I can relate, I've felt some of that over the years.
Today, I look back at it as self-defeating nonsense that caused me more harm than any shortcoming I was born into.
Less wiki-binging, more doing of whatever it is that gets you an inch closer towards being whoever it is you want to be.
What I’m mainly listening for is: Does this person believe things are happening for them, for a positive reason, regardless of what actually happened? Or do they believe that things are happening to them and against them? Do they hold a grudge against events, or do they believe they were a gift?
I’ll listen for whether they say things like, “I’m so glad that actually happened, because I learned this and this.” Or do they believe that there’s sort of a conspiracy out to harm them? Because if you work for me, you’re either going to think I’m here to help you, regardless of what I do, or you’re going to think I’m here to get you. I really don’t want the latter.
Interviewer: "Why are you looking to leave company X?"
"I'm so glad I was hired by X, because its a great company and I know what to look for now in other great companies out there"
"It's a toxic work environment, and my manager knows nothing"
The old town drunk died. His two sons, the bank president and the new town drunk were at his funeral. An onlooker, surprised at how different the two sons were, asked each one how he turned out the way he did.
The bank president responded, "With a father like that, how else could I turn out?"
The new town drunk responded, "With a father like that, how else could I turn out?"
Latest example, James Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0F_pxMmOG4I (looks like a nice movie)
But you may add others such as Truman Capote, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truman_Capote#Early_life ; Dian Fossey, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dian_Fossey#Life_and_career ; Ray Charles, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Charles#Early_life; Charles Chaplin, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Chaplin#Biography.
In what sense?
Now don't get me wrong, there are plenty of downsides to being a famous Hollywood actor. But I wouldn't assume success is absolutely all about money.
50 Cent is my #1 role model since he has achieved success despite adversity (Both of his parents were dead by the time he was 8 & he grew up in a rough neighborhood).
Like, 12 times.
So, try not to get too inspired by him ;)
I was one of the top 3 students of my high school graduating class -- STAR student, national merit scholarship winner, state alternate for the governor's honor's program, inducted into Mu Alpha Theta in 11th grade (the earliest you can be), etc. I walked away from all that, gave up my scholarship, dropped out of college, did the homemaker thing for a long time. The odds are super high I would have died young had I not made the choices I made. I think I have a bright future but not all of us are best served by big success at an early age.
B) I have a deadly congenital condition which was not diagnosed until my mid thirties. Being a homemaker allowed me to take care of myself enough to not die in spite of not having a diagnosis.
Had I pursued a career, most likely I either would have committed suicide at a young age or died mysteriously of my undiagnosed disorder.
There are a lot of successful people with poor/tough/gritty childhoods if you dig a little deeper.
All three extraordinary individuals grew up in near poverty conditions with conservative minded parents. They turned out alright.
Don't dispare. Nothing is futile. You control your own destiny now.
"No disrespect to Sam in any way -- he truly seems like a brilliant guy with a chorus of influential people behind him -- but I've been on a successful-person wikipedia binge as of late, and"
As if someone that is held in high respect by the group (or PG) can't ever be questioned as deserving of something by someone else.
As far as this "I've always held onto a bit of hope that maybe one day I'll be as great or as brilliant or intelligent as Sam" have you ever met Sam? Are are you merely going with what others on HN seem to think about him?
I've taken issue for example with some of the things he says in his essays as being simplistic and overly general. One example might be his categorization of business based on his relatively short and very narrow experience in the business world.
The very first multi-multi-millionaire I ever met grew up desperately poor. Quit high school in 9th or 10th grade. Tried to become a boxer to escape crushing poverty but didn't have the right build for it. Ended up in construction where he learned to become an electrician.
He started a small contracting company doing electrical work on new construction and now has three generations of his family and a few hundred employees working for him.
As an aside, he has substantial real estate holdings, raises race horses for a hobby (actually he lets his wife do that), lives on a beautiful 50 acre estate with multiple guest houses and a private car collection spread across half a dozen large garages that's got to be seen to be believed and has vacation homes in the places you'd expect people to have vacation homes. He has a skybox at the local football team stadium etc. He's toyed with getting a 100' yacht, but doesn't much like boats.
