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I Am Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator. AMA
634 points by sama 827 days ago | hide | past | web | 689 comments | favorite
YC applications for the Summer 2015 batch are due in a week, so I thought I'd do an AMA to answer questions about applying to YC, how the program works, or anything else.

EDIT: 12:55 PM. This has been a really fun three hours, but now I have back to back meetings for the rest of the day. Sorry I couldn't answer everything--I typed as fast as I can :)

Special thanks to the YC software team for fixing an issue very quickly in the middle of this!

Question re solo founders: "A startup is too much work for one person" and if you can't convince even one friend to join you, that doesn't speak well for your idea! On the other hand, a bad hire/partnership can ruin the company. YC gives signal it really prefers to look at teams than individual applications. Q: Do you have have advice or rules of thumb re how much time a solo founder should put into finding partner(s)? Or thoughts re how much to prioritise this, vs. just writing code and talking to users to finish initial version yourself? I don't mean this to be just focused on "getting into YC" but more in general: what's the right way to think about fixing this problem (being a solo founder) vs tackling other things like actually building something initial users can be using? For software ideas surely it is occasionally sensible to make at least a prototype and actually get some users before ever buddying up? Or if I've got this far but am basically still going it alone, am I doing something wrong?

We really prefer at least two founders, but it's not a deal-breaker. We funded Drew Houston of Dropbox as a solo founder, but he got a cofounder before the batch started.

A bad cofounder is far, far worse than no cofounder.

I'd spend maybe 20% of your time looking for a cofounder, and the rest on your business. But don't force a cofounder if you don't have a good, organic option.

The more progress you make on the business, the easier it will be to get a great cofounder.

>The more progress you make on the business, the easier it will be to get a great cofounder.

I am not trying to be pedantic...but are they really a cofounder if you've hashed out the idea and made progress on the business prior to their involvement? It's an important question in my mind, because a cofounder typically receives far more equity than virtually anyone else that becomes involved with the business after it is founded, and it also carries legal ramifications.

I have personally been in a situation where I founded a company and created its technology, and when I needed money, someone volunteered to be my "cofounder". He eventually stole my IP, transferred it to a new corporate entity, sold it, and made more than $60 million. I wound up with nothing. While what he did was outright theft, I assisted him in it and made the legal battle infinitely more difficult for myself by declaring someone that clearly had nothing to do with founding the business a "cofounder" early on.

It would disqualify nearly all cofounders of famous startups if they had to form the company before one of them made progress on the idea. For example:

Steve Wozniak built the original Apple I attending Homebrew Computer Club meetings. Steve Jobs saw the prototype, realized it would be huge, and then talked Woz into founding a business around it.

Larry Page had started Google as a doctoral research project to download the web and make sense of its link structure. Sergey's original startup idea was to order pizza via fax machine, and he'd started work on it with some other friends before abandoning it to go work with Larry.

Mark Zuckerburg created FashMash and then Facebook and had some early traction among his house at Harvard before convincing his cofounders to join.

Drew Houston created DropBox as a solo founder and then convinced Arash to join after getting accepted to YC.

Apoorva Mehta started Instacart on his own and then got cofounders after YC.

The usual rule-of-thumb is to give close-to-even equity splits to cofounders here, because most of the work of building a company lies ahead of you, not behind you. You definitely do want to vet your cofounders for trustworthiness and have some idea whether they're interested in founding a company with you or whether they just want your idea. Usually the best defense to the latter is having something the former needs, either deep domain knowledge or technical skills or connections in the industry.

"Mark Zuckerburg created FashMash and then Facebook and had some early traction among his house at Harvard before convincing his cofounders to join."

I don't think it went down quite like that? I just can't let that little dude slip into history as the brilliant, modern day Jobs, or Gates. In my mind, he capitalized on someone else's idea--with the help of a lot of people, and got very lucky. Whenever I(under a pseudonym) use his site, I wonder why there isn't more competition. I sometimes think the very act of stealing someone's idea/site is the reason for Facebook's success? "I better not question that new hire--I'm not sure I even belong here? I was wrong on mobile? Maybe I should just follow their advice?"

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates also capitalized on someone else's idea. The "idea" is just one factor on a very complex equation.

Take a look at this great movie "Pirates of Silicon Valley"


Ideas aren't worth much. The real idea that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had was that personal computers and software were compelling products that would have value to ordinary people.

I suggest you read the book "Hackers" by Stephen Levy (aside from probably giving more accurate insight into the origins of Microsoft and Apple, also includes timeshare, Unix, the free software movement, and IIRC Lisp Machines in its recounting, all in a lot less space than Isaacson's complete ballsup).


>You definitely do want to vet your cofounders for trustworthiness and have some idea whether they're interested in founding a company with you or whether they just want your idea.

This advice would have been handy for the Winkelvoss twins, who hired Zuckerberg to build their social network project. Instead he secretly held their project back while building his own version, including their ideas. The rest, as they say, is his story.

Why not use a vesting scheme.

Convincing arguments have been made that it's usually a better idea that co-founders get equal equity than not, to prevent arguments about said split which are much more likely to doom your startup. It's like that point about arguments in a relationship: would you rather be right or be together?


Edit: I see you added that second paragraph after I wrote this out. I'm sorry for your situation, that must've been horrible. However, it sounds like in that situation the toxicity of the co-founder is more to blame than any initial attribution or equity split.

Thanks for the link.

> The founders should end up with about 50% of the company, total. Each of the next five layers should end up with about 10% of the company, split equally among everyone in the layer.

This is the typical, and exploitative, arrangement in silicon valley! In today's climate, the founders often get money very early and start hiring right away. They have no real personal risk in the venture, and even if it fails completely their "founder" status will serve them well at the next go-round.

The founders had an idea and some rough prototype, but the product is built and the company direction is executed by the next 10 people, and the next 10, and so on. But while the first 10 Employees get to share 10 percent of the company, they sit side-by-side with the 3 founders who have 10-20 times as much as any one of them.

We all take it for granted that the founders' contribution should be worth so much more than mere employees. But who writes these blog posts on how to distribute equity, with 50% to founders and 10% to each "layer" after? Well, it's not the employees. It's the investors and founders themselves, who need to solidly stand behind the idea that at a company that faced failure every day and with every competitor launch and had to get every aspect right, in the end the people at the top should enjoy mega-riches and early retirement, while the lowly workers enjoy a nice bonus equivalent to a year or two salary.


If you believe in avc.com's guide of 50% to founders and 10% to each subsequent "layer", I would counter that the founding team is itself a layer, and each layer should be compensated equally. There is no justification for the first layer (founders) owning as much as the other layers combined.

If you believe it's exploitative, why not take the other side of the trade? Go become a startup founder yourself.

Lots and lots of people in Silicon Valley do that, and ultimately, that's what's causes market correction. If there are way more startups out there than talented engineers capable of building products, then the engineers can negotiate a much better deal for themselves. Or they don't and go out of business, but if that's the case, then your initial assumption that they have no real personal risk in the venture doesn't hold.

I know a senior engineer (Boston area, not Silicon Valley) that's made multiple millions multiple times as an early employee. She comes in to startups after they've fucked up their v1 so badly that they can't bring it to market, negotiates a very sweet equity package, fixes the product, and then cashes out when they IPO or get bought.

> Go become a startup founder yourself.

The issue isn't me. And, I might already be a founder. That's besides the point.

I'm happy for your friend. That's excellent, to be able to negotiate well. Most people don't. And most people are TOLD, repeatedly, that 1% is an "excellent" percent even as the earliest joining a company.

The word "exploitative" is as tricky today as in centuries past. If the employee doesn't want to work for peanuts, why not go somewhere else? The market will eventually correct, compensate everyone fairly (by some definition of "fair"), etc. Well, my argument is not that the market itself is broken, because employees enter them under free will. My point is that engineers (early and otherwise) should not accept that their contribution is worth so much less than the 2-3 people on top. This is especially true for the first engineer, who joins at 1% next to the founder at 40%, but it applies to every after as well.

I've been both a founder and an early employee. As an early employee, I always received a salary, and knew I could leave any time I felt like it. My level of risk was low, and I was perfectly happy with my equity knowing I had a nice upside without much downside at all.

As a founder, I haven't paid myself in months, and have commitments to my customers such that I 100% can't just shut things down and leave to do something else without killing a lot of relationships and getting a terrible reputation.

Of course, I can only speak to my own experience, but I'm satisfied with my amount of equity in both situations.

I've been a founder and an early employee as well. As a founder, you sign on for the bad times. As an early employee, I always got duped.

As an early employee, I've had to go without a paycheck on multiple occasions. I had to go without healthcare for several months even though I was told the company already had it in place.

Sure, I could leave anytime I wanted. But I would forfeit all my stock if I left. Even if I left because they stopped paying their engineers. Besides, the money was coming. Why leave now? They promise they will make it up.

I've been told that everyone in the company had to take a 20% salary reduction to keep things alive. I could have left then too. Again, forfeiting my shares. But again, I bore the downside of the business without anywhere near the potential upside.

The important part is that none of this was malicious. The founder just had no idea what he was doing, and thought they had to lie for the good of the company.

As an early employee, I hired people into both the companies I'm speaking about. I'll never do that again. I haven't ever done that again. I urge everyone to not be the first engineer.

As an employee you're limited by the quality of the C-suite.

If you swap equity for salary, it's important to understand that you're not gambling on the quality of the product or the idea, but on the quality and integrity of the people you're working for.

You probably won't have enough information to make a good decision about their quality and integrity until you've been working somewhere for a while.

But generally, if one promise doesn't work out, you have good reason to suspect others won't too.

Equity is really just a promise. So you should have a lot of evidence of reliability and integrity before you count on it.

I think you're quite right. I tend to feel that people want to do good, and make judgments based off that.

Since my early mistakes, I've started telling myself "You're not negotiating with the person across the table, you're negotiating with unknown parties and circumstances in the future".

That kind of removes the human element.

In all situations, you really have to look after yourself. If someone ever asks you to work without pay, they're asking you to up your risk. Demand more equity. The greater the risk, the greater a return you should get, otherwise you're making a bad investment.

Founders can be assholes. So can investors. Always look after yourself (and your team, if applicable). Too many assholes and horror stories not to be wary.

Ouch. This is terrible.

I help out as a mentor at an accelerator in upstate NY. Unfortunately, we see solo founders rushing to find a co-founder just to go through accelerator programs.

I wish your reply was shared widely with anyone applying to any accelerator anywhere...

(Most) accelerators are the problem here. They stack all the incentives on adding a cofounder no matter what, and none of those that I've closely known would stand behind the idea of "A bad cofounder is far, far worse than no cofounder." E.g. if your original cofounder leaves, they'll lay big penalties on you if you don't refill that seat immediately, even if it's bad for the company.

What investors tend to leave out here is a real incentive for them, as a class. It's far easier to fire a founder if there's two. If there's two, it's often easy to make them turn on each other if they want one forced out. Forcing one of 2 out tends to be much less frowned upon, than kicking out the sole founding CEO and replacing him with outside management. Having 2 cofounders is big leverage for keeping the founders in line.

I think of this concept as the 'cargo cult cofounder':


Would love to get in contact with you regarding Upstate NY accelerators - my email address is my username at gmail.

If i join u

It seems like you really need to know the potential cofounder as a person, though, otherwise you won't be sure what they're like when stressed or making mistakes. Doesn't this limit it to people you already know fairly well?

Yes, you do. We always ask how long the cofounders have known each other.

In need of a cofounder? Join the club. Or rather a club, where you will get to meet new people and, if you choose the right kind of club, get to see them in a high pressure situation.

Sorry, my view is that a solo founder can be just fine. I'm a solo founder and believe I don't need and shouldn't want a co-founder.

Here's why: The bottleneck in my project is just cutting my way through bad documentation -- all the rest, especially the crucial, core, secret sauce, original applied math, technical part along with typing in the code itself and getting it into good shape, has been fast, fun, and easy.

A co-founder might be able to get Windows Server 2012 and SQL Server Enterprise Edition or some such installed and running quickly while I would have to do all the mud wrestling with wildly obscure and inaccurate documentation.

Okay, but I really should, as is commonly said, know my business and, thus, should get SQL Server running myself, take notes, etc.

And when I have good revenue, I will just call for paid support and get a tutorial, explanations for each step, corrections when the steps don't work, take notes again, etc. -- still no co-founder needed.

But, again as founder and 100% owner, I need to "know my business". So, no matter how obscure the Microsoft documentation is for, e.g., how to get a connection string for SQL Server (took a week of mud wrestling, in the dark -- with clear and correct documentation I could easily have done it in 10 minutes), it's just work -- mud wrestling in the dark with alligators and poisonous snakes while being treated to a barbed wire enema and an unanesthesized upper molar root canal procedure while being poked two dozen times with a red hot branding iron -- I have to do.

For a prototype or using lean development methodology, no thanks: I just wrote the darned code, wrote it as fully solid, production quality code, at least according to common standards for such code. I tested it, timed it, documented it. I was in a team at IBM that shipped IBM Program Product code (IBM's highest quality software category), and the code I've written for my startup looks as good as Program Product code to me. And I documented the heck out of the code because I know that if my startup works and becomes a big thing, then I will have to return to some parts of the code to put in tweaks for high scalability, e.g., for Web user session state, for a positive integer n, partition all the possible session state keys, each a GUID, into n partitions, have one session state server for each partition, and, then, in the server side code of a Web page, given a key, do a fast lookup to find the IP address of the session state server for that key -- simple code tweak, but, still, I want the code to be tweaked very well documented.

Net, for the crucial, core work, I don't want to delegate it. So, no need for a co-founder. So, no risk of any co-founder disputes. So, get rid of one of the worst risks for a startup.

If my startup works, then I will start to hire but not any co-founders. Instead, the first hire will be an office manager! She, likely a woman with a lot of social maturity and general business experience, will do the first interface to the phones, mail, e-mail, bookkeepers, accountants, lawyers, landlords, bank account, credit cards, expense accounts, the advertisers, billing, depositing checks, paying bills, record keeping, etc.

As that job grows, she can hire assistants. Eventually her work will be that of the COO, CFO, and HR. She would be a candidate for one of those slots or just remain as my assistant or something else.

Some of my work will become that of the CTO, e.g., run the server farm.

And in time I will want a staff, e.g., to come up with ideas, study issues, propose solutions, present their work in papers and talks, etc.

During the initial growth, I will be able to manage all that work because early on I will have done the first, small, beginning cases of all of it so know at least the first parts.

But, during the growth, no one hire, if they left, could sink the company. The only key person in the company will be me.

So, grow? Yes. Hire? Yes. Co-founder? No. E.g., I helped start FedEx, was right there, my office next to COB, CEO Fred Smith's. I saw a lot of how he did it and saved his company twice. He had no co-founder.

This stuff about co-founders looks like something equity investors want: It appears that they want (1) a ready source of a new CEO if they don't like the current CEO, (2) want the power of a solo founder as the unique, key player diluted, and (3) want to be able to have more control over the company via divide and conquer among the co-founders. No thanks.

The whole startup equity funding situation looks like very fishy business to me: So, clearly the way it works, nearly always, is, I do all the work to go from nothing to a product or service, with users or customers and revenue, and then someone with a term sheet and a checkbook might write me an equity check.

But, as a solo founder, it won't take much revenue to make my little sole proprietorship profitable, a life style business. E.g., at current ad rates, keeping a $2000 server at my left knee busy sending Web pages can get me by far the nicest income of my life.

Then, if the business is good, that is, lots of people on the Internet like my work, I'll have plenty of cash for organic growth without equity funding. If my business is not good, then I don't deserve equity funding anyway.

Basically as a solo founder, I can't get equity funding until after I don't need it.

But, I shouldn't much complain: US Main Street businesses, e.g., auto repair, restaurants, convenience stores, print shops, plumbers, electricians, HVAC companies, etc. don't get equity funding, and my information technology startup needs much less capex to start and opex to run than any of those Main Street businesses.

So, what startups get offered and take equity funding? Maybe a promising startup with four founders, each with a maxed out credit card and a pregnant wife? I only have a debit card, no credit cards. I don't have a pregnant wife, don't even have a wife. So, maybe I'm seeing more reason to be a solo founder.

> The more progress you make on the business, the easier it will be to get a great cofounder.

Yes, and the less I will need a co-founder!

I couldn't agree any more than I already do.


