Sam Altman commits $10M to start Y Combinator research lab

The Y Combinator partners at the program's summer 2015 demo day

Y Combinator is creating a nonprofit research lab aimed at creating technology “that shouldn’t be owned by any one company.” To accomplish this, chief executive Sam Altman says he’ll be donating $10 million to jumpstart YC Research to further innovation beyond the startup scene.

Although part of the Y Combinator organization, it’s going to be run outside of the scope of its standard startup investment practice. In fact, any intellectual property developed within the lab will be made available to everyone — for free. Altman wrote that although researchers will have full discretion over when work will be released, due to the autonomous and open nature of YC Research, collaboration with other institutions is welcome.

“We’re not doing this with the goal of helping YC’s startups succeed or adding to our bottom line,” Altman explained. “At the risk of sounding cliché, this is for the benefit of the world. As we’ve seen throughout history, new technological breakthroughs help all of us. Fundamental research is critical to driving the world forward, and funding for it keeps getting cut.”

All researchers will be full-time employees, receiving both a salary and equity in Y Combinator as part of their compensation. The hope is to announce the first group of projects being researched within the next month or two.

In a way, you could think of YC Research as Y Combinator’s Google[x], where it’s going to focus on moonshots. So while you’ll probably still see smart showers being demoed at Y Combinator’s demo day, YC Research may be focusing on self-driving automotive technology, medical technology, ways to benefit social causes, and more.

When we spoke with Altman and Y Combinator cofounder Jessica Livingston earlier this year, one of the central themes was this constant desire to help startups. “We always wanted to fund the best startups,” Livingston said at the time. “We wanted to help startups at whatever stage they’re in become a billion-dollar company.” It’s quite possible that by addressing long-term problems and open-sourcing the solution could result in more startups being born. And that’s not a bad thing in Y Combinator’s book.

Clearly Y Combinator is evolving under the leadership of Altman, who spurred the organization to launch a fellowship program, brought onboard a permanent chief operating officer, and restructured things so that Hacker News is officially an autonomous unit.

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Y Combinator spins out Hacker News to give it ‘full editorial independence’

Y Combinator sign

Y Combinator is making a pretty major organizational change and it has to do with its popular service called Hacker News. In a blog post, chief executive