He's also completely unknown and if you were to meet him you'd think he was a retired ex-boxer construction worker -- real blue collar stuff. Dresses in work clothes most of the time and talks with a bit of the slang that was common when he was young. A google search for his name brings up nothing. His sons and grandkids are all similarly down to earth and work for what they earn and not a one of them would be known outside of the circle they work in. His sons are all at least double digit millionaires, even though they've split the company 3 ways between them.
Another family I know, immigrated from Korea, the father opened a small deli (one of those NYC style by-the-pound places) and his sons all grew up in the family business. The oldest son cottoned onto the family business and grew it, moved it to a better location. He supports his father in a very comfortable retirement, lives in a multi-million dollar 6000 sq ft home in a city next to apartment buildings (so you can guess what the property value might be), his two younger brothers all work at the family business and all live in very comfortable homes. He also has a pretty decent real estate portfolio and is planning on opening up at least 3 other delis in the next 5 years and perhaps building up a brand and franchising them out. They aren't "mega" rich, but they're top 1% in the U.S.
My father-in-law grew up an orphan at the end of the Korean War. Didn't even finish his 6th grade education. He managed to get ahold of some property and some investment money and flipped it and made some money. Repeat a few years, with more expertise, and he made a tidy fortune for himself. He single handedly supported himself, his wife, 5 kids (all through college), his brother and his similarly sized family...without going into too long a story, he vacations half the year out of his retirement and spends the other half playing Golf...in Korea. He also lives in a multi-million dollar, custom architected showpiece house near Seoul. He's also not findable on Google.
I've since met dozens of other very successful people like this, yachts, vacation homes, private castles, private islands. Not a one of them would be known outside of their immediate circle. Many of them self-made, not from old-money, didn't go to top-tier schools (if they went) and are otherwise successful by any reasonable definition of the word.
Don't confuse "publicly well known" with successful.
1. Steve Jobs
2. Jeff Bezos (you could argue that he had a relatively healthy upbringing, went to Princeton, etc).
3. Roman Abramovich (probably not most upstanding example).
Other (financially) successful people that grew up poor:
4. Howard Schultz (Starbucks): "Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families. And for some reason, I don’t know why or how, I wanted to climb over that fence and achieve something beyond what people were saying was possible. I may have a suit and tie on now but I know where I’m from and I know what it’s like."
5. Oprah Winfrey (grew up relatively poor, had a harsh upbringing, I think she was assaulted when she was younger?)
6. Luxury goods mogul Francois Pinault quit high school in 1974 after being bullied for being poor.
Here are some more stories from rags to riches:
There are also a ton of people that are excellent in their fields (academics / science / NGO founders) who are successful by a different metric (not wealth).
I think the key determinant is to keep trying, keep learning and persevere through stuff life throws at you. It can be difficult in the moment but you need to objectively keep asking yourself what you can do everyday / regularly to achieve what you want 1 year from now, 5 years from now, or generally in the long term.
Also, in the worst case scenario if you are relatively healthy you should be able to get yourself to live a modestly comfortable life and be a successful husband/wife, mother/father, member of community, contributing member of society, etc.
But.. here is a big but. So what. We don't choose our parents, we don't choose where we are born and we certainly don't choose our innate capabilities.
But we do choose how we live our life and what goals we want to accomplish. I've settled for myself that the chance of me becoming a billionaire or having a net worth of millions is unlikely due to my life circumstances and the things you've described. But the chance of me building a sustainable company that can make me financially independent and give me autonomy is doable. Not easy. Not impossible but in the realm of doable. I'll take doable and work on that. So, I agree with your sentiments but its dangerous as it can become toxic and stop us from doing the best we can, given what we have.