Very helpful, cheers. "The more progress you make on the business, the easier it will be to get a great cofounder" -- agreed -- and being accepted to YC would itself more than help convince people to join the team also :) I hope there are more Drew Houstons out there with confidence to apply.

Thanks sama and mbym. As a confounded solo founder waiting for organic cofundity, this is nice to hear.

Parker Conrad of Zenefits was also still a solo founder in his application video. If a founder intends to add a co-founder before the batch starts, how much does that impact your view on them as a solo founder during the application process?

Parker and I spoke about a cofounder then. He was very receptive to adding one, and that helped his case.

Please don't let the lack of a cofounder discourage you from applying. It's definitely a huge help to have a good cofounder, but we accept great founders regardless. There's a tendency for people to want to reduce the world to black-and-white rules like, "yc doesn't accept single founders", but it simply isn't true. We are specifically looking for outliers, so any such rule would be a huge mistake (because the big hits are, by definition, exceptions).

Thank you for that! What makes you believe that someone or something is an outlier? How much of it is a gut feeling versus observable data, for example?

No two are the same, but generally a good sign is if they have outlier behavior in their past. For example, if you won a gold medal in the Olympics, there's a good chance that you would at least get an interview -- the level of determination and persistence required to accomplish something like that would definitely be helpful in founding a startup. (that said, I don't know that we've ever actually funded an Olympian) A more common example would be creating a popular open source project (e.g. the creator of Sails.js is in the current batch).

Just read your Wiki page. The quote under "Other interests" really resonates with me. A few blog posts of mine you might like - http://mattamyers.tumblr.com/post/78764544562/profit-has-no-... and http://mattamyers.tumblr.com/post/72715425291/capitalism-and... - I'd love to hear your thoughts here or on the posts. Thank you.

Hi Paul. I applied last time with a video with the team, however with updated rules (they own less than 10% each) then they're not supposed to be in application video; I started my company many years ago and small team relatively recently joined as relating to the equity. I don't have time to redo an application video, and with a comment on HN from someone at YC during last application process - applying early increased chances of being selected, meaning once startups selected for interview that the application process still remains open - the odds feel negligible. Any thoughts?

Thanks for clarifying, Paul. I feel this is the one disadvantage I have in my YC application; being a sole founder.

Seconded: statistics such as these:


... seem to show that very successful sole founder stories do exist. But nearly everything from the YC orbit says "find a partner or you'll fail," etc.

I find it even in the case when two or more founders were involved in starting some of these most successful companies only one of the founders took the initiative in the very early days.

The truth is it only takes one person to start something. And once you build something that has or can have tremendous value people will just join you naturally.

There is no such thing as the perfect moment to start something. You just have to do it and keep doing it and things will happen.

I came here to ask the same question. I started working on an idea of my own and I have many friends who are very talented but none that really seem to want to commit to something risky and obviously I don't want to force someone to come if they are not interested in taking the risk with me.

This is the main reason my next application to YC will be solo but I am certainly open (and would prefer) a partner.

Make sure you are the person reaching out to the one that you pick, not the other way around.

Hi BinaryIdiot, I am free and available, I am a TernaryIdiot, we could make a team!

We may have some communication problems! ha

Hi BinaryIdiot!

I am also looking for a committed group of people to work on a start up with. Please reach out to me at leannesawyer2007@gmail.com.

I think you're still missing the importance of the cofounder. It's to demonstrate that you are able to convince at least one single person to join you on the journey. Running a startup is basically one continuous stream of persuasion. Persuading customers. Persuading recruits. Persuading investors. Persuading employees. Persuading investors. Persuading the media. Etc. Etc. Building product, while fun, is easy (in most cases). Being able to persuade lots of people to row your boat in the direction you want is singularly difficult. Until you persuade that one person to join your pursuit, it's extremely difficult to think you have the skills of persuasion necessary to carry out the nearly impossible task of starting a startup.

What if you've already convinced people/companies to buy your product/service? Do you think you still need a co-founder then?

in my opinion, after starting multiple failed companies and one that seems to be working so far, individual founders are the exception that prove the rule.

at the end of the day, it's just a ton of work. even very very hard working and smart people are not physically capable doing this much work on their own - in terms of actual output founding a company is like 6 or 7 fulltime jobs' worth of deliverables, shared by 2 or 3 founders.

if you're a single founder, i think you'd have to raise money very early and make some key hires quickly in order to succesfully do it. from what i can, that's usually the case with single founders who were previously part of an all-star founding team that had a good exit.

With you recently leading a round of investment for reddit, it seems you are quite optimistic about its success but as of late 2013 (and maybe now too), Reddit remains in red even after nearly a decade of its inception[1]. Reddit CEO once said, that ads are the reasons Digg failed[2], so I believe the site would be wary of using ads to the fullest.

How do you think Reddit would become profitable and would be able to sustain itself?

[1]: http://www.businessinsider.in/Reddit-CEO-Admits-Were-Still-I...

[2]: http://techcrunch.com/2012/11/08/reddit-digg/

I am an extremely patient investor. I just invested in a company that I believe will take 20-30 years to work.

If reddit gets to a billion users, which I believe it will, the company will have many, many interesting monetizations opportunities. It's on its way to become one of the great monopolies of the web.

> I just invested in a company that I believe will take 20-30 years to work.

How do you conceptualize investments on that sort of timescale?

20 years ago was 1995, and 30 years ago was 1985. So much has changed between then and now. I understand that broader market trends can sometimes be predicted, but when you invest, you're betting not only on a market trend but on a specific instantiation of that trend.

How do you conceptualize an investment in a specific team and company on that sort of a timescale, when there's already so much uncertainty around what markets will even exist in 2045?

Reddit is the meta-web. It is probably also flexible enough to be the backbone (aka platform) of other businesses in the future.

Yeah, just look at Reddit Gifts. I can totally see more stuff like that pop up.

Access to research prototypes?

> If reddit gets to a billion users

What makes this number significant? Can you talk about some of those opportunities that aren't available to reddit now, but will be when they reach that scale?

reddit has the potential to unlock a lot of value if niche subreddits can achieve critical mass. There are quite a few subreddits that could support highly targeted and valuable advertising. Comment and voting quality also appears to improve dramatically with scale; compare the quality of comments on default subs to niche subs. If niche subs can get that dramatic improvement in quality, reddit would also be able to attract much better demographics for commercial purposes

>Comment and voting quality also appears to improve dramatically with scale; compare the quality of comments on default subs to niche subs.

I hope you meant - worsen dramatically ... it's the reason I unsubbed from almost all the defaults.

See my reply to waterlesscloud for an explanation. There are some big problems in the defaults, particularly around political topics, however, these are not issues of scale. They are issues of diversity. Reddit will need to address the diversity issue in order to succeed.

In my experience, the comments on the niche subs are of considerably higher quality than the default subs. So much so that I'm puzzled what you could be thinking about. Can you give some examples?

It's basically a mathematical guarantee. Reddit shows 200 comments by default, so if there are 20k comments, then you are roughly getting the top 1% of comments. If there are fewer than 200 comments, you are getting ALL the comments, basically unfiltered. I've also noticed that the best users make a greater effort on comments that may be read by a large number of users (granted, the average user probably does not)

Voting quality clearly goes up with scale. On a small subreddit, you can make a brilliant comment, and only one person votes on it and you are at score 0. On default subs, the voting tends to be more accurate (though with a populist/groupthink bias)

I think some are confusing comment quality with comment value. A really funny, but silly joke would be a high quality, low value comment. The default subs tend to be lowest common denominator subjects, like "cute" stuff and politics -- low value. Whereas niche subreddits are highly focused on your particular passions and interests. Niche subreddits have greater value to users, which is why they are also more valuable for advertising and monetization purposes.

At sitewide scale, the quality of existing niche subreddits would improve dramatically, and smaller niches that do not exist today as subreddits would gain sufficient scale to support independent subreddits. I think that these niche subreddits could support almost search keyword-like targeting (albeit with lower CPMs because no immediate indication of intent). Imagine native feed advertising volume with keyword-like CPMs.

Not that it's highly relevant, but I'm a developer of a popular reddit app for iOS.

This explains quite a bit when it comes to YC tending to not give a fair shot to companies whose business model hinges on/around creating [a] niche community.

It occurred to me recently (before reading this comment) that the idea I applied to YC with would probably be very successful as a subreddit. Which of course would be great for Reddit ... because a growing company is a cannibalistic company. But if it _were_ a subreddit, I'd essentially be forced into volunteering on it full-time for an idea that was making Conde-Naste all the money. The critical mass of ~1 billion would for sure allow Advance P to throw its weight and influence just about anywhere... like any of the media conglomerates.

But I'm just not a fan of monopolies or any clustered niches operating under a corporate umbrella. Even one whose motives are supposedly as democratic as Reddit's.

> It's on its way to become one of the great monopolies of the web.

How is it a "monopoly"? Usenet was a "great monopoly" (with better UIs) before it died. So was Digg. Pseudonymous chat servers are a dime a dozen. When Reddit grows "interesting monetizations," people will just go elsewhere.

Why did Reddit's board appoint Ellen Pao as CEO when it was already known she had a high-profile gender discrimination lawsuit with Kleiner Perkins to deal with?

Many capable people could lead Reddit so why choose someone with highly visible distractions? For example, Ellen's husband has been accused of running a $140 million Ponzi scheme!

> "Users lash out at Reddit boss for ‘deleting’ posts on hubby’s lawsuit"

"Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher ran a hedge fund, Fletcher International, that is now bankrupt. He owes millions in unpaid legal bills and tax liens and the bankruptcy trustee described it as a Ponzi scheme.

Fletcher still owns several apartments in the storied Dakota on Manhattan’s Upper West Side while his defunct fund owes more than $140 million in court judgments."


Also, if you don't use Alien Blue (the mobile app for Reddit) then you might not know they have been testing "Sponsored" posts. It didn't take a genius to know people would complain, but the ads are getting A LOT of pushback from users. I supposed you can put this in context and look at how Facebook gets crap for changing anything, but is this really the most creative idea Reddit can come up with to generate more revenue?

I don't use it (I just read reddit in mobile safari) but I will pass this along to the reddit team.

A LOT of pushback? That link in another comment is the only pushback I've ever seen, and I use Alien Blue (having purchased it). I haven't even noticed sponsored posts on the mobile version (I have on the desktop site though), and they hardly bother me. I've never seen anyone else seriously complain about them either. Sam, if you're passing along GolfyMcG's feedback, please pass along mine as well.

I run Ad Block, but reddit ads are the least of my worries. Maybe I just don't use reddit as seriously as some other people do.

Here's the current status of ads, as I understand it:

On iPhone, you only see sponsored posts if you have not purchased Pro. When they rolled out ads initially to iPhone, Pro users saw them and complained, Reddit said it was a bug, and fixed something on the backend to prevent them from being shown to Pro users.

On iPad, you see sponsored posts even if you have Pro. As far as anyone can tell, this is intentional.

From the first 10 posts on /r/AlienBlue:


How to: Refund Alien Blue after Sponsored Ads Decision

I paid for no ads!

Has anyone else gone back to the old app?

Why are they monetizing the app before it even works properly? They have to know what the userbase thinks of this...

No ads! No test ads, no real ads, NO ADS!

No, Alien Blue on iPad has not had a 'Pro' version in months.

Thanks for the correction. I don't have the iPad version myself, so I was going off of comments made by other users. It sounds like people who did pay for Pro when they did offer it in the iPad version are upset, then.

Yes - A LOT of pushback. I didn't purchase it, and I don't complain about the ads because I understand they have to make money. I do read the comments on them and they are exclusively sarcastic comments/complaints about the ads existing.

My complaint isn't about the ads existing - it's more a disappointment in Reddit/Alexis Ohanian/YCom/etc in not being able to produce a more interesting business model. There is always so much talk about being "thought leaders" and focusing on really game changing technologies. This is the opposite of that : /

Or put it in context and see that people are pissed that bugs aren't fixed for months but instead you get ads now.

This answer by Adam D'Angelo on Quora blows my mind:

"What was hot in Silicon Valley in March 2013?"


Every one of those blew up.

So I ask you the same question:

What is hot in Silicon Valley in March, 2015?

Adam is super smart. In fact, I asked him for an updated list at dinner a couple of weeks ago and I predict he will be right again.

I'm not going to share my list because I've found that people put too much stock in it. I don't mind talking about things like nuclear energy or biotech, because people are either going to start those companies or not.

But I don't want to cause founders to start or stop working on specific idea because I say something like "I think enterprise software is great" and they really want to get into YC. I never used to worry about this, but I've since found it happens surprisingly often.

The best companies are usually started before any trend is obvious. By the time the trend is obvious, it's too late.

Enterprise software you say? interesting...

Honestly, I think the old list is still pretty accurate. If anything we might have just additions to that list - in 2-3 years I'm confident wearable will be big, and I think BLE devices have become more popular in the HW Startup space too.

So, your bet is on nuclear energy and biotech? ;)

0) Binary computing 1) Ternary computing ~ Quantum computing

1. Device powered health 2. Enterprise security 3. Streaming video

You have suggested that Silicon Valley is successful, in part, because workers accept a notion of "long-term compensation" [1]. Long-term compensation, perhaps better called maybe-someday compensation, requires SV software engineers to work for relatively less (factoring in cost-of-living) than many other skilled professionals, with hopes that they'll be rewarded with a big windfall in the future.

With the rising cost of living in SF/SV, young engineers are expected to shoulder much the risk of startups while putting their long-term financial stability on the line. All in hopes of maybe-someday being compensated. And let's face it, the lion's share of these rewards will not be passed to these workers who put all their eggs in one basket, but to financially-secure VC's who have hedged their risk across many companies. If this is how SV works, do you truly believe this is a strong foundation for the industry? Obviously it's good for founders and VCs, but I'm considering the perspective of engineers.

We seem to be enjoying go-go years of investment and profits, everyone is starry eyed, and the system is working. What happens when the present-day strain on workers exceeds the allure of maybe-someday compensation? Also, why shouldn't talented workers move to an industry that provides guaranteed compensation for hard work in real time?

Of course, start-ups have a much different risk profile than banks, consulting agencies, large corporations, etc. And as a result, the long-term compensation model may be a necessity. But in the end, it sounds like SV works because there's a large supply of people willing to gamble on their future financial stability.

[1] http://blog.samaltman.com/why-silicon-valley-works

It's a personal choice for workers. If you're an engineer and you want a guaranteed $250k per year, go work for a financial firm. Nothing wrong with that decision. Everyone gets to make his or her own.

Engineers at startups make $100k+, sometimes much more. I don't think people are being asked to subject themselves to unreasonable financial strain.

It is indeed "maybe-someday" competition. When you work at a startup, you're acting like an investor but investing your time instead of your money. If you choose well, the upside can be pretty crazy.

> When you work at a startup, you're acting like an investor but investing your time instead of your money.

True, except: (a) An employee can probably only work for one startup at a time, and begins vesting after a year. That's like asking an investor to bet on at most 1 company per year. (b) Employers tend to give substantially less detailed information about their business, financials, etc to prospective employees than they give to investors. We have to make our choice very carefully, but we often have to make it with less information. (c) And after we've chosen, and vested, we do also have to invest money to exercise. If after that point things go downhill, we're out on money, but also years of our careers.

I forgot (d) "Real" investors in the same startups are often getting preferred shares while we get common shares.

If after that point things go downhill, we're out on money, but also years of our careers.

Maybe if you're thinking about a career in terms of building seniority over a long period of time at a single company. Working at a startup usually involves a good bit of responsibility and a diverse set of technologies compared to working at a larger company. It seems to me that's going to look good to most prospective employers.

Diversification only lowers risk. The expected value doesn't change.

Would you rather have a 1% chance at a billion dollars or a guaranteed million? The former has a 10x higher expected value but I think most people would choose the latter.

I love examples like this. My interpretation of this generally depends on an idea of "Expected Impact", where ex. the difference between $10^6 and $10^9 in terms of lifestyle impact can be smaller than the difference between $10^3 and $10^6. You could assume a logarithmic value function, for example, but each person might have a different function depending on what you would do with the money.

Not that people actually think that way, but you can construct a model where the guaranteed million is the rational choice.

What your talking about is commonly referred to in economics as diminishing marginal returns. The first $1000 is much more useful than the second. Also, your interpretation of "expected impact" is what we call economic utility, which is commonly put in a cobbs douglas utility function (utility = (some_number > 1)^(1 > some_number > 0).

