“Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank and he can rob the world.”
In early November, 1988, one of the first major computer viruses, “the Morris Worm“, hit the Internet. While the damage caused by the worm was probably unintentional, it’s estimated to have been somewhere around a few hundred thousand dollars, and possibly a few million. To be fair, Morris paid his debt to society, and that’s all I consider worth saying about that. I don’t know the first thing about Robert Morris or his moral character, aside from the questionable company he keeps (he’s a partner in Y Combinator).
Paul Graham was a protege of Robert Morris at the time, and while I won’t comment either way on the speculation of whether Graham was involved in the debacle– honestly, I have no idea, I was five at the time– I will point out that the two men were among the first partners in Y Combinator. So they went from black-hat programmers (“crackers”) to black-hat businessmen. What’s that second part, again, about a man with a bank?
First, a confession
I must confess that there is a time in my life when I admired Paul Graham’s writing, and allowed myself to be influenced by his worldview. I didn’t always hold the opinions that I am sharing now.
In 2006, I was in a PhD program (pure math) and I saw the writing on the wall. I passed my quals in my first year, but the academic future didn’t appeal to me. When I saw some of the smartest people I knew in “commuter marriages”, suffering weekly cross-country air travel (on a professor’s budget) because the terrible job market made it nearly impossible for both to land jobs in the same city, I realized that it was time to get out. I encountered this essay, “How To Make Wealth”. To my 22-year-old idiot brain, it resonated. Blame the last vestiges of adolescence, but Paul Graham’s brand of blithering optimism made sense to me under certain phases of the moon. It inspired me to think that, maybe, this startup game might be worth playing.
Let’s pull out the opening paragraph:
If you wanted to get rich, how would you do it? I think your best bet would be to start or join a startup. That’s been a reliable way to get rich for hundreds of years. The word “startup” dates from the 1960s, but what happens in one is very similar to the venture-backed trading voyages of the Middle Ages.
Off the bat, that’s fucking terrible advice. Let’s be realistic about wealth. It’s usually attained slowly, not in some get-rich-quick gambit that has a better-than-even chance of costing you money and disrupting your career. The lesson of the 19th-century gold rushes, that much of the money was made by people selling tools and water, is well-understood. So why didn’t more of the prospectors go into the tool-selling business? Because that was the boring, slow way to get rich. Discovering a gold vein was the fast, flashy way that had more visceral appeal, although it was far more unlikely to work out.
Technology startups have, compared to other get-rich-quick schemes, far better odds of producing monstrous wealth for founders in a short amount of time. If you have the contacts necessary to become a VC-backed founder, then startup away. Graham takes it further and says “start or join a startup”. Employees of startups get a lot of their downsides, in terms of job insecurity and division-of-labor issues, but their payoffs are, almost always, mediocre. The people who get rich off the Googles are, in general, not the early entrants, but the people (early entrant or not) who manage to become executives in the middle phases. Of course, being an early entrant can sometimes give an inside track to an executive position as the company grows, but not as much of one as a decade in finance or management consulting, or an elite MBA. If you want to get rich in San Francisco and don’t have the contacts to become a founder, find a way to jump from one executive position to another in funded companies. You won’t get as rich as the founders who beat the odds and end up in the “three comma club”, but your chances of attaining reasonable wealth are better, as you’ll still get an order of magnitude or two more than the software engineers joining at the same time.
In other words, the get-rich possibility for non-founding employees is no different in the startup game than in the mainstream corporate one. If you climb the ladder and reach a highly-compensated executive position, you can get wealthy. Usually, it takes time and luck. At the end of the wringer, some people end up not making it, meaning that their time was wasted on a promise that was never delivered.
Startups usually involve technology, so much so that the phrase “high-tech startup” is almost redundant. A startup is a small company that takes on a hard technical problem.
That is also demonstrably false. Is Uber a tech company or a transportation company that uses technology? What about YC-backed Airbnb or Reddit? You don’t need to be at the forefront of technology to found one of these companies. You need to have a friend who knows how to build a website. These companies are marketing experiments using technology. And you know what? That’s fine. I’m not knocking these startups for that. However, the idea that nerds are going to hold all the power because these companies really need “10x” lambda-wielding, machine-learning-literate geniuses is one that doesn’t hold water. The claptrap about technical excellence is marketing, not a reflection of these companies’ actual needs or internal definitions of merit. The 1990s are over, and those who insist on technical excellence are again tribeless in Silicon Valley, hence my turn toward Talent Nationalism.