"Upbringing" is a very difficult to isolate variable. It could mean your parents, family, friends and lots of other important environmental features of your life at different stages. In underclass/poverty related efforts it is often considered to be the most important factor. IE, if you are unemployed or working at McDonnalds and your have an uncle who makes good money installing showers and a friend training doing well in IT relocation, you are much more likely to find a path to the middles class than if your friends and family don't give you relatable example of something equivalent. It's very important and the effect is complex. Norms get transferred around the diner table or at the bar. Opportunities get handed. Advice gets given. Ideas seem realistic or actionable depending on the availability of advice and the norms you have been absorbing. I doubt the mechanics of it all can be clearly measured and understood quantitatively but there is lots of evidence that the effects are real and are why we see major economic differences between communities.
What is different today is the internet and that's a big thing. Many of our meaningful, impactful interactions are remote and you can be deliberate about your influences. Ina a sense, this isn't new. There were people who for whom books or paintings by dead people were the most formative influences. But today, those interactions are far more nuanced, warm, immediate and accessible.
Think of it this way: 20 years ago, where would you have gone to discuss your upbringing? Who's opinion would you have access to?
Things have changed. Take advantage of it.
What changes is that, I hope that knowing all of this (everything you've mentioned included), I can help others not make the same mistakes as me or make them at a faster pace. I think doing that would make my life be worth something more having helped propel truly brilliant people further in their lives. Hell, one of those people might just cure cancer.
A family's wealth can take more than one generation to build.
So, Obama's childhood is not even close to being typical. He started with a leg-up that only got better as time went along. About the only true obstacle in his way has been his race--which is decidedly a huge one to have overcome, especially in America, where racism is still deeply embedded in our society in a number of ways, and was much much worse during his formative years. But his economic and family environment put him way, way ahead of even the typical American's.
I'm sure that factored somewhat in Obama getting into Harvard which of course led to a world of opportunities.
The point is almost none of these successes come overnight. Admitted, for example, many of success founders graduated from Stanford. But a lot of them they worked hard in high school to get into Stanford. So you may see A (success), but to get to A, they worked hard on B (some good background to get to A), and to get B they worked hard on C (some good background to get to B). A <- B <- C <-D <- E...
Okay, now assume (just assuming, I am not saying that is in fact where you are) if you are at E you might feel A is so far away, and people at B is so lucky to be at B. But if you start doing little things and work hard, you probably (I am not saying definitely because determination is the only factor here) can start to get to D, C, and then B. Who knows? Why not give it a shot? Don't give up. [If you just stare at "A" you probably won't feel you are close, but start with getting to D!]
There are plenty of time left. One thing about some media at this age I don't quite like is to idolize those 20-some startup founders, and making it sound like not to be successful at your 20s is a complete failure. That is so not true, there are plenty 40+ internet billionaires out there.
>> "But that hope is quickly vanishing the more and more I read about these individuals' backgrounds."
Does the great background help? Of course. But one thing about the internet age is the cost to start a startup is so low. And you know what the best part is? Pixels don't care. The investors may care about what kind of background you have, but your customers don't. Have you tried, say, make a simple service (e.g. website, or other form even not related to internet) some time? If not, please give it a try. If you never try, you will never fail. And it's okay to fail. None of the startups are guaranteed to be successful. Actually possibly none of your startups will be successful if you are very unlucky. But that shouldn't stop you from trying.
Again, don't stare at billion (I am not saying you are), if it helps. That is like winning a lottery, and I don't think that's the right mindset. Do something small. Do something interests you. Build something just because you love building that.
>> I don't mean to rant or derail the topic, and apologies if I do.
Don't be. And thanks for reading all my comments if you made it this far. I hope my comment is not useless. Best luck, man. Don't give up.
AFAIK, he only has one failed startup to his name, and yet he is hailed as a shrewd thinker and top startup strategist.
For those who know and respect Sam, how would you reconcile his amazing status/respect-from-top-people with his lack of concrete achievements?
I'd have to disagree with you on lack of concrete achievements. He has a lot of concrete achievements that you can point to. Starting and selling a company that was before its time. Also, helping many startups succeed. Either one of these alone would count, in my book, as being significant. I think the fact that other people perceive him so positively is a good indication that perhaps he is considerably more talented than even his current concrete achievements suggest. Think about it. Thiel, Graham, etc. These guys evaluate the best of the best on a regular basis. Having been through YC and seeing the deliberate and enormous amount of analysis that they put into each founder, I can't even begin to think through all the thought that they have put into asking Sam to be President of YC.
