The Disruptor In The Valley
Justin Kan and Emmett Shear watched their first startup, an online calendar called Kiko, implode when Google decided to do the same thing in 2006. They sold Kiko's scraps on eBay for $258,000 and wondered what to do with their lives. So the pair did the only thing they could think of: They went to see Paul Graham at his house in Cambridge, Mass., near Harvard Square. Graham sat them down and helped bang out a plan to create Justin.tv, now the Web's biggest portal for live video, with 31 million users a month and staked with $7.2 million of venture capital.
Justin Kan和Emmett Shear的第一个创业项目Kiko，是一个在线日历。2006年，Google也推出了同样的产品，他们就知道自己的项目完了。于是，他们把Kiko拿到eBay上拍卖，卖出了25.8万美元。他们拿着这笔钱，不知道下一步做什么。想来想去，他们觉得最好的办法，还是去马萨诸塞州的剑桥市找Paul Graham。在哈佛广场旁边Paul Graham的家里，他们见到了他。Paul Graham让他们坐下来，帮忙一起想出了一个新的创业项目Justin.tv。如今，Justin.tv成了全世界最大的视频直播门户网站，拿到了720万美元的风险投资，一个月的用户人数高达3100万。
Justin.tv is hardly the first, nor the last, company Graham has sent sprinting. Graham is the father of Y Combinator, a startup-rearing juggernaut that's part incubator, part drill sergeant and part liaison to the investor class. Y Combinator--a computer term for a program that runs other programs--has fired up 200 companies since 2005, jarred the balance of power between entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley's elite money, and chiseled a new paradigm for launching technology companies. Graham's formula: Get up and running (bugs and all), gather feedback, tweak and grow.
在Paul Graham推动的创业公司之中，Justin.tv不是第一个，更不是最后一个。他创办了Y Combinator，把扶植创业公司当成自己的使命。Y Combinator（简称YC）是一个孵化器，也是一个教导员，还是一个与投资人联系的中介。这个名字来自一个计算机术语，意思是启动其他程序的程序。自从2005至今，YC已经帮助建立了多达200家创业公司，改写了创业家和硅谷投资者之间的旧秩序，塑造了创建技术公司的新范式。Paul Graham的创业公式就是：搭建原型、上线运营（别管bug）、收集反馈、调整产品、成长壮大。
YC's three-month boot camp for startups, run twice a year in Mountain View, Calif., attracts 1,000 applicants for roughly 40 spots. Graduates are expected to emerge with a working product, customers and revenue. They also get a crack at pitching their ideas to investors on Demo Day, an event that lures venture capital's Sand Hill Road crowd and every prominent angel investor in the Valley.
YC为创业公司举办为期三个月的训练营，每年在加州的山景城办两次，每次吸引大约1000个申请者，从中挑出40个入选者。正常情况下，训练营结束时，学员会拿出一个能够运行的产品，有自己的客户和收入。他们还能在"展示日"（ Demo Day）上向投资者推销自己的产品。那一天，沙丘路（注：硅谷的一条公路，以风险投资公司聚集闻名）上的风险投资家和所有著名的硅谷天使投资人，都会蜂拥而至。
YC puts up $11,000, plus $3,000 per founder, for each company in return for a piece of pure equity of around 5%. That equity could be worth real money should the companies take off. A high price for founders, perhaps, until you see scores of venture capitalists and angel investors jousting to pay handsome premiums for companies bearing the YC stamp. Of the 36 startups in YC's recent class, ended in August, 30 have raised fresh capital, many of them over $1 million.
"We didn't mean to invent this new model," says Graham, who at 45 has sandy hair and a youthful earnestness. "It all happened by accident."
The accident was a summer program Graham started in 2005 for college students who were tinkering with business ideas. Instead of working a boring internship at a big company, Graham's pitch went, win $5,000 to work on your startup in Cambridge with guidance from Graham and his friend, MIT professor Robert Morris--two guys who launched Viaweb, a maker of software that built storefronts online, and sold it to Yahoo for $50 million in 1998.
