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as someone geographically & logically outside of the silicon valley bubble, working in the 'real economy' and a bit older than the y combinator target group it hurts me to see those kind of lectures / advice on startups.

from my perspective it all seems like one big circle jerk, especially considering the hive-mind mentality here on hackernews where working 80hours+ / week for some fun app startup seems like good guidance for young people and something to strive for.

the goal of a startup is to make money, not raising money. the SV scene seems to be concentrating on the latter since its influenced & guided completely by venture capitalists and their interests instead of market opportunities.

to be provocative: just throw thousands of teenagers at random things, give them some pocket money and hope something sticks. motivate them by giving them some grand illusion of being an independent entrepreuner. burnout is just something that comes with the game. give them lectures to clone them into perfect worker bees for VCs as traditional education would clone them into perfect big corp employees.

my advice to young people with drive is: go travel, see the world first. solve real problems. starting your typical SV startup is mostly an illusion and a bad proposition for you. young age is certainly good for coming up with disrupting ideas, but execution profits heavily from life experience - think of survivorship bias and don't be fooled by the few success stories.




> AirBnB spent 5 months hiring before they hired a person. Brian Chesky: "Would you take the job if you had a medical diagnosis that says you only have a year left to live?" - culture of extremely dedicated people

I couldn't help but feel an extreme level of utter disgust at this. Somehow portraying that its heroic to work for a start up for the last 12 months of your life.

Really? Utterly fucking ridiculous.


It's not explicitly stated anywhere, but it hardly takes "reading between the lines" to see that the kind of "business" model being pushed is one that is exploitative of youth in some cases, and of the culture that has grown up around software engineering and computer programming in general.

A lot of the themes in this lecture related to motivation and employee qualities are what I'd lump in the category of "dog whistles." They're meant to send a certain signal to people. If that's not what they are, then somebody has done a thoroughly unimpressive job of communicating various ideas.


Not to make this just a conversation about money, but if working 100 hours a week as the first hire at Airbnb (even for below market salary) is exploitation, then please exploit me! If you can identify a growth engine, and not have to take on the founder neonatal pre-funding risk, then that's a huge opportunity, not exploitation. You're probably not going to make that kind of money working at Google.


> Not to make this just a conversation about money, but if working 100 hours a week as the first hire at Airbnb (even for below market salary) is exploitation, then please exploit me!

OK. Imagine I come to you with this offer: "Hey, relecler, I am starting this company that does X. Would you like to be its first employee? You'll be expected to work 100 hours a week for a salary below market rate, but you will have some equities. If we get big you will become millionaire, but you will lose your job if we run out of money." Would you take it?

Don't forget that for one airbnb that succeeds, you have hundreds startups that fail and whose employee have worked a lot for nothing.


Maybe I'm doomed to repeat mistakes until I've learned my lesson, but I made a similar pact when I did my PhD (Absent any promise of being a millionaire), as I did for the next company I worked for. And now at my own startup that is certainly the case.


Well, if you think what the startup join join does is really awesome and you're passionate about it, by all mean go for it, passion is something I do respect. And same for your PhD, I always respect people who have one because they were passionate about something enough to do research instead of going for a well paid job (I don't have a PhD but I seriously considered doing one in maths when I finished my Msc).


   A lot of the themes in this lecture related to motivation
   and employee qualities are what I'd lump in the category
   of "dog whistles."
Really? It all seems candid to me. What do you think Sam is implying but leaving unsaid?


The kinds of workers he suggests to hire basically boil down to, "hire people who are willing to work harder for less compensation with a promise of a big equity cash out (which is about as likely as winning the lottery)." That is to say, hire workers who are exploitable.

I am sure some, perhaps even Sam himself, don't view it that way; that they really, honestly believe the rhetoric they're using is not negative or indicative of an exploitative relationship. That's just how dog whistles work, though: in some cases the audience and messenger are merely casual, unwitting participants in a larger, cultural narrative, but in others one or more parties "knows what they mean."

So the words about employees having to be passionate and believe in the mission are basically dog whistles indicating "it's culturally acceptable to target would-be employees who are easily exploited." These would-be employees don't have to think they're being exploited, by the way, in order for an exploitative relationship to exist.

At least that's how I read it.


The deal, as I see it, is that in a start-up you work extra hard for moderate pay, and in return get a chance at a big payout if the company succeeds in a big way. There's nothing wrong about that, in principle. But I wonder how the math works out.

It might be possible to calculate the pay per hour of extra work for employees in startups. But some of the parameters would be hard to get data on.

How many more hours of work per week? For how many years? For how much less pay? With how much chance of a big win? And the big win gets you how much?


Well it is this or grad school. At least startups raised salaries if you want to go big corp.


