Let's have fun with Paul Graham

Thursday, 20 December, Year 4 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

First, quotes, to set the mood.

The total value of the companies we've funded is around 10 billion, give or take a few. But just two companies, Dropbox and Airbnb, account for about three quarters of it.

In startups, the big winners are big to a degree that violates our expectations about variation. I don't know whether these expectations are innate or learned, but whatever the cause, we are just not prepared for the 1000x variation in outcomes that one finds in startup investing.

A startup's success at fundraising is a function of two things: what they're selling and how good they are at selling it. And while we can teach startups a lot about how to appeal to investors, even the most convincing pitch can't sell an idea that investors don't like. I was genuinely worried that Airbnb, for example, would not be able to raise money after Demo Day. I couldn't convince Fred Wilson to fund them. They might not have raised money at all but for the coincidence that Greg Mcadoo, our contact at Sequoia, was one of a handful of VCs who understood the vacation rental business, having spent much of the previous two years investigating it.

Both from Farming Black Swans, a thoroughly hubric piece.

I never heard of that airbnb thingee, but I did follow the link on Fred Wilson's name. It takes one to another article also on Graham's site, which starts with

Yesterday Fred Wilson published a remarkable post about missing Airbnb. VCs miss good startups all the time, but it's extraordinarily rare for one to talk about it publicly till long afterward. So that post is further evidence what a rare bird Fred is. He's probably the nicest VC I know.

Ok, so what is this airbnb thing then ?

This :

airbnb-socialproof

Today is December the 20th, I guess not a very good time for vacation arrangements, and the start-up which together with some other accounts for two thirds of ten billion or something counts exactly one visitor : me. I'm not there to rent from them, I'm there to investigate what the fuck is wrong with Graham.

This site is lame, and what's more, this site is useless. It may seem like it does something, but it does not. Is is one of those hype things so prevalent today that a muchly inflated bubble produces (and yes, the start-up scene is by now pretty much pop culture, thoroughly worthless, thoroughly mind numbing idiocy working its way towards the sitcom in the same exact way legions of talentless hacks would be working their way through "acting" towards the loving embrace of the porn industry).

Here's a succint explanation of what the problem is :

History tends to get rewritten by big successes, so that in retrospect it seems obvious they were going to make it big. For that reason one of my most valuable memories is how lame Facebook sounded to me when I first heard about it. A site for college students to waste time? It seemed the perfect bad idea: a site (1) for a niche market (2) with no money (3) to do something that didn't matter.

One could have described Microsoft and Apple in exactly the same terms.

It doesn't matter that Facebook managed to line up a billion idiots and sold itself for a hundred billion dollars. It is still the perfect bad idea, and exactly for the reasons listed. The fact Bernie Madoff managed to siphon huge sums of money off gullible "investors" does not make his Ponzi anything but a failure. The fact Mark Zuckerberg managed to siphon huge sums of money off gullible "investors" doesn't make his lame site anything but a failure.i

A quote from the same article, to seal the deal :

Everyone would agree that YC had jumped the shark. We ourselves would feel that YC had jumped the shark. And yet we'd all be wrong.

This is true. No endeavour seeded by YC will ever do anything useful from this point forward. The shark has been jumped.

———
  1. It's trading at 27 now, and the only way it ever touches IPO levels is through the continued good offices of Fairy Godmother Bernanke. On its own strength, Facebook is worth about about fifty to a hundred thousand dollars, and in general the entire experiment was already tried. Back then the scam was called Myspace, and it nigh-on sunk Time Warner with its billion-and-change shareholder's equity destruction. []
Category: 3 ani experienta
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18 Responses

  1. Tu si in romana scriai sciai articole care te oboseau pana la final, de astea in engleza ce sa mai zic...dupa cateva intortocheate si interminabile, nu ai decat sa renunti sau sa o iei de la capat :))

  2. > No endeavour seeded by YC will ever do anything useful from this point forward.

    I guess you haven't heard of coinbase?

  3. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    3
    Mircea Popescu 
    Monday, 7 January 2013

    Heard of it, never used it. I wouldn't use a "hosted wallet" to begin with, and if I were to recommend a noob one or something like that I'd probably suggest piuk's thing.

  4. Y Combinator is funding the future of spam in Windows.

  5. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    5
    Mircea Popescu 
    Thursday, 17 January 2013

    Seems legit.

  6. Well they did fund Watsi [1], which seems to be functioning alright, actually. Haven't looked more into it, but from what I hear on HN, it's doing quite well and is making change, for what it's worth.

    That being said, I do sympathise with the general sentiment. To quote from a couple of recent frustrated random HNers,

    "Success is not validation of an idea and we should be ashamed to think so. [...] Personally, I think nearly all of these 'social' startups are bad news. [...] I think they feed a culture of passivity and attention deficit. I think they fragment human interaction into the smallest possible dopamine-inducing units. I think they're essentially Skinner boxes in disguise - apps that dress up an intermittent schedule of reward as meaningful activity.

    The startup culture talks the talk about "changing the world", but in truth most of us couldn't care less so long as we get our next funding round. For every Watsi, we have a hundred bullshit companies with bullshit products, providing yet another means of idle distraction for indolent westerners. We can hardly distinguish between what is worthwhile and what is popular or profitable. It has hardly occurred [...to anyone] in these comments that an idea could be both successful and stupid.

    Is Pinterest really an innovative sharing tool, or is it merely a collaborative exercise in commodity fetishism? Is Vine really a radical new way to communicate, or is it merely the nadir of audiovisual culture, fragmenting the world into six-second shards of nothingness? Do we even care?"

    "This isn't all the peak of innovation, many times it's just people working on a CRUD site trying to 'disrupt big industry player x' until they run out of money and then resort to the same cheap tactics as everyone else."

