- Paul Graham, the retired cofounder of Y Combinator, sparked a huge Twitter debate over the weekend after he said you don’t need to be a “rich kid” to create a tech unicorn.
- He used Airbnb’s founders as an example of this, saying they created the company after they “literally could not pay their rent.” Y Combinator was an early investor in Airbnb.
- But followers – including Silicon Valley CEOs – were quick to call him out for his comments, pointing out that there is a difference between being temporarily broke and poor.
- Airbnb’s three founders came from relatively privileged backgrounds. Chesky and Gebbia met at Rhode Island School of Design and later lived with Blecharczyk, who studied at Harvard.
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Paul Graham, the retired cofounder of famed tech incubator Y Combinator, provoked a backlash on Twitter over the weekend after he said that you don’t need to be “rich kids” to launch a successful tech startup. Graham used Airbnb’s once cash-strapped founders as an example of this.
The next time someone claims that starting startups is for rich kids, remind them that Airbnb happened because its founders literally could not pay their rent.
— Paul Graham (@paulg) May 18, 2019
But his followers were quick to call him up for his comments, pointing out that there is a difference between being temporarily broke and poor.
Industry CEOs also joined the debate, including Matthew Prince, the cofounder and CEO fo Cloudfare, a software company that recently raised $150 million in funding and is valued at more than $3.2 billion.
Oh Paul, you know better. I had to borrow money from my mom to pay my taxes when we were starting Cloudflare. But I certainly came from a relatively privileged background, and so did the AirBnB founders. It’s hard to take risks if you don’t have a safety net. #bereal
— Matthew Prince ???? (@eastdakota) May 19, 2019
“I would ordinarily just let your bullshit go,” Graham snapped back. “This myth that you have to be a rich kid to start a startup is terribly dangerous, because it discourages people who aren’t from trying it. Brian Chesky’s parents were social workers. That is not a rich kid.”
But others sided with Prince in questioning Graham’s argument:
And your position that this “narrative” prevents poor people from starting companies is unfounded and doesn’t stand on any data. https://t.co/xAdSeWkvyx
— Delane Parnell (@delane) May 19, 2019
Either Paul knows he'll get this reaction, or he doesn't, and both possibilities are hilarious and what makes Twitter so fantastic:https://t.co/6DRMkByzol
— Gabe Rivera (@gaberivera) May 19, 2019
Next time someone gives you a data supported statement find a single anecdote from an outlier to prove them wrong so we can pretend that life is fair and worship survivorship bias. https://t.co/UUPns9BZeB
— Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) May 19, 2019
Airbnb was founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk. The idea came about after Chesky and Gebbia struggled to pay their San Francisco rent and decided to rent out airbeds in their apartment to make extra cash.
Four years later, Airbnb was in 89 countries, had hit 1 million nights booked on the platform, and was valued at more than $1 billion after receiving funding from some of silicon valley’s most prominent venture capital firms. The firm is currently considering an IPO and is valued at more than $30 billion.
Graham, who cofounded Y Combinator, a tech incubator that has invested in some of the most successful tech companies such as Dropbox, Instacart, and Reddit, was an early investor.
The three founders came from fairly privileged backgrounds. Chesky and Gebbia met at Rhode Island School of Design, a private college with tuition fees of $51,800, and later lived with Blecharczyk, who studied at Harvard.
CNN contributor Jeff Yang dug into the Airbnb cofounders’ backgrounds a little more:
The founders met at RISD where Chesky was captain of the hockey team. He grew up near Schenectady, in a town with a $94K median income. Gebbia’s dad is mayor of the city in which Joe grew up and owns a multimillion dollar health food distribution company. https://t.co/UhU82Ktu22
— Jeff Yang (@originalspin) May 19, 2019