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Y Combinator’s New Head (recode.net)
216 points by nikhilpandit on Mar 18, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 100 comments

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 it's become very, very clear that a person's upbringing almost determines whether or not they're going to be successfull, which saddens me. I grew up to some very close-minded parents who severely limited my growth, forced me to fulfill their every wish, I couldn't get into a top school, and yet 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 et al. But that hope is quickly vanishing the more and more I read about these individuals' backgrounds. Successful parents (who were likely encouraging, supportive, and open-minded), great schools, achievements at early ages, etc, all seem to be a common thread, and trying to kickstart things again past your formative years seems futile. I don't mean to rant or derail the topic, and apologies if I do.

>"But that hope is quickly vanishing the more and more I read about these individuals' backgrounds."

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.

From this week's "Corner Office" in the NYT, about hiring:

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.


Good advice. Treat an interview like a advertisement for yourself, not a counseling session

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"

What about the third option where things are just happening with no narrative? The most important one.

Someone once told me that a smile is the greatest sign of wisdom. While I don't agree with that statement literally for various reasons, the idea behind it has stuck with me.

...it's become very, very clear that a person's upbringing almost determines whether or not they're going to be successful...

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?"

You run the risk of making this a self-fulfilling prophecy. An (economically, educationally, etc.) privileged background increases the ODDS of being successful; it is not a REQUIREMENT for success by any measure. If this is getting you down, I suggest you read some stories about people from the other end of the spectrum ending up at the same place. I don't have any links, but perhaps other people here do.

Well, if you learn about successfull people through Hollywood you would have the exactly opposite bias, that all successfull people came from a tough childhood.

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.

Executives are waaaaaaay more succussful than actors in hollywood. And you have none in your list. It might be enlightening to do a demographic study of industry executives and their lobbyists in Washington. And then report back with your findings. =D

Executives are waaaaaaay more succussful than actors in hollywood.

In what sense?

More money on average?

Does that mean they're more successful? Honest question. Millions of people adore Brad Pitt, very few people know who the CEO of Apple is.

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.

For the person who thinks "money" is a shallow, why would "celebrity" be any "more fulfilling"? This is like comparig the health of two kinds of junk food.

I'm just questioning why one junk food (as you put it) is more valuable than the other. I am unconvinced that it is.

Interestingly, this leads to the heart of the analysis. Which is probability of success, control of success factors, and second best outcomes, given success doesn't happen. If you consider those more "rational" metrics (agnostic of money/fame), how would they compare?

Second best outcomes (or even median outcomes) cuts to the heart of the matter. C list executives still get good money. C list actors not so much, and not even fame.


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).

And got shot.

Like, 12 times.

So, try not to get too inspired by him ;)

Gotta give it to him though, the dude is an amazing businessman.

I experienced a lot of the same stuff growing up. Now that you have a clear understanding of your situation, you can change things, if you want. There's a statute of limitations for blaming parents for things. It's up to you, now. Break the chain.

"Break the chain" Yes, the parents should have supported OP emotionally more than they did. So, you break the chain because otherwise you will end up just like your parents, and you don't really like those guys, so you end up not really liking yourself and then you are even less likely to succeed in whatever area you want to succeed in.

I suggest you start looking for people you can identify with better who met some standard of success you admire. Madonna is a collage drop out. So is Bill Gates. Altough Gates came from money, Madonna came from a middle class background. There are plenty of people out there who came from "nothing."

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.

> The odds are super high I would have died young had I not made the choices I made.

Please explain.

A) I was seriously abused as a kid and was quite suicidal for years.

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.

I think there's an element of bias here. A successful person with unhelpful parents isn't going to go around complaining about how unhelpful her parents were.

There are a lot of successful people with poor/tough/gritty childhoods if you dig a little deeper.

You should read the book: The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight by Winston Groom.

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.

I'm always fascinated how it's necessary to preface one's point by first saying something like this:

"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"

Fascinating in what way? The guy is smart, successful, and he deserves what he's achieved. That he's found the opportunities he's capitalized on isn't his fault.

Because you said "No disrespect to Sam in any way" trying to head off (I speculate) people's immediate negative reaction in interpreting to quickly what you said as in some way being disrespectful.

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.

I also don't worship Sam, but even if I were the OP I'd say the same thing. It's just not worth the conversational overhead.

If it helps any, there are loads of very successful people that you'll never hear about who grew up very poor or modest and have very much "made it". Not being a public figure is not the same as not being successful.

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.

One more.

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.

Also I've done similar research to the GrandParent commenter on the internet and there is a lot more to it than just having open parents. A lot of orphans or adopted children are also spectacularly successful. Imagine having to live the fact that your biological parents "abandoned" you or something along those lines. Here are some of those people.

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.

If you're significantly rich, the thing is you don't want to become publicly known. It's a pain in the ass and delivers almost no benefit to you unless you have some plan for what to do with your newfound fame.

