Basic Income

We’re going to try something new—our first Request For Research. 

We’d like to fund a study on basic income—i.e., giving people enough money to live on with no strings attached.  I’ve been intrigued by the idea for a while, and although there’s been a lot of discussion, there’s fairly little data about how it would work.
 
It’s true that we have systems in place to give people resources, but the bureaucracy and qualification requirements make it a very imperfect approximation of what most people mean when talking about a basic income.  We have some examples of something close to a basic income in other countries, but we’d like to see how it would work in the US.
 
I think it’s good to start studying this early.  I’m fairly confident that at some point in the future, as technology continues to eliminate traditional jobs and massive new wealth gets created, we’re going to see some version of this at a national scale.
 
So it would be good to answer some of the theoretical questions now.  Do people sit around and play video games, or do they create new things?  Are people happy and fulfilled?  Do people, without the fear of not being able to eat, accomplish far more and benefit society far more?  And do recipients, on the whole, create more economic value than they receive?  (Questions about how a program like this would affect overall cost of living are beyond our scope, but obviously important.)
 
50 years from now, I think it will seem ridiculous that we used fear of not being able to eat as a way to motivate people.  I also think that it’s impossible to truly have equality of opportunity without some version of guaranteed income.  And I think that, combined with innovation driving down the cost of having a great life, by doing something like this we could eventually make real progress towards eliminating poverty.
 
We’re looking for one researcher who wants to work full-time on this project for 5 years as part of YC Research.  We’d like someone with some experience doing this kind of research, but as always we’re more interested in someone’s potential than his or her past.  Our idea is to give a basic income to a group of people in the US for a 5 year period, though we’re flexible on that and all aspects of the project—we are far from experts on this kind of research.  We’d be especially interested in a combination of selecting people at random, and selecting people who are driven and talented but come from poor backgrounds.  We're open to doing this in either one geographic area, or nationally distributed.

If you’re interested in running this project, please apply by February 15th.

Getting Into Y Combinator

A new trend in Y Combinator applications is that an increasing number of applicants have already been through some sort of accelerator or “pre-accelerator” program.  As we’ve dug into this trend, we’ve found that many of the applicants did these programs not because they needed the money or advice but because they thought it might help them get into YC (and specifically that some programs market themselves as a "way to get into Y Combinator).

Actually, it's much harder to get in to YC if you’ve already been through another accelerator.  We assume that a group that has already been through an accelerator should have been accelerated, and that if they don't have impressive progress something must be wrong. (A smaller issue is the extra dilution on the cap table.)  We now have enough data to know that the track record of companies that go through multiple accelerators is much worse than companies that just do YC. 

We fear that there may be cases where groups are hurting themselves by participating in bad accelerator programs that don't accelerate them and yet also raise the threshold they'd have to get over to get into YC.  It’s certainly not a deal-breaker—and we are extremely sympathetic to the need to raise money in any way possible—but it does increase our expectations quite a bit.

So we want to remind everyone explicitly: if you want to get into Y Combinator, just apply to Y Combinator or the YC Fellowship.  In both cases, we like funding very early-stage companies.  You don’t need to “prepare” to apply to YC in any way.  You should only do an accelerator if you need the money to survive or think that the resources of the accelerator will help you be more successful; you should never do one as a way to get into YC.



Speaking of that, since we can’t yet fund every good company in the world, here is some general advice about evaluating accelerators:

*Talk to the alumni and ask how strongly they recommend it.  This is the best possible data you can get.

*Look at the accelerator’s track record (it’s important to distinguish between companies that went through the accelerator and cases where the investment firm made a small late-stage investment in the company).  This will give you a feeling for how good the accelerator actually is, and also a sense of how much external validation you’ll get by participating.

*Look at the strength of the alumni network.  You want to join an accelerator that has (1) eminent alumni who (2) really care about helping other companies in the family.  You’re joining a network, and more than anything else except perhaps the advice, this is where you’re going to get value. 

*Pay attention to how an accelerator treats you before you join, when they should be on their best behavior—it’s likely to be an indicator of how they’ll behave later.  Doing founder-unfriendly things like presenting exploding offers does not correlate with good behavior down the road.