这个"偶然"指的是2005年Paul Graham旨在帮助那些有创业念头的大学生的一个暑期项目。他劝说他们不要去大公司当枯燥的实习生，而是在剑桥市创办自己的公司，他们会从他和他的朋友----麻省理工学院计算机教授Robert Morris----那里得到5000美元资助和悉心指导。Paul Graham和Robert Morris曾经一起创办了Viaweb，那是一个帮助人们搭建网上商店的互联网软件，1998年被Yahoo以5000万美元的价格收购。
"It was supposed to be a throwaway project for these students," recalls Graham. "By the end of the summer we were like,"'Whoa, we've got something here!'"
Graham received 400 applications for the summer program. Of the 8 he accepted, 4 had blossomed into serious ventures by the end of the summer: Loopt, a social-mapping ser vice, now with 4 million users; Reddit, a user-aggregated news site acquired by Condé Nast in 2006; TextPayMe, a mobile payment service bought by Amazon in 2006; and Kiko, thwarted by Google.
那年暑假，Paul Graham收到了400份申请表。他挑了8个，到了暑假结束时，其中有4个已经做得非常像样了。社会化地理服务网站Loopt，目前有400万用户；用户聚合的新闻网站Reddit，2006年被大型出版集团Condé Nast收购；移动支付服务网站TextPayMe，2006年被Amazon收购；在线日历网站Kiko，在本文开头已经提到了，由于Google推出同类产品而半途夭折。
Y Combinator's influence in Silicon Valley has burgeoned ever since. Some refer to its growing network of graduates as the YC mafia. They protect their own, collaborate and, to a person, regard Graham as their sensei. Some go on to be investors and mentors in their own right.
从那时起，Y Combinator在硅谷的影响力迅速发展。有人将不断壮大的YC毕业生关系网称为"YC匪帮"。这些经过Paul Graham培训的年轻人，迅速成长，互相合作，将他视为自己的导师。其中一些人，进而也成为有着自己风格的投资者和导师。
"The right advice has always been more important than money," says Greg McAdoo, a partner at Sequoia Capital, which has invested in Google, Yahoo, PayPal and YouTube. "But nobody has been able to do it on this kind of scale before."
Jealous types claim Graham runs a fund to pick off YC's best as soon as they leave the womb. YC has raised two pools of funding from outsiders--$2 million in 2009 and $8 million in 2010, from the likes of Sequoia Capital and prominent angel investors Paul Buchheit and Aydin Senkut--but that money is only for YC's small initial equity investments. Graham concedes that individual YC partners have invested in a few startups that hadn't been able to attract much outside funding. But, he insists, YC startups have no obligation to accept additional capital from anybody.
嫉妒者声称，Paul Graham自己有一个基金，专门挑选YC最优秀的学员，等到他们一毕业就抢先资助。迄今为止，YC确实收到过两笔投资，一笔是2009年的200万美元，另一笔是2010年的800万美元。这些钱来自Sequoia这样的投资公司，以及Paul Buchheit、Aydin Senkut等著名的天使投资人。但是，YC只把它们用作初始的小额股权投资。Paul Graham承认，YC合伙人用个人资金投资了一些创业公司，不过那只是在它们没有吸引到太多外部资金的情况下。他一再声明，YC扶植的创业公司没有义务接受任何人的强行入股。
Graham grew up outside of Pittsburgh, where his father, a physicist, designed nuclear reactors and his mother raised Graham and his sister. He started writing computer code in high school; one program predicted the flight paths of model rockets. Graham would eventually earn a Ph.D. in computer science from Harvard, where he intended to concentrate on artificial intelligence.
Disenchanted by the prospects of ever building a truly intelligent machine, Graham moved on to painting, attending the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence and the Rhode Island School of Design. He jammed into a tiny New York apartment to start his art career and was often broke. "I decided to go out and solve my money problem for good," he recalls.
因为对于开发一个真正具有智能的机器感到灰心丧气，Paul Graham毕业后就改行当了画家。他先到佛罗伦萨美术学院（Accademia delle Belle Arti di Firenze）学习，后来又去了罗德岛设计学院（Rhode Island School of Design）。他栖身于纽约一间极小的公寓，开始了自己的艺术家生涯，生活过得非常窘迫，常常入不敷出。"我决定不当画家了，首先要彻底解决自己的收入问题，"他回忆道。
Viaweb did that. Free and flush after the sale, Graham found a creative outlet writing essays and posting them to his Web page. He opined on esoteric programming issues and more accessible topics, such as "Why Nerds Are Un popular." One of his essays, "Beating the Averages," which praised Lisp, a programming language that helped Graham build Viaweb, snared 50,000 page views. "All of the sudden, I was writing for a lot of people, and that made me want to write more," he remembers.