Even is this is the case, if you plan on having kids you can certainly do your best to give them the best start (bootstrapping them) so they can have the same advantages.

Everything you are saying about the parents and the upbringing is true. We always need to put anyone's success in context. It's easy to compare myself and feel less accomplished when just looking superficially at someone's success. When I dig deeper into their history and life circumstances the comparison gets muddier and muddier until it really doesn't make sense.

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.

Past performance may not be indicative of future results, now more than ever. I hope that heartens you in some way.

"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.

There's always the possibility for second acts, even moreso in this world where the rate of technological innovation and change is speeding up. But you vastly increase your odds of this by moving to a locale where you have the best odds of serendipity, namely Silicon Valley/SF or NYC. Without going into personal detail, I can guarantee this from experience.

I can't say I completely know where you're coming from, but I can certainly try to imagine. I'm only in my 20s and I look at people younger than me do much more incredible things which get me down.

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.

I tend to believe that the desire to be great is what drives successful people. A person's upbringing can often result in their desire to be great but it is not always the active ingredient. There are many people in the world who have had amazing upbringings and more opportunities than anyone else just to end up doing nothing significant in their life. Don't sell yourself short, be great.

It might be difficult to become as successful as those people you were reading about, however, it wouldn't be beyond you to become somewhat successful, so that your kids will have successful parents and have a chance of achieving more success than you.

A family's wealth can take more than one generation to build.

Look at the current President of the United States. Did he have the type of upbringing you are envisioning here?

Yes, actually. His parents were a Harvard alumnus and a mother who was both gifted and accomplished in Anthropology (with a wide network) and the people who raised him from age 10, his grandparents, were hardly "middle class" in the one-breadwinner-midwestern-auto-worker sense of the word. They were at minimum on the affluent side of middle-class.

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.

How many thousands of people had a Harvard alumnus for a father and gifted and accomplished woman for a mother? How many of those thousands became president?

Your second question is entirely irrelevant in the context of this discussion. "Become President" is just not a reasonable minimum measure of "success."

Well fwiw Obama's father did go to Harvard:


I'm sure that factored somewhat in Obama getting into Harvard which of course led to a world of opportunities.

>> "trying to kickstart things again past your formative years seems futile"

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.

Point your wikipedia perusal to internet millionaires and you'll see not much correlation at all.

In my opinion you are wrong. Many people use the adversity of their childhood as fuel to drive their adult success. I used that fuel myself.

That's reality, though. The past cannot be changed; the future can be.

What about Steve Jobs?

Given all this over-the-top fawning from Graham, Thiel, etc, one thing comes to mind: "Where's the beef?"

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 respect Sam a lot. I had the good fortune of meeting with him a few times and he invested in my company. I found him to be very smart, honest, and real. If I had to capture one of his strengths, I'd say he understands how systems operate (technology, people, and cultural systems).

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.

I'm sure he's a remarkable person, but not so sure about the examples you give as concrete achievements. First, I would not consider Loopt a success. Second, can you give examples of startups he helped succeed?

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.

I think your conclusion is probably right on. You can do everything right and still fail in the startup world, because there's a large element of luck. In Sam/Loopt's case, I'm almost certain they were early - FourSquare/Latitude/Facebook-Check-Ins did okay just 4 years later. But then, didn't someone once say "Early is wrong as far as startups go." Perhaps that means you shouldn't listen to sama's advice on market-timing, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't listen to his advice on the other aspects of startups.

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.

>First, I would not consider Loopt a success. >how can a person be a great startup advisor without significant successes under his belt?

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?"

Here: http://techcrunch.com/2014/01/13/yc-pg-2014-update/

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]

> can you give examples of startups he helped succeed?

Stripe, for one. Most YC companies since he's become a partner. Almost any founder he's interacted with.

> There is a saying to the effect of "If your financial advisor is so great, where is his yacht?"

If your financial advisor is so great, where is your yacht?

a good financial advisor might be very good set knowing how to manage money and at the same time not particularly motivated to put in the work specific to actually making it. the efforts and rewards are different. if he can make a comfortable living simply by advising the people who do the actual slogging involved, that might be more than enough for him.

> Think about it. Thiel, Graham, etc. These guys evaluate the best of the best on a regular basis.

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".

I don't know or respect Sam (well, don't respect him more or less than anyone else reading about him), but 'success' depends on many things, it's possible for idiots to find it and for geniuses to miss it, whether because they aimed too high, or were with the wrong people, or luck, or...

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?

My guess is that he is an excellent adviser; his success is the success of people he helps. And I do not say that in a derogatory note. Being a consultant myself, I recognize that my advice may be valuable but only given the context of people who make use of it properly. Now, you can allocate merit between adviser and advised in whatever manner suits better your perception of the world.

> “It’s remarkable when somebody is both extroverted and smart,”

> “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.