YC Updates and Additions

Y Combinator now has 5 major groups—YC Fellowship, YC Core, YC Continuity, YC Research, and Hacker News—and we’re putting one person in charge of each group.

Paul Buchheit is taking over for me as managing partner of the core YC program.

We’re going to continue doing YC Fellowship (!), and Kevin Hale is going to be the managing partner of that.

As we’ve already announced, Ali Rowghani is the managing partner of YC Continuity, and Dan Gackle runs Hacker News.

As YC's President I will spend my time across the three investment programs (YC Fellowship, YC Core, and YC Continuity), and will also run YC Research until we find someone to run it full-time.

Additionally, Kirsty Nathoo is going to be the CFO across the entire YC group, and Carolynn and Jon Levy are going to be the General Counsels across the YC group too.

While we’re on the topic of who does what, I wanted to share two other roles that people outside of YC ask about a lot.  Each partner at YC is responsible for specific areas, but these are the ones that interface with external people most often.

Dalton Caldwell is going to be responsible for admissions to the core program and also for our efforts to stay engaged with alumni companies.

Kat Mañalac is responsible for the outreach efforts we do to meet potential new founders, and she'll also be working closely with Kevin on the Fellowship. 

Finally, we have a few new additions to the team to announce.

Matt Krisiloff is working with Kevin on YC Fellowship (he’ll also be doing some work on YC Research).  Matt previously co-founded a mental health directory that helped people find good therapists, and before that he studied at University of Chicago.

Denis Mars is working with Dalton on admissions for YC Core. Denis is a YC alumni (he was the founder of Meetings.io) and the founder of several other successful companies.  He was also the Chief Engineer of a Formula 3 championship-winning team.

Verena Prescher is working with Kirsty as the Controller of YC Continuity. Prior to joining Y Combinator, Verena was the Controller at Felicis Ventures.  Previously, Verena was a tax manager in PwC’s Asset Management practice, providing tax compliance and consulting services to investment partnerships with a primary focus on the venture capital and real estate industries.

YC Continuity

YC will fund its 1,000th company this year, and many of these companies are now scaling their organizations, revenue, and operations.  Though years removed from our program, these founders continue to come to YC for advice and support, and we would like to do more to help them.

To that end, I'm delighted to share that Ali Rowghani has joined YC as a full-time partner.  Ali has quickly become a trusted advisor to many of our growth-stage companies, and is helping a great deal with our vision of continued support for our alumni companies after they finish our program.

Also, in response to requests from a number of YC founders, we've raised a new fund called the YC Continuity Fund, which Ali will be running.  This fund will allow us to support YC companies well after Demo Day in two primary ways.

First, we're going to do our pro rata investment for every YC company in every round with a valuation below $300 million.  We believe we generally pick good companies for YC, and we want to be able to continue to support them in future financings.

Second, we will consider leading or participating in later stage growth financing rounds of YC companies.  We are open to taking Board seats where it makes sense for founders, but do not expect to do so in every investment.  We hope to be a founder-friendly partner for maturing companies in the same way we have been a founder-friendly early-stage investor.  Also, there are some companies we think are very good and important to support with growth-stage capital that traditional investors are less excited about, and we're looking forward to being able to do that.  Finally, we look forward to being a very long-term focused investor in a sector where most players are not.

We also want to be very clear on what we're not doing. We are not pursuing investments outside of the YC portfolio.  We are also not leading seed or traditional Series A rounds or trying to otherwise disrupt early-stage VCs, whose participation in the ecosystem is very valuable.  It'd be the wrong thing for our companies, as it would both create massive signaling issues for companies we didn’t fund and deprive companies of valuable additional advisors.  By doing pro rata in every company, we should avoid any signaling issues.

Our mission at YC is to be the organization that enables the most innovation in the world.  Capital especially long-term capital willing to invest outside of the current trends is an important ingredient in that mission, and I'm excited we are now able to better support some of our companies.  In doing so, I hope that joining YC is an even better deal for companies just starting out.

Welcome Jared!

I'm delighted to share that Jared Friedman is joining YC as a full-time partner.  Jared co-founded Scribd, the world's online library, which was funded by Y Combinator in 2006.  He was the CTO there.  Jared has also been an investor in more than 30 YC companies.  Before Scribd, he studied computer science at Harvard.

