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Paul Graham

Paul Graham87 posts

Paul Graham is a computer programmer, essayist, and venture capitalist, born in 1964. He is a co-founder of Viaweb, which later became Yahoo Store. His writing includes essays on the programming language Lisp, being a nerd in high school, and the hypothetical programming language Blub. He has published three books, including a collection of essays titled Hackers And Painters. He is one of the creators of the startup incubator Y Combinator and the social news site Hacker News. He has a PhD in Computer Science from Harvard, and studied painting in Italy. He is married to Jessica Livingston.

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16 Nov, 2015

Graham praises YC role

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Graham writes an article about Livingston’s’ role in Y Combinator, saying she should have more credit.

So although Jessica more than anyone made YC unique, the very qualities that enabled her to do it mean she tends to get written out of YC’s history. Everyone buys this story that PG started YC and his wife just kind of helped. Even YC’s haters buy it. A couple years ago when people were attacking us for not funding more female founders (than exist), they all treated YC as identical with PG. It would have spoiled the narrative to acknowledge Jessica’s central role at YC…Jessica knows more about the qualities of startup founders than anyone else ever has. Her immense data set and x-ray vision are the perfect storm in that respect. The qualities of the founders are the best predictor of how a startup will do. And startups are in turn the most important source of growth in mature economies.

29 Jun, 2015

Fireside chat

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Graham talks with Cloudant’s Miller about the new role developers play in society:

Programmers are becoming more powerful. It used to be that programmers had their tools chosen for them by managers. Now increasingly the can pick their tools and the managers have no choice but to go on with it. Everybody knows this phrase BYOD –Bring Your Own Device. But there’s another phenomenon happening, where you bring your own tools — BYOT.

Oct 2014

Conway at Startup School 2014

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Graham interviews Conway for the Y Combinator event. He says founders must have a dedicated work ethic, get along with their co-founder, and not be afraid to make changes like laying off people who aren’t performing. Conway:

You can’t learn to be ambitious and driven.

Ron Conway at Startup School SV 2014

9 Oct, 2014

Responds to valuation critics

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Graham responds to criticism that being a Y Combinator alum gains companies twice the valuation they would have had without participating. He tells Bloomberg Television’s Studio 1.0 with Emily Chang:

That means we can take people into YC, and even if we did nothing else, they would be able to get twice the valuation they would have otherwise. Either the company’s worth a lot or it’s not. If it’s worth a lot, then it was a bargain anyway, even if it was overpriced. And if the company ends up tanking, who cares how much you paid for this now worthless stock, right?

Bloomberg interview

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Graham and Livingston are interviewed together for the first time. They talk about the selection process for Y Combinator companies, how the best founder teams are genuine friends rather than people who are just working together, and why Graham stepped down. Graham on how to initiate a startup:

The best way to start is not to start. Don’t even start a startup. Start a project.

Livingston on whether the firm would consider follow-on investments in successful projects:

We never say never, but the problem is that is that there’s a signaling thing. Follow-ons would hurt the founders who are probably a great investment but that we just didn’t choose to do a follow-on with.

30 Sep, 2014

Startups are counterintuitive

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Graham says in Lecture 3 of the Stanford course that startups are counterintuitive in many ways, including that many founders don’t know the mechanics of investing or fund raising. He says founders also can’t game the system:

They always want to know, since apparently the measure of success for a startup is fundraising, another noob mistake. They always want to know, what are the tricks for convincing investors? And we have to tell them the best way to convince investors is to start a startup that is actually doing well, meaning growing fast, and then simply tell investors so.

Lecture 3 - Before the Startup (Paul Graham)

21 Sep, 2014

Charlie Rose interview

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Rose interviews Graham at Disrupt about how to pick successful founders, what Y Combinator does and how it got started, and whether a startup is easier to create now than it was in the past. Graham:

It used to be that what cost money was getting a computer, now everybody has a computer, you needed money for a fast internet connection but now everyone has one

He says the mechanisms for providing funding from investors to startups have also become much smoother.

paul graham + charlie rose: how to judge startup founders

29 May, 2014

Steps down from Hacker News

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Graham announces that he is stepping down from his day-to-day role at the site. Kat Manalac and Garry Tan will be take over responding to individual comments, and others will be responsible for design, code and community management.

I’ll still be around as a user, but less frequently than when I felt I had to check the site every hour or so to make sure nothing had broken.

8 May, 2014

Airbnb interview

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Blecharczyk talks with Graham about his advice for growth for Airbnb as it grew:

It was a piece of advice that he gave us that was our turning point in starting to grow our marketplace. He told us that it is ok to do things that don’t scale. Prior to that we’d been working on Airbnb for a year and, despite everything we did, we couldn’t earn more than $200/week. He gave us this piece of advice, we really took it to heart. We went to New York. Photographed people’s properties and met every single user. Invited them for a beer. Told them our story, and really built evangelists out of them. And that was the beginning of how Airbnb grew, first in New York and then cross-pollinated globally.


Cockroaches mean founders whose are unkillable. Their startup is unkillable because they can survive on nothing. Cockroaches survive nuclear winters. Cockroaches survive everything. You guys were coackroaches at the time.