Sir/Madam, that is incorrect. Diversification can easily lower expected value, or raise it. It should maximize your signal to noise ratio, if properly done.

I believe the definition they are using is something like: given a random process X for your percent return, if you invest in n nths of your money into iid copies of X, you will get the same expectation, but with smaller variance compared to putting it all into one copy of X. That's diversification.

You're using a different definition than the one I learned in school. The purpose of diversification, as opposed to simply picking the best asset, is to decrease variance.

Given a choice between two assets, or portfolios, one first maximizes expected value. Between two portfolios of equal expected value, you pick lower variance. That's the rational thing to do if you are managing a fund. The whole risk ratio thing arises only because so many investors are trying to build a well-diversified portfolio and bid up or down the price of assets accordingly. Price in turn affects expected return -- the expected value of the asset.

My point is simply that diversification results in a different expected return of the final portfolio. Before diversifying your expected return was R1 and after it will be R2 where R1 != R2. So, for choosing startup vs big co, or one startup vs another, this is relevant as well.

Given diminishing marginal utility of wealth, diversification increases expected utility, even if not expected wealth.

Everyone has a personal tolerance for risk. If you are diversified, then you decrease the risks that you are exposed to - possibly below your personal risk tolerance. That allows you to use leverage to increase your risk back up to your tolerance, which also increased your expected return.

So yes, diversification (plus leverage) absolutely increases expected value, if you hold risk a constant.

Which matters a lot if you only have one or two shots.

Regarding (b): I think an employee working day to day gets a much better picture than investors. It requires time on the job, but my point is that it's not as one-sided as you make seem.

But the employee has one massive advantage to the investor: the actual ability to influence the success of the company.

Investors have a lot more control over the board than a average employee will.

Startup boards have very little to do with the company's success. Key employees have much more impact.

Employees have more do with success. But if a big investor goes, we want this. Your probably going to do that.

You don't think giving a company money influences their success?

Not beyond the cash.

>Engineers at startups make $100k+, sometimes much more. I don't think people are being asked to subject themselves to unreasonable financial strain.

Is $100k enough for a person to live without roommates within 20-30 minutes commute from said startup? Eat healthy food? Pay student loans? Have health insurance and build savings?

I'm not from the Bay Area- this is a serious question.

I was making $100k and was able to find a small apartment in SF AND save about $2k a month (granted, I've finished paying my student loans). Not needing a car, and the ability to walk / scooter / public transport everywhere for relatively cheap, is a huge money saver! My half of the rent each month, as of today in SF, is $1300 ($2600 for the whole apartment in SoMa), but you need to take into account the money I'm not spending maintaining a car (which can be costly in the city, especially w/ parking).

As for health insurance, you'll more than likely find a job that offers that. I had great health insurance, the company had some neat perks like a gym membership, free lunch and dinner at the offices, and permission to work from home pretty frequently.

I think if you are anticipating $100k a year in SF, you'll do fine!

So you get a small, shared apartment, dinners at work, no car, and $2k/month left to save. Honestly, that's not bad, but I'm guessing you're young.

Consider you're slightly older and thinking of starting a family. Will your income cover: extra food and clothing for a child? day care or maternity leave? saving for college? saving for retirement? a larger apartment for your growing family? a down payment on a house or car? car payments or a mortgage? investment income? Is your company paying for your dinner because they expect you to work at night?

$100k in SF is a reasonable amount of money. But as your expenses begin to grow, you may wonder when your earnings will grow in proportion. Unfortunately, while many industries value their workers more as they grow in experience, the SV software industry has taken a unique stance that experience is actually a liability. Perhaps because the SV software industry runs on the notion of maybe-someday compensation, which is a palatable proposition mainly to the young and naïve.

> the SV software industry has taken a unique stance that experience is actually a liability

I see this viewpoint often, but it always seems to be from people who either haven't used their time wisely or otherwise don't want to change their role. There's a bizarre belief that they should be paid more for the same type/amount of work. Apart from a few situations, the marginal value of very good code over simply adequate code is very small...it's not enough to justify the marginal salary of a very senior coder over a junior coder. And yet people believe that since they've got 20+ years of experience, they should be paid significantly more than someone with 2+ years.

Meanwhile, those that have used their time wisely and moved from engineer into architects or other leadership positions are both older and very well compensated. We realize that we can guide a team of junior engineers to produce something that's good enough to meet the needs of the business. It's not as good as it would be if I wrote every line of code myself or with a team of engineers with 20+ years experience each, but I know that none of it is a disaster and it was written for a fraction of the cost. My salary/comp has more than kept pace with my expenses as they've grown, but only because my contribution to the organization has grown similarly. I could have never grown that contribution if I'd stayed in a role where I was primarily responsible for writing code.

You're correct that the marginal value of great code vs. good code is...marginal, MOST of the time. But I think the 1% cases are where the big (200k+) comp packages are for ICs. Stuff like perf optimizations at big scale, 1% adwords CTR improvements, optimizing JS runtimes, etc.

I agree that for most organizations management is the highest-leverage (ergo, highest-paid) path.

A better way to frame the problem is to think about the organization's economics and how your contribution fits into it. Figure out the 2-3 key metrics for success at the org and figure out whether you can move those, and if so, how. And realize that in a lot of job roles, you won't move the key metrics, and won't be paid as such.

At that point you'll have dual income so even easier.

Great points. And for the record, I guess I'm young. I'm single with no dependents. :P

It'd be cutting it close...but if you have no other debts I don't see why not. I suspect the biggest thing holding people back is that they have student loans and/or are not being offered $100k.

You can get a decent studio in the bay area for $2500 or so. If you don't have pets and you bike/pt everywhere then $100k is plenty.

Yes, though not if you live the lifestyle many engineers at startups choose to :)

I have lived very comfortably in Oakland for the last year on a ~100K salary. 30 min commute door to door, eat out a lot, travel, etc. With a quite nice 1bed apartment with a view.

I'm a Stanford graduate student. I earn about $30k per year, or $2,500 per month. Rent is about $1,000 per month. Food is about $200 per month. Taxes are about $300 month. So my three primary costs are $1,500 per month, leaving $1,000 per month in savings and discretionary spending. I'm flabbergasted that people think $100k is not enough money to live. It's way, way above the median wage here.

You can't do all these without roommates in San francisco (unless you have rent control pre 2011 or so) or Silicon Valley without roommates, but with roommates its manageable to a degree. Keep in mind "start up" can mean pretty radically different sizes with pretty radical mixes of base salary vs equity, later stage, bigger start ups (maybe more aptly, post product market fit, fast growing, privately held technology companies) can pay experienced engineers closer to $150k+ a year which even in an expensive area is a good amount of money. Even pretty small start ups tend to offer decent health care these days.

You probably won't be able to afford living without roommates. But the rest, is certainly feasible on a 100k+ salary.

Everything except the student loans, yes. If you have student loans you'd need to get a roommate (or two).

Source: I live in the Bay area, and got a job at bigco but a salary similar to 100k. Almost no education loans (under 5k), but about 40k of loans for parents back home. I paid it back in a year and a little bit more.

Apartments in SF now are $1800 / studio - $2200 / 1br. so...

  - $30k taxes
  - $24k rent
  - $12k food and misc
$34k is about what you have to play with for investing, transportation, entertainment, fitness, saving, student loans, other debt

1br is around $3,000 now: https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-san-francisco-ren...

100k = 25% marginal tax rate for Fed, but effective rate of 17.3% + 6.8% State tax rate = 24.13% = $24130 (assuming you are single)

  - $24.1k taxes
  - $36k rent
  - $12k food and misc
So you basically have $2,325 left over after expenses each month to play with.

Make sure to account for medicare and social security. That's an additional $10K-$15K in "expenses".

Good point, thanks!

Anyone working at a startup should be maxing out their retirement plan contributions: $18,000 for a 401k, $5,500 for an IRA.

They are a hedge against startup failure.

Thought process on this? If a person needs to dip into their retirement plan because a start up fails then they would be penalized, if that's the situation it's better to just keep it in cash.

The contributions to a Roth IRA (but not the investment returns) can be withdrawn with no tax penalty, so there isn't much reason not to max it out if possible.

Employees should always contribute to a their 401k at least up to the company match, as it is essentially free money.

If you're getting paid at SV salary levels, it's entirely possible you're making too much to be allowed to contribute to a Roth IRA.

Some IRA companies will let you do put it into a traditional IRA then do a Roth conversion, but then again some will make you mail them a notarized form every time you want to do that.

Please don't side track this thread with salary discussion in bay area. There are plenty of HN threads where this has been talked extensively.

Hey, "AMA" does mean "Ask Me Anything"

I interviewed for a company once that had different kinds of offers, ranging from low-salary/high-equity, to high-salary/low-equity. I thought that was an interesting idea :D They had 5 options total, and the middle option wasn't awful. I'd like to see more of this in the valley.

I always used to make offers like this--I think it's a good way to do it.

We do this, but use a sliding scale. The middle of the scale is what's locally considered to be a fair salary and fair equity compensation for whatever role we're hiring for. The equity / salary offered at each end of the scale tends to fluctuate depending on the impact of the role.

So far it's worked out well. I think potential hires like the flexibility because it lets them optimize for larger short term gain (a higher salary) or a potentially larger long term gain (more equity if the company sells, IPOs, etc.)

Anecdotally it tends to make negotiations easier for us. We basically end up presenting the entire solution space we're willing to offer for the ''what's my salary and equity'' problem. With the extents known, negotiations tend to settle around some point within that solution space. Your mileage, of course, may vary, though.

I wonder with these arrangements, is there any pressure or implied pressure on people to accept a larger equity amount? Similar to the issue with unlimited vacation time.

The one time I got that kind of offer, I got a lot of pressure from the hiring manager to take the most equity possible. They basically insinuated that doing otherwise was disloyal -- although, they cloaked the message in a super-positive tone, saying something like, "we are always really stoked when new hires choose the most equity possible because they believe in the mission". I know those words might sound squishy but trust me, there was no ambiguity about what they meant.

In retrospect I wish I had taken the higher salary.

Any specifics on the amount of equity offered? That's an interesting concept.

I don't remember specific numbers (this was over a year ago) but I imagine it would change depending on the startup. I remember thinking the offers were fair.

I've heard of saying: "Valuing options at $x/share, we'll give you $y divided however you want between equity and salary."

Couldn't it be more accurate to position this as follows?

"At a funded startup, a VC is investing money expecting a 30+% annual return. One condition of your employment is to invest along side of them via less cash compensation. If you can't take the risk, or don't believe in the upside, other places are better."

How senior is this guy who makes 100K? Is that out of college or 5/10 years? How tough is the competition?

I appreciate YMMV, but I'm asking on behalf of my brother, who is graduating Columbia CS soon. We've got family in the SF area, so it might be a good choice for him to head over that way.

If he's a good interviewee, did summer internships, and got decent grades, he should be able to land something in that range. There's some competition, but for the reasons I stated ($100K goes a long way almost everywhere except SF, due to the very high cost of living), SF companies covet recent CS grads who work very hard and don't have many expenses (kids, car, house, etc.). It would probably be great experience and exposure for him though, and worth it while he's young.

Great. I'll make him post next time there's a hiring thread.

You're missing a key reason why annual salaries are modest at the beginning. A key attribute of a founding team is intense resourcefulness and have considerable powers of persuasion. Both of these attributes result in lower salaries initially.

I guess my concern is how salaries grow with experience, in a place with cost of living comparable to or higher than Manhattan.

A software engineer, a management consultant, a white shoe lawyer, and a banker may all start out at a "modest" $100k-$125k salary. Maybe a bit lower, maybe a bit higher.

But in only one of those professions is there a fairly low ceiling for salary growth and a tacit belief that your value decreases with age and belief (or, at least, a tacit belief that younger workers can do "good enough" work with lower pay and longer hours). The consequences of this are why having engineers go all in on a startup with hopes of delayed compensation is a huge ask.

Again, people are happy to do it, so it's not Sam's problem. It's certainly not my problem. But this system has grown dependent on a continuous stream high-profile IPOs making the gamblers rich, drawing in new and optimistic workers to take their place. If that stream dries up, I won't want to be anywhere near SF/SV during the fallout.

If you had applied now with Loopt, do you think you would have been accepted into YC? Or Alexis Ohanian / Steve Huffman with Reddit in its primordial phase? It seems like YC has become so competitive that it cuts out some of those promising (risky) founders that don't have as much to show.

On that note, would you ever consider starting a YC 'minor league' farm? It'd be interesting to do 12-15k investments on young, very scrappy founders, a la original Summer Founders Program. Perhaps mentored by alumni rather than full-time partners for bandwidth purposes.

Yes, I've thought about trying something like that.

I think so, yes. But also, it's a different time now. I'd have had more progress by the time I applied to YC.

For some companies, in a week, good hackers can get a prototype built and have a few initial users. If that's possible, we expect it.

If you are building a nuclear reactor we do not expect a prototype at interviews. However, we did have a rocket company bring a prototype engine to interviews.

Hey Sam, can you give please tell us about the time you, sama, most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage?

Sure. When I was running my startup, we got catastrophic news that the first big customer in the space (Boost Mobile) was signing a deal with a competitor instead of with us. This would have killed us.

The competitor was a much larger and better funded company that had been around for years. I was a 20 year old CEO. Most big companies do not like to make risky decisions, so this was not entirely surprising.

We got this news at about 11 pm. The next morning at 6 am, I was on a flight to Orange County. I sat in the lobby until the guy responsible for the deal on their side walked in. He was polite but said the decision was made.

I convince him to look at our demo (in the past few days, we'd done some research to figure out exactly what features he really cared about). As soon as he saw it I knew we had a chance.

Ended up hanging around for about two weeks. Eventually, the other company overplayed their hand and we got the deal, and then the deals with every other major US telecom company.

Is this more hustling than hacking? I'm scratching my head and trying to figure out how it's a "hack", as in "beating the system" [1].

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/gba.html

I'd consider it a hack. It was improvised in a short amount of time, and with limited resources. Sam shouldn't have gotten the deal, but he did! I'd say he beat the system. Which system? The Universe.

Straight hustlin'!

That sounds a bit creepy. How did you know which guy it was and what flight he will be taking? To track him like that seems creepy.

I think it means he (sama) took a flight to be at the guy's office first thing in the morning, to wait for the guy to show up at the office.

Sure, but it was necessary. I'd do it too if it meant my startup would survive.

And can you please tell us what you're hoping to discover about a founder with that question :)

Side question, mostly just for fun, have people's answers to that question ever been blatantly illegal?

One guy who got accepted answered that questions with "I sold drugs"


Talked to him in person. No source.

Hello Sam,

First, thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions.

My question is about confidentiality of applications. Today I am working at a YC startup. I (and two other friends) have a project in mind. But what prevents me from applying to YC is the fear that my application would fall in the inbox of our founders. Obviously I would prefer our application to remain confidential until if they we get accepted (which, I understand, is against the odds :)).

How can I ensure that this won't happen? How private and confidential are our conversations with YC partners and team?

I have also heard that YC alumni sometimes help filtering/interviewing the teams/projects that apply. Is this correct?

To be completely transparent, I have heard from 2 persons closed to YC that there is no way our founders won't know that I have applied. So this point really worries me a lot.

Thank you for your answer and again, thank you for taking the time to answer the questions of the HN community.

We do have some alumni help us review applications. There is a chance the founders of your startup would randomly see your application.

HOWEVER, you should not only start a startup if you get into YC. If you're into this startup, you should be doing it whether or not YC funds you. It's a big red flag for us when people only want to work on a startup if they get into YC.

Also, in general, if you're planning to start a startup at some point, talk to the founders of the startup you're currently working at. They'll generally be very understanding.

Anecdotally, I was rejected by YC and in the following year my startup has grossed over $100,000 and is acquiring new users at a stable 20%+ MoM. Point being YC is a nice-to-have, not a need to have.

Thank you Sam for your feedback. I totally agree: YC should not be the only reason for you to start what you want to build. And I had no pb submitting applications to other accelerators. That being said, YC is considered as the best of the best by many :)

In a nutshell, I guess the answer is no, it can not be confidential.

Thank you for your answer and time.

I may or may not of applied to YC before; I decided to tell all of YC founders working at the same company ahead of time for this reason. It can get at least a little complicated when some of them are managers... of people applying.

Most of the YC founders ended up helping us with the application, and it wasn't a big deal, but I fully understand this feeling.

