An open letter to YC

I want to preface this by saying I think YC is doing good, that YC has already helped make extremely positive contributions to society by funding numerous companies.

I also currently have an application in for this batch, it’s not a billion dollar idea, I’m not going to make them a 46,666% return on their investment and based on some rejection letters to others suspect incoming. That’s ok, I’m sure this post does not help my odds either.

As people are waiting to hear about the winter 2019 batch, articles keep getting posted to Hacker News giving tips on how to interview, one such as The Ultimate Guide to YCombinator Interview Preparation is currently a top post. This started as a reply to that post but it became more, so I decided to make it something of its own.




I find it amusing that the above article, and most I've seen, are primarily written to app developers.

- “what about building [feature].”

- "What is your DAU as of today?"

- What actions are you taking to grow it? Homepage testing, funnel optimization, doubling down on a marketing channel?

I mean... YC has founded many companies that have nothing to do with applications, or even daily users... nuclear energy, shampoo, growing food, battery technology and manufacturing, energy storage, cancer research...

Then the typical buzzwords/phrases

- demonstration of the great synergy

- on-paper synergy

- What is your DAU

- funnel optimization, doubling down on a marketing channel

- Etc

Which is funny because the article itself says 'Don’t use jargon'.

I often think folks in the Bay Area/Silicon Valley/tech in general have any idea how the vast majority of the country, and world, live and actually do business. From throwing out technical jargon, assuming everyone knows what it means, then advising people NOT use jargon... to wanting everything incredibly brief 'one sentence, one sentence!' to being absolutely cold and inefficiently calculating...

It scares the hell out of me. We have all these 20 to early 40 something people, with millions and billions of dollars, with the bulk of the investment money at their command, deciding what future will be built for the world in cold emails and 10 minute rapid-fire interviews.

*shakes head*

YC and YCR have done amazing things but this machine-like, cold, calculating, no-time-to-waste, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am approach to life, seeing everything as a potential return, throwing in rejection letters things like "then it would be hard to for this to also be a billion dollar company" (again, that would mean a 46,666% return on investment) is terrifying.

I get it, YC needs to make money. They have investors they have to answer to that expect fantastical returns that beat the market but... for crying out loud... telling companies "you won't make us 70 million dollars in 5 years so hit the bricks" *cringe*

HOWEVER, if you look to YC’s history they “didn’t start it mainly to make money” yet now making MASSIVE returns seems to be the name of the game:

The real reason we started Y Combinator is neither selfish nor virtuous. We didn’t start it mainly to make money; we have no idea what our average returns might be, and won’t know for years. Nor did we start YC mainly to help out young would-be founders, though we do like the idea, and comfort ourselves occasionally with the thought that if all our investments tank, we will thus have been doing something unselfish. (It’s oddly nondeterministic.)
— http://www.paulgraham.com/whyyc.html

Who cares if it takes the average company a decade to earn you a return on your investment, it shouldn't be about money. It should be about adding value to humanity.

I'm legitimately afraid for our species. Our self-proclaimed champions for change and good are still driven by profit, and not just modest returns, but constantly on the prowl for that mega millions jackpot of a company.

Another example of something that wholly puzzles me is, YC has recently asked for solutions to global warming, chiefly carbon sequestration solutions. We're going to produce close to 40 gigatons of carbon this year that will enter the system, that's insanity. If you filled the 10 largest bodies of freshwater in the world with azolla (see the azolla event) you'd only pull roughly 10% of that amount out of the atmosphere annually and you would only sequester a fraction of that. Yet YC, for the interviews for companies that get an invite, they want the founders to fly to the Bay Area for a 10 minute interview. FOLKS! One round-trip flight from New York to Europe or to San Francisco creates a warming effect equivalent to 2 or 3 tons of carbon dioxide per person.

I know this won't be found in favor by the tech and VC communities, I'm a nobody with a GED and a dead end job that gets rejected time and time again by companies for not having a degree. I'm a nobody from the Midwest that has never made a billion dollar company, I'm not independently wealthy, I didn't make the iPad-fruit-of-the-month app that made me 1 million dollars a day, I'm not a scientist.

I'm just a guy. A guy that's terrified. A guy that just wants someone, anyone, at YC to go "hey, wait a minute, let's pause and take a look at where we are headed".

I’m not saying YC is bad, I’m not even saying they are misguided (not entirely anyway), I’m saying that YC and similar institutions seem to have developed a very myopic view and have slipped into the same problems the generations before us have “profit profit profit”.

Take chances on stuff that’s almost certainly not going to pay back with dollars but with value added to society in general. Throw 10, 20, 50% at ideas that can make life better for people that don’t involve an app or SAAS and worry about adding value to people and not fattening investors bank accounts. When you’re on your death bed will you be proud you made meaningful contributions to society or will you be proud you funded the next “Clash of Boom Candy With Friends Meets Bagles: the best freemium game with built in relationship and threesome finding matchmaking!” ?

What the hell do I know though. I’ve not exited a startup and unlocked the achievement ‘fat bank account’ so no one cares what I have to say. I don’t have an Ivy League degree, or a community college degree, so no one cares what I have to say. I’m just a guy scraping by to make ends meet, with a bankruptcy, with a GED, with this silly notion that the likelihood of 46,666% returns should not be the deciding factor in what ideas are given a chance.