Another essay, "How to Start a Startup," based on a talk he gave at Harvard, got him thinking seriously about angel investing and eventually inspired YC's formation.
Graham's three fellow founders--Morris, Jessica Livingston and Trevor Blackwell--were close confidants. Graham met Morris, an authority on the Unix computer language, at Harvard. When Bell Labs, where Unix was developed, wanted to integrate Web programming standards into Unix, it called Morris, then age 17. Livingston wrote the book Founders at Work, a collection of profiles of marquee technology entrepreneurs. (Graham was dating Livingston when YC began; they're now married.) Blackwell, another Harvard Ph.D., worked at Viaweb and later launched Anybots, which made the first walking robot that dynamically adjusts its weight distribution, like a human, as it moves across changing surfaces. The partners recently added Harjeet Taggar, who sold his startup after being part of YC's winter 2007 class.
Paul Graham还有三个伙伴：Robert Morris、Jessica Livingston和Trevor Blackwell。他们之间的关系非常亲密。Paul Graham在哈佛大学读书时结识了Robert Morris，后者是Unix系统编程专家。当Unix的开发者贝尔实验室希望在Unix中加入Web编程标准，他们就打电话给Robert Morris，那时他只有17岁。Jessica Livingston是《Founders at Work》一书的作者，那本书收录了许多卓越的技术创业者的故事。（YC成立后，Paul Graham与Jessica Livingston开始约会，现在他们已经结婚了。）Trevor Blackwell也是哈佛博士，起初在Viaweb工作，后来创立了Anybots，制造出了世界上第一个可以在行进中动态调整自身重量分布的机器人，它就像真人一样，能够穿越不同的地表。最近，Harjeet Taggar加入成为YC新的合伙人，他是2007届YC冬季班的学员，后来把自己的创业公司卖掉了。
Graham reckons the next crop of applications, due in late October, could hit 1,500. About 80 will earn the right to a nerve-racking interview with the founders in Mountain View. Many of the best applications come from accomplished programmers who have working product demos but lack gilt-edged Valley Rolodexes. But Graham and company aren't just looking for nifty concepts. "We realized early on that the founders matter more than the idea," Graham says.
Paul Graham估计，下一期YC训练营的申请项目可能达到1500个（到今年10月底截止），其中80个项目的创始人会来到山景城，进行紧张的面试。很多最优秀的申请项目，来自那些高级程序员，他们已经做出了产品的雏形，但是苦于在硅谷中谁也不认识。不过，Paul Graham和他的公司看重的，不仅仅是那些令人叫好的创意。"我们从一开始就认识到，创始人本身比他的创意更至关重要，"他说。
YC's vetting process plays a big role in attracting investors. "You're getting prescreened deal flow," says Ron Conway, a prominent Valley angel who invested in Google, PayPal and Twitter. Conway has put capital into 20 YC companies, including 7 from the latest class. Investors are also enticed by the $200 billion of cash piled up on the balance sheets of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Oracle, Intel and Qualcomm. With any luck, some YC grads may soon get snapped up.
For startups the YC experience revolves around Thursdays. During the afternoon entrepreneurs meet for scheduled office hours with Graham or one of the other partners. They report their progress and brainstorm how to solve nagging problems. Scribbling bullet points on a white board, Graham recently implored Francis Duong and Edmond Yue of TapZilla, which offers one discounted iPhone app at a time, to get a new deal up daily. The pair had, at that point, put up 10 apps in the span of a month, selling 10,000 in all. Graham wants TapZilla to become a site where app hounds feel compelled to check in every day.