Oh man, I'm in the same situation, and I was kinda trying to not think about it! I'd assumed YC applications were a "safe" place? (No?)

We were in the same situation. But we were completely open with our YC founders and they helped us a lot in getting into YC and with tons of advice. It seems like you are building the relation ship wrong based on some sort of deception. I would think about it.

Thank you treeform for your answer. I agree that if this would be possible this would be the best way to go.

Unfortunately all the founders are not the same, and mine are not opened AT ALL to these kind of initiatives :)

Without knowing much, this does come across as very hypocritical of them to do this to you. It seems like the type of attitude that would be frowned upon by the YC community.

This works OK when you have direct relationships with the YC Founders -- but when you are only tangentially connected in a big company... It is hard to know where rumors go.

What is your advice for people who don't have co-founder material friends (mostly non-technical/non-sales people, or conservative) and are out of college? I've experience starting companies with acquaintances, something that, predictably, didn't go so well.

Is there any alternative - that you have seen in YC - to getting new friends, getting to know them really well, and starting a company in a few years time?

I have a good answer for this! Go work at a breakout medium sized tech company (i.e. a couple of hundred to a couple of thousand people).

You'll meet lots of potential cofounders. The people that are attracted to these companies are usually 1) really good and 2) interested in starting a company down the line.

I'd also add to this that you should be getting a decent base salary at a company at this phase and you should try and live below your means, both so you can save and have a cushion allowing you to work full time without outside funding and so that when you do the burn rate on that cushion is smaller.

This is my plan B and it's heartening to hear you share this view.

I'm heading off to B-school later this year. It'll be relatively cheap for me (non-US location) and I got into the top school in the country. Would this be a good place to meet founders, because I have the same dilemma as you - too many friends who are not interested in building businesses.

Excellent idea.

Since you probably can't spend too much time on each YC application, what is the most common issue you see that causes companies to not get further attention?

Great question! The biggest mistake founders make is burying whatever it is that's exceptional about them or their company deep in the application.

We are optimists. We want to believe. Help us by putting whatever it is that is going to make us want to fund you early in the answer to each question.

Also, be concise.

Do you think that YC could ever invest or advise startups / founders that can't move to silicon valley for 3 months for one reason or another?

Is there something inherent in the in-person experience that cannot be overcome by technology (in general too i suppose, rather than just the type of work ycombinator does)?

Personally i believe we're not quite there yet. I have some hope, that within our life time communication and collaboration tools can become both sophisticated and intuitive enough to make physical presence for most type of work completely irrelevant)

There is for sure something about in-person interaction that cannot be replaced by any current technology. Alan Kay recently told me he thinks it's something biological.

Our model just doesn't work well for people that can't move to the valley for 3 months.

Remote work is good in many cases, but early-stage startup advising is not one of them.

Thank you for taking the time to answer :)

I have no doubt its biological, but biological processes are inherent to any human activity and are ultimately based on physics as well. Consider even just the absurd number of extremely complex biological processes involved in typing a reply as we essentially communicate telepathically thousands of miles apart right now.

I'm daydreaming about having a captivating discussion with you and Alan Kay in which I manage to convince both of you to help me replace current technology with something that would change this and the world with it.

Any advice on how to make that happen?

I'm leaning towards "stop daydreaming and get to work building it" being the best advice toward that end myself...but then there is all the other things I need to get done as well.


There's evidence that babies acquire phonemes when "taught" in-person differently than via video: http://www.ted.com/talks/patricia_kuhl_the_linguistic_genius... (this topic starts at about 7m08s)

wow, very awesome link. As someone who grew up in Germany, speaking Danish at home, then moved to the US when I turned 19 to go to college, and is now getting to watch my 2 pre-schoolers learn absolute insane amounts of things in such short timespans this definitely resonated!

In a lot of ways, startups are like parenting I guess. Certainly parenting is another example of an activity that depends absolutely on physical presence :P

I frequently see the stat that YC companies are worth 30 billion in total. While this is very impressive, it's still less than say Uber at 40 billion for a single company that's about the median age of the group--so it seems like a fair comparison, though an obvious outlier.

For the Uber, Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. outlier startups, how much pure luck do you think plays into their success? AirBnB and Dropbox are YC's biggest outliers. Have you found any actionable patterns in the way the founders of these outliers work/think/operate compared with the more moderately successfully and unsuccessful founders?

We haven't updated our numbers in awhile. Current total is more than Uber.

We'll update again at some point.

It's not a perfect correlation, but the founders that build huge companies are extremely determined and smart, they have a very clear vision, they see things other people miss, etc etc.

That said, there is definitely a luck multiplier for the humongous companies. You cannot have a clear plan to build a $200B company.

It may go without saying, but potential market has a lot to do with it as well.

A company like Uber is entering a huge transportation market; Airbnb a huge lodging market. They can be big fish in big ponds. I think there are lots of YC companies in smaller ponds.

Only those with the very wildest imaginations (which happened to include PG and the founders) realized that Airbnb was entering a huge lodging market. Most thought it was just dumb to think many people would want to stay in other people's apartments. See http://paulgraham.com/airbnb.html

Ah. This is better phrasing of what I was trying to ask with my 10,000X return question.

Hi Sam,

Not a YC-specific question, but I was wondering what advice you have for someone who lives outside of a major technology center and doesn't have the ability to move? I'm eager to get something started here in the next year but I'm pretty much on my own, thanks!

I have a slack channel I'm growing that's open to all aspiring developers and entrepreneurs to eventually solve this exact problem. Check this page for more info, http://www.openmindedinnovations.com/about. Just email me at jbhatab@gmail.com if you're interested :).

This is 2015 - clearly it's not possible to found a company without living in a tech hub ;)

Not much it seems. :)

What are your thoughts on teams applying pre-product (but in development) with an experienced/diverse team compared to teams with product/initial traction? Do you weigh them differently during application reviews?

It's hard to give a standard answer to this--it depends entirely on the specifics of each case.

Thanks for doing this AMA Sam.

As a follow-up, what would you recommend applicants who are in this position do before the end of next week to increase their chances of being interviewed/accepted? (i.e. get feedback from as many YC alum as possible, iterate on their video, etc). Obviously without specifics, I'm sure your answer may be similar to the above, but any general recommendations here?

Talk to users, and tell us what you learn from them.

Thanks for doing this AMA anything Sam.

As a follow-up, what would you recommend applicants who are in this position do before the end of next week to increase their chances of being interviewed/accepted? (i.e. get feedback from as many YC alum as possible, iterate on their video, etc). Obviously without specifics, I'm sure your answer may be similar to the above, but any general recommendations here?

The average yc founder in this batch is about 30, but the average college/university graduate is much younger than that. What did a successful 30 yr old applicant do for those 8ish years after graduating?

What game can I play?

Possibly naive question:

I'm a married guy in his 30s working at a major investment bank in NYC (lead quantitative role). I have a graduate degree from a non-elite school. No experience at top tech firms (had offers but didn't go).

Now, I have some cool side projects that I believe could become great consumer apps given enough care and resources. Is there any reason for me to apply to YC, and any chance of getting seed funding from you, or am I completely out of your profile for typical candidates / startups?

I'm mid-30s. Dangerously close to upper-30s. Married. Two kids. Non-elite school. No graduate degree. I was in the YC Summer 2013 batch. I wasn't an outlier.

The one thing all YC founders have in common is that we are all incredibly determined. Creating a company is easier than ever but still basically impossible.

We have funded lots of people with similar backgrounds.

What will matter is the quality of your idea and progress so far.

Does YC consider the potential of bad press to itself when funding a company? If a founder were to apply with a startup such as Bad Dragon (dildo manufacturer), abortion clinic-specific software platform, wikileaks-esque platform, or any other such controversial idea, would it reduce the founder's chance of being accepted?

Are there any startups that have been funded by YC that led to publicity fallout?

What's something common that partners have to repeat over and over until founders 'get it' ?

The most common thing is getting founders to focus on the right thing. At this stage, nothing but building a product that users love matters. Founders want to focus on anything else, and have wonderfully detailed excuses for why whatever it is is so important.

"Write code and talk to users" is not sexy, but it's the road to success. Seeing your name in the press is sexy, but unfortunately has nothing to do whatsoever with actual success.

There is no shortcut for the hard work of building a great product.

One thing my company struggled with in ImagineK12 was attracting enough users to know if we were making something they loved - how can founders focus on both?

Did you try talking to the customers you already had, or folks who did not sign up but were in the same demographics?

I'm currently building a tool for writers and emailing writers individually (sometimes, even buying 30 minutes of their time) and talking to them has been really insightful.

It sounds pretty sexy in the startup class [0].


YC is famous for funding startups at a very early stage, even at a pre-traction stage, which seems to contradict the popular knowledge that an idea without a good execution is worth nothing. With just an application form and a 10 minute interview, how can you tell if the founders will be able to execute the idea properly? What are the most important traits that you look for in an application from a very early stage startup?

Even if the company is only a few weeks old, we look for signs that the founders are determined, getting things done week by week, and improving quickly.

If it's just an idea, then we look at what the founders have done in the past. Most people don't magically start doing great things for the first time when they start a startup.

When you held Startup class in NYC. You brought up a few founders who were invested in... and what struck me was that each of them had previous relationships to their investors.

For example I heard at least twice from an investor: "I've known john for years prior to him coming to me with [insert company name here]."

So my question is, do you think there exists a "good ol boy's club" in SV that increases the chances by a great deal of getting funded? Or do you believe the playing field is even for those who don't have those kind of connections?

For sure it helps to get to know investors over long periods of time.

However, the investors that invested in my company knew me for 45 minutes (YC), a few weeks (Sequoia), and a few months (NEA).

It's important as a founder not to make excuses for yourself. Sure, it's easier to get money if you've known investors for a long time, but it's certainly possible to get it without knowing them for awhile.

In YC's specific case, we don't know the great majority of the people we fund at all.

In terms of "How will you make money", are you interested in the market for the initial product/use case or what we think the product can eventually grow into?

ie: We think our total initial market has the potential to be around $30M/yr but can grow to take on other use cases.

Both. The best answer is something like "we have a path to be be doing enough revenue to cover our expenses in a year, but if things really work, here is how we could make $1B a year in 10 years."

I think it was a bad idea to write the best answer here :)

The important part of the answer is "here is how".

How was your meal at Delifina the other night? Just kidding :)

I don't really have a question, but my girlfriend and I were seated next to you and I wanted to introduce myself and thank you for your insights, writing, and contributions to the startup community, but didn't want to disturb your meal. Now I have an opportunity. Thanks!

Delicious. One of my favorite restaurants in SF!

If the product is good and if the product has a single co-founder, what are the chances of getting accepted?

The reason is that I live in a place where it's very hard to find a good co-founder and I don't want to team up with the only options that I have. I don't want to make wrong choices. In my place, people tend to join companies and look for jobs rather than start companies.

We will fund a company with 1 founder, but the bar is very high.

Have you thought about working at a startup first as a way to meet potential cofounders?

Thanks Sam. Yes. I have worked in a startup for few years. I made very good friends, some technical and some management.

I found a good guy who is on the management side, I asked him whether he is interested in startup. He is just married, from a middle class family and he is not willing to take any risk.

I also know technical people. Unfortunately I did not find good people on technical side but they are very talented. When I say good, I mean honest people.

How do you feel about what the constant influx of 22-year-olds making six-figure salaries is doing to the culture and social fabric of San Francisco?

I think the biggest problem is that it's making housing totally unaffordable. I think it's critical SF fix this, and that the only real solution is more supply.

Unfortunately, homeowners are the ones that vote, and they are loving the increase in home values and don't want to see a lot more supply get built.

The supply can't just be produced out of the blue. There isn't enough land in San Francisco to build a whole bunch of housing. The key is to expand out of city or create zones in city for affordable housing.

There's plenty of land if you build vertically instead of flat. There's a bunch of 2-4 story buildings that could be 10-20+ story buildings.

Right but this is not China, we need to follow guidelines as bay area is earthquake prone.

Earthquake concerns are a red herring, the lack of height is entirely self-inflicted. We know how to build tall buildings safely, but choose not to

The second tallest structure in the world (the Tokyo Skytree[1]) is in Tokyo, which is even more earthquake prone than the Bay Area[2].

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokyo_Skytree

[2] http://www.fastcoexist.com/3017696/the-cities-most-at-risk-t...

Or the opposite -- get rid of zoning restrictions. Laissez-faire.

How do you factor in possible technological advancements that could render a company's business model obsolete?

For example, if someone develops a distributed web-of-trust/payment platform, a lot of the value of Uber and Airbnb goes away.

The basic model behind some of these sharing companies can be factored out into (network effects + domain knowledge + web of trust) = profitable monopoly. You can adjust how valuable you consider each of these, but to me it seems like most of the value isn't in the domain knowledge area. What if someone figures out a way to not have all of the value captured by a monolithic entity?

Could you comment on why start ups with remote teams anecdotally do poorly but many open source projects with very remote teams succeed? Do you see any tools on the horizon to help people coordinate remotely at a new level?

I think it's because startups have to make small changes to their idea several times per day. Very short cycle times do best with in-person interaction.

Most closed-source products have very different management styles than open-source products.

If you're interested in the topic, check out the book "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" - it talks at length about the different styles of building products (Cathedral generally being closed-source stuff, while Bazaar is generally open-source)

We are a bootstrapped ~2.5yr old company that is doing $5M in Revenue and ~$2M in PBT. We have fallen into a bit of a funk in the past 6-12M or so growth-wise and basically flat-lined. We are talking to a few funds to raise a ~$10M round (mostly secondary) to bring the PBT down to 0 and really swing for the fences. We've thought about applying to YC but the 7% seems high for us at this stage. Is YC interested in co-investing the standard YC amount in such a round at the market valuation instead of standard YC valuation?

Unfortunately we don't do that--it just doesn't fit our model. Plenty of companies have done YC at a later stage and still thought we increased their value far more than the 7% we take, though.

I'd be more concerned with whether YC would invest in a company whose growth had flatlined: http://www.paulgraham.com/growth.html, with that said if you're making that much revenue I think there's likely other good options for you. Best of luck!

sama said they don't do that but they actually did do exactly that with Quora. I guess they made an exception.

What's the most exciting non-traditional segment (bio, energy, manufacturing, etc) you're looking forward to funding startups in?

I imagine each partner will have different answers. One thing I say is that we should be willing to fund anything that could be a $10B company, and that is such a difficult restriction we shouldn't have any other restriction.

Personally, I am very interested in nuclear energy and solar (I think energy is the highest-impact single thing to fix--it's remarkable how many other problems reduce to the energy problem), biotech, AI, education, healthcare, and online communities.

Interestingly, those first three categories are also where I think the biggest dangers to humanity are. High-risk high-reward, I guess.

What do you think about wind energy? A leading wind energy company here in India just had a $160M IPO here and it was oversubscribed. Wind is also growing faster than solar in large parts of the world.

Hello Sam,

Amid a never-ending war between anti-AI and pro-AI , you've recently shown strong positions( http://blog.samaltman.com/machine-intelligence-part-1) about it.

As an 'AI applicant', I can't stop wondering whether such position could influence an application decision.

What's your take on it?

I still want to fund a lot of AI companies.

Hey. This may sound like an unusual question, but I thought I'd ask.

We started our company about 4 years ago. Since then our apps have been downloaded by 3 million people in over 100 countries (see http://qbix.com/blog/ ) Every year we've been applying to YC, and never even making it to the interview. I know that YC likes to invest in teams and the ideas sometimes change ... and as far as teams go, I think we've done some impressive things. (For example, http://qbix.com/about) So I would think that at least we'd get a chance to be invited. We applied about 4-5 times in the last 4 years. The weirdest thing is that most of the times the founder video didn't get any views on YouTube (we tracked it).

Could it be that YC just gets so many applications that they don't really have time to go through them all, and watch all the videos?

Does it make sense to apply again? Are we blacklisted for some reason?

Sorry for being so blunt, but we really do like YC and we were just curious because there's very little feedback as to what goes on in the application process.

can you send me an email?

Sure, sent!

sama@ right ?

Hey Sam,

I'm working on this idea on my free time but for now it's in an early stage. We believe strongly in it but we don't have yet a ready prototype which means we don't have any structure, users, revenue, etc..

I'm wondering if YCombinator's goal is to encourage people from initial concept or help existent startups to grow and go further ? Knowing our story, do you honestly think we have a chance at this time to be selected by YCombinator ?