Where Graham gets dishonest is when he makes this promise:
Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years.
Graham acknowledges that startups can fail, but he has argued in many of his essays that a startup’s failure won’t consume that much of one’s time anyway, so it shouldn’t be treated as a concern. In Paul Graham’s world, startups either fail quickly (and your investors will let you walk away and immediately start another one; in fact, they’ll fund you!) or they make you rich inside of 3-5 years. So, even though failure is the median outcome of a single startup, it shouldn’t take more than 10 years to get flamingly rich, right?
Let’s say that VC-backed startups have a 80 percent failure rate (this is about accurate) and in the other 20 percent, make the founders wealthy enough never to have to work again (false assumption). Let’s say that startups that fail do so within no more than 18 months (false assumption) and that founders are allowed to walk away (false assumption) and have someone else do the dismal shutdown work, and that investors will, rather than holding past failure against them, enthusiastically fund their next ventures (false assumption). Then startups might make sense as a career, because a person who spends 20 years in that game has well over a 90% chance of becoming independently wealthy. None of that, however is true.
In 2006, I fully bought what Paul Graham was selling. In 2007, I attended the infamous Startup School presentation where Mark Zuckerberg said that “Young people are just smarter”. I was there, and even though I was 23, my sense about that speech was, “You’re full of shit, dude”. I better liked Mitch Kapor’s talk, which advised against becoming an ageist, racist, or sexist “mirrortocracy” and calling it a meritocracy. At any rate, in 2008, I left a lucrative career in finance to try out the tech startup world. It wasn’t the best decision that I ever made. It’s 2015, and let’s just say that I’m behind where I should be, for someone at my age and talent level, in income and net worth.
I don’t blame Paul Graham for selling a lifestyle that worked for him in a time (late 1990s) of radical wealth creation and when the owning class was less attentive to details (read: not capable of capturing 100% of the value generated) than it is now. I certainly don’t blame him for my decision to try out a startup (more than one, actually). I blame myself for all of that. And I’m not afraid to talk about the mistakes that I’ve made, because I’d like to prevent other people from making the same ones.
Paul Graham doesn’t much like me. On Hacker News, others’ posts get deleted and accounts get banned for the crime of linking to my blog. Why? In 2013, Paul Graham started getting warnings from real venture capitalists (the people to whom Y Combinator must sell its companies) that they’d have trouble placing if something wasn’t done about certain “troublesome” posters on Hacker News. This blog post, in July 2012, may have led Graham to consider me one of the “troublesome” ones. Increasingly irritating adverse measures were taken against my account: slow performance of the site (“slowban”) and dishonest representation of a post’s popularity with other users (“rankban”). This culminated in my being banned from Hacker News last summer, Paul Buchheit talking shit about me on Quora, and (unless Quora is deliberately misdirecting blame toward YC) someone from Y Combinator calling Quora and demanding a ban on my account. Quora, which took YC investment in 2014 due to continuing difficulty with monetization, caved to this demand.
Where did this enmity start? What is about my name that can send Paul Graham into an apoplectic rage like no one else’s? Some have argued that it’s some kind of envious resentment that exists because I’m younger and smarter, and arguably more articulate. I doubt this explanation. He’s a centa-millionaire or a billionaire, and I’m not. It’s inconceivable to me that he envies me. He worships material wealth, which he has and I don’t. He envies me about as much as a 1913 Archduke Ferdinand would envy (then impoverished) Nikola Tesla. He is, however, afraid of me. There’s a huge difference. What does he fear? I’m exactly the sort of person that he says prospers in this VC-backed meritocracy, and I actually played the startup game, and got a 50th-percentile career outcome, which is demonstrably… not that great. There’s nothing to be ashamed of, but not much to be proud of, and I’m several years behind where I’d be if I had stuck with a more conventional career. I’m articulate, which Graham recognizes, because his writing skill is a big part of what got him noticed and generated the reputation that he was able to monetize in the form of Y Combinator, and so he understands that my ability to write well and tell a story is, to the illusion he’s trying to create, a credible threat.