Indeed. If I had one year to live, I would tell my co-founders to leave me alone so I can be with my loved ones. Actually its even in our shareholder agreement as good leaver clauses.

However, its one type of entrepreneurship they teach in SV. Pity lectures don't discuss the fun part. Because no matter how difficult it is, and not only in SV, there is a lot of fun & happiness.


I too think it is ridiculous. Maybe I am too old.

But I love to heard the actual pitch from the founder(s) with 1-10 employees with maybe limited tractions that can really successfully convince a potential employee to say 'yes' to that.

Maybe Steve Jobs..... But he is too famous now, can he do it if he is an unknown and just one of the thousands of founders in Silicon Valley?


An earlier point in the lecture was that you shouldn't hire until you have traction and really, really need the employee to keep up with growth. So if you're following all the advice in the lecture, you will not be in the position of "1-10 employees with maybe limited traction", you'll be in the position of "2-3 founders with clear traction". This is a much more attractive proposition to the first employee, as they can at least be sure that their work won't be in vain, and probably will make out pretty well on stock options.

IMHO the advice about not hiring before you have traction is far, far more important than the advice about what sort of person you want to hire. The former is strategy; the latter is tactics. You can swap out the latter based on what your needs are and what sort of company you want to build, but the former seems to be universal.


I just heard that and can't really believe anyone would say yes. Why would anyone spend the last year of their life working, and working for someone else?


For the same reason trees bloom in a disproportionately high quantity the spring before they die. When they sense the end of their lifetime they want to bear fruits. This isn't uncommon in people. The closer you get to the end the more you worry about your legacy.

What's more painful than death is not getting a chance to discharge at least some of your ideas. Ignoring your dreams is the number one regret of the dying. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a man.


Well, it's not like he said "if this was the last year of your life you should be honored to work here"

No. He set out looking for people who were crazy in a way he liked, and he hired them. If there's anything ridiculous about that it's the behavior of those first hires, not of the CEO.

What am I missing here? If people like that exist, what's wrong with looking for them?


CEO's have the ability and, moreover, responsibility to set the tone of how people approach work as well as life. Implying that employees should be so dedicated that they're firing off commits on their death bed is, um, ridiculous. That's not even considering this is AIRBNB. I love their product, but c'mon...people aren't growing up deeply impassioned by the injustice of how inconvenient it is to rent out one of their rooms.

You want dedicated employees. Not lunatics. And you certainly shouldn't do things that encourage people to be lunatics.

Would you demand that your employees egregiously break the law for your company? Now THAT is dedication, right? No, you wouldn't (god I hope not), because that's not ethical.


> What am I missing here? If people like that exist, what's wrong with looking for them?

Because it could be a young kid and brainwashing techniques like that could be dangerous. The question implies that the right choice is "Yes, I would like to work for this God blessed startup for the last 12 months of my life because working here is not a job, it's a mission".


The point isn't that working at a startup is heroic.

The point is that if you don't believe in your core that the startup's mission is worth spending the last year of your life on, you're not the kind of person who'll do what's necessary to make it happen.

Maybe you can't think of a cause you'd make that sacrifice for, but many founders and startup employees can. I don't think that's disgusting.


how cynical is it to demand this of your employees when you are the founder with 10-100% of the equity? and how easily impressed (or young / stupid) do you have to be to buy into this as an employee?

it's airbnb, you're not curing cancer!


Depends how your frame it.

Air B and B is about changing the global economy. Tearing down the walls that keep everybody from getting what they deserve in in life.

This application is like our first steps on the moon. It will launch the very future of human commerce...etc...etc


You slightly changed the problem here though.

Your point now is that employees should be rewarded more. That's a fair point [1]. But it's still separate to being dedicated to what you do.

There are several occupations people enter knowing there is little monetary reward. Schoolteachers don't make much but they are dedicated to building children's lives and can't imagine themselves doing anything else. So are artists and generally anyone who has found their calling.

If I had a only a year to live I probably would still be working on the things I'm working on now.

[1] - It's a fair hypothesis that the most valuable company would be the one where everyone involved is rewarded in proportion to the value they generate. You can't build some kinds of companies if you keep 100% of the equity as a founder btw. Look at Alibaba's $210b IPO and Alibaba's founder who has only 8.4%.


The assumption that startup success relies on enduring 80 hour work weeks is a commonly held one in Silicon Valley, yet there are some remarkable counter-examples. Dropcam, for example, made it an explicit part of their culture that employees work a focused 40 hour work week and have dinner with family and friends outside of the office. The CEO believes that startups who offer dinner at work are basically manipulating employees to work late into the night [1]. Did these sane, healthy work policies hold Dropcam back from massive success? Nope. It was acquired for half a billion dollars [2]. For the sake of our team members and employees, I think we would do well to emulate Dropcam.