Why don't you have a prototype? That'll be an important question.

That said, we make most of our money backing companies at the "initial concept" stage, so we'd love to hear from you.

We're working on a prototype but it takes time and having a full-time job limits our commitment and progress. It's good to know because being funded will literally help to be focused on this idea.

There are a number of questions on here about remote/non-US/non-SV startups, and whether there is any place in YC for these.

Based upon my experience in the 90s running a DFJ funded startup which was located in Florida, I completely understand why YC would not want to try to do startup advising non-locally. Some things are hard enough to explain or understand even when you are there in person.

That said, YC also has the HN community, which includes many non-local founders and potential founders. For many of these founders, the YC value proposition may not meet their needs. This might be because of YC requirements (3 months, $/equity ratio) or because of Silicon Valley issues (I hear the rent may be too high). Either way, YC has an audience of potential founders which its primary product is currently not addressing.

Although YC is not lacking for applications, there seems to also be a case of unmet demand here. Do you have any prospective plans which would interest the non-SV HNer? HN is a network that seems to have some value to those of us in the hinterland, but perhaps this network of people could offer value back to YC as more than just interlocutors?

Would you or any other YC partners consider making a trip out to Georgia Tech to give a talk? We don't get too much love being in the south east, but there are many hundreds of talented engineering students here that would benefit greatly from hearing about YC and the startup world in general.

Yes! Please! Georgia Tech is a fantastic, underrated school with extremely hardworking, determined students.

Do you think if Zuck applied to YC today with Facebook as it was in 2005 he'd make it in? (Assuming the 'social network' landscape still looked like it had in 2005).

Yes. There are certain people that you cannot sit across from and let yourself not invest. He is one of them, for sure. He also had great growth.

(Zuck comes to speak to the YC batch every year or so. PG used to say that when he talked to Zuck he'd find himself saying "whoa, we should really fund this guy". I had the same experience last time he came to YC.)

What's something he said or did to cause the 'whoa' reaction? Any kind of anecdote you can share?

Watch the Startup School video on Youtube. It's when he talks about what he built before/parallel to The Facebook (Wirehog, Synapse, ZuckNet, etc.)

For the lazy, here's the link[0] where Mark talks about building a site that got students to upload their notes that helped him pass an exam for a course he hadn't studied for.

PG remarked that this was fitting answer for the "Tell us how you hacked a system" question in the YC application and added he has to constantly remind himself its too late to accept Mark into YC.


There's some very interesting things in that video. It set me to thinking about things Facebook isn't actually doing that Zuckerburg says he cares about. Which are things worthy of some further thinking to see what opportunities exist there...

> anything else

i know i'm late to the party, but it just seems like place like HN, with a group of people who so vociferously speak in favor of online privacy and person data ownership, would have no methods of completely removing one's identity/posts to the site. could you please address what appears to be a discrepancy between HN's policy and the audience?

What is the #1 cause of failure of YC startups and how long does it usually take to materialise?

The apparent cause is running out of money, but the real cause is failing to build something users love. It is usually apparent in the first 6 months, but not always.

Another big cause is cofounder tension.

Hi Sam,

I have a startup in Brazil which is a marketplace for technical assistance. Within 5 months we have over 2k geeks (in 102 cities) and over 200 clients and we're only on MVP. Unfurtunately I cannot find my aquisition channel (also I'm not sure about the profile of my clients since they are very random). All the investors say's they'll invest only when we find this acquisition channel. Would you recommend me any cheap way to test my channels? We're running out of cash (which we have almost 0).

Thanks in advance

I am currently applying to the summer batch and I was wondering about my setup. I came to the U.S. about four years ago and immediately built a marketing agency and after a year added software development services to it. We grew rapidly to a stable stage and now I am at the point where I can step back from taking care of the company and let my other partners manage it (We are four partners). My question is, I am applying as the only founder and was wondering if having a company already might be a deal-breaker, due to you thinking that I would not be able to invest 100% of my time into the startup? My reason for not having a co-founder yet, is because I want to make sure that I really add somebody that will 100% benefit the startup. I do have a pool of people available from my current company, but would also like to branch out first. Any thought from you would be really appreciated.

Make it clear in your application you're going to spend 100% of your time on this new business.

Thank you and I did. I was just wondering if there is already a certain penalty towards me. 1) Only founder 2) Owner of another company....

Thx, for your prompt answer. Enjoy the rest of your AMA and have a great weekend!

On evaluating applications: assuming you're looking at a solid team and a seemingly good idea, how much does having a working prototype and early traction help a startup's chances of getting into YC? Is there some level of traction that makes any application a shoo-in? Are there categories of startups that you won't even consider without demonstrated traction?

On the flip side, what does it take to make you consider a team that has nothing built and no users yet?

A prototype helps a lot.

Traction helps too, but we tried not to get fooled by graphs. In fact, I always ask the other interviewers "would we fund this company if they had no traction at all?"

To fund a company with nothing built and no users, we have to believe 1) the idea is great and 2) the team is unstoppable.

Hi Sama,

You have a CS degree from Stanford and you're now running YC. Do you wish you had a MBA or management degree or some sort? How did you learn about management even at your previous startup? In general how do founders specially who come right out of college without business degree learn to manage team as a leader? Just wondering as I'm a programmer myself and would like to be in management role someday but don't plan to get degree like an MBA.

No, I don't (I don't have a CS degree either--I dropped out after two years).

I'm skeptical about how much one actually learns in business school, and I think it's a bad investment of time and money. I think management is one of those things where you learn much more by actually doing it.

That said, I don't manage much at YC. Part of what being a partner means is that you're at the point in your career where you don't need a manager.

> I'm skeptical about how much one actually learns in business school, and I think it's a bad investment of time and money.

From what I've seen (and I haven't myself gone to B school), I think the people who seem to get the most (in terms of apparent skill improvement) out of B school are the ones that do it while working in management; I think that the combination of theory and practice is probably valuable.

OTOH, a major purpose of B school (and this is true of many other areas of formal education) is credentialing, networking, and social signaling, which can be important to success independent of (even if it is taken by others as a sign of) actual skill development. So, it may be a mistake to assess the value to the student as simply being about what one actually learns.

What is the one company that applied to YC and was rejected, that you wish had been selected?

Funds need a 10x return from one company to cover the entire fund. Is that a philosophy YC subscribes to, and if so, how long until it becomes evident which (if any) company in a given class will be the 10x ?

10x returns don't help us much. Our entire model is driven by occasional 10,000x returns.

It usually takes about 2 years to have a good sense for who is on a trajectory to maybe get there, and then about 10 years to see if they actually do.

Any recommendations for getting funding for growing projects with proven/consistent revenue streams that do have those smaller returns?

Seems there should be groups interested in lower risk/lower return models, but they don't seem to exist.

A nice article on the 10,000x return Startup


How long until 'definitely not' ?

How much do you think moving to the valley improves the odds of a startups success as opposed to another city, say Atlanta or Raleigh on the east coast?

At least 10x.

And it's misguided, unfortunately. Companies go to the west cost because investors want them to (which is somewhat one of the same types of problems as tech culture diversity), and you're failing to tap some MAJOR tech centers. It also massively increases costs of living, and reduces diversity of ideas.

SF talent is on the same level of experience and variability, though if anything it's easier for people to job hop.

But what it really does is fail to capitilize on the assets of an entire nation (or nations, in the case where people from other countries think they also need to move).


What would you say is the average amount of times a company applies before a. getting an interview at YC and b. actually getting in?

It is often on the first time. The 7th time is the highest count I know of. It's common for it to be on the second or third time.

If we reject a company at interviews, we'll say what our objection is. If you reapply and that isn't fixed, you're unlikely to get in.

More generally, fast progress is something we really look for when deciding to fund startups.

Besides applicants ignoring feedback, do prior failed applications influence your decision at all?

What if the feedback is 'we think the market is too small'. It seems the way to improve is drastically change the product (/pivoting), or is there another way?

Hi Sam,

Does YC take any position on founders in a long-term, personal relationship, e.g. married? Has YC funded companies with such founders? If so, can you say anything meaningful about these company's success or failure?

Note: I'm specifically thinking of companies with two founders.

We have funded many companies where cofounders are married or cofounders are dating. The fact that they are married / dating doesn't generally impact our decision. The same things apply that we look for in any founding team - ability to get stuff done, determination, drive....

Any data on whether founders with this type of relationship have a lower, the same, or higher probability of having founder disputes that destroy the company?

If we get an interview but aren't accepted, will you still reimburse the traveling expenses for us poor people?

Yes, of course. We reimburse travel expenses for everyone who comes to interview with us, and I think it's shameful when other accelerators don't.

I probably would not have interviewed at YC if I had to pay for the trip--I was super poor at the time.

Thanks! That's why YC is the best. They understand Top Ramen founders.

Also, what if we cannot arrange for the trip initially...?

We never want there to be a situation where a founder doesn't come to an interview because of money (or any other) concerns. Contact us directly when we invite you to interview and we will do our best to help you.

Some of the advice YC partners give seems harmful because of survivorship bias (Basic for the Altair -> Microsoft). I've seen some people criticise you for it, but I've never seen any of you address it directly. Do you mind doing so now?

Most startups don't work--everyone understands the odds are long. What makes it worth it is that when they work, they really, really work. So we try to give advice about how to maybe become a huge company.

I understand your motivation. My point is that your advice on how to become a huge company seems a bit flawed - specifically because it ignores all the companies which failed even after following that advice.

Anyway, there is so little data on the topic that I don't feel anyone has good advice on it.

He didn't say it was advice on how to become a huge company, he said it was how to _maybe_ become a huge company. They're going for high returns on successes, not high chance of success.

What are your thoughts on advertising as _the_ way to make great services available for free (Google, reddit, Facebook, Stack Overflow)? What problems do you see with this model? When should this be preferred? Does it only work for massive sites?

It does indeed only work for big sites. It's not the only model, but it was one that is proven and easy to understand.

As a follow-up, do you think it is unethical to use AdBlock?

We're a non-intrusive advertising startup (giftgaming) -- I personally do not think it is unethical, as they provide no value, and if anything, detract from the website's value and sometimes are plain annoying.

I cannot believe that in 2015, we still have intrusive ads, such as banner ads, popups, interstitials, pre-roll videos -- all technologies from the 90s? There must be a better solution.

They provide value to the company providing the content. Many great sites are only possible thanks to advertising revenues. The world would be objectively worse-off if everyone used adblock.

But wouldn't it be great if the world didn't feel the need to use adblock?

Telling people not to use adblock is like telling people to not torrent, or to not bite their fingernails; it's too easy to do.

Instead, the core problem needs to be addressed: which is advertising seldom does anything except slowdown page/game loading times, cause privacy concerns or annoy/distract.

We're offering a solution which makes people want to opt-in more.

Competition is a tricky concept. If there is competition, that can be seen as verification of the concept, but at the same time it offers valid counterpoints. If there is no competition, it might be because the idea is so hard that nobody else has figured it out or so unpromising that everyone else dismissed it.

What role does competition play in your evaluation of a startup?

I have never cared too much about "validation" or "verification of the concept". I trust my own judgment, and the companies I've made the most money on had far, far more people saying the idea was stupid than validating it.

I just try to evaluate every idea on its own merits and potential, and not worry about anything else. I suggest you do the same.

Btw Kudos on doing AMA on HN vs Reddit. We should do more AMA's here.

Hey Sam,

I have a product which is a direct competitor of one of YC11 companies. We have pretty decent traction, and we are solving the same problem significantly different from them. What are our chances? Does YC accept competing companies?

We won't accept a direct clone, but competing companies are fine.

Of course, goes without saying. Thanks!

Hi Sam. If the company applies for the second time with some progress made, is it treated differently, like "Ahhh... the same guys. Let's see what they have done since last time"? Does it matter at all?

Yes. If you reapply with the same idea, the first thing we look at is progress since last time.

Follow up question then. Last time we were applying with no product and no customers. Now we have product and customers (even some YC partners and many of alumni). I heard that YC alumni can vote up on the application of the startup they believe in. Is that true? I guess it might help:)

How does the partnership structure work at YC? What does it mean to be a part-time partner? Do all partners get carry?

It's a flat partnership--we all get the same economics (including me). If you want a salary, it trades off against your equity.

Part-time partners get less equity and spend less time on YC.

Of course, the cash vs. equity exchange rate is a subject of curiosity. :)

As a proportion, how much of the value of YC is in the advice partners give, how much in the 'brand name' and network, and how much is just being around tons of smart focused people for 3 months?

I tell founders it's about 50% advice and 50% network value.

And 30% cash?

I forget which speaker, it may have been Peter Thiel, was discussing how difficult starting a startup is at one of the startup school talks, and said "there are easier ways to make a lot of money". I would be curious if you knew what he (or whomever said that) would consider easier.

I think I was the one to say that.

Working in finance is an easier and more predictable way to make a lot of money, as long as you can deal with the deep existential angst the comes from adding no value to the world :)

I would argue that things like markets/arbitrage/HFT actually add value to the world and down the line are important enablers for the startup ecosystem. It's just that finance jobs are fungible to some degree -- just like low/middle level developer jobs after all.

Hi Sam,

What about people who are in the US on an H1-B visa and have a great idea/working prototype (built as a side project while working at a big co)? Will you invest considering the H1-B visa restrictions?


Your recent stats blog post told us that 32 YC companies are worth more than $100 million. How many YC companies, including those acquired, are worth more than $10 million?

Counting companies that have raised with SAFEs but not equity rounds, probably about 250-300.

I hope this is not a dumb question, what method are you using the estimate the worth of the ones that have raised with SAFEs?

If the answer is that you made guesses not backed by calculations, then how long have you been writing down your guesses, then going back periodically to compare them with valuations calculated from exits and equity rounds?

Have you guys followed the alternative lending IPOs recently? (Lending Club and OnDeck in December, both with billion dollar valuations). What does YC think of the industry?

Personally, I think it's super interesting. LendUp is a company we funded a few years ago, and we've done more recently.

What are your thoughts on the risks to pay-day loan type companies given Wonga in the UK has just taken a huge hit due to regulation.[0] Are they at risk to be regulated here in the US too?

[0] - http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31603152

Hi Sam, How does YC look to foreign applications? Do you have any plan to make improvements for participation of foreigners like visa support, logistics etc.

We help with visas. But part of being a founder is figuring out how to overcome obstacles by yourself.

Is there a lower preference for college-dropouts today in YC? The average YC founder age has increased considerably and I think there might be some relation.

No, if anything it's higher. I think the median age increase has more to do with us funding companies in different spaces that require more experience.

If you're starting an Internet company, I'm more convinced than ever that you don't need to finish college.

> If you're starting an Internet company, I'm more convinced than ever that you don't need to finish college.

For your typical web startup you probably don't need college to learn the technology or the design patterns. But there are certain areas of social science that can be hard to pick up on your own because they are basically oral traditions, and there isn't really an obvious list of books to get on Amazon or whatever. Finishing a degree is still probably overkill though.

In social sciences, the stuff you learn in formal education is less useful. I think the example should be in hard sciences, for example, if you want to start a company building quantum computers, a PhD in physics would be very helpful.

What are your thoughts on drug use among the entrepreneur/tech communities?

Specifically modafinil, amphetamines, psychedelics.

The only one of those (not counting caffeine) I've tried is modafinil. The side effects are weird, but man do you get a productivity boost.

Personally, I'm scared to screw with my brain chemistry too much and am supersensitive to psychoactive drugs of any sort.

Hi Sam, I'd like to apply to YC, but my market is not in the US. Is it something rational? Does it worth?

We've funded many companies working only on non-US markets. Razorpay is an example of one in the current batch.


What do you and the rest of YC think of dynamic equity splits? They're described in Slicing the Pie: http://www.slicingpie.com/


In general, I think fixed equity splits WITH VESTING are the way to go. Probably the optimal split is something like 51/49 (to prevent deadlocking) or 33.3/33.3/33.3 but anything near even is good enough.

Why do you think this is better than dynamic equity splits?

Maybe it lets people stop focusing on how much equity they do/don't have (or gained or lost in a given week) and get on with actually building the company ? :)

Hi Sam,

In the Winter 15 class there was not a single startup from the African continent. Are you guys interested in startups that are targeting emerging markets?


Does YC have any initiatives planned for a Founders Conference that revolves around founders from URM groups, I'd love to see a conference for URM Founders, similar to the Female Founders Conference.

