If you don't think consumer software like Dropbox or marketplaces like Airbnb are innovations, consider that we have funded companies like Gingko Bioworks (synthetic biology) and Helion Energy (nuclear fusion).
One thing you're right about: we're not an incubator.
YC is not really for technical innovation, it's for product development: it's for taking X and doing something new with it, not for creating a revolutionary new X. For example, you certainly might have funded Facebook but I don't think you would have funded Google with Page Rank. There were a lot of search engines at the time and there was no clear market for it.
And that's not pejorative -- there's nothing wrong with that; you're not crying yourself to sleep at night.
Your whole application process reflects it: with tiny textboxes and the 10-minute interview time frame. It's perfect for saying "We're like MySpace for college students," but not at all appropriate for saying, "We use a new form of compiling search results that place ranking based on complex algorithm of reputation-based weighting."
A funny example was given by Noam Chomsky. A producer at CNN (IIRC) once told him they wouldn't feature him because "he is from Neptune and lacks concision." To which he replied something like that it was fair, because if you're saying something strikingly different, you look like you're from a different planet, and then you need to justify how you got there, and that means you have to talk a lot, so by definition you lack concision.
If these guys have spent years writing their own VM, they need a lot of time to talk about why they did that, the corner they turned and all of the complex differences their VM exhibits. A one-page application is fine if you're building Facebook for Cats but if you're doing something 'from Neptune', you can't have concision. They simply don't go together.
They did fund DropBox, which is also in the category of "There is a lot of X, there is no clear market for X, but here's a new way of doing things that may or may not work technically." Granted, I've heard that they almost turned him down (twice!), but they were at least open to the possibility of it working.
I suspect that a lot of that is because Drew actually went to the trouble of building a video and getting a few thousand signups before applying. Similarly, Google had significant traction at Stanford well before it became a company. While it takes years for world-changing ideas to become world-changing, it usually takes about 4 months for them to get an initial prototype out that can at least excite some users.
I used to think of Silicon Valley as the birthplace of the future in revolutionary terms -- what Peter Thiel refers to as going from 0 to 1. Doug Englebart, Alan Kay and Xerox PARC, etc.
Now when Silicon Valley talks about innovation, it's about making it so much easier to store files on a server and metrics to gauge product/market fit. There is nothing about DropBox that changed the world. Simply and sadly nothing. But there is everything in that it's what is cited as "innovation" in 2015.
You're moving the goalposts - your initial post was about hard technical innovation. Very often, the change in the world happens decades after the initial technical innovation, and is done by a different person or company.
You don't actually use a mouse or web browser made by Doug Engelbart, do you? Do you get paid to program in Smalltalk? And I bet your laptop says "Apple" and not "Xerox".
It took 20-40 years for these innovations to actually "change the world". Check back in a couple decades on the status of YC companies and see what the world looks like then.
(A bit more personally - I used to think of Silicon Valley as the birthplace of the future in revolutionary terms. Then I realized that I was wrong - not about Silicon Valley, but about how innovation happens. There's no such thing as a revolutionary invention made by a lone technical genius, a priori. Instead, there are environmental changes, often years after the fact, that make the original tinkering of someone who dared to be a little different seem amazingly prescient. You can't predict what these changes will be, but you can tinker and you can capitalize on the tinkering of others.)
Why do you see goalposts? Why are you trying to squeeze between them?
I made an effort to clarify there wasn't anything criminal about going from 1 to n, or with the companies that do that (such as Apple and potentially some of the YC companies). Sure, that can be part of the cycle. There's nothing wrong with "tinkering and ... capitalizing on the tinkering of others." There's a lot of money in that -- and YC is quite clear that that's what they're about. It's an accelerator for making money.
But it's not an incubator for innovation. It's not for those attempting to do something in the 0-to-1 space. But without those people, the 1-n's can't do much. Alan Kay famously asked on StackOverflow, "Has there been any new innovation since 1980?" and the answer was no.
Doug Englebart's kids found out about his innovation from newspapers. He never talked about it. He said it was never about money or fame. Alan Kay is relatively unknown and relatively poor compared to people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who invented nothing but were better at marketing, and I don't think Alan cares. And isn't that the adult way? You give kids rewards: "Clean your room and you get a cookie." But as an adult, you just clean your room.
I think that before 1980, we got 0-to-1 revolutionary innovation because it was done for the reasons we do true science or art. It's not about childish rewards of money or fame. Artists/scientists don't do it for glory or gold. They do it because the mountain stands before them. Because they see a better world, they see something beautiful, and it pulls them forward.
Press articles, app downloads (instead of active users), M&A "offers", employeess or FTEs, # of global offices, money raised (instead of cash on hand), "advisors" (this is a particularly stupid one in my opinion).
Basically anything that isn't active users, revenue or profit.
No car on the market offers a driving assist at this level (both lane tracking and distance keeping). I personally drive hundreds of freeway miles a week and would pay much more than 10k to avoid doing that.
It has been super impressive to watch the Cruise team of just 4 built a car that can drive down the freeway in just 7 months.
As far as I understand their technology this is not true. My understanding is that the system keeps a distance to a vehicle in front and corrects the steering should the vehicle leave the lane.
Even Audi themselves offers active lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control systems. I'm not sure if this is available in the A4, but they offer it in their more expensive models. Mercedes-Benz also has both systems available in the S-Class.
I couldn't find any detailed information on their site as to what they cover, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see their additional value right now.
Adaptive Cruise Control + Lane Assist is in fact quite common. You can get it on the big Audis, JLR have it as standard and even Ford do it (I worked on it for the Kuga, but it will trickle down eventually)
> No car on the market offers a driving assist at this level (both lane tracking and distance keeping).
Yes they do. Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Volvo (and probably many others) offer this technology in their cars, and adding that option is much cheaper than $10k, comes fully integrated, and appears to offer the same benefits.
Meanwhile, this Cruise thing only works on Audi S4/A4, sits on the top of the car, costs more than the manufacturer charges for it, and doesn't appear to be better than that version.
It's really impressive to offer an after-market adaptive cruise-control system, kudos for that, but who is the customer here? Who would buy this thing?
If you have an Audi A4/S4 and $10k, why not trade to one that has the option installed?
While some automakers have lane keep assist on the market, in most cases it just vibrates your steering wheel or, at best, lets your hand wander away from the wheel for up to 15s and only on mostly straight roads.
Cruise is meant to operate hands-free for nearly the entire highway segment of your trip and over a speed range of 0-80 mph. No product on the market does anything close to this.
While I have no particular comment on the Rapgenius case, I think starting a startup in general gives you much more freedom to express your opinion (tasteless or otherwise). Generally, you can say much more than you could working in the corporate world and you will only be punished by the market if it was so extreme that your vendors or customers would actively boycott you, which is a pretty high (or maybe low) bar.