    [1]: https://watsi.org/

  7. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    7
    Mircea Popescu 
    Thursday, 2 May 2013

    Actually watsi thing looks like a very reasonable charity (at least superficially seems to meet my criteria for charity). This however is not a business. It's a nice thing to be doing on the side, but if this is the one example that can be brought forth in defense of an entire incubator or w/e ycombinator fancies itself then we're in a situation much akin to the accountant who doesn't account but would like to keep his job because he's a nice father, or in the very appropriate words of George Costanza

    Why did it all turn out like this for me? I had so much promise. I was personable, I was bright. Oh, maybe not academically speaking, but ... I was perceptive. I always know when someone's uncomfortable at a party.

    The Skinner box remark may actually hold a whole lot of water. Along the same line I also heartily recomend Sindhya's stuff. She's what'd be a lowly fashion entrepreneur, except apparently she's unimmersed enough in this culture of "daddy can I have the next round car" to notice some basic points.

    At any rate the entire post-bubble start-up culture needs some serious deconstruction and criticism, because as it presents itself currently it simply consists of a bunch of pointless white kids begging a self-appointed set of father figures for allowances. This should then include sexual performance upfront if that's what it is, the pretense of "changing the world" made a lot more sense back when the family structure was being used and the kids looted the bank accounts of men that actually were (or thought they were) their biological fathers.

  8. Some would say this article is old, since I remember this was written during my days as a n00b. Back when I bought my first bitcoins at 12 dollars per, and when I didn't really understand business.

    More than a year later, after having used AirBnb exactly twice, I have quite the exquisite derp to bring to the comment section.

    The first time I used Airbnb was this past February. The other half, and some friends wanted to take a weekend vacation in the mountains, so I decide to utilize Airbnb instead of you know, a fucking directory of legitimate mountain vacation homes.

    Well AirBnb doesn't let you call or have real time communication with the host of perspective places. So you send a message through their dumb ass system and have to wait. Communication outside their system is a "violation of their terms and conditions". Well eventually the host responds and after a day or so we nestle out the details.

    We eventually arrive at the location...it is pretty awesome. However the hassle to book the thing was not worth the 24 dollar fee AirBnb took.

    Okay so lets move onto me trying to find a nearby vacation spot right now to relieve stress for the weekend. I book a place and it goes through this KYC shit so familiar from MtGox (WE ALL FUCKING SAW HOW THAT TURNED OUT). It wants to automatically verify my ID with Junior NSA tools that don't fucking work. Well as the determined crazy-man I am, I took a deep breath, gathered my patience, and decided to see how far down the rabbit hole this derp goes...

    So I go to the contact page to call them because even though it's holding my booking request from making it to the host due to being "unverified", they still thought "hey lets put a hold on the nigga's card just to fuck with him." Get the contact page and immediately it says "FAQ 435, You are unverified, please submit your ID for verification to continue!" As if that shit is helpful. No I want a fucking contact number. So Google, who is actually reliable brings me a phone number for the US customer support.

    I dial this number, and low and behold, "We are currently experience high call volume. The average wait time until the next representative is free is OVER 30 minutes." Really? Fucking really?!? Maybe if your shit actually worked, you wouldn't get a billion phone calls that stretches your 24/7 support thin. I'm sure at least one call support specialist quits daily.

    As of now I've been on hold 32 minutes already, listening to repeats of their shitty employee's band's SoundClouds that they're trying to push because that's exactly who I want operating a rental service.

    Perhaps I will post an update with my continued experience.

    I ask myself, "So. What did you learn?"

    Calling a fucking 4 star hotel front desk to make reservation for the same price as these listings on this shitty site parading as a business would have been an exponentially better experience.

    However, paying for the first hand experience of such a hard core derp may or may not be worth whatever loss of sanity I'm currently experiencing. (No sane person would ever go through this masochistic torture).

  9. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    9
    Mircea Popescu 
    Saturday, 26 April 2014

    Well AirBnb doesn’t let you call or have real time communication with the host of perspective places.

    Meanwhile I read ignorant derps go on about "the sharing economy" and whatnot. Just think of it, the sharing economy where you're not allowed to talk to people. Such revolution.

    I book a place and it goes through this KYC shit

    Wait, to book a vacation home for a weekend ?! What ?

  10. Michelle
    10
    Michelle's Foreskin 
    Friday, 22 May 2015

    "the start-up which together with some other accounts for two thirds of ten billion or something counts exactly one visitor : me"

    That '1 Guest' is the dropdown to choose how many guests you want to book for, it's not a visitor counter. I know, I know, these kids with their rounded corners and javascripts and what not

    Anyway, I've used AirBnB to book places in Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand. It's useful, it works. If you want a relaxing holiday where everything is taken care of, sure, go for your resort with the concierge desk and fluffed pillows. If you want to get a sense of real life in a foreign city, or if you're a traveller looking for something upmarket of backpacker hostels, AirBnB is great and will find you great places.

    Interestingly, these days AirBnB has become basically another hotel booking site (as in, lots of hotels and hostels list on there), but with added supply from individuals renting out their apartments. So not revolutionary, but it works for them.

  11. Mircea Popescu`s avatar
    11
    Mircea Popescu 
    Friday, 22 May 2015

    There's a lot of space between "I've used it once and it worked for me" and the sort of puffery Graham&co are putting up about it. For a more in-depth discussion of that thing, see "Apple could buy Russia" lulz.

    Do not be teaching me about "real life in a city" bla bla. I was travelling in the proper sense twenty years ago, with local girlfriends and the whole schmir. This is also something that AirBnB can not provide, and even if it appears to be a sort of TGI Tuesdays to the Wendys and Jack in a Boxen of travel, it is still fast food.

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