One of my partners is planning to do something here, but I'm not sure exactly what it's going to look like. (We run an extremely decentralized partnership.)

Awesome, looking forward to it! Thanks for the answer.

What do you think about companies which have their main office in SF and engineering office at their home country?

Obviously these companies spend a lot less money on talent and on paper they can get more stuff done with less funding.

What are the success rates of these companies, compared to full SF companies? Is it logical to start to whole company in SF or have a product office somewhere else?

Having slow organic growth for our startup reduce our chances of an interview? What is the average growth week-over-week YC looks at?

Slow growth is bad, yes. A lot of our questions will be about why it's slow and how you plan to make it faster.

We tell startups during YC to shoot for 10% weekly growth in their key metric.

Just want to say thanks to YC for rejecting my previous terrible startup twice, or I won't have the oppy to pursue a more promising one now. When a startup is not ready, YC can smell it.

Honest question on how profitable Y Combinator really is.

What is Y Combinator's average portfolio return before management fees and carry?

We don't have outside investors, so there isn't fee or carry.

Our returns are very good (triple digit IRR) but still mostly unrealized.

Thanks Sama.

This is something I've always been curious since VCs are an investment structure and measuring performance is critical when selecting the right VC.

1) How common are applications from companies that have bootstrapped to a certain size in a non-US market where local knowledge helps (showing some early traction but could still grow in that market) and want to expand to the US? What are you mostly looking for in these companies, do you see them "diluting their markets" as a potential red flag (assuming the idea is transferable culturally etc.)?

2) I get the feeling there is some mild prejudice against academia in the startup community. What is the general reaction if a founder comes from academia ("dropping out to persue the startup")? Tone wise it seems like there's a "why did you waste your time in academia and not build stuff" kind of attitude. Strikes me as strange because on an abstract level good academics do very "startupy" things (form hypothesis, test, act on results) except slower/more deliberate.

> except slower/more deliberate.

My startup is trying to serve ALL the families that live in an apartment building or in a neighborhood (to get economy of scale and make delivery as cheap as possible), but is really hard to get older people to trust and use the internet to buy online. What are your advice to deal with this demographic?

There is a reason advertisers can't be bothered with people outside of the 18-49 demo

What is the most common mode of failure in the interview stage?

Unclear communication. It's surprising how often we get 5 minutes into an interview without being able to really understand what a startup does.

Hey Sam,

What is the problem/market that you think about most when you aren't at work?

Energy, existential risks to humanity, and wealth inequality.

Independent of the fact that there's currently a tech bubble or not. If it hypothetically exploded, would Y Combinator stop its investment activities?

No, I totally ignore this. We'll keep funding good companies no matter what the macro does.

This is basically what Warren Buffett does w/r/t Berkshire's portfolio cos. Though he invests less in frothy times and more in times of pessimism. But he's bottoms up too.

Where do you see YC 10 years from now?

The evolution of the university. But I think it's a much better model--it's got just the right amount of decentralization, it attracts the best people in the world to one place because of the network effect, we pay you instead of the other way around, instead of asking for donations of our alumni in the future we'll let them invest in the ecosystem, etc. And I think you learn far more in 3 months of YC than 3 months of university.

YC is fundamentally just a hub of smart people that help each other.

I think there is some chance that the total aggregate market cap of YC companies by then is approaching the largest market cap of any company (though a safer bet would be 20 years from now). I hope that we'll have funded many of the most important companies, and been able to help them quite a bit. I'm pretty sure the network will be powerful.

I'm sure we'll also do new things that seem crazy today, e.g. a fundamental research lab.

Thanks for the response.

Does more than 1 partner review an application? and how do you maintain quality in screening applications and interview teams? Is recommendations from current partners have weight-age in the screening process (from instacart application hack)?

Yes, in general about 3 partners, sometimes many more. We are very rigorous about maintaining quality and compute lots of statistics on this.

How much weightage does hackernews involvement add to the application (PG used to say he had some weightage)?

Very little.

If someone has an idea or seed of a company, but is only aiming for a mid-high 8 figures as a reasonable exit, would YC consider funding them? Or must it be a shoot-the-moon endeavor? I've written a prototype in use at a large company, and recently found that Oracle acquired a less-performing competitor (yet in market, so not not bad!) product for $20M.

I'm working on my idea anyways, just wondering if YC and the like are a complete waste of time for me. I've got a verbal commit on $120K annual revenue already, but having seed money to focus full time to launch is appealing.

How much traction do you usually look for when evaluating applicants / are most businesses reasonably validated?

There's a well known theory that non-competes stifles innovation and in particular CA's ban on these has allowed SV to flourish.

There have been moves afoot in MA to enact a similar ban, although recently it seems to have been somewhat defanged through lobbying by the likes EMC (despite still being protected by copyright, trade secrets and patents!).

What are your thoughts on this; if MA is able to pass a ban on non-competed of any substance, how do you think it'll change the startup/VC scene in Boston.

I think it'd be good to do this, but that the startup scene is really broken in Boston for many other reasons. I'm not very optimistic this would be enough to fix it.

How else is the startup scene broken in Boston?

Boston's startup scene is dominated by MBAs who think hackers are cogs you put red bull in to get code out and technical cofounders are only worth 5% of the company. I think YC actually has done a lot to change this in the last few years as someone who interacts with the scene often, though these MBAs will never go away.

Sounds like my job! I'd love to see more YC activity back in their home town to try to fix this. However, the YC programs seem to have a tremendous amount of inertia so it's hard to see how they could run a program similarly-successful on the east coast despite starting out here.

The founder of the first start-up I worked for around 2006 told me that most of the money and network was centered around Harvard. It was difficult to get funding as a non-Harvard alum.

Do you have time to elaborate?


Whats your take on startups targeting opportunities in developing countries ( difficult to operate terrains)? These are of course markets that have the potential of affecting billions of people.

Really depends on the specifics, but generally it's something we like.

Hi Sam Altman, What would you suggest to a new college grad? Should I go work for a big companies, save some money and then go into start ups or just go into start ups ?

I wrote something related: http://blog.samaltman.com/advice-for-ambitious-19-year-olds

If you have a low personal burn, you can jump right into a startup. If you have a lot of personal expenses, you probably need to save money before starting a startup.

As a side note, people sometimes criticize YC as being unfriendly to older founders because we don't provide enough money. I always encourage founders with big financial obligations to save up some money before starting a startup--it'll make things far less stressful.

This is a huge advantage of being a recent college grad--you generally have very little in the way of obligations.

Do you think the increasing cost of living in the valley is detrimental to starting up?

Yes, I think it's the biggest long-term risk to the valley's continued startup dominance.


How has the relationship between mentors/companies changed since the batches have grown? Are there still ample opportunities for office hours, etc?

Unlike most other programs, YC does not have mentors--just partners that spend all their time advising startups (and some part-time partners).

This is really important--most people give terrible startup advice, and people that do nothing but select and advise startups all day are probably the best source of good startup advice.

We split into 4 groups, and each company gets 2-3 "group partners" as their main points of contact. We encourage you to talk to these partners at least once a week, and then other partners whenever you need their specific expertise.

The group split was something that happened after S12, which was at the time the largest batch[0]. As the numbers of startups scaled, connecting all partners to all startups was order o(n^2).

I was in this batch - there didn't seem to be any negative impact on the companies given that most/all the founders figured this out and naturally distributed themselves to optimize for talking to the same couple partners week on week. It just meant that every once in a while, you'd be sitting across from a partner that you've never really interacted with and explaining what you do (probably good practice)[1]. Formally grouping partners sounds like a great scaling patch.

[1] Not sure exactly how they did it, but the partners had some internal communication. You'd be halfway through your pitch and then they'd be like "Oh, you're THOSE guys who did X, Y, Z". And then proceed to still give you great advice.

How are the groups/partners assigned? I am assuming it is based on vertical expertise/experience but would love to hear more insight into that process since there are so many great "good partners"

Could you elaborate on what external factors and/or internal improvements are driving you and the team to again develop a larger number of companies per YC batch?

Is the scale-up going well?

Background: http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2014/05/05/y-combinator-...


There are just so many good companies applying. As long as we can keep upping the quality bar, I'm happy for us to fund more companies.

I think there is good chance that there are more than 1 billion-plus dollar companies in the current batch.

YC is fundamentally a network, and so the value goes up O(n^2) with the number of good companies.

That is good to hear!

Your last point resonates with me. The YC classes create subnetworks with a strong sense of identity within the greater YC network. It reminds me of how interns/trainees bond into these clusters in various industries (Hollywood's talent agencies and Wall Street for example). The trust and sharing of experience helps participants function far more effectively.

Hi Sam,

My cofounder and I are applying to YC Summer 2015. We're both juniors in high school - I'm 16 and he's 17. We're hungry to learn and execute and are both technical, but dont quite have the skillset needed to fully implement our idea(although we're learning more every day) like many technical groups that apply to YC. Will this small hurdle prevent us from being considered to YC?

"Harsh conditions make the best soldiers". How true is this when this comes to startups?

I mean, living in a country with a dead/non-existing startup scene. Bogged down by stupid irrelevant problems like lack of internet access, etc. Can a startup kick off in these conditions? (obviously moving to a better place after initial traction) or does it HAVE to take birth in a thriving startup hub?

Is the "uber for ...." market too saturated or do you think there are still problems that can be solved by on demand marketplace apps? Are the opportunities for these type of companies to get accepted based primarily on market traction?

We're a company looking to create 1M jobs with 10 percent being military vets..Do you have any previous history of funding companies founded by military vets?

Hi Sam,

I've heard you mention a few great things about University of Waterloo (They even have you in a video on their Engineering channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQz5hj8y1TE).

Waterloo has such a vibrant startup scene and several groups from the region have gone through YCombinator.

When is the next time you are coming to visit Waterloo?

I need to book a trip soon. Maybe in May.

How do you feel about the fact you employ the co-founder of a company that sells technology to the government that assists in the management of espionage data and has been associated with people crafting proposals to engage in industrial espionage? [e.g. Palantir]





What stage would be ideal for considering moving a project from research (at the graduate university level) to a startup? In this case I'm referring to a project that is based on custom nanoscale hardware components that rely on some pretty groovy physics. The applications are pretty immediate and the market already exists in the biotech/healthcare field.

I think startups are not well-suited for open-ended R+D unfortunately (hoping to do something about this). The best time to move from research to a startup is when you've developed technology and have a plan to make it into a product people will want.

Does this mean that startups are limited with regards to the level of innovation? I notice that a lot of startups don't really do anything new technology-wise, but have more of an emphasis on organization (for example, Uber reorganizes transportation, Bitcoin reorganizes money, but both use existing technology in the form of software languages). If I'm doing something really new (and I think I am because I sometimes have trouble convincing people that what I do is even possible), then the only recourse is to use the dated patent and licensing model with large established companies. If this is the case, then the startup model of innovation has failed at a fundamental level; ie the advantage of a small group doing something difficult only exists for an intermediate level of innovation, don't try to do something 'really' new. Would you agree?

For hardware cos applying to this batch, the Bolt collaboration sounds awesome. Since Bolt has super expertise in prototyping, is it an indication that hardware ideas with an idea only Or partial prototype can get accepted? How can such co.s improve their chances further, compared to software co.s where making a proof of concept barely costs any money?

Yes, we will fund hardware companies with only an idea in some cases. However, the cost and time required to make a prototype has come down so much that most applicants have something built.

What are your thoughts on pre-accelerators such as Entrepreneur First (www.joinef.com) that take people pre-team, pre-idea?

I think most of the YC funded startups have good ideas, but some of the more recent batches (past three years) seem to have a much smaller market than the earlier batches.

Has there been a conscious decision to move to more niche markets, or has that just been where the chips fell?

Also, why has the average age of the founders YC funded slowly been rising?

Ideas look niche when the companies are starting out. As Peter Thiel says, you first want to dominate a small market.

Most great companies were derided for focusing on a small niche when they first started.

I think the average age has risen something like 3 years over the past 10 years. Part of it is that we're funding companies in other spaces. I bet the average age for founders of Internet/mobile startups hasn't moved much.

Tip: if you can't track each question and reply. Ctrl+ f in browser type "sama" and keep hitting enter.

What is the most critical element in driving growth for a startup?

Making a product that users love.


thanks for doing this..are there any plans to do a YC program for people who have to keep their job to maintain their visa status. I am not sure how can one apply when on H1B..?

You say a lot that startups should collect revenue very early. If my startup is currently just a side-project and I haven't yet incorporated, what's the legal concern of collecting payment?

I feel like startups like Door Dash have dealt with this, but I was just wondering if there's anything I should be aware of.

Had you not been accepted into YC, what was your plan of action?

I was going to work on my startup either way. I had a plan B investor that would have been not nearly as good.

We know you have a blog, but will you ever write a book sharing your secrets at a deeper and broader level?

What are the chances of getting funding if I want to focus on my home country (Brazil) as my main market?

That's a feature, not a bug.

Hey Sam,

What would you recommend to entrepreneurs from post-Soviet states and the 3rd world, where they have almost no VCs and limited access to global resources. Should they think big and target the global market or just copy the ideas that work in the US for the local market?

Are you going to do another semester of "How to start a startup" classes at Stanford?

I might do a sort of graduate school version--i.e. "How to scale a startup"

How would you spend this week if you were applying?

Talking to users, and telling us what you've learned from them.

Hello Sam,

Any plans to open up a YC hub in Mexico. The startup scene is in an infant stage but it seems to be growing very fast. 500 startup is already funding companies here[1].

Thank you!

[1] http://500mexicocity.com/

No--but we are delighted when founders come here, learn and make connection in SV, and then go back to their home country!

Silicon Valley is very open to risk-taking Mexicans willing to do the program in Mountain View.

How about risk-taking Spaniards currently living in Mexico? ;)

I am building a startup that will cater to the Latin American countries, and while I would love to move to the SF area, I think that it would hurt my business, since currently I have no interest in the American market.

- How much does previous entrepreneurial success improve your odds of getting an interview? I.e. selling a bootstrapped company for $500k? $5M?

- If previous success is in an industry with a negative image like, say, title loans, does that hurt odds?

What is your favorite interview question to ask?

Why do you want to spend the next 10 years of your life working on this?

Do you work with remote teams? That is, teams that are remote. Can you believe the remote.ly page is not available? Tech only? Have you ever hosted an incubator? Y Combinator NE? Or is that X Combinator? Quantum Combinator?

What do you think of the bitcoin blockchain? Do you believe in it's hype?

My social enterprise is a combination of a Foundation and a Company. Why? To make the social ideologies independent from shareholder pressure AND to make sure we can commercialise effectively towards a sustainable business model. I don't want to be an NGO reliant on donations! Should I apply to YC as the foundation or the company? My social ideology is to extract the value of data without compromising identity privacy. Innit is a system that allows users to own and trade in their own data (particularly health and financial data)

The tech around banking seems to move really slow. For example, just grabbing your financial data from your bank is really hard right now.

Do you have a lot of applicants trying to fix problems in the financial sector?

When applying to YC, if you have a four or five person start-up team, if one member isn't able to come to Silicon Valley, but the rest are (3/4 or 4/5), how much does that penalize you?

The big problem is a 4 or 5 person founding team. That's a high bar to get over (but possible, one startup I really like in this batch has 5 founders).

Be so good we can't ignore you.

Thank you! Why would you say 4 or 5 person founding teams are a big problem?

It is difficult to keep 4-5 people perfectly aligned which is necessary early in a startups life, especially if all of them have equal say.

Losing days to arguing over what the best course of action is a startup killer

What frustrates you the most about YC? What would you like to see change?

It seems like a bad thing that YC has gotten to the point where people stop me on street and ask to take a selfie. I'm not sure what to do about it, though.

Do you encourage people on a work visa to apply (like H1b)? If they get in, do you have any legal partner that will help them join the program on a valid visa or at least guide how to proceed?

Do you anticipate that putting together a structure for companies looking to perform long-term technology development ( i.e. three years, five years) is something YC would have on the board?

We fund a lot of 3-5 year horizon companies.

10-20 years is harder. This does not work for startups. I have a few ideas I want to try, though.

Thanks for answering, Sam. Perhaps I should clarify: does YC accept companies whose core tech is only buildable in 3-5 years - i.e., 3 months of work on the tech gives no salable product.

I am following the YC adventures with interest, and look forward to seeing the long-range horizon ideas.

What should founders do about the rent?

