Alexander Lynn

I help brands build delightful digital products. Currently available for limited consulting work.

Paul Graham on Black Swan Farming

"I deliberately avoid calculating that number, because if you start measuring something you start optimizing it, and I know it's the wrong thing to optimize." - Paul Graham

I love this.

It's from Paul Graham's latest post - 'Black Swan Farming', and it's about how he thinks about selection and funding within YC. It's an excellent reminder that some metrics are better left out.

Here's the text leading up to the quote.

"After 15 cycles of preparing startups for investors and then watching how they do, I can now look at a group we're interviewing through Demo Day investors' eyes. But those are the wrong eyes to look through!

We can afford to take at least 10x as much risk as Demo Day investors. And since risk is usually proportionate to reward, if you can afford to take more risk you should. What would it mean to take 10x more risk than Demo Day investors? We'd have to be willing to fund 10x more startups than they would. Which means that even if we're generous to ourselves and assume that YC can on average triple a startup's expected value, we'd be taking the right amount of risk if only 30% of the startups were able to raise significant funding after Demo Day.

I don't know what fraction of them currently raise more after Demo Day. I deliberately avoid calculating that number, because if you start measuring something you start optimizing it, and I know it's the wrong thing to optimize. But the percentage is certainly way over 30%. And frankly the thought of a 30% success rate at fundraising makes my stomach clench. A Demo Day where only 30% of the startups were fundable would be a shambles. 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.

For better or worse that's never going to be more than a thought experiment."

This article is my 44th oldest. It is 327 words long