by Y Combinator10/15/2016
Here are a few excerpts from Reid’s conversation with Sam Altman:
Sam : What’s something you believe to be true that very few people agree with you on?
Reid : The people in this room may agree with this but, when you count the globe, one thing I believe is there’s an extremely high likelihood that within the next 50-100 years we create another cognitive species–a species with better cognitive abilities than ours. People in this room probably tend to think that’s artificial intelligence but I actually think it’s a jump ball between that and a different version of Homo genus.
We’re in a relatively unique period in which Homo Sapiens are the only part of the Homo genus. There used to be Homo Floresiensis, Neanderthalensis, and so forth. And when you consider a longer time frame, 40,000-50,000 years ago wasn’t actually that long ago. What happens depends on particular breakthroughs in AI–I think there’s still some invention and magic necessary for a truly generalized AI, which may or may not happen quickly. If it does then AI is likely, if it doesn’t then the Homo Genus is likely.
Sam : What’s something you believe that very few people in this room agree with you on?
Reid : One of the things that’s really important for inventing products is a fairly deep sense of a theory of human nature and humanity. Anyone that’s inventing the kinds of products that we typically do should be able to articulate a relatively robust theory around “What is human nature? What is humanity like now? Where is it going? And how does your product or service fit into that?”
Most people here might not disagree though most people I talk to can’t articulate a robust theory of human nature. That’s one of the reasons why years back I started saying, “I invest in one or more of the seven deadly sins”, because I was trying to get people to think about common human psychology. If you’re trying to create a mass market consumer application, what parts of what it is to be human are you actually triggering?
Sam : Do you think people give up too early? In this culture of – try something, fail fast, stop – I think you can lose a lot of great companies.
Reid : Definitely you can. When I’m talking to an entrepreneur for the first time one of the things I test for is what I call “flexible persistence”, which means they’ll both listen to and hear the things I’m saying but they’ll also have conviction in their point of view. If you don’t have both you’ll almost certainly fail. People without that conviction will say, “I’ll just pivot my way there.” No. Have a deeply thought theory around what you’re heading for. Plan B frequently is not something entirely different. Usually Plan B is a slight variation and test.
For example, one of the thoughts we had early on at LinkedIn was that even though we made a very heavy bet on individuals, would we have to shift to companies and groups? Turned out we didn’t have to do that but that was a Plan B. In terms of staying persistent I think you need two or three points that really reduce your confidence before decide to pivot.
Y Combinator created a new model for funding early stage startups. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($150k) in a large number of startups (recently 200). The startups move to Silicon