The Odds of Becoming the Next Big Thing Are Slim

If there is a single perfect age to found a start-up, the Kalvins are at that age, a little more mature than undergraduate students but not yet encumbered with the mortgages and children that make leaving a conventional, well-paying job at an established, profitable company so difficult. What Graham wants to see in the interview is that the team works well together, a prerequisite for surviving the stresses that will come in the life of a start-up. The Kalvins have acquitted themselves well, no single one dominating, each comfortably yielding to the others. You couldn’t tell which two were hackers and which one wasn’t. The one configuration that Y.C. partners are most vigilant about uncovering during the interviews is “hackers in a cage,” where one non-technical founder holds controlling power and treats the hackers as subordinates.

Y Combinator is a program that accepts around 60 startups a year and provides seed money to fledgling companies in exchange for equity, generally around 7 percent. The program has funded companies like Airbnb, Dropbox, and OMGPop, making young founders very rich. Vanity Fair has an excerpt of Randall Stross’s new book about Y Combinator, The Launch Pad, which follows a few young entrepreneurs around as they try to come up with The Next Big Thing.

“The Kalvins,” three 24-year-olds selected to be a part of Y Combinator initially have a startup idea that, well, is a hard sell: They want to create a site that gathers your best Facebook photos (presumably based on the number of likes and comments), and prints it into a photo book you can put on your coffee table or give as gifts. They see a market for it because it’s apparently something a lot of kids who live in the dorms at Stanford do. To expand, they’d also create “Tweet Books” or books with all of your tweets from Twitter in them. Exciting, right? Yeah, no, they scrapped those ideas and ended up launching a ride-sharing company. Much more useful! Especially if you needed a ride to Burning Man. Will it be the next Airbnb? Not many companies get to that level. I wouldn’t bet my money on it.

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