I think the past 4 months have been the busiest of my life. We
wrapped up YC's winter funding cycle, hosted Startup School for
more than 700 people, conducted interviews for the summer funding cycle, I interviewed people for the second volume of Founders at Work and made the semi-annual cross country move, and we recently kicked off YC's summer funding cycle with 22 new startups. And in the midst of all this I got married.
At times, I felt a bit overwhelmed. But I wouldn't change things
for the world, because I love what I do.
Paul and I spoke with a reporter recently who was trying to determine what motivates us to work on Y Combinator. He asked if we'd still do it if it were never profitable. I answered that I'd keep going anyway-- that I love working with the founders and I'm enormously pleased when good things happen with their startups. I felt a little sanctimonious afterward (since I definitely hope YC doesn't turn out to be a non-profit), so I spent time thinking about why I want YC to succeed.
Most reasons were kind of obvious: I enjoy working with startup
founders, love being part of a small company where I have some skin in the game, I like playing a role (albeit small) in the creation
of new technology, and I'm genuinely interested and challenged by the work I do. Plus it will be fascinating to see how the new model of investing that YC represents will eventually play out.
But then I realized something that surprised me: one of my biggest motivations for wanting Y Combinator to succeed is that I want to give other people a better opportunity than I had in my professional career. Like a parent who wants to provide their children with a better life, I don't want young people to endure corporate America like I did if they don't want to.
YC was founded on the principles in Paul Graham's essay Hiring is
Obsolete. For the smartest and most ambitious people, a startup is a better alternative to climbing the corporate ladder. You get more control over your fate, instead of being averaged together with a bunch of other people who aren't as talented or driven.
I spent 13 years in corporate America, mostly because I didn't
understand what my other options were. I was hypnotized by the
security of an established, respected company. At the end of my run, I felt pretty successful too-- I had a nice, steady paycheck, a fabulous window office, and found some of the work I did pretty interesting. But not all of it. Meetings, consensus-building, office politics-- the list of "not-actual-work" distractions could go on-- took up an exorbitant amount of my time. Our group would sometimes devote an entire day to crafting a response to someone's disparaging internal memo. A total waste of time and, in hindsight, an inefficient use of my most energetic adult years.
I wasn't technical, but I did have the energy and high standards
that would have been well-suited to a startup. At the companies I worked for, they were wasted. Only a few of the top executives had significant equity, so all the long hours I put in never benefited me financially. And because I was never any good at office politics, my hard work didn't help me climb the corporate ladder any faster than usual.
Since they can't really increase the amount of money they make but they can increase their power, ambitious people in the corporate world often turn to politics. Their energies are pushed in the wrong direction. And it's usually frustrating and depressing to work with these people. Especially if they are your superiors. (Luckily, my last boss was marvelous and offset a lot of the bad stuff I'm talking about, but the company as a whole was full of politics.) And because hiring is driven by the random methods that prevail at big companies, the number of mediocre people infiltrating an office can be astounding. In a startup, you choose to work with people you think are talented. At a big company, you're stuck working with whoever else they've hired.
Y Combinator has always had 4 people. And luckily for me, my 3
partners are the smartest people I know. We have no bureaucracy. I can't remember us ever having a disagreement about anything.
YC is kind of a startup itself. We have a novel approach to seed
funding that is still in the early stages and unproven-- and therefore has led to a dramatic increase of uncertainty for me. But I'll happily take working 24/7 on my own company over being an employee at a big firm.
A lot of the people we've funded have told me that they wouldn't
have started their company without YC. As well as a business, YC
is a vehicle for the spread of very valuable information: that it's
easier than a lot of people think to start a startup, and for
talented hackers who can afford the risk, usually a net win over
joining a big firm.
I feel like YC has had a big impact on some people's lives. It seems
like most of our founders are happier and more self-confident working on their own thing. It may not be as easy as the job they had before, but they seem happier. Certainly, the founders of the startups who've been acquired are glad they did it. But even the YC alumni whose startups have failed seem to be better off-- they have a better job at a more interesting company, etc. This is what makes me want YC to keep going.
The majority of YC startups' futures have yet to be determined.
Probably a lot will fail. But I know that some will succeed, and
then those founders will have the financial freedom to choose what they want to do with their lives. They will have successfully
bypassed the frustrating experience of climbing the corporate ladder. Some may never realize what they've avoided, but as someone who spent years on it, I do.
Working from home a few months ago (a rare interruption).