Paul Graham can’t have a 32-year-old, visibly smarter than almost everyone in the startup elite, saying “I’ve worked in a few startups, and I’m not rich, and chances are, you’ll end up like me.” His racket demands that people like me slink away in shame, which I refuse to do. Why are VC-backed startups so ageist? It’s not that they believe older programmers are stupid, but that they want to push, out of view, all of the people who’ve been in that racket and had average outcomes. Those kids throwing down 90-hour weeks (as if they were owners, not workers) for startups of which they own 0.02% might be “poisoned” if they’re exposed to people who’ve played that game (and lost) a time or two. If you sift through the older crowd and throw out the 95-98 percent of who’ve had typical outcomes, then you can convince the young that outlier success is inevitable, and get them to work far harder than they should, for minimal reward.
There was a time in my life when I bought most of what Paul Graham was selling. He was quite a competent programmer, back in his day, and his message of hope in a rather dismal time (mid-late 2000s) for startups, the country, and the young, was an appealing one. Paul Graham justly earned a certain reputation by speaking up for technology startups in a time when the mainstream consensus was that such companies were a one-time, dreamy thing that happened in the late 1990s and weren’t coming back. He monetized that reputation brilliantly, by founding Y Combinator.
Unfortunately, while Y Combinator has been fantastically good for Paul Graham’s bank account, it’s been bad for the world.
The three-class society
The VC-funded world was never a utopia. People complained about investors, the difficulty of raising funding, and shenanigans like multiple liquidation preferences (never mind that founders often agreed to them, knowing what they were doing, to inflate their valuations and attract employees, then as now). Before the Y Combinator era, it was a two-class system. Investors were on one side, with founders and their employees on the other, and the social chasm between the two classes was severe: venture capitalists earned $500,000 salaries in addition to upside on the OPM (other people’s money) they managed, while founders were lucky if their VCs allowed them to take out food money. It was typical (and may still be) that investors’ legal fees, in drafting the term sheet, were paid by the company accepting funding. This sum of money, tiny by investor standards but substantive for a shoestring startup, was extracted not because investors needed it, but to send a message: “Shine my boots, prole.”
Being a founder, for a long time, was a rather undesirable gig, excluding the exceptional cases. You didn’t get an “arranged outcome” (e.g. an acqui-hire) if you failed; you went out of business. Rather than being allowed (and expected) to hire immediately for the grunt work of starting a business, founders worked 90-hour weeks and spent much of that time actually creating the thing. (These days, they work 90-hour weeks raising funding and building up their public reputations, which seems like not much of a change, but they get a lot more for the effort.) It wasn’t an enviable life, but there was, at least, a sense of shared suffering between founders and their employees. The investors continued to make high-6- and 7-figure salaries while playing games with OPM, while founders and employees did all the work. This sense of “We’re all in this together” was reflected in cap tables, because employees who joined early were compensated more like founders than employees are now. Investors still took the lion’s share, and founders obviously got more than later employees, but it was still possible for average employees to make substantial money from their options. The order-of-magnitude (or two) drop between the last founder and the first employee wasn’t there yet. Moreover, early employees often had transparency into the capitalization table, allowing them to assess for themselves whether they were fairly compensated. That consideration is pretty much nonexistent in 2015.
What changed? In the mid-2000s, serial founders and venture capitalists’ friends (whose MBA-school grades weren’t quite good enough to make the investor-side cut, but who could hop from VC-funded executive position to another) discovered that there was job security to be won by sticking together. The two-class society, with founders and employees on the same side, became a three-class society, as founders (plus serial startup executives) and employees separated into two separate clusters. A few social changes happened at the same time. For one, investors and startups began to separate people into “founder-grade” and “employee-grade” categories. Founder-grade employees got executive positions (which didn’t even exist in the old-style startups, until after they were no longer startups) and would be introduced to investors, so they could start their own companies, after one to two years of loyal service. Employee-grade workers were given 0.05% equity slices and would typically see people hired above them as the company grew, but were expected to work hard as if they were founder-grade. Fundamentally, the resource-extraction culture that Silicon Valley has turned itself into, is one built on young people who can be treated as employee-grade, but who will overexert themselves to push out a founder-grade effort.
At some point, probably in the late 2000s if not earlier, software engineering also transitioned from being a founder-grade profession to an employee-grade one. If it isn’t obvious, the reason why VC-backed startups love open-plan offices and “Agile”/Scrum is because those devices exist to turn massive teams of “employee-grade”, young and mediocre, programmers into something halfway productive and controllable. Much of this was and is done because acquisitions are so often priced according to headcount, making it sometimes profitable to hire large teams of unqualified engineers.
