"I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg."

November 2014

In 2013 a New York Times article quoted me as saying "I can be tricked by anyone who looks like Mark Zuckerberg."

That sentence has since become a minor Internet meme, as cherished by its adherents as the idea that Obama was born outside the US.

Is it true? Of course not. That statement was a joke. I have a strange ability to notice things about faces. In 2010 we had one applicant that I noticed during the interview looked like Zuck. Afterward I bored the other partners with an explanation of why. After years of hearing this sort of thing, my observations about faces had become an ongoing joke within YC. The startup in question fell apart almost immediately due to a cofounder dispute, and afterward the other partners kidded me for talking so much about how he looked like Zuck.

It was not only a joking reference to a single incident, but the fact that we joked about it shows we knew that looking like Zuck had no predictive value.

As if anyone would think it did. Could anyone be so naive as to think that resembling Zuck would be enough to make a founder succeed? And is it plausible that we, of all people, who'd interviewed thousands of founders, would think such a thing?

So why have so many people since believed I was serious? For the same reason, presumably, that others cling so tenaciously to the idea that Obama was born outside the US: because they so want to believe it.

Will writing this fix the problem? Not entirely, I'm sure. In fact one of the reasons I wrote it was that I'm curious how fixable this sort of bogus meme is. But it will be harder now to make an honest mistake. People will probably still repeat that quote, but now if someone does it will be proof that either (a) they didn't do their research or (b) they have an ideological axe to grind.