[1] http://www.xconomy.com/san-francisco/2013/04/23/dropcam-ceos...

[2] http://techcrunch.com/2014/06/20/google-and-nest-acquire-dro...


The idea that people really work 80-hour weeks is TOTAL BULLSHIT. It's only self-aggrandizement.

80 hours a week means 11 hours a day every single day. That means you wake up at 8am, roll into office at 9am (ya, show me a startup where everyone's there at 9am!), work straight until 8pm, and get home 9pm. Including Saturdays and Sundays.

I completely reject the notion that even in the most dedicated startup, you will find a large number of people who do this for any sustained period of time.

People have limits. After a few days of 11-hour shifts, anyone will say "fuck, I need a break." Even the fabled CEO, who will be on email and essentially on call 24/7, will take breaks that bring the number down from 80 hours sustained.


I don't have any data on this, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the average knowledge worker works 4 hours per days. So even if you're right, they're still doing 2x. When I have a programming/computer task a typical day for me is 8:30 am - 10:30 during weekdays. I work from home so there is no commute time and I usually quickly eat at my desk. If I have meetings and a lot of multi-tasking then that eats into my productivity because there's always task switching inertia.


I don't think you're being that provocative. I think you should change teenagers to dreamers, and random things to whatever was funded last week by the other VC.

People who are convinced they have an idea for a billon dollar startup idea(no matter how unrealistic) are far more willing to sign lopsided deals, and destroy themselves trying to make it happen. They are so tunnel vision that they just refuse to acknowledge what a 90% failure rate means.


I think you should let people dream. Very few people start billion dollar start-ups - but there are skills and insight being provided here that is highly transferable.

Start-ups are frequently on the cutting edge of business practices - the ideas that are generated here often have impact for people working in big business as well.


I guess you could call it a circle jerk, but it is in some way acknowledged (not in a negative way). For instance the path get-accepted-at-yc -> demo-day -> raise-money is intended for those who want to raise money which is not necessarily the desire of every startup (I guess this is clear for everybody).

The one implicit assumption that I find the most difficult to grasp is the "change the world" attitude, especially when you see that as soon as they try to make money at the same scale they are valuated, startups do "wrong" things. Take FB or Twitter; I guess that connecting people is a noble goal. But trying all the time to get me to click on promoted content, is that good ?


I get your point, but it might be you do not want to build a $1B company.

Y-Combinator is designed to build $1B+ companies, however, it is not designed to not build $1B companies at all. So if you don't want to do that, yes do not work 80h/week. However, this way, you are also very unlikely to build a company of that size.

If you want to build a huge tech-company like Uber, Twitter, AirBnB, you will need to spend all your brain capacity for what you are doing in order to make a company like that happen, you will simply need to sacrifice a lot, friends, sports, having a girlfriend, sometimes even sanity. Most people would never do that and that is fine, however, there are some people can't imagine doing something else, because they really, really want to change the world and there is nothing else that would give them more satisfaction. This is not possible as a side-project and the evidence is that the huge companies we have these days were not built part-time. They were built full-time, probably double full-time.

Hope the other point of view makes a bit more sense to you now.


The parent understands what you wrote just fine. What I think you misunderstand is the parent's point. The "$1B" has to come from somewhere. The parent's point is that in the Valley/VC bubble, that $1B isn't primarily from economic activity in the traditional sense that a business provides a good or service to enterprise or retail consumers in exchange for money, but is instead primarily from additional rounds of fundraising from other investors in later series.

So I'd modify your first sentence to make it more accurate: "It might be you do not want to build a company with a $1B value that is largely paper-money based on investor provided funding."


It often takes leaving SV to understand what you're saying here.


Whilst I somehwhat agree with your sentiment, I actually think the content of the course (thus far) is acutally pretty consistent with what you've said above.

The main takeaway from the last lecture was identify a good problem and a good idea that resonates with you personally - or as you phrased it "solve real problems".

The key difference between a start-up and a normal small business is that a start-up's main aim is to grow very quickly to benefit from the economies of the business model. Unfortunately in that environment raising venture capital and working 80 hour weeks is a bit of a fact of life - I hope some people take away from this course that there are other options to this. Specifically a slower self-financing growth phase, bank loans or family/friends etc.


How many people really work 80 hour weeks on their startup? Counting only time that is spent actually working, and not on HN or playing foosball. In my experience people often overestimate how much they work because they want to one up others.


> The goal of a startup is to make money, not raising money. the SV scene seems to be concentrating on the latter since its influenced & guided completely by venture capitalists and their interests instead of market opportunities.

I see it as a protocol to reduce uncertainty and expect more protocols (appcoins? kickstarters?) to arise. You know that the next carrot in front of you is going to an accelerator, then raise more money (repeat), then get acquired, get profitable, go public, or simply die.