In my belief, the three-class startup ecosystem is worse than the two-class system. In the former system, the people doing the work were separated from the investors, and a certain share of the power comes just from being on the spot. Investors could take their share of the surplus wealth, but there was enough power and wealth on the other side that you didn’t have to be a founder by 30 in order to get wealthy in the startup game. In the three-class system, founders play against employees. You get formalized performance reviews, aggressive micromanagement in the name of “process” or “Agile”, and commoditization of the important work. This doesn’t make the VC-funded startups worse, in these aspects, than large corporations; it just makes them not better. That said, big corporations offer many things that VC-backed startups don’t: stability, diversity of available work, career planning, and established HR practices that will prevent, say, the extremes of harassment for which the “brogrammer” startup scene is known.
Y Combinator, I believe, shares some moral responsibility for creating the three-class society. It was never designed to be “just another” incubator, but to formalize the existence of the founder/employee separation. Partners and founders in YC-backed companies who joined after YC acceptance are called “half-bloods”; they weren’t selected by YC itself as founder-grade, and the term carries an implicit judgment that they don’t really belong.
Paul Graham and Y Combinator have certainly done a lot to help founders negotiate against investors, and that’s admirable, because even though it’s not a fair fight, it was probably less of one, ten or twenty years ago. They also seem, however, to have shared a lot of information on how to win against employees. Most of the people who got rich in the pre-YC Silicon Valley did so because their employers “made mistakes” (which weren’t mistakes, because their high compensation meant that these employees were legitimately engaged with their work) and offered equity and responsibility based on what seemed fair to all parties, and not based on what their backers told them they could get away with. Let’s say that in 1995, you have two programmers, a person with contacts to investors, and an older person with the organizational skill to evolve into the CEO role. They might agree to an even (25% each) split and dilute equally when the investors come in. In 2015, the investor might meet with the proto-CEO and the guy-with-contacts and says, “You can totally give those programmers 2 percent a piece. Tell them that it’ll either be a billion-dollar company, meaning $20 million, or failed, in which case equity slices don’t matter, inside of 12 months.” One view of this is that the market is becoming more efficient and fewer employees are getting lucky by being “overcompensated” in equity. I doubt, however, that the new arrangement is more efficient, because the shitty cap tables also drive down talent levels. The darker view is that the investors and founders have locked-in the value capturing process and there’s just nothing left for regular employees, who don’t have the contacts to become founders and are unlikely ever to get them.
When it was investors against everyone else, in a two-class society, founders and employees could share some of the bounty that would naturally accrue to them on account of the leverage they’d have, just by being on the spot. There’s power that accrues, in a business, to the people who run the thing. The three-class society, on the other hand, has founders and executives acting as company cops, with investors and founders working together to make sure that employees get as little, while being expected to give as much, as possible.
We don’t need more “cool kids”. We need substance.
Y Combinator has created a “cool kids’ table” in Silicon Valley. While real venture capitalists don’t much care for Paul Graham himself (for reasons I won’t get into here, since I’d risk compromising sources) and his waves in the kiddie pool, many VCs will use his signal, simply because it’s expedient. There are firms now that won’t talk to a non-YC company. They’ve outsourced their talent vetting to a man who routinely makes foot-in-mouth statements about foreign accents or about those uncanny people with vaginas who, according to legend, make up half the species. This is unsurprising (VC groupthink is a notorious plague) but sad. Y Combinator now provides a service that is harmful to the world: it, increasingly, means that founders only get one chance. If YC judges you as employee-grade and passes, then the rest of Sand Hill Road will conclude the same.
Frankly, the best thing that the United States can do if it wishes to preserve private-sector innovation is to break up Sand Hill Road. I recognize that, formally speaking, it’s a collection of companies that are theoretically competitors, but their sharing of information means (even regardless of what YC does) that a founder gets only one real chance to make his case, because the VCs decide as a group who they like and who they don’t, like middle-school girls passing around “cutest guy” lists. The culture of note-sharing and co-funding isn’t new to finance; it’s a subcase of what would be called market manipulation (and highly illegal) if applied to publicly-traded stocks instead of unregulated private equity. The result of it is that the market no longer reflects aggregate preferences (however they may fluctuate) but the game-theoretic concerns of the most powerful players. This is bad for innovation and, while it’s good for the well-connected “serial entrepreneurs”, it’s bad for people who are trying to make the employee-to-founder leap.
