparently deserves all the scorn you can muster, but Merton and Scholes don't according to my recollection of the book (and from people who had actually been there)


I observed an incubator program where there was an early-20s founder who was very fratty, taking shots in the office with his team to celebrate releases and stuff like that. That team all lived together. As founders age into their late 20s, they seem to become less enamored of that lifestyle.


I'm curious, what do you mean by professional culture?


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