Oh I don't know where we even get that stereotype from. Oh wait, I do, because Albert Einstein was an introvert and preferred to be alone. More recent examples: Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak.

Note that introverted and awkward are not the same. An awkward person is likely to come across as introverted, but not all introverts are awkward.

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[1], 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.)

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berkson%27s_paradox

I think there are just as many examples of world-class smart people on the other end of the outgoing/charismatic curve: Von Neumann, Feynman, Bohr, Russell, Hilbert off the top of my head.

Or is it possible that we know about those world-class smart people because they're outgoing/charismatic? ie. perhaps listing off names of smart people we can think of who are/aren't outgoing/charismatic is maybe not the best way of determining any statistical inference whatsoever.

"Who is Paul hanging around with that smart is paired with awkward more than outgoing?"

Programmers, obviously.

“You know how when you hit a tennis ball, it bounces back up and then simultaneously you swing the racket? YC is just getting to this point,” he added. “If you think [my role] is an influential position now, just wait a couple years and see what Sam does.”

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.

I think, this is just a guess, he's referring to when a person lobs the ball over the net to you and it hits the ground first before coming back up; you have to time your stroke perfectly to hit it back or risk missing the ball on the come-up. [1] So it's my belief that he's saying YC has been rising all this time, and with the right swing of the racket, they will hit it out of the park (tennis court?). Needless to say it's a confusing analogy. :)

Anywho congratulations to Sam, I can't wait to see what he does!

[1] http://youtu.be/MaN98ZkGXSs?t=4s : The first few seconds of this video might help visualize it.

Yep, it's called a half volley, you need to hit when you are too close to the ball. So., you need to swing the racquet forward even while it's bouncing, as opposed to a later swing in case of a regular length ball.

Anticipation and timing.

“Picture a smart person,” said Graham. “You don’t imagine somebody who is really good at talking to people, you picture someone really awkward."

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.

I don't think there is a correlation between them. Rather, I think that if there are two people who have the same level of intelligence, the one who is a better communicator (and this is more often a trait found in extroverts) comes across as smarter because they can transmit their ideas better.

> “I learned this great lesson of my life,“ he said. “The way to get things done is to just be really f*g persistent. … I had this philosophy of going to every door and every window.”

Nothing more true than that.

Really excited to see where Sam takes things; he's super smart and very inspiring.

I had no idea Sam was gay. That was the most interesting part of the story, and also that I never knew before.

I also didn't know, but I am curious why you find his sexuality more interesting than anything else in this story?

Being gay, I also found it particularly interesting. Akin to the Female Founders Conference, it's energizing to see successful LGBT founders.

I'm exactly the same, but don't particularly like it... I do pay lots of attention to who's gay, from celebrities to people I come across personally, and the logical side of my brain tells me it's irrelevant, while the emotional side can't stop caring. (Also gay.)

Ah I see, that's understandable! Thanks for answering!

I've noticed that people in a non-obvious minority group tend to be pleasantly surprised when they find out that someone distinguished is from that same minority group.

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.

That's the nicest, subtlest wording of OPIAF I've ever seen.

Any link explaining the usual description of OPIAF? Urban dictionary and google are failing me.

I'm guessing "OP is a fag" or similar but please enlighten me.

This is a really cruel thread.

He said in a later comment that he was, in fact, gay. I'm not putting words in his mouth, nor mentioning it in a derogatory way.

(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.)

Not really of any importance to the article, but:

> 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.

Do you work in sales? What do you spend so much time on the phone for? I spend ~1 hr a week on the phone and it's all to my family.

I don't work in sales, but in marketing - probably 70% of my work calls would be to colleagues/clients, the rest to external people (e.g. Companies we spend marketing $ with).

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).

I may have spent an hour on phone/facetime/skype/whatever calls in the past two months. Half of that to my credit card company assuring them that yes, I really am the one using my credit card in Taiwan, and the other half with family.

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.

My phone plan has 100 minutes included. I rarely go over that.

So I suppose it's all relative. I'm not anti-social, I just don't use the phone very often.

Sam's Cool!

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

Most interesting thing for me was that Sam is going to go out and meet biotech people... gives me hope that YC understands the convergence that is happening between web technologies and biotechnologies... guess it's time for www.glowingplant.com to apply to YC!

I wasn't there for the WWDC 2008 presentation, but in the article's linked snippet Altman's collars are definitely not popped. Google images has plenty of reference images for properly popped collars, reassuringly framed as motivational posters.

There are hundreds of people he talks to on a daily basis? How?

great story: “I think I went to sleep at four, I slept till six, I got on a flight at seven to Orange County where Boost was. And I just got to that office and sat there, and the guy was like, ‘Weird, you’re in my office.’ I said, ‘Just meet me for 10 minutes, and let me know what you think.’ He said no a few times, but I showed it to him, and I could tell he was really impressed.”


He bares a striking resemblance to PG.

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