As for YC, I’ve met about 30 YC founders in my life. I will admit that, a few of them, I ended up liking. They’re not all bad. Another 10 or so, I’m neutral on, or just don’t know much about them. And then, there are a substantial nunber who are dreadful. I don’t mean just that I dislike them; I mean that their personality and ethical flaws are so severe that I have no faith in a talent-scouting organization that would admit them.
I wouldn’t interview with, or work for, a YC-backed company today, and I can proudly say that I’ve never worked for a YC company, but I’ve interviewed with a few in the past. One time, I remember listening to a 25-year-old CEO gloating about firing people in their first 30 days because (you hear this justification a lot) “we’re a startup”. I heard another one, at one point, talk about how he’d be able to exploit his employees because, in his model, they’d so desperately want to be introduced to Y Combinator that they’d do anything, just on that promise, which he could rescind “for performance”. (I don’t know how his company turned out.) Obviously, I didn’t work for either of these companies.
It seems clear that YC people conceive of themselves as superior, founder-grade, relative to the employee-grade masses pounding on the doors of startups (not because startups are great, but because the mainstream corporate world is, due to technological unemployment, depopulating). That really irks me. Some organizations are founded for high-minded purposes but become exclusive and snooty. Such a criticism has been made about some of the most selective schools, for example. However, these institutions weren’t designed to be that way. Harvard doesn’t claim that it admits and gets every decent student, because it knows that it doesn’t have room for all of the “leader-grade” people who apply. The top universities are selective because they’re good universities, and because there are physical limitations regarding their ability to admit students. There’s good and bad to “the Ivy League”. These universities do a lot of good for people who attend them, and I don’t think that the snobbery actually hurts many people. (It makes some people massively insecure, which is part of why corporate executives in their 50s are often caught falsifying educational credentials, despite gaining no benefit, by that age, in doing so; but I don’t think that, in the U.S., there’s a serious job-market effect after age 27.) These universities make earnest efforts to have their positive effects on society outweigh the negatives. I cannot say the same of Y Combinator, which seems to be replicating the negative traits of such institutions, without any of the positive ones (such as noblesse oblige or a value on classical erudition and the preservation of culture). Y Combinator, unlike a university founded as a seminary in the 17th century, was actually created to be exclusive and snobbish, but its elitism is entirely about access to money.
Of course, I can’t blame Y Combinator entirely for shitty cap tables or for the emergence of a 3-class startup world. It’s quite possible that those changes would have occurred, no matter what happened. Similarly, I want to talk about ethics, and I’ll admit that I can’t blame YC alone for teaching founders to be unethical.
However, I’ve been around the startup game for long enough to know that, when it comes to dishonest and unethical behavior, founders and executives share tricks. They learn from each other, when it comes to how to best compete against employees and the public, and I suspect that Y Combinator has played a role. Of course, I don’t think that Paul Graham ever gets up and says to his shiny young proteges, “You should be unethical.” However, I think that his lack-of-statement is a statement. Founder quality is at a dismal low, and Paul Graham doesn’t care. He’s rolling in dough. His lack of concern for founder quality and ethics, however, has encouraged a value system to emerge in which such concerns are willfully trampled.
This has to be addressed. The same unethical tricks– disguising layoffs as performance-based firings to avoid negative press, bait-and-switch hiring, misleading prospective employees about rank and position in the company, placing clawbacks on relocation packages– show up in startups, over and over again, and founders are clearly learning them from somewhere. Y Combinator is clearly not the only source of this information, because you see these behaviors in non-YC companies as well, but it stands to reason that an organization that exists to be an exclusive club within the Valley would also be delivering access to knowledge on how to compete against employees.
How does the three-class Valley encourage unethical business practices? The social distance between founders and employees enables the former to behave as if the people in the latter category are peasants who don’t matter. Moreover, the short-term focus of these companies enables them to pull moves that you’d be unlikely to see from long-lived corporations. For example, it’s probably well-known at this point that technology companies disguise business-based layoffs as performance-based firings. Investment banks are willing to come forward and say, “Times are tough for us, and we’ve had to let good people go.” They pay severance, and move on. Startups, on the other hand, need to keep up the mythology of monotonic expansion, and are too stingy to pay severance, so they dress layoffs up as performance issues, preserving their reputations at the expense of departing employees. Why is there a difference in approach? Banks are old and large enough to know that other peoples’ good will isn’t an inexhaustible resource. The person let go might, a decade later, be a decision-maker at an important client. VC-funded startups, on the other hand, are designed to be dead or sold within five years, and therefore don’t harbor any concern for the long-term implications of their founders’ actions.