There is a saying to the effect of "If your financial advisor is so great, where is his yacht?"
Similarly, how can a person be a great startup advisor without significant successes under his belt? If he is that good at strategy and finding product/market fit, why doesn't he apply these skills to his own ideas?
The basic lesson out of this may be that, even if you are a remarkable person, and have great insights and great strategic skills, finding success in the startup world has such a big element of luck and "being in the right place at the right time" that a lot of remarkable people never find success with any startups they start.
The more heartening way of looking at your conclusion is that if you do everything right - don't screw anyone over, take calculated prudent risks, seek out information, make sane decisions, and work hard - and if you make that visible to people, you can usually soft-land even if your startup fails. That was my experience with my own failed startup - once I folded it up and wrote a postmortem, I had a large number of job offers, and took one at Google. People judge you based on what you do, not for things out of your control.
What is your definition of significant success? Let's say it's an exit over 100M or an IPO?
By your own realization that kind of success in startups requires luck. So does that preclude anyone who didn't get an exit over 100M from being a great startup advisor?
If so, we should rule Paul Graham out, right? Was Bill Campbell a bad startup advisor in '94 because Go went bankrupt? Heck even Ben Horowitz barely escaped having his company go bankrupt because of the dot com bust. Yet, for all of these guys, their success at being great startup advisors is self evident from the success of the companies they have advised.
Loopt may not have had a mega-exit, but how many companies do you know who were able to get exclusive deals from every major wireless carrier in a country? I know of 0. I think even Apple took longer to get there than Loopt.
But that's just one example out of various things they did right, and I am sure many mistakes they made and learned from on their way to the exit.
>Second, can you give examples of startups he helped succeed?
Based on my personal experience, I would imagine every YC startup since Sam has been a partner at YC would say he has helped them in their successes. The CEO of Stripe was quoted in the article. My company is far from being successful in the same sense as Stripe yet, but I have called Sam on sundays, when he was on vacation, and I think once when he was in another country and he has helped us be successful in each of those instances.
> "If your financial advisor is so great, where is his yacht?"
Obviously this is the combined result of help from all the YC partners and hard work from the startup teams, but do you think Sam would be president of YC if his contribution was not significant?
[And yes, I know most of these returns are unrealized but YC has probably made a majority of their investments in the last 5 years, and the lifespan of most VC funds is 10 years]
Stripe, for one. Most YC companies since he's become a partner. Almost any founder he's interacted with.
If your financial advisor is so great, where is your yacht?
Do they? What's the YC business failure rate? As far as I see it they're in the business of making educated bets on what people will turn out to be, and they're often wrong. They are not choosing the "best of the best".
But when it comes to personal opinions/endorsements it comes down to more than what can be written on a CV. I'm sure you judge your friends and colleagues based on your personal take on them rather than by looking at a checklist of their achievements, so why would it be different for people who know Sam?
> “Picture a smart person,” said Graham. “You don’t imagine somebody who is really good at talking to people, you picture someone really awkward.”
This statement seems really weird to me. Looking at all the people I've known in my life the smartest people, at least in in terms of academic and financial achievements, are the extroverts.
Extroverted and smart seems to be a very common trait. Hell I'd say that its much easier to be smart if you are extroverted as learning from other peoples experiences is a great way to learn more.
Who is Paul hanging around with that smart is paired with awkward more than outgoing?
I'd have to go to Hollywood movies to find the stereotypical nerd profile.
I don't really know anything about the social skills of the people you list, but I don't imagine them as being awkward.
And in my own life, the people I've met who've seemed obviously-really-damn-smart have also seemed to have better social skills than myself.
Nevertheless, I do think there is a stereotype of "smart people are awkward". I just don't think it's true, and I'm a little surprised that PG seems to believe in it. Or maybe he was just acknowledging it?
(I recently learned of Berkson's paradox, which I think might go some way towards explaining the stereotype. Intelligence and social skills both help people to get ahead in life, and if someone mostly hangs out with people with roughly the same amount of life success as themselves, intelligence and social skills will appear to be negatively correlated.)