对于创业公司来说，YC的经历大部分发生在星期四。那天下午，学员们按照约定的时间，与Paul Graham或者其他某个YC合伙人见面。他们报告项目的进展，然后一起讨论如何解决一些棘手的难题。最新的一个例子是，Paul Graham在白板上列出几个关键点，劝说Francis Duong和Edmond Yue做出改变。他们是网站TapZilla的创始人，这个网站每次以折扣价出售一个iPhone应用程序。Paul Graham希望提高该网站的更新频率，每天推出一个新的交易品种。在他们谈话的那个时候，TapZilla一个月推出10个应用程序，总销售量为10000件。Paul Graham要求TapZilla变成一个iPhone应用程序爱好者每天都觉得有必要查看一下的网站。
YC recruits say Graham has a knack for cutting straight to an idea's weakness or for amplifying its unique strengths. "His brain is a giant warehouse of startup failures and successes," says Rudy Adler, cofounder of 1000Memories, a website where people can celebrate deceased friends and family members.
根据YC新学员的说法，Paul Graham有本事一眼看出一个创意的不足之处，或者设法放大这个创意最独特的优点。"他的大脑就是一个巨型仓库，无数创业公司失败和成功的案例，他都知道得清清楚楚，"Rudy Adler说。他是网站1000Memories的创始人之一，这个网站供人们悼念逝去的亲友。
Adler's first idea involved a city-mapping site that tagged friends' favorite places. Graham was leery, having seen failed startups go down a similar path. Still, he let Adler and his mates give it a shot for a few weeks before refocusing them on 1000Memories, their auxiliary plan.
Rudy Adler本来想做一个都市地理服务网站，为年轻人最喜欢去的地方打上标签。Paul Graham对这个创意持怀疑态度，他见过好几个提供类似服务的创业公司最后都失败了。不过，他还是让Rudy Adler和他的伙伴先试着做上几个星期，然后再集中精力去做他们的备选项目1000Memories。
Startups who continually lose their way can lose Graham, too. "With Paul, you're either in or you're out," says one YC graduate. "You don't want to be out."
A home-cooked meal follows office hours. A recent dinner featured 60 pounds of chili, made in seven Crock-Pots, served over rice. Cookies followed. A guest speaker--often plucked from technology's A-list, such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Groupon founder Andrew Mason--spins tales as people eat.
面谈结束后是聚餐时间，大家一起吃家常饭。最近的一次聚餐，煮了七锅的香辣肉酱，浇在米饭上，然后还有小甜饼。吃饭的时候，还有特邀嘉宾出场，与大家见面聊天。那些嘉宾往往是技术行业的顶尖名人，比如Facebook的Mark Zuckerberg和Groupon的创始人Andrew Mason。
The avalanching interest in YC is on full display during its Demo Day. YC's warehouse space, corrugated with three rows of tables made from plywood and white melamine, overflows with angels and venture capitalists. (The space can accommodate only 150 investors at a time, so there are now three Demo Days per class.) Each startup gets two and a half minutes to make their case, show their product and leave a good impression.
The event is invitation only, but Graham says he allows in any investor who asks. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, who has invested in several YC companies, showed up for the most recent gathering in August. Kutcher is just one of a growing group of 32,000 U.S. angel investors (so-called accredited individuals with more than $1 million in assets) who last year wrote checks totaling $12.4 billion, says Scott Shane, an economics professor at Case Western Reserve University.
只有收到邀请的人才能参加这个活动，但是Paul Graham说，任何提出申请的投资者都能得到邀请。好莱坞明星黛米•摩尔和她的丈夫艾什顿•库奇，在几家YC创业公司有投资，他们也出现在今年八月份的"展示日"上。他们只是美国32000名天使投资人中的一员，这个团体正在日益壮大。只要你的资产超过100万美元，就有资格当天使投资人。根据凯斯西储大学经济学教授Scott Shane的说法，美国的天使投资人在2009年总共拿出了124亿美元。
"It's all about hype," says Laurence Albukerk, managing director of EB Financial Group, a Valley firm that facilitates trading stock in young companies. "The more hype you get, the higher your valuation."
Plenty of Valley insiders could do without all that hype, especially when the result is having to pay more for stakes in YC's offspring. "You show up and a lot of other VCs are there and everybody has good pitches, so things can get bid up," says Richard Heitzman, managing partner at FirstMark Capital, which put capital into StubHub, Netgear and TheStreet.com. "But in the end people are going to pay what they're going to pay. I don't begrudge them that value creation."
