March 2006, rev August 2009
Yesterday one of the founders we funded asked me why we started
Combinator. Or more precisely, he asked if we'd started YC mainly
Kind of, but not quite. It is enormously fun to be able to work
with Rtm and Trevor again. I missed that after we sold Viaweb, and
for all the years after I always had a background process running,
looking for something we could do together. There is definitely
an aspect of a band reunion to Y Combinator. Every couple days I
slip and call it "Viaweb."
Viaweb we started very explicitly to make money. I was sick of
living from one freelance project to the next, and decided to just
work as hard as I could till I'd made enough to solve the problem
once and for all. Viaweb was sometimes fun, but it wasn't designed
for fun, and mostly it wasn't. I'd be surprised if any startup is.
All startups are mostly schleps.
The real reason we started Y Combinator is neither selfish nor
virtuous. We didn't start it mainly to make money; we have no idea
what our average returns might be, and won't know for years. Nor
did we start YC mainly to help out young would-be founders, though
we do like the idea, and comfort ourselves occasionally with the
thought that if all our investments tank, we will thus have been
doing something unselfish. (It's oddly nondeterministic.)
The real reason we started Y Combinator is one probably only a
hacker would understand. We did it because it seems such a great
hack. There are thousands of smart people who could start companies
and don't, and with a relatively small amount of force applied at
just the right place, we can spring on the world a stream of new
startups that might otherwise not have existed.
In a way this is virtuous, because I think startups are a good
thing. But really what motivates us is the completely amoral desire
that would motivate any hacker who looked at some complex device
and realized that with a tiny tweak he could make it run more
efficiently. In this case, the device is the world's economy, which
fortunately happens to be open source.