Tips on the Y Combinator Application and 12 Other Things We Learned from Sam Altman’s Reddit AMA

October 12, 2014

10:00 am

Over a week ago, Y Combinator President Sam Altman went on Reddit to give an AMA (“Ask Me Anything”). Given Altman's recent investment in the community news-sharing forum/website, many of the questions focused on the $50 million in new financing and what it means for the Reddit community. And, I mean, it's certainly a significant topic considering the large scope of the site's community – bringing in nearly 115 million unique views every month; however, Altman touched upon many other topics, including his personal advice on how to approach the Y Combinator application, how to approach certain startup processes, and just general fun facts about the YC president.

Here are 13 things we learned from and about Sam Altman during his Reddit AMA:

The 3 Things That Make a YC Application Stand Out

“Passion, clarity of vision, and deep insights.”

Some Thoughts on the Backlash Against Silicon Valley Startup Culture

“I think it's somewhat overstated (i.e., the great majority of startups don't fall into the brogrammer category) but that we have real work to do in making the valley a place where everyone feels welcome. I think that less arrogance from the valley would be a very welcome change–we should let what we build impress people instead of talking about how great we are.”

Creating a Work Culture

“Founders should never expect employees to work as hard and care as much as they do, but still, if you join an early-stage startup, expect to work very hard. Most people at Facebook still seem to work very hard. Generally, I think companies should hold off the transition to feeling ‘corporate' as long as possible, but transition to something with better work-life balance after a few years–no one can work around the clock forever. All of that said, I do think most startups need to get some basic HR in place sooner than they usually do.”

What Sam Altman Would Like to See from Reddit in the Future

“I'm just a user–whatever the company wants to do. I used to HATE it when investors told me what to do with my product…[But] as a user, my number one feature request is a really great mobile app.”

He Believes That Sites Heavily Reliant on User-Generated Content Should Be Owned By the Users

“1) People take care of what they own. 2) It just seems fair–users create the value, they should get to capture some of it. 3) I do think more sites could benefit from this, and honestly I'm somewhat surprised others haven't tried it.”

What He Believes Allowed Reddit to Grow Such a Massive Community

“Subreddits. One of the most brilliant moves in the history of online communities.”

What He Believes Changed After He Took Over Y Combinator

“The IQ of the position went down.”

Advice for Solo Applicants to YC

“I don't mean this to be glib, but have a good company. It's tough to hack our application process. Being a solo founder definitely sets the bar higher, but it's not impossible.”

What Nascent Online Companies Need to Focus On

“Focus on getting a small number of super-engaged users that love you, and them spread the community. If you're building it for an exit, you will probably be disappointed. That's not a specific statement about a community site but a general comment about startups.”

Some Views on Talent from Other Countries and the Politics Surrounding That

“We help founders get visas as much as we can. It's a headache, and I think turning away people who want to start companies and create jobs here is one of the dumbest positions taken in the name of politics in a long time.”

His Disappointment with Hackathons

“The thing that bums me out most about hackathons is people get started on really cool projects and then totally abandon them.”

Whether He Could Take Peter Thiel in a Fistfight

“Not sure, but he can beat me in a game of chess in 30-40 seconds.”

His Favorite Ice Cream Flavor


Read more on Sam Altman's Reddit AMA here. 


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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.