Econtalk: Paul Graham on Startups, Innovation, & Creativity

We wouldn’t describe Y Combinator as a venture capital firm. What we do is seed funding. There is not really any name for us yet [this podcast is from 2009!], because what we do is new. I have encouraged there to be no name for what we do. Whenever somebody starts to copy us the only way to describe what they are doing would be to mention us. They’d have to say it is a Y Combinator like thing. [1:00]

If our success rate is as high as a good VC fund I would worry. That means we are being too conservative. There ought to be a lot of failures or we are being too careful. [2:45]

I don't even know if Y Combinator is going to work. It seems promising so far, but I don’t know for sureWe certainly aren’t making lots of money yet. [10:35] 

3 reasons it is cheaper to start a startups: [1] Moore’s law has made computing effectively free. [2] The Internet has made promotion free. [3] Programming languages have gotten more abstract. That means you don’t have to do as much work to get a given amount of program done. [12:30]

You can’t tell which ideas are going to work [beforehand]. We have funded 144 startups. I have seen so much stuff happen. I have been surprised so many times by people who seem promising and produce nothing. And other people who seem lame and produce amazing stuff. [19:00]

By definition you can not predict the next big thing. If it is a really good idea it will seem kind of stupid. [20:35] 

We advise startups to release something as soon as you possibly can. The point of releasing is to start learning from your users. You learn from your users what product you should have been building. [22:35] 

On Hackers and Painters: I found that the interesting parts of programming you can’t make scientific. [Startups are the same.] What makes a programmer good at programming is more like what makes a painter good at painting. It is something a little less organized. It is taste. A sense of design. A certain knack. [39:50]

I don’t use Facebook or Twitter. I already have enough distractions. I look at these things and they just seem like a time sink. [53:06]

I feel like most people like to waste a lot of their time. [54:26]

The United States has such a vibrant startup culture because there are so many immigrants. Immigrants start startups. Disproportionally so. There was some statistic that said more than half of the IPO’s were founded by immigrants. The single biggest problem that kills startups that we fund is VISA problems. [56:11]

Paul’s advice to high school students. [Applies to adults too.] You have to be in charge of what you are going to do. You have to decide what you are really going to do. What is going to be your real life? [58:35]

Full podcast here: EconTalk: Paul Graham on Start-ups, Innovation, and Creativity.