HyperTextMatters
12 October 2005
 
Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
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First let me say before you flame me or give me "bad karma" on reddit.com, that I support Paul Graham's "Summer Founders" program.  I like to think that I'm not just bandying the verb "support" when I write this, but that I actually tangibly support the program.  After all, I'm a reddit reader ;)  Furthermore, I've promoted kiko on this site.

But I really have to question whether, as he claims, Mr Graham has tangibly (there's that word again) tested his hypothesis about which he most recently has written in his essay "What I Did This Summer" at http://www.paulgraham.com/sfp.html, which, by the way, I discovered through reddit.  That hypothesis being, and I quote "that success in a startup depends mainly on how smart and energetic you are, and much less on how old you are or how much business experience you have."

Mr Graham immediately goes on to state that "
the results so far bear this out. The 2005 summer founders ranged in age from 18 to 28 (average 23), and there is no correlation between their ages and how well they're doing."  Well I'm glad he said "so far" because, even with my rudimentary statistics knowledge, I know that his sample "so far" has been nowhere near large and varied enough to really test his hypothesis.

Now there is going to be the "Winters Founders" program and so the sample size will increase.  But personally I have doubts as to whether it will become more varied.  From everything Mr Graham has written so far, his programs definitely seem slanted towards attracting young talent.  That of course is his prerogative, and presents a great opportunity for these youngsters, which I gather is the real point, as opposed to proving some theory.  Get some subjects in their 30's and 40's into the sample, and I'll take his hypothesis more seriously.
Posted by htmatters at 1:17 PM | Comments (7)
 
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Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
We don't have to fund people in their thirties to test our hypothesis. The existing venture market is already doing that. To create a big enough sample, we only have to create the end of it that doesn't exist. If we fund 20 year olds, and they do as well as or better than the 35 year olds that were already getting funded, that seems to be enough to prove our hypothesis.

Posted by Paul Graham on October 12, 2005 at 1:44 PM

Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Thanks for responding, you have good points. However, as I understand it, your founders program does not correlate precisely with the existing venture market, rather you are focusing on providing seed money without necessarily requiring a business plan. If not exactly apples and oranges, maybe it's tangerines and oranges. If that's too nit-picky on my part, other point in response is this. That, per my understanding of the scientific method, a control group is needed. The key word being "control": if you yourself fund some older people, you have some control over that segment of your sample, as opposed to relying on outside data. In any event, I certainly admire what you're doing, and this blog post and subsequent comments are just meant to stimulate discussion.

Posted by htmatters on October 12, 2005 at 4:29 PM

Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Y Combinator, as far as I know, is a business and not a scientific experiment. The point isn't to write a journal article, it's to show that younger founders can still make money.

Posted by Aaron Swartz on October 12, 2005 at 5:19 PM

Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Agreed. Of course the number of startups in his program will exceed the 10% average - Graham has a screening process where only the best applicants get into the program. In addition to that, he has the ability to pull strings in high places and answer any technical question the startups have.

Posted by Justin C on October 12, 2005 at 11:02 PM

Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
I think the author of the post makes a valid point. I think the sample size is too small to make any valid (in a statistical sense) conclusions.

And to the poster who said that this isn't a scientific experiment- he is right. And in that case y'all (PG) should refrain from making such broad sweeping statements.

Cheers.

Posted by zack on October 12, 2005 at 11:24 PM

Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
second to Justin C's comment -- paul's influence alone distorts the sample. as he says in the article, his friends/contacts are "eminent" in the industry. that's a huge benefit to any startup.

the summer founder's program is very encouraging, just not as a confirmation of paul's startups thesis, necessarily.

Posted by seth on October 13, 2005 at 3:13 AM

Re: Paul Graham's Self Fulfilling Prophecy
Perhaps more telling is the fact that there is a VC boom in effect now.

Posted by Magnificent Wilhelm on October 13, 2005 at 3:33 PM

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