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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ugh .. disappointing to say the least.
(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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Source? Also, universities are much different than ycombinator so I'm not sure what point you're trying to make.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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. :)
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.
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.
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?
How many are asking for this? Where are your stats?
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.
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.
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.)
What kind of pressure are you feeling about applying to funds now?
You chose not to apply. No one else forced you to walk away from the opportunity.
Edit: Is this a bad question? I was trying to be empathetic.
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.
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. 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.
 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.
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.
- 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 email@example.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.
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. If there is discrimination keyed off of "Asian-ish sounding" names then it might be apparent when looking at these sorts of names.
 I know a germanic "Lang". Apparently he gets asked how his family got that name a lot.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
If you're unsure about applying, I recommend doing so. No matter what happens, you stand to benefit.
"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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
One interesting place to start is Harvard's "Project Implicit". They have a massive publication list and you can even test your own implicit reactions.
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.
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".
You disappoint me, sir. I had such hopes of finding something new and interesting, only to discover that your mere vagueness led me astray.
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.
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.
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!"
"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'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!
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
John William Meriwether - born August 10, 1947
Myron Samuel Scholes - born July 1, 1941
Robert Cox Merton - born 31 July 1944
Not everyone who works at a hedge fund comes from the cast of Boiler Room. Talk about painting people with the same brush...
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.