11 Mar, 2014

Launch Festival interview

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Graham is interviewed by Calacanis at Launch Festival 2014, and talks about his decision to hand over the running of the accelerator to Sam Altman.

Y Combinator’s gonna have to grow. We grow as the number of startups grows and the number of startups has been growing. You saw how it started up – it was in my kitchen. Now it’s got 10 full-time partners…maybe 20 people. 632 startups we funded. It’s turned into this giant thing.  I’m no good at running this giant thing. Sam, however, is going to be good at running a giant thing.

Y Combinator's Paul Graham sits down with Jason at LAUNCH Festival 2014

24 Feb, 2014

Launch Festival 2014

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Graham gives the keynote speech, and talks about how a successful idea has to start with a small consumer base:

It’s impossible to make something that a large number of people want. You’ve got to find something that a small number of people want, a lot…you’ve got to know who those first users are and how to get them…you sit down with those 500 people and throw a huge party and make them super, super happy.

Launch Festival 2014: Keynote - Paul Graham, Y Combinator + Session 4 - Day 1

21 Feb, 2014

Y Combinator leadership change

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paul-graham-steps-down-sam-altmanGraham announces that he is stepping down from his day-to-day role, and Altman will take over.

It has nothing to do with the current startup environment. I started trying to recruit Sam to take over back in 2012…I’m just not much good at running the sort of (comparatively) large organization YC is going to have to become.  Sam will be much better at that.

He will stay on as an advisor and will work with startups at Office Hours.

6 Feb, 2014

DefCon 13 talk


Graham talks about the connection between risk and inequality, and says that economic inequality should be tackled at the stage where wealth becomes power, as decreasing the financial reward for taking risk decreases creativity:

Risk and reward have to be in proportion…if you lop off the top of the possible rewards, you decrease people’s willingness to take risks

DEF CON 13 - Paul Graham, Inequality and Risk

Dec 2013

Women in tech clarification

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Graham clarifies his remarks about women in tech, saying that the article was stitched together from a conversation and published as an interview:

I didn’t say women can’t be taught to be hackers. I said [Y Combinator] can’t do it in 3 months.
I didn’t say women haven’t been programming for 10 years. I said women who aren’t programmers haven’t been programming for 10 years. I didn’t say people can’t learn to be hackers later in life. I said people cannot at any age learn to be hackers simultaneously with starting a startup whose thesis derives from insights they have as hackers.

31 Dec, 2013

Women in tech remark

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After a comment he made in a TheInformation interview about how fewer women lead tech startups receives press coverage, transcripts show that Graham’s remarks focused on getting students interested in programming from a younger age to involve more women in the industry, something he says will take time to achieve:

What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum.

26 Dec, 2013

TheInformation interview

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Graham is interviewed for TheInformation.com and talks about women in technology, how working at startups makes people tougher, and what he says is resentment from investors towards Y Combinator:

You could say, if you think we’re actually good, then envy. If you think we’re not actually good, then it’s because they think we don’t deserve all the deal flow we get. That’s what investors all want. They want deal flow.

4 Nov, 2013

GMIC 2013 interview

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Graham is interviewed on stage at the conference about emerging trends in technology. Asked whether he thinks there will be a ‘year of the wearables’ where gadgets like Google Glass take off, he advises ignoring individual trends and looking at commercial uses for wearables:

Never mind these fads…Just think about all the industrial applications, all the people who can’t carry a computer in their hands, mechanics who are climbing around in airplanes, or emergency workers, it’s going to be so useful to just display all the information.

He says there probably won’t be a point where wearables suddenly become widely used:

It will probably be this gradually rising curve.

26 Oct, 2013

Startup School interviews

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Graham and Altman host a chat with three Y Combinator startups: George Saines and Nick Winter of Code Combat, a way to learn code though gaming; Karen Cheng and Finbarr Taylor, of giveit100.com, a site where users share their progress at different skills,  and Ryan Petersen of Flexport, a digitized customs brokerage.

Office Hours at Startup School 2013 with Paul Graham and Sam Altman

Oct 2013

Startup School 2013

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Graham interviews Conway about what has changed in tech. Conway:

What’s not changed…is you have to have determination, and conviction. You have to be a leader.

He says that in the Altos days, workplaces were less formal, for instance the employees would drink to motivate themselves to stay until 9 p.m.

I think the startups today know how to segment a little better

His assessment is that software companies have to deliver:

What’s not changed is the fact that you have to focus on growth. Back in the hardware days you didn’t have to focus on product or consumer satisfaction as much…Customers were happy just to get it

Ron Conway at Startup School 2012

Zuckerberg Startup School interview

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Zuckerberg discusses writing the first code for Facebook, and says his experience writing games and a music player for himself while young helped.

If you want to be able to connect with the people around you you have to start building software that other people want to use as well.

At Harvard, he wrote a scraper to extract information from the course cataloge and ran the site from a laptop in the dorm room. He says he met Chan at a going away party after Harvard threatened to kick him out. People involved in Facebook focused on developing it for fellow students, and talked about how someone else like Microsoft would likely build the service for everyone to use:

We thought, we’re just college students, what do we know about building software that hundreds of millions of people are going to use?

Mark Zuckerberg at Startup School 2013