This Is The Meanest Thing Silicon Valley Legend Paul Graham Has Ever Said To A Startup

Blunt, unfiltered feedback is critical to a startup’s success. 

Team members need to be honest with each other, and be upfront if they think the user interface looks terrible, or if you’re headed down the wrong path, Y Combinator summer 2011 alum Brandon Ballinger writes.

But Ballinger, an ex-Googler and co-founder at fraud-fighting startup Sift Science, learned that the hard way. 

During his second week at YC, Ballinger and his team decided to pivot to a mobile app for local events.

YC partners tried to steer them back to their original idea, Sift Science, but they wouldn’t budge until YC founder Paul Graham himself shared some harsh words with them.

“Moments like these make me glad we invested in 60-four startups!” Graham exclaimed. “If you want to drive off a cliff, go right ahead.”

He later told Ballinger and his team that they were “like moths for bad ideas.” 


They took Graham’s advice and went back to work on its fraud detection service via machine learning startup.

Ballinger says Graham later told them it was actually the meanest thing he had said to a startup. “But in retrospect, it was actually one of the nicest things anybody did for us,” Ballinger writes.

Since going through the program, Sift Science has raised $4 million from Union Square Ventures, Max Levchin of PayPal, Chris Dixon, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, Alexis Ohanian, and others.

Head on over to Ballinger’s blog to read his take on fostering a culture of “no filter.” 

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