许多硅谷老手对这种炒作不满，尤其是当他们不得不因此付出更高的价格换取YC创业公司股权的时候。"你到了现场，其他许多风险投资家也都在场，大家的眼光都不差，价格就这样被哄抬上去了，"Richard Heitzman说。他是FirstMark Capital投资公司的执行合伙人，这家公司在StubHub、Netgear和TheStreet.com有投资。"但是最终来看，你应该付的钱总是要付的，我不会对这部分新增加的'价值'感到舍不得。"
The real winners are rising stars like Jessica Mah. "The competition this created for us was amazing," says Mah, a 20-year-old summer YC grad and founder of Indinero, a cloud-based accounting application for small businesses. (Mah graduated from Berkeley with a degree in computer science at age 19.) Indinero just raised $1.2 million in fresh capital at an undisclosed valuation. Mah says it was three times as much as Graham figured it would be.
真正的赢家是那些像Jessica Mah那样冉冉上升的新人。"这就是为我们创造出来的比赛，真让人着迷，"Jessica Mah说。她今年20岁，YC夏季班的学员，Indinero网站创始人，那是一个云端的小企业财务服务网站。（Jessica Mah从加州大学伯克利分校计算机系毕业时，只有19岁。）Indinero刚刚完成了初始融资120万美元，它的估值还不得而知。Jessica Mah说，这个金额是Paul Graham估计的三倍。
Indinero is Graham's archetype. Mah had a working prototype when she applied to join YC for the summer. Graham pushed her to add features, polish the site and incorporate the changes quickly. "Put it out there and let users decide," he says. At the end of August Mah had 2,500 customers; two months later she was up to 6,000. Critics piped up quickly, convincing Mah to make the interface more intuitive. "Watching somebody's blood pressure rise as they try to use your product can be enlightening," she says.
Indinero是Paul Graham推崇的典型模式。Jessica Mah在申请YC训练营时，就已经完成了可以正常运行的项目原型。Paul Graham帮助她加入新功能，打磨网站，快速应变。"把你的项目放出去，让用户决定下一步该做什么，"Paul Graham说。到了8月底，Jessica Mah已经有了2500个客户，再过了两个月，客户数量上升到了6000。对网站的批评声音逐渐增多，这使得Jessica Mah确信，必须让用户界面更符合直觉。"别人使用你的产品，你看着他们因此血压升高，这肯定会触动你，"她说。
Being able to prove a business concept in a hurry, even if the product isn't perfect, is especially attractive to investors, says Peter Bell, general partner with Highland Capital Partners, a venture firm in Lexington, Mass. that staked Digg, Mapquest and Ask Jeeves. "The power has always been with the entrepreneur if they have a good team and a good product," he says.
快速地证实你的构想在商业上可行，即使你的产品还不完善，也会对投资者产生特别大的吸引力，Peter Bell如是说。他是Highland Capital Partners投资公司的普通合伙人，那是一家位于马萨诸塞州列克星敦市的风险投资公司，在Digg、Mapquest和Ask Jeeves有投资。"如果你有一个好的团队和一个好的产品，你肯定会因此拥有很大的主动权，"他说。
Other investors aren't so sanguine. Michael Arrington, editor of the influential blog TechCrunch, tipped the pot on a simmering controversy in September when he accused a prominent group of angel investors (whom he calls "super angels") of colluding to keep competitors out of deals and hold valuations down, partly in response to Graham's newly empowered students. Arrington crashed a dinner at Bin 38, a haute San Francisco eatery where he says the group of investors was hatching its plan. "Mike is wrong--he wasn't there," says Dave McClure, an established Valley investor and one of the angels at the meeting. (Others who were present deny the allegations as well.) McClure does acknowledge YC's effect, however. "Paul has done a great job coaching his guys on the investment side of things, and there is a lot more competition for these deals now," he adds.