It's really just way too damn high. Live in somewhere like Sunnyvale or San Jose, maybe.

Hi Sam!

As a high school student / developer with a (seemingly great) idea and no same-age peers, would you suggest waiting until college to find a cofounder, or going through with the idea now alone?

Tough one. I'd probably suggest going to college to meet cofounders.

you could also apply for a Thiel Fellowship

I haven't had much luck finding the right cofounder despite meeting thousands of people over the past few years so clearly there's a problem. A few months ago I decided that the problem was probably me since I'm far from perfect so I've been spending considerable time on self improvement by working to define and embody our vision, mission and culture (while continuing to hammer away on product).

Is quality the right thing to focus on at this stage or should I just play the numbers game?

Hey Mat. We met a few months ago (through Weave). I thought you seemed like a decent guy. IIRC, the main problem I saw was that you seemed strongly committed to an idea that I didn't find very interesting. I meant to follow up with you, but more promising leads took priority and I never found the time. Just FYI.

We should meet again sometime. Send me an email?

What percent of YC founders decide against relocating to Silicon Valley after demo day and any correlation between future success and being in Silicon Valley after coming out of YC?

One thing which surprised me about the current YC batch was the average age of the founders. Have you seen a gradual increase in average founder age over the past several years?

I can answer this one because I've been watching it from a unique perspective. Every year the median founder age tracks my age. Since I first started hearing about it in 2009 or 2010. This year they are 29.

Is YC interested investing in international remittance startup?

Yes! sendwave.com is one of our companies, and they are doing phenomenally well. They have a chance of being the best pivot in the history of YC.

Wow, that's huge! Thanks Sam.

@SAM : Whats most excites you in startup (1) Team (2) Team from Harvard/Stanford/MIT (3) Idea (4) Idea with quick revenue model (5) Good idea with Avg team

What are the hardest lessons for founders to learn during YC?

I get the feeling that the clarity of the idea and outward, ease of discerning progress are the principle criteria used to distinguish the promise of the team and idea. In the case of progress, especially early progress, being full of'black triangles', accomplishments mostly only appreciated by those in the know, is there much effort put into trying to see that? Or do you more stick to the clearly understandable progress?

What your thoughts on renaming completely technical or being all rounder who understands tech really well and can do above average coding etc? My question is should I keep on improving myself as a programmer, the real worker or trying to be decent programmer but a good manager/non-purely tech but tech related person? So that after 30, when the Valley's ageism kicks in I can move onto other non purely technical positions?

Question: As a potential entrepreneur, the thing that scares me the most is the lack of real world data. By data I mean: page views, sales reports, analytics, market shits, etc. It the kind of thing that you can't find on the internet, and if you find usually the data is incomplete and doesn't tell the whole story. Does YC provides real world data in order to help startups to understand how the market works actually?

Given your recent comments about the potential danger of A.I, would you fund a startup which seemed dangerously close to making superintelligent A.I a reality?

If you think it's dangerous as well as being possible, I'd imagine you'd jump at the chance to help guide it to the least damaging end.

How do you spot grit and perseverance in an entrepreneur?

We ask about when they've done the impossible. You also get a pretty good feel for this after asking someone hard questions for 10 minutes. Not pushing back at all is bad, and pushing back too hard is also bad.

I'm a PhD student in operations research interesting in working for a company addressing a global problem via an approach with low probability of success but high expected value. Think Helion, Ambri, Firefly (the rockets), Planetary Resources, Immunity Project, etc. The thought being any one of these companies will likely fail, but if 5% of them succeed, that's hugely beneficial for society.

What advice can you give?

Hi Sam, I started a company with a few co-founders. When we started building the product, we self-funded & raised from myself & friends/family but my co-founders weren't in a financial position to put money in resulting in my co-founders being diluted below 10%. Is that a major problems with applying to YC? They are all actively involved and eager to continue building the company.

Sam: Would you consider funding an aerospace startup?

Avionics is one area that could do with some "disruption" - especially on the lower end of the market.

Hi Sam, I've been working in my Startup since December, with my co-founder and even we win a local entrepreneurship contest about ideas and innovation. We're very confident about our idea and we have a working prototype, but, we're in the travel industry and we aren't generating any revenue yet, should we apply to Y Combinator? Even if we aren't generating any bucks?

Do you think that YC's batch model will one day be eschewed in favor of something more seamless and less dependent on timing?

One could argue that, for certain startups, the optimal play right now is to launch just prior to submitting a YC application. It takes advantage of the high traction surrounding launch, and avoids applying in the midst of a typical post-launch slump, if timed correctly.

We might do something like rolling admissions, but the advantage of the batch model are huge. It's so helpful to the startups to be around other startups at roughly the same stage.

In case we apply to YC and don't get in, the best option is to work on the startup anyway. Would you recommend bootstrapping until we get in? Or a specific group of less prestigious accelerators? Do you consider other accelerators in general a "break pedal" because they give wrong advice? Or because there's less equity to supply a potential exit in the future?

As a long time reader, it seems like the content on Hacker News has been consistently trending towards "lighter" material (more articles about drugs, work flow, business concepts) and away from technical, actually "hacker" material. What are you thoughts on this trend? Is there anything we can (or should) do to prevent this forum from becoming reddit?

Hey Sam,

Re solo founders. Would you consider a team with one founder and 1-2 "employees"?

The reason I ask this is because my partners and I have more of a mentor-tutee relationship and although we all share perks and they get equity (considerably less than my share, but still sizeable), they see themselves more as learning than being at the same level as myself in terms of responsibility.

With everything said about the 'economies of scale' of launching startups in Silicon Valley, would do you think of startups in English-speaking developing countries? What are your thoughts on monetization(70%+ don't have bank accounts), market size(most use dumb phones) and relevance(i.e. Another whatsapp/facebook/airbnb? what for?)?

Hi Sama,

Is YC a good fit for someone targets a lifestyle business, as opposite to having great ambitions like becoming the next Google/Facebook?

How much does it hurt our application to not have a developer as a founder? We have an Engineer and a Business MGMT background.

An early stage startup will typically have the great majority of ownership in the hands of investors and 2-3 founders, with maybe 10% allocated to engineers at 1% max for any individual engineer. Do you see this ever changing where engineer #1-5, for example, wouldn't have a 1-to-20 or even 1-to-70 equity imbalance with the founders?

Hi Sam,

I am just about to send my application for the summer batch, but before I do I would like to know your opinion on founders who are not both sharing a programming background, especially considering that we are in the sketching stage? Also, do you think there is any chance to compete against other startups that already do have an established product?

The YC application asks teams to discuss their current equity split / legal situation. What happens to teams who haven't figured that out, or are looking for advice on those matters from Ycombinator? Will an uncertain equity plan or organizational structure kill an otherwise exciting application, if they are open to advice?

No, you can just say "we're still figuring this out, but here is about what we're thinking".

Leaving this question unanswered for a long time is a sign of badness, though. It's important to resolve this quickly and move on to the real work.

What do you think are the most difficult problems, or types of problems, YC as its own organization will face in the future?

Scaling up the number of people in an organization and maintaining innovation is always, always hard.

Hey sama! From the YC founder's profile application:

> Please tell us about the time you, <username>, most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.

I am so much longing to know, why a "non-computer" system? There are so many things I could have boasted of but can't because of the "non-computer" thing :P

I don't speak for YC, but I'd guess it has to do with demonstrating that you're not just a coder in a basement, and that you'll be able to get things done in the "real" world.

Sam's answer to his own question is probably a great indicator of the type of thing that he's looking for: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9239203

edit: also this - have you done the impossible https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9239229

Those are very different skills. When I was a stock analyst, well before Reg FD, it was about getting information other people didn't. Same is true now that I'm a self-employed industry analyst. It's about relationships, and having the relationships be productive in specific ways.

Self-promotion generally takes some cleverness. It shares aspects with my previous example -- you use people who like you in ways that are productive, that don't harm them (or, much better, explicitly help them), and don't cause them to stop liking you. This requires understanding of other people's needs and motivations.

I did some clever negotiating things back in the day -- getting a game theory PhD in 1979 pretty much guaranteed that I was a negotiation "expert" in the 1980s, although subsequently general understanding of game theory and negotiation advanced and obviated such an advantage.

The first time a company threatened me with a scary libel suit I got their arch-competitor to, the same day, offer to pay my legal fees. That may have been my flashiest hack of all. :)

Hi Sam, what is a good growth / revenue / number of users to have before applying to YC? We are in a private beta for a kind of social network, 1 month with ~700 users and ~10% weekly growth, is it good or should we wait? We are also starting in another country (not in the US) because all our contacts are here

10,000X returns are so rare, how do you guard against over-fitting your decision making processes on too little data ?

YC has been branching out with it's investments with companies in areas like charities and biotech. But it's as of now a small percentage. I understand predicting anything into the future is mostly an exercise in failure, but what do you think YC's mix of portfolio will be like in 20 - 30 years?

I've been closely following YC and the startup scene in SF. What's your advice to a startup, applying to YC this season, and is from a foreign country? I've read most your writings and watched few interviews as well. It'd be great if you have something to add! And thanks for the AMA!

It doesn't hurt or help--we fund lots of founders from foreign countries (more than 40% of the last batch was born outside the US).

that's a somewhat misleading stat - you can be an American and still be born outside the US

Hi Sam,

I'm currently a highschool junior and the co - founder of EnerScore. I'm aware that YC has a semi-preference for younger founders as you said so yourself, but I wanted to know how YC might view me being this young. Will it count against me in my application, or is YC more focused on the product itself?

The only hard disqualifier is if no founders are 18 or older, because you can't sign contracts in that case.

I generally do not think it's a good life decision to start a company when you're 16 or 17, and I'd suggest waiting a couple of years.

I applied to YC for the next batch as a response to one of your RFS. I would probably not have applied at this very early stage if you had not listed a similar idea in your RFS. If you believe in the idea but it's still pre-product, are you more likely to give a team a shot at building it at YC?

Do you accept applications from Pakistan?

Just pointing you to @sama response.


I am from Pakistan and was funded by YC. I know at least 6 people in current batch who are from Pakistan however we were not running our startups from Pakistan. I have seen startups from multiple regions.Being from PK obviously reduces your chances because of the small market size if you are focused locally. In addition, VC like to invest in bigger economies and a startup close to them. Exceptions already exist.

Summary: If you are from PK, be extremely good

You talked about the "two founders." How do you think is the best way to present an idea to someone else for her to help?

Many people reject the powerpoint. I decided to make a landing page. If anyone is interested I send a greater amount of information in a PDF, while working on a prototype.

Do you have a better suggestion than this?


Thanks for the AMA. You haven't answered the hardware related questions in this thread yet, so I'll try: do you think you'll see the day when YC funds a hardware startup that develops custom ASICs or semi IP for licensing? If so, what type of startup would be a good fit for YC?

I predict that will happen in the non-distant future.

Where do you see YC in 5 years? in 10 years?

Some say "the best product always wins." Can you give an anecdote where perhaps the best product did NOT win?

Do you still advocate 10/20/30/40 grants?

Quora participated in YC and this was very unusual. When can we expect to see something posted about how this went?

Should we try to communicate culture and values in the application? Are those things that YC filters for?

Hi @sama, Seeing the recent developments in driverless car, do you think human driving startups (ours is making money while making roads safer) are not interesting for the long term even if worldwide users adopt it today (96 countries after a Buzzfeed article only)? Thanks. Eduard.

With your recent hardware announcement and partnership with Bolt, are you more likely to accept hardware companies that can benefit from the new services you now have access to? In other words, will you be more likely to accept a larger number of early stage hardware companies?

What questions on the application do you look most for and you feel the other partners look at as well?

Would you ever consider investing startups in defense industry?

For example a startup that builds anti-drone systems etc?

Yes, definitely.

Do you think knowing YC alumni gives some teams an advantage in the application process and interview?

How often do you fund people on their secondary ideas compared to the main idea people apply with?

Solo founder, rebel, lots of startup ideas, 0 startups (a "tutoring business"), flailing in corporate America, effortlessly producing psuedo brilliance...is YC4me? Can I apply on a really nice concept? Or a set of concepts? Like Elon's 3...ya kno?

Hey Sam,

I'm getting married in July, If I were accepted into YC, is there anything like deferring Enrollment?

We've done it once or twice, but why not just apply for the next batch?

No reason really. That's currently our intent. Thanks for the reply!

Or why not just delay your marriage?

Do YC encourage couples applying as co founders. One is technical and the other is non technical.

How often does YC fund early stage companies that don't even have a functional prototype?

Somewhat frequently, but we always ask why the company doesn't have a prototype.

I know there was one aerospace startup in W15 but are space startups out of YC's scope?

That particular startup is building rockets, so no.

Will there be info on them coming soon?

Sam, I know you guys support nonprofit startups. But do you donate? Does YCombinator have a program for supporting nonprofits by the traditional means (ie giving them money), or is that something you do as individuals only, not as a company?

More and more VC firms (GV, KPCB, Greylock, etc) are hiring designers/engineers-in-residence to help vet potential investments and provide guidance to portfolio companies. Is this something you've thought about implementing at YC?

What are some of the best things that you've seen non-tech co-founders do during YC?

What does YC think of founders who are working on a project on the side (of their job), wanting to turn it into a startup? I presume there are lots of people who have day jobs to pay the bills before they can get some initial funding.

Will YC invest in a startup that has the potential to be a billion dollar B2B company in 10-15 years and not a quick exit ? Since it is B2B, it will never have a million users or be viral but more like solid few thousands customers.

Once we submit our application, does making edits to our application affect anything?

I saw in the recently published YC stats that you have accepted companies from a number of countries in the current batch. Do you see any major differences in work culture/ethics between say US and european founders?

What is the ratio between the businesses that YC funds that have revenue and don't have revenue? What about having a significantly large amount of traction (i.e. few thousand users in the first week of beta)

Most have no revenue, or very little. Most companies we fund have some sort of prototype, but some of the best ones don't.

Do you think that startup ideas, in their general concept, can be confidential?

Or do you think instead that a global idea, without hard details, and most importantly before the hard work of execution is never confidential?

Imagine a hardware company doing a research which requires lab or special equipment. Is it OK the leave about a half of the team on site and join YC with the rest? Project lead is among those who can move.

Have you ever considered funding enough to attract people who have financial obligations, such as kids, a spouse and a mortgage? It seems like a huge, untapped, resource that no one else is going after.

Speaking as one of those people, it's not just the financial obligations. In fact I think the financial obligations are a relatively small part of it; it just means a higher burn rate, which isn't a tremendous problem in the scope of these things.

The much bigger problems are the conflict of time spent on family vs the startup, and/or in many cases the desire to have a stable environment for the family.

The time can be managed for people who have a lot of energy and are equally passionate about their startup and families. I've seen it work out... but I've also seen it tear others to pieces when they didn't get the balance just right.

I'm not suggesting that burn rates and starting on small amounts of capital aren't important, just that it's a small problem relative to the time commitments.

BTW, here's a great post from someone who did get the balance right: http://tiempoapp.com/y-combinator-a-two-year-old-and-a-pregn...

People in that situation usually save up money before applying to YC. I think this is the right answer--it seems important to startup's health that they get started on little capital.

Was there any instance where you based your judgement to fund a startup based on gut feeling (due to great founders or whatever...)?

I understand most applicants are great so it might be difficult to differentiate

What would make you fund unproven founders with an early stage product?

Which do you prefer most in an application: What the app currently does (or will do in three months)? What the future app might look like in five years? And/or: how it will get there?

Both. Clearly explain what you do right now, and where you want to be in five years.

Would you rather fund one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

Do international founders have a better chance of getting in because of the fact that they are willing to sacrifice something greater, or lower chances due to immigration issues?

Why don't even the best VCs publish returns? Does YC plan to?

I don't know why most don't.

Ours sound silly. The IRR is way over 100%, but on a relatively small amount of capital.

What's your thoughts on teams that are applying from London?

We are excited about teams applying for anywhere in the world! A huge percentage of the startups we fund come from outside the US.

How and why will Pebble win, or be one of the winners, in the "war of the wearables". Ie. how will it be a similar to the android/ios platforms of mobile today

Hey Sam,

What would you try to optimize for in terms of learning and growth - good mentorship or fast growing companies? Or is there some other attribute you'd recommend optimizing for?

When should a startup start to monetize? Currently we are building a user base and iterating the product based on feedback. What do you think about delaying monetization?