Are you against the particular points in this lecture? The video seems like sound tactical advice on how to do a particular type of startup. He talks about things like looking for cofounders, hiring, and soforth. Very little time is spend haranguing students on raising money, or working 80 hour weeks.

Or perhaps you are speaking against the SV startup culture in general, with this video as a catalyst for touching off those thoughts? In that case, perhaps there's just a difference of values.


I think the lectures so far aren't exactly inconsistent with your thinking. They're skewed SV and given their origins, why wouldn't they be? But at the same time, the first two lectures have politely/subtly pointed out whats wrong with the scene and taken them down


Extremely well put sir! Go forth and travel young ones!


Along these lines, the music business is largely driven by 23+ year olds making music bought by teenagers.


23+ for actual bands. Most pop music is probably made by 40+.

(recommendation: listen to Porcupine Tree - The Sound of Muzak)


That's overly cynical. There are different paths to building a business, and you can choose which one you want to take.


true, maybe i'm just bitter because i missed both bubbles in '99 and the one now to raise some money and flip a startup. :)

i respect everyone who starts a business, it's tough (and success is heavily influenced by luck & personal connections).

i just want to make the point that from an outside perspective this doesnt look like a building a business, its more like big corp work disguised as entrepreneurship.


The mistake is to paint the situation as black and white, which it's clearly not. There are plenty of failures and successes across the spectrum.


Besides being imprecise you also contradicted yourself.

(1) > my advice to young people with drive is ... solve real problems.

You say burnout is intrinsic to startups but ignore that hard work is needed for other things that aren't startups. What makes you think solving real problems doesn't require dedication?

(2) > the goal of a startup is to make money

No. It's a goal, but not the only goal. Another goal is to make the world a better place.

(3) Can you be precise about what "hurts you to see" those lectures? Is it because what they say is true and the truth is uncomfortable? Or do the lectures say something that's false? Can you point to a specific sentence that's false?

If you can't boil something down to a single sentence then you don't know what you are saying and judging from the length of your comment you don't.


I always disagree with the single sentence thing.

Being able to turn a complicated idea into a sentence does generally mean you get the concept, but you can still get the concept with out expressing it at a 5th grade language level.


The goal isn't just to get the concept. It's also to transmit it. You'll be surprised how hard it is to get a message through to people, even when it's expressed in plain words in a single sentence. And don't be tricked into thinking that making your ideas understandable to all people is a mark of low intelligence because it isn't.

It can't be a total accident there's a high correlation between being a good communicator and being a successful founder.


I agree 100%. My issue is with it being framed as understanding your work. When it is more about understanding how the public thinks and feels.

It is more political then technical. It is about connection.

Highlighting that I think helps people to focus on a completely different skill set. I know I got bogged up in the joy of my technical development and needed to remind myself to be an evangelist which is fundamentally an application of rhetoric.

It also means skilfully using cognitive short cuts that already cluster information in order to simplify.

It is not that the public cannot understand, it is just that it is hard to not use domain specific vocabulary and still communicate the concept.

Take search engine. It is a perfect example of this process.


I don't understand what you are saying. Can you (a) tell me what you are saying in one sentence, and (b) provide a citation that proves what you are saying is true, if possible?

Words start to break once you push them too far.


Singles sentence explanations for complex ideas tend to cluster cognitive short cuts (more formally -- cognitive misers 1).

This is because new ideas/concepts may require new words or words outside the scope of the 5th grade rule. An idiom is a cognitive miser of sorts.

-----

Example - search engine

search - familiar vocabulary

engine - cognitive short cut

           - machine

           - technical

           - related to car 
  
           - transports from point A to B (car)

           - familiar

           - requires steering (car)

           - most are comfortable with operating (car etc)
-----

It is a hack to communicate when the available vocabulary does not convey the true intention of the speaker.

And/or the existing level of vocabulary is inefficient.

----

Videos:

Star Trek Example: http://youtu.be/ukMNfTnI5M8

Archer Example: http://youtu.be/GzHhgPgO7wA

*1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_miser

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literacy_in_the_United_States


Now I see what you are saying.

You are saying to communicate complex ideas one tends to need words a 5th grader wouldn't know.

I was saying to communicate an idea one should fit it an a single sentence.

Unless I missed something, we are not in disagreement. You are arguing for word quality, I'm arguing for word quantity. You don't disagree that boiling an idea to a single sentence is good, and I learned something new from you. The cognitive miser theory is fascinating.

Thank you for having put the effort to follow up.


Yup. Correct. Cool Beans.

It is the framing 'You do not UNDERSTAND your app unless you can simplify it in a single sentence' that I disagree with.

It is more 'You do not UNDERSTAND your market unless you can simply in a single sentence'.




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