另一些投资者则不太喜欢现在的局面。著名网志TechCrunch 的编辑Michael Arrington，揭露了一场发生在今年9月份的非公开讨论。他指称，一群显赫的天使投资人（他把他们称为"超级天使"）密谋如何压制竞价，企图把创业公司的估值降下来，这场讨论的部分起因就是他们看到Paul Graham的那些学员的主动权正在变得越来越大。Michael Arrington闯进了旧金山Bin大街38号的一家高级餐馆，据他说那些投资人就在那里密谋。"Michael Arrington一派胡言，他那天不在现场，"Dave McClure说，他是硅谷的著名人物，也是那天在场的天使投资人之一。（其他在场的人，也否认对他们的指控。）但是，Dave McClure承认YC效应不容忽视。"指导年轻人如何获得投资，Paul Graham成绩显著。现在（投资人）要想拿到好的项目，竞争比以前激烈多了，"他补充道。
Graham remains suspicious of the group but finds the whole dustup beside the point, given the overall size of the investor pool. "They couldn't have ever achieved anything, so the whole thing is really kind of comical," he says. Arrington disagrees: "Deals rarely get done without a few of these guys being involved," he says. "In layman's terms, what they were doing can definitely be considered collusion."
Paul Graham本人对这件事持怀疑态度，觉得外界对这件事的关注有点不正常。考虑到投资者人数的总体规模是那样庞大，单单几个人就试图控制价格，似乎是不可能的。"他们不可能取得任何成果，所以整件事真的是有点滑稽，"他说。Michael Arrington不同意他的看法，"那天在场的都是重要人物，没有他们的介入，几乎什么交易也做不成，"他说。"用通俗的话讲，他们那天的所作所为，绝对可以被称为串谋。"
For his part, Graham is always pushing better financing terms for entrepreneurs. One useful tool: convertible notes that turn into equity upon a startup's next valuation. The notes often come with valuation caps to protect early investors from being diluted should a company hit it big.
对于Paul Graham来说，他的立场总是设法为创业者争取更有利的风险投资条款。"转换券"（convertible note）就是一个很有用的工具，它的作用是在创业公司下一次估值时，自动转换成股份。它经常附有"估值上限"（valuation cap），防止一旦创业公司做大，早期投资人的股份被稀释。
Say a convertible note worth $1 million was equal to 50% of a startup's estimated worth at the time the note was written. Now say the company takes off and the next time it raises money it is valued at $100 million. The $1 million of debt becomes $1 million of equity, but that stake is worth just 1% of the company. However, if the note came with a valuation cap of $10 million, that means it would be worth 10%--or $1 million divided by $10 million--of that $100 million company. The caps give entrepreneurs more flexibility, allowing them to pit investors against each other by offering early backers lower valuation caps. "Convertible notes mean investors can no longer drag their heels," says Graham.
Like any good business, Graham's is drawing competition. David Cohen, chief executive of TechStars, an incubator based in Boulder, Colo. with satellites in Boston, Seattle and New York, says 100 similar outfits, mostly small, now exist across the U.S. TechStars accepts ten startups per year in each of its four markets. Those that make the cut stay for three months; 60% of its first 40 graduates have each raised more than $600,000 after leaving the program.
就像其他的生意一样，Paul Graham也开始有竞争了。根据David Cohen的说法，目前美国类似YC的团队有100家左右，但是大部分规模都很小。他是TechStars的首席执行官，那是一家位于科罗拉多州Boulder市的孵化器公司，在波士顿、西雅图和纽约还有分支机构。TechStars在这四个地方，每年各接受10家创业公司。这些经过挑选的创业公司，会在孵化器里待三个月。它的第一批40个毕业生离开孵化器后，有60%得到了超过60万美元的投资。
After Cohen's group there's a clear dropoff. But more big players are ramping up their own versions of YC. Chicagoan Eric Lefkofsky, the cofounder of Groupon who's flirting with billionaire status, is planning something in his city soon.
除了David Cohen的团队，其他团队离YC的差距目前还比较大。但是，不少大玩家正在酝酿他们自己版本的YC。Groupon创始人之一的Eric Lefkofsky，计划不久后在他的家乡芝加哥有所动作，他的身价高达10亿美元。
Graham welcomes the competition. "It's better for entrepreneurs," he says. "If we make a mistake and don't fund somebody great, they still have a chance."