Totally depends on the startups. In general it's good to monetize early, but there are very important exceptions. This is the sort of thing we have to give individualized advice about to every YC company.

Would it be possible to do a remote program mentored by alumni?


Hello! Are partners chosen specifically for each interview (e.g. people with knowledge of the market), or are the tracks split up between groups of partners randomly?

We randomize everything first, and then look through each morning to see if some interviewees need domain expertise, and then swap those around as best we can.

How should a company approach other offers (venture funding, other programs, etc.) prior to hearing back from YC, specifically when there are firm deadlines in place?

Does the current partnership explicitly cap the partner count or is there some point in the future where you think it would make sense to cap the number of partners?

No and probably not.

I don't want to work for a company, I'd much rather start my own. And there are definitely some problems I'd like to solve, but I'm still figuring out which ones will actually add value and how to go about solving them. Any advice? If I just applied with a bunch of ideas and the YC team liked one, would it be considered? I'd imagine there needs to be at least some progress but still thought I'd ask.

My relevant background is that I built a social calendaring app with my college roommate and it was eventually acquired by our university. In my eyes, it was a failure that I learned a lot from.

In terms of what to look for in founders, one lesson YC has learned seems to be that determination > intelligence.

What other major lessons have you learned in the last few years?

What is required to apply? Do you look for a prototype? Do you look at user growth rate over the past few months? How do you decide if an idea is really good?

How frequently do YC companies pivot based on feedback/inspiration/etc. from the program and how does that affect your view of the founder/team?

Thanks, Sam!

Q: I was curious what types of tools or applications YC uses to operate (manage applications, track feedback, or schedule meetings, etc.)? Can you share your stack?

We build our own tools mostly.

How about health drinks / food? Do you know if yc would have any interest or expertise to help natural food companies? Like Kambucha is $600M company now.

It's out of our area of expertise, but again, if we can understand why it might be a $10B company, we'll fund it.

Good evening Sam, thanks for taking some time around.

- What do you think of similar structures burgeoning in Europe? - Are they a good first step before applying to YC?

In general, no. If you want to apply to YC, just apply to YC. Going through some other program first is a negative--the advice is usually bad, there's extra dilution, etc.

Dunno if you have been asked this already,apologies if it's a repeat, are you going to do a yc in Dublin, Ireland? You should we are awesome

How much time should a startup set aside per week for YC? What have you seen in common with the most successful YC companies that sets them apart?

What's your opinion on accelerators / incubators backed by big corporations such as Wayra (Telefonica) or hub:raum (Deutsche Telekom)?

Would you consider funding a startup with an open source product/idea? If so, under what circumstances (if that's even answerable)?

Is there any point in applying last-minute with just an idea? Or focus on building something presentable, and then apply in the next batch?

2 questions. 1) how many founders with PhD degree YC has funded so far? 2) Are you looking for partners with life science background?

Hi Sam

how many start-ups do you accept on average outside the U.S

What is your take on the health care industry? Where are the biggest opportunities and leverage points? Perhaps for a YC company

What according to you is most important thing for a startup to get selected in YC? The idea, team or the market opportunity.

Do you think the YC formula would work outside the valley, where it's harder to find plenty of young early adopter types?

Hi Sam,

Do you start reading the application on the 27th?

If someone was to submitted early but was continuously updating till the deadline, which application do you see?


We start right after Demo Day (the 24th). It's possible we'd read an earlier version--if you're going to make big changes, hold off on submitting.

I haven't seen this comment yet. Thank you for answering our questions. I have read through all of them! Thanks Sam :)


thanks for doing this!

Do you think VC money is viable option for long-term (e.g. 30 years) business models?

What would be your advice (if Bootstrapping is not an option)?

I'm a master CS student and start up "enthusiast" from Munich, Germany. How do I get an internship @ YC ?

Is there a chance to be approved if my startup is an incubator/accelerator a la YC in another region of the world?

Definitely a chance, but if you want to get into YC you should just apply to YC.

It usually hurts you if you've gone through another accelerator because our bar is much higher. In that case, we expect you to be already accelerated, and we find that many accelerators are actually more of a brake pedal.

For people with immigration issues, does YC have any plans on expanding to Asia or Europe in the coming few years?

No, but we help with immigration issues.

Are you already combined several startup's ideas into a one that has more potential to become a unicorn?

What does it mean to be president of YC?

Blah blah something about herding cats blah blah.

I was wondering if YC would consider working with a startup that is essentially owned by a medical school as opposed to the founders.

Scenario: I will be attending medical school next fall (this is after three years industry programming). One of the surgeons I plan to work with during med school has a for-profit medical technology project still at the seed stage. He is currently seeking venture capital investors.

Hi Sam, you wrote a blog post about China last month. Do you see YC China in the plan in the near future?

What are the differences in YC (good and bad) between the most recent batch and the batch you got in YC?

How would you look at a founder who has built something for the US market, but have never visited it?

what is your position on non-US focused startups. We are applying based on an article on Techinasia about YC warming up to Asia focused startups as well.

We have applied to other accelerators in the US and made it all the way before being told "oh hey.. non US focus".

What do advise a jack-of-all-trades dev who can create pro grade apps and doesn't have a job?

What time in the process does the demo become really important ? So when should it be ready by ?

Any interest in a Y Combinator IPO?

No. That got a quick involuntary shudder out of me.

Maybe a more founder-friendly way to rephrase this, rather than an IPO with the public: have you considered opening crowdfunding so that the startup community self-funds the next YC semesters? I'm sure there would be quite some demand.

Implementation could be as simple as a syndicate on AngelList for instance.

WeFunder offers the ability to invest in YC (and non-YC) startups.

I'm dying... lol

Are there any one or two questions that really stick out as most important to the YC partners?

We are a startup from Asia and what prerequisites we need to fulfill to get a chance in YC?


p.s. my social ideology is to extract the value of data without compromising identity privacy. Innit is a system that allows users to own and trade in their own data (particularly health and financial data)

I know a lot of YC alumni, are endorsements about quality or quantity? Are they important?

Quality far above quantity.

A large number of weak endorsements really hurts your chances.

Dunno if this has been asked already, ever think about doing a yc in in Dublin, Ireland?

We fund companies from all over the world. The sacrifice of moving for 3 months pales in comparison to other sacrifices you have to make to start a successful startup.


Does every application submitted, before the deadline, get seen and on average by how many reviewers?

It at least gets seen by our alumni reviewers, and at least 3 of them. They pass about half the applications on to the YC partners.

What's YC's valuation?

A lot, but it's very illiquid.

Hello Mr. Altman, Thank you for taking the time to do this, I was hoping you'd be willing to give me some advice? I really want to be successful one day.. But I just have no discipline and I rarely work toward my goals. I know what I want to achieve.. I just always pick short term rewards over long term ones.

Sam has already helped you indirectly by investing in reddit which has all sorts of community sourced help. Check out PeaceH guide to getting discipline[1]


> helped you indirectly by investing in reddit ...

... which is THE weapon of choice for anyone serious about honing their lack of focus and procrastination skills :)

What do you look for in hardware companies ? How do you evaluate founders and ideas ?

What do you think are some of the unsolved problems in the location based apps field?

What advice do you have for junior devs who want to work at an early stage startup?

Join a rocketship. (ideally one in the YC portfolio :) )

What is the percentage of applications you accept that are not from the U.S.

Is YC India in your plans ?

I want YC Pakistan then :D

Is it common that you fund startups with big/growing competitors?

All the time.

Do you disagree with Peter Thiel on competition?

What about two or more startups that are competing with each other?

what is the kind of traction that you look for in companies that you fund? Is it an absolute number or a consistent week on week growth for a few months in a row?

How many current college student YC companies do you have?

any plans to host a Startup School conference in Asia ?

Yes, this year.

Would love to help! @batraatin, Hong Kong

what must one do to acquire one of those cool Y combinator sweatshirts I see floating around San Francisco? store.ycombinator.com in the works? :)

One gets made for each batch. Apply!

Do you accept some teams without a business model?

Yes, but not without an idea.

We tried funding teams with no ideas at one point. It didn't work. It turns out that good founders always have ideas.

Thank you Sam :) We already have an idea

I'm still working on building a prototype so I can earn a cofounder and future employees. I'd say I'm 2-3 months off from having the MVP done. Should I apply to YC?

You could, there's not much downside and you can reapply if you don't get it. But your chances sound significantly higher for the the next batch.

He meant the batch in 2015 2nd half, i guess.

hello sam

How do you get the (gut) feeling that you should definitely invest in a particular idea (or company)? (how do you make such a decision)?

One thing I always think about is if I would take the CEO job at the company if they offered it to me.

whats better these days? Get to revenue faster or build something that more people can use and generate revenue later?

Where do you see tech in the next decade?

what is your answers to pgs dont do a startup in your 20s?

is there anything you wish you had done, recommend besides startups?

Does YC encourage couples applying to YC as co founders. Is that seen as a negative. One of the co founder is technical and other is non technical.

Hi Sam, Is it ok to seek advice from partners and get feedback and improve on the application? Just would like to increase the odds. Thank You.

Out of fairness, the partners can't really give you feedback. You can reach out to alumni, though.

Y Combinator? Why not Altmanator?

are you going to have a fund with LPs at any point in the future ?

Most people fund ideas, some fund founders. What do you think about funding dreams?

Isn't that what ideas are?


Have not seen YC investing on any Television/native Smart TV apps ...any thoughts on why?

Has YC funded any Roku/Chromecast apps before?

How I become a hacker

What do you think about a location-aware, food truck app with social login?

Would you consider game studio startups as a valid startup application?

Do you emulate the petrichor smell, and if so, how? THX!

How hard is it to become a YC partner?

What is YC roadmap in 5-10 years time?

What did you eat for Breakfast?

How many companies/startups will actually be chosen to enter the batch?

We never set this ahead of time--it really depends on how many companies apply that we want to fund, subject to the constraints of how hard the parters can work.

I'd guess in the range of 100-130, based on current application volume. We had a big spike in growth last batch (I think because of the startup class).


In your opinion do you see anything coming along that can become an alternative to the current status of the "internet"?

Does YC fund stealth startups?

Maybe we do and maybe we don't...

How much is six times nine?



You brought a smile to my weary eyes.

Reddit is well on it's way to becoming a dominant monopoly on the web, however there's a (subtle but important) difference between being a platform for free speech, and promoting hate speech.

If there are a billion users, but they're horrible people (eg /r/coontown), is that something you will look back on and consider as having been worthwhile?

As a five-year Redditor, this is an awesome question, but I have two potential ways to better ask it:

1. I wouldn't ask about a billion horrible people. Don't forget that the user number reflects logged-out consumers, and Reddit is still limited to far fewer participants. The demographics of people that choose to make an account and participate are very likely strongly disconnected from the circumstances required to make Reddit a billion-eyeball property. Maybe a better question would be "what can Reddit do to appeal to participation from non-teenaged and non-twentysomething white males who think /r/spacedicks is funny?"

2. I wouldn't ask about his perspective on things like coontown from the perspective of an investment, I'd ask him his thoughts on controversial speech on Reddit in general, as well as Reddit's responsibilities to act in the service of protecting free speech. /r/coontown is only the latest. Don't forget there was /r/jailbait before it and the banning of all Zoe Quinn discussion and subreddits, as well as vast numbers of communities that you and I both will not mention that are even worse than those already named.

(Warning to those unfamiliar with Reddit: please do not investigate things like spacedicks or coontown if you are sensitive.)

This is what this account is for, after all, so:

I am a regular poster on r/theredpill(which was recently "honored" by winning the bigotry category---but with low toxicity---in a recent sentiment analysis of reddit comments). There is a lot of what someone might call "hate speech." Some of that doesn't really deserve the title and is just "truths that polite society omits;" some reflects genuine, generalized anger against women.

The subreddit has grown like a rocket. There are multiple backup plans for where to move the community in case the subreddit gets shut down. In short: there is something there that draws people, for better or for worse.

One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, etc.

The Red Pill an organization of freedom fighters? We're comparing feminists to ISIS now?

Genuine, generalized anger against women? What are you upset about, that it's fallen out of favor to feel up a woman at a bar without permission before you begin a courtship that ends with her in the kitchen as your property with your dinner on the table at 5:30? Upset that you can't give her two black eyes for finishing dinner at 5:31 and keep custody of the kids because judges are pretty much out of patience for male shenanigans? Mad because "alpha male" means something different today than it did throughout history, and you miss the old ways? Do you honestly look yourself in the mirror and say "I'm championing the causes of men by participating in a community that started as a haven for pickup artists and uses The Matrix references as pseudointellectualism?"

Stop me, I'm laughing so hard I'm getting lightheaded.

I would have never predicted someone who speaks positively of The Red Pill works in the subset of technology that made him aware of Hacker News, and all that does is make me rethink what I thought was a typical level of intelligence to work in this field.

Your organization grows because there are lot of pieces of shit in the male gender, and everybody likes validation that there are other pieces of shit like them. Why do you think Stormfront grew so quickly? "Yay, a whole forum of people just like me!" That's exactly why. Believe me when I tell you that I can't wait for the SPLC to list you, just like they did Stormfront, because you are just about as antiprogressive and awful.

I am a pretty strong feminist, and agree that a comparison to ISIS is far off base.

Nevertheless, I believe that one reason for the backlash against feminism is the perception that feminists are spiteful and would rather argue against straw men and make ad hominem attacks than actually argue their point of view.

Actually, I've found that most feminists are surprisingly patient and eager to explain their point of view and their experiences with sexism, even to skeptics or to ideological opponents. Although I've learned that feminists have a very good point whether or not they are being nice, it was by meeting and talking with such feminists that I was converted to their cause.

I urge you to please adopt their tactics.

No. I will not back down from calling spades spades because I represent no group, only speak for myself, and I am under no obligation to alter my views or politicize my actions because of vague backlash reasons (you interestingly avoided telling me why you were urging me throughout that entire comment, if you read carefully).

You might have identified a box into which to label and place me, but I assure you that I remain independent of all labels; my opinions are not based in feminism, yet our views happen to align in this case. I am not championing a cause that requires me to convert anyone. I am calling a representative of The Red Pill an idiot for attempting a cogent argument in their defense on Hacker News. If I were defending feminism, I'd be operating much differently.

Attachment to a group and worrying about the group is a prison from speaking about what is important to you in your own way.

Please stop.

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. Consider, after a brief period of calling out someone for speaking positively about a hate group on Hacker News, coming back after moving on to find a directive to stop and a comment from a former Reddit employee and administrator calling for the thread to be censored.

I'm not sure what I did. If you'd like to follow up via e-mail, please do. I'm concerned.

If you wanted to slice off this entire offtopic subthread and stick it at the bottom of the page (or in the trash), I certainly wouldn't complain.

> I would have never predicted someone who speaks positively of The Red Pill works in the subset of technology that made him aware of Hacker News, and all that does is make me rethink what I thought was a typical level of intelligence to work in this field.

There was an influx of TheRedPill users a few hundred (300? 500?) days ago. Most of them ended up getting shaddowbanned within a week or so. A few stuck around. There's also a bunch of people with similar views but who have never visited that subreddit.

It is a bit disturbing.

I'm not really interested in defending the subreddit. I am attempting to add a dash of reality: hate speech cannot be eliminated by clamping down on any particular subreddit. There will always be somewhere on the internet for people to express hateful, offensive views.

Of course, that's exactly the kind of thing a misogynist would say. And you could make a case that just because you can't stamp the stuff out entirely doesn't mean you have to let it happen on your servers.

I absolutely agree with this entire comment and laud that perspective, regardless of how this thread started.


> there are rumors going around that Yishan was bribed to step down so that Ms. Ellen Pao could become interim CEO just in time for her trial against Kleiner Perkins. Could you comment on her character?

It's bad enough that you're publicly asking sama for petty gossip on an AMA like this, but ending it by making this about Pao's character, not Yishan's character, the changing of the guard at Reddit in general, or even the KP lawsuit, is really low.

And of course he's not going to comment on pending litigation. That would be... highly inadvisable.


Why are people so crafty ?

Any ideas for some innovative growth hacks?

Hi Sam,

I am a 28 year old project manager. How can I help YCombinator?

Work at a YC startup!

Sam, our YC application is almost ready, can I post it tomorrow? :)


How can it be 2 different people, why don't you speak in 1st person and use 'I'?

I am a 28 year old technology project manager. How can i help YCombinator?

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