There are now 16 full-time partners at YC.

YC Research

Our mission at YC is to enable as much innovation as we can.  Mostly this means funding startups.  But startups aren’t ideal for some kinds of innovation—for example, work that requires a very long time horizon, seeks to answer very open-ended questions, or develops technology that shouldn’t be owned by any one company.

We think research institutions can be better than they are today.  So we’re starting a new research lab, which we’re calling YC Research, to work on some of these areas.

We’re going to start YCR with one group (which we should be ready to announce in a month or two) and if that goes well, we’ll add others. 

YCR is a non-profit.  Any IP developed will be made available freely to everyone.  (The researchers will, of course, have full discretion over when they’re ready to release their work, and we’ll have a process in place to address technology that could be dangerous.)  Because of the openness, the researchers will be able to freely collaborate with people in other institutions. 

We’re not doing this with the goal of helping YC’s startups succeed or adding to our bottom line.  At the risk of sounding cliché, this is for the benefit of the world.  As we’ve seen throughout history, new technological breakthroughs help all of us.  Fundamental research is critical to driving the world forward, and funding for it keeps getting cut. [1] 

To start off, I’m going to personally donate $10 million, and we will raise more money for specific groups soon.  In addition to salary, researchers at YCR will also receive equity in Y Combinator as part of their compensation. [2]

YCR researchers will be full-time YC employees (instead of us making grants to other organizations).  We’ll especially welcome outsiders working on slightly heretical ideas (just like we do for the startups we fund) and we’ll try to keep things small—we believe small groups can do far more than most people think.  Also, smallness usually means less politics, which has plagued science in recent decades.

The researchers will have full access to YC and the YC network.  YC has a very high problem flux at this point—we fund hundreds of companies per year.  Compensation and power for the researchers will not be driven by publishing lots of low-impact papers or speaking at lots of conferences—that whole system seems broken.  Instead, we will focus on the quality of the output.

We plan to do this for a long time.  If some of these projects take 25 years, that’s perfectly fine with us. 

We’re very excited to see what comes out of this.

 


[1] Funding for technological development is actually relatively high, but funding for fundamental research keeps getting cut.  Investors want to fund incremental progress—and the world has gotten very good at delivering that.  This is more valuable than it sounds; incremental progress compounds quickly. 

But it’s not all we need—we are dependent on the unpredictable breakthrough jumps to drive humanity forward.  Technology startups today work very well for making a super-efficient piston engine, but they are unlikely to fund the kind of open-ended R+D required to develop a jet engine.

[2] We think it’s important for the researchers to make as much money as they might in at a large company or a startup.  YC equity is fairly low-risk (we fund hundreds of companies per year) and high-reward (they have historically done very well), so it will hopefully be a good solution.

Many of the best researchers in the world are forced to choose between high-paying engineering work to support their families or doing the work they really want to do; the fact that this is an either/or choice is bad for all of us.  

Two HN Announcements

The HN community feels like it owns HN, and we like it that way. HN has become an important institution in the tech community, and though it was initially developed for YC founders it's clearly evolved into much more than that.

We've always felt that the best way for HN to benefit YC is simply for it to maximally benefit the community, which mostly means keeping the story and discussion quality as high as possible. We read it ourselves, so we want that as much as anyone.

In that spirit, we have a couple of announcements to make: an organizational one from Sam, and a moderation one from Dan.


Making HN autonomous within YC (Sam)

We're going to factor out Hacker News into its own autonomous unit of YC. It has de facto been like that, but it feels like a good idea to make it official. Going forward, HN will no longer formally be part of the investment branch of YC, but will be its own separate thing.

Everyone at YC knows that it's vital for HN to have full editorial independence, and we have absolute trust in Dan's decision-making in product, engineering, and moderation. Dan will report directly to me, though I don't plan to be very involved--other than as an enthusiastic user (who would, however, prefer that it be easier to read on a phone) and someone who's always happy to bounce around ideas. We're also setting it up so that Dan will have the option of reporting directly to the YC Board of Overseers instead if he ever decides to.

Dan is an incredibly talented person who really understands the art and science of HN; I'm excited to see what he has planned for the future.


