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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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