His 2005 essay “How to Start a Startup”—together with Steven Blank’s “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” and Eric Ries’s “The Lean Startup”—helped to codify the modern entrepreneur’s ethos: bootstrap; begin with a “minimum viable product” and iterate rapidly; prefer ten people loving what you make to ten thousand liking it.
Graham and his wife and two friends started Y Combinator (named for an obscure mathematical function) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as both a summer-vacation experiment in investing and a radical stab at reimagining the summer job.
When I remarked, after a few long days together, that he never seemed to visit the men’s room, he said, “I will practice going to the bathroom more often so you humans don’t realize that I’m the A.
I.”When he took over YC, he inherited a budding colossus.
In his book “Hackers & Painters,” Graham calculated that smart hackers at a startup could get 36x more work done than the average office drone—and that they would, therefore, eventually blow up employment as we know it. And it is also the essence of American-ness.” [cartoon id="a20328"]Graham could gauge applicants’ technical skills, and his wife, Jessica Livingston, was a remarkable judge of character.
He made this sound patriotic and fun; how could an oligarchic technocracy go wrong? They prized people in their mid-twenties, an age at which, Graham wrote, your advantages include “stamina, poverty, rootlessness, colleagues, and ignorance.” The first group of eight companies—which included a mobile app, Loopt, founded by Sam Altman and two friends—got six thousand dollars per founder, along with Graham’s advice and home-cooked chicken fricassee, and the promise that at the end of the summer they could pitch his wealthy friends for fifteen minutes.
That batch had Reddit, now valued at six hundred million dollars, and a batch two years later had Dropbox, valued at ten billion.
Paul Graham, a gifted programmer who’d sold his own startup to Yahoo for fifty million dollars, was one of the first people to harness these trends.I sit in weird ways”—he folds up like a busted umbrella—“I have narrow interests in technology, I have no patience for things I’m not interested in: parties, most people.When someone examines a photo and says, ‘Oh, he’s feeling this and this and this,’ all these subtle emotions, I look on with alien intrigue.” Altman’s great strengths are clarity of thought and an intuitive grasp of complex systems.At the noisy end of the room, Graham was cheerfully encouraging improbable schemes.At the quiet end, Sam Altman was absorbed in private calculations.Altman declared, “The best idea seems to be just to support Hillary.”At a hundred and thirty pounds, Altman is poised as a clothespin, fierce as a horned owl.