The Absurdity of Silicon Valley

This week’s New Yorker has an excellent article on Y Combinator and its CEO, Sam Altman. If you are in technology, or interested in the ethos, ambitions and way of thinking of Silicon Valley (or as the author, Tad Friend, calls it “a guild of hyper-capitalist entrepreneurs who will help one another fix the broken world”), you should definitely read it. I did it with a highlighter. Here are my favorite excerpts from the piece:

On the contradictions of the Valley’s lofty mission vs. the reality of its achievements:

“The Valley prizes overweening ambition but expects it to be “rifle-focussed” on making the world’s best houseboat-rental platform or Cognac-delivery service.”

On a perfect example of that contradiction:

“Restocks is a messaging service for young “super-consumers” who want to know, five minutes ahead of everyone else, when a small shipments of Supreme T-shirts and Yeezy Boost 350 shoes go on sale.”

Saving the world, one Yeezy Boost 350 shoe (whatever that is) at a time.

On the camaraderie spirit YC believes it is building:

“We are good at screening out assholes. In fact, we’re better at screening out assholes than losers. All of them start off as losers — and some evolve.”

It begs the reader to add “… into assholes”

On where women fit in that club:

“All the early arrivals at the [YC networking] party were men; the batch’s female founders were attending a presentation on the challenges of being a female founder.”

Like having to chose between attending a networking party or a presentation on the challenges of being a woman? It’s like scheduling the suffragist meeting during the voting hour.

On the depth of the counseling and advice YC companies can expect:

When a founder shares that his startup needs to talk about quality and needs a “metric to measure it, somehow” Altman responds:

“Repeat use or customer retention will track that.”

Mind blown. Makes you wonder if, in their effort to weed out the assholes, they did not also weed out the people with brains.

On why message training is important:

“We help the bad founders look indistinguishable from the good ones.”

By making all of them sound the same…

On what founders’ happiness depends on:

“There had been complaints about the food (not enough nightshade-free options) and the coffee (instant).

Can we realistically expect these same people to fix hunger?

Perhaps the most profound, unintentionally so, statement comes from Altman himself:

“Much could go wrong, but really, I don’t see how anyone can stop us.”