The performance/control tradeoff
Before I close out Part 1 of this essay, let me point out one final thing. VC-funded startups have, rather unceremoniously, moved themselves to the wrong side of economic history. With commodity investors funding commodity founders to work on commodity ideas and hire commodity engineers, we’ve replaced what an engine of innovation with a value-capture tap, exploiting the reputation for innovation that a certain geographic region earned decades ago.
The “magic” of the 1990s was observed when small startups out-competed large corporations, in a manner that we’re not really seeing today. The 2015 analogue is a VC-funded giant (rather than a small, elite team) overtaking a corporate giant. The disproportionate high performance, the “10x” and “100x” factor, that we saw in the 1990s, has mostly gone away. Why is this? The Valley is, in general, no longer funding startups that are capable of “10x” performance.
I doubt that it is controversial to say that, in work, there is a trade-off between control demanded and performance rendered. What made the earlier waves of startups so much more productive than large companies was their absence of the control and permissions systems that impede performance. These earlier crops of startups were founded by engineers who wanted to avoid the negatives of the corporate world and who were disinclined to micromanage because, first of all, they typically had several years of work experience on the other side of the managerial relationship and, secondly, because they identified as lifelong technologists. For a contrast, the current crop of founders are people who want to be corporate titans: they just want to get there faster than their parents did. What used to be a secessionist colony for corporate misfits has become a glass elevator for connected, entitled Millennials. Consequently, we have a startup world in which toxic micromanagement is the norm, clept in the Orwellian name of “agility” and “openness”.
I’ve seen enough startup failures to have observed the Micromanagement Death Spiral. Long-term micromanagement leads to disengagement and underperformance in those being managed, and this tends to bring on even more micromanagement. Hostility and distrust mount until the micromanaged employee(s) leave or the team (or company) collapses. When you have a constitutional micromanager (“control freak”) in charge, the damage can be immense. Now, there are at least two plausible etiologies of Micromanagement Death Spirals, and I consider both to have some truth in them. One is that they cause organizational decline directly. While the damage is downward-directed and therefore limited if the control freak is a middle manager, the eventual effect of such a person is a “cone of disengagement” within the company. The other is that micromanagers are symptomatic of decline. If a manager is demanding frequent, detailed status reports, then he clearly doesn’t have enough to do. When things are going well and the business is expanding, micromanagement is rare, but when executives are panicked and middle managers need to define and protect turf, people start breaking out the TPS reports. So, while micromanagement often drains the business, it’s also true that weakness in the business causes micromanagement. This is worth pointing out, because a culture of cargo-cult micromanagement in the VC-backed software business just might signify structural weakness in that whole ecosystem.
In the three-class Valley, mounting micromanagement is to be expected. The founder class has to maintain enough control over the employees to protect their positions. At the same time, they need continually to justify their superior status to the investor class that sits above them. Founders are now expected to hire rapidly and reach enormous valuations, regardless of whether the business is ready to handle that scale, and that insistence on unsustainable growth (Y Combinator, for example, demands 5-7 percent per week) creates an environment of frequent crisis, which begets micromanagement that ripples throughout the whole company.
In the 1990s, “startup” meant a small, elite, high-performance company that could take on a large, established megalith. In 2015, it means a newly-created, VC-backed corporate giant taking on an old corporate giant. What we’re learning is that dysfunction isn’t necessarily a function of chronological age, because these new huge companies are often just as dysfunctional, ethically challenged, and inefficient as the old ones, if not moreso. This obliterates Silicon Valley’s original reason for existing: once innovation, now merely shuffling and “disruption”.
So, could it be better? If Y Combinator weren’t made by Paul Graham, would the emergence of something similar, some other toxic, overconnected, and ethically challenged meta-organization, be inevitable? Or is it possible to do better, and how? Moreover, if one had recognized the ethical paucity of Y Combinator’s black-hat founders, could someone have interceded and built something better, sturdier, and less bad for the world?
These are some of the topics I’ll attack in the second half [edit: third?].
Part 2 is here.