Anti-Foreigner VC Also Supports Hiring Discrimination

Paul Graham, the brains and investment personality cult leader behind Y Combinator, is very vocal about what he doesn't like. Foreign accents are a no-no—but as a buried blog post from 2005 shows, the great part about running a startup is that you can let your prejudices run wild.

The post is actually a transcription of a talk Graham gave at Harvard nearly a decade ago, but only shows the man's commitment to workplace biases:

One advantage startups have over established companies is that there are no discrimination laws about starting businesses. For example, I would be reluctant to start a startup with a woman who had small children, or was likely to have them soon. But you're not allowed to ask prospective employees if they plan to have kids soon. Believe it or not, under current US law, you're not even allowed to discriminate on the basis of intelligence. Whereas when you're starting a company, you can discriminate on any basis you want about who you start it with.

One advantages sweatshops have over established factories is that there are no safety laws. There is absolutely nothing disruptive about labor regulation or civil rights statutes—and we know that if there's anything Silicon Valley despises more than taxi cabs, it's old fashioned labor protection.

But at least this kind of baloney meritocratic bleating has the economy in mind, no? Job creation, and all that? Well:

I may be an extremist, but I think hiring people is the worst thing a company can do. To start with, people are a recurring expense, which is the worst kind. They also tend to cause you to grow out of your space, and perhaps even move to the sort of uncool office building that will make your software worse. But worst of all, they slow you down: instead of sticking your head in someone's office and checking out an idea with them, eight people have to have a meeting about it. So the fewer people you can hire, the better.

True, workers are always doing annoying things like "requiring salaries" and "having babies," which isn't conducive to innovation. I emailed Graham to ask if he stood by his 2005 sermon, and he replied with this:

Yes, if I personally were starting a startup I'd be reluctant to do it with a cofounder who was about to have kids. But we've never used that as a criterion when deciding who to fund at Y Combinator. We never ask about it, but the one time we did know an applicant had just had a baby (because she was nursing and brought the baby with her when she came to interviews) we funded her.

We do discriminate on the basis of intelligence, definitely.

And yes, I do recommend that founders err on the side of hiring slowly, especially early on. Startups that raise a lot of money and hire a lot of people before they have the business figured out often flame out.

The best Paul Graham Startup Advice boils down to, basically, Be Paul Graham.

Photo of Paul Graham using a computer by Gabor Cselle