Modnesty I: More Community Moderation (Dan)

HN's approach to moderation has always been three-pronged: software automation where possible, human intervention where necessary, and as much community moderation as users can provide. Our long-term vision for HN is to have the site be as self-regulating as possible, and we've been working on a project code-named Modnesty (for 'moderation amnesty') to develop new ways to do that. Today we're releasing the first experiment from this project. The idea is to let the community make the final call on decisions made by HN moderators and software.

Currently, when an account is banned, a software filter trips, or enough users flag a post, the post goes [dead], meaning only users with 'showdead' turned on in their profile can see it. The trouble is that some posts end up [dead] when they shouldn't be. Banned accounts sometimes post good comments, software filters sometimes have false positives, and users sometimes flag things unfairly.

Today's new feature lets users rescue [dead] posts on a case by case basis. Beside the 'flag' link, you'll see a 'vouch' link to click when a post should not be [dead]. When enough users vouch for a post, the software will unkill it. Think of vouches as the inverse of flags: a flag says that a post shouldn't be on HN; a vouch says it should.

We'll review all vouched posts to make sure that they don't violate the HN guidelines. If we notice abusive vouches, we'll take away vouching rights (again, by analogy with flagging), so please vouch responsibly! Only rescue civil, substantive contributions to the site.

You need a little karma (currently 30) to see flag links, and the same threshold applies here. If you don't have 30 karma but would like to participate, email hn@ycombinator.com and we'll try to help.

I called this feature an experiment above. We'd like everyone to understand that when we say 'experiment', we really mean it. It's important to us to be able to roll out new ideas and drop the ones that turn out lame. HN's simplicity is its core design value, and we shudder at the thought of only adding features and never removing them. The freedom to retract bad experiments (like we did recently [1]) enables us to try more things, which benefits HN most in the long run. So if Modnesty turns out to have unintended bad consequences--which I hope won't happen, especially since we've been testing it for a while--we'll withdraw it. As always, whether it turns out bad or good is mostly a function of your feedback, so please be generous with it!

1. See my edit of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10223645.


Welcome Anne, Ben, and Joe!

I’m delighted to announce three new part-time partners.

Anne Wojcicki is the cofounder and CEO of 23andMe.  Anne is one of the world experts on biotechnology and healthcare companies; her guidance will be invaluable to the increasing numbers of these companies YC funds.

Ben Silbermann is the cofounder and CEO of Pinterest, and a two-time YC alumni.  Ben has an exceptional product sense, and is one of the more thoughtful people I’ve ever met when it comes to building a company and its culture. 

Joe Gebbia is the cofounder and CPO of Airbnb (YC W2009.)  He is also on the Board of Trustees at RISD, where he went to school.  He will help companies with any challenges they face, but especially with design.

Welcome to YC!

YC stats

We get asked (a lot) for statistics on the YC portfolio about valuation and fundraising.  Although these are very imperfect indicators of success, here they are.

All of these companies actually went through a YC batch and got their start with us (e.g. we do not include Quora).

Also, the YC application for the next batch opens tomorrow! :)


Total "valuation" of all YC companies: >$65 billion

Total money raised by all YC companies: >$7 billion

Number of YC companies worth more than $1 billion: 8 [1]

Number of YC companies worth more than $100 million: >40

Number of companies funded by YC so far: ~940

Number of companies funded by YC that have dissolved: 177

Number of companies in the last batch: 107

Number of hardware + biotech + healthcare companies in the last batch: 32

Number of companies we offered to fund yesterday for the first YC Fellowship: 33


[1] This includes Twitch, which Amazon bought for ~970MM plus an earn-out.

A new role for Qasar

I'm delighted to announce that Qasar Younis will be YC's first COO. Qasar will help scale our organization and operations as we tackle bigger and more ambitious projects--we've grown quite a bit in the past few years and now have a lot to do on the operations side. Along with his new responsibilities as COO, Qasar will primarily continue to invest in and advise companies.

Qasar first joined YC as a founder and CEO of TalkBin, which was part of the Winter 2011 class. TalkBin was acquired by Google where he went on to lead business-facing products inside of Google Maps including google.com/business. He joined YC as a part-time partner in 2013 and full time in the 2014. Qasar has been in operational roles most of his career and we are all excited to see what he can do at YC.

Fortune wrote about this here.