No, i don't know. Actually I have no idea what this analogy was supposed to mean, but I am very optimistic about how YC can innovate itself with Sam as president.
I really liked the university concept, with YC as a place that creates knowledge and innovation for the society. I imagine YC being less about a tough funnel that leads to big hits on monetary valuations and more of a innovation powerhouse on different fields (not just different markets).
Best of luck to Sam.
Anywho congratulations to Sam, I can't wait to see what he does!
 http://youtu.be/MaN98ZkGXSs?t=4s : The first few seconds of this video might help visualize it.
I don't at all, in fact I find that kind of thinking highly insulting. Being a smart person in my experience is often highly correlated with being able to effectively communicate and discuss with others.
Nothing more true than that.
Really excited to see where Sam takes things; he's super smart and very inspiring.
In addition to the example of gay/lesbian people, I've noticed that Canadians (nationality) and Jews (religion) tend to show this trait. It makes sense - it's pleasing to learn that one of "your tribe" is doing well.
(edit: My mistake, I thought the parent comment was the same person as a lower down comment. Anyway, I wasn't deliberately "accusing" OP of being gay ... not that there's anything wrong with that.)
> It’s not crazy for Sam Altman’s phone bill to rack up 6,000 talking minutes in a month. He talks a lot, to a lot of people.
Maybe 6000 is above average, but is it even close to 'crazy' for anyone? That's only 3.3 hours a day, I probably hit that on week days for work alone (sure plenty of people will have jobs where less phone calls are needed), and with family and friends (several who I'll have regular long chats with, rather than just 30 second calls) I think I definitely go above 6000 a month, and I don't consider myself a massively heavy phone user.
For example, off the top of my head I have 8 hours of normally-scheduled conference calls (before anything ad-hoc) with my main client each week - they're a big company, the people I work with there are based in offices in England, Ireland (2 locations), Holland, France (2)... and then less frequent contact with other offices in the US (mainly) and random regional offices occasionally such as Sweden and Greece in the last couple of weeks. Phone calls are really pretty important in terms of what we do with each other. (I also travel around Europe a fair bit, but that doesn't make up for day to day communications).
But I also spend a fair bit of time talking to friends and family too, I guess that's partly due to needs (I don't have long calls with people who live down the road from me) and partly just a personal preference thing (also use Skype, SMS and email, which and how much of which depends on the person).
That's an abnormally large amount of time for me. Usually I can go days or weeks between phone calls, and when they arrive, they're nobody I want to talk to. They're almost never work related unless something has gone horribly, horribly wrong in production, and even then I try hard to get whoever I'm talking to off the damn phone quickly so I can focus on the problem.
So I suppose it's all relative. I'm not anti-social, I just don't use the phone very often.
I had the privilege of listening to him , when he was on the east cost in school once to promote YC. A lot of people who have been a part of successful startups (founders , VC's , angels) have this obnoxious vibe that they give out , esp if they're from the valley.
(Which understandably is important and helps them with whatever they have going on , however it was refreshing to see humility in the Now YC president.)
I remember distinctly , he gave his talk where he introduced YC and then talked about what they look for in the founding team etc and then gave the stage to YC alums who accompanied him. One of these guys exhibited the "vibe" I mentioned earlier . My friends and I thought he must be really successful and were contemplating talking to him later to get advice.
He unfortunately didn't know how to work his way around a projector. everyone (students , prof , and of course our YC guests were waiting for him to start). A prof normally would use that as example and tell us that that the projectors , need to be more usable.
Sam got up to help the guy up from a slightly embarrassing situation. but what happened next was odd ,(The YC alum) didn't even acknowledge it or say thanks . He rudely just went to the middle and started talking , rather bragging about how awesome his company was. (which is fine ) but it came across as a silly TV commercial. We decided we didn't want advice from an obnoxious person.
This probably doesn't sound like a logical reason to be affinitve of the new YC president but that day I thought he demonstrates qualities of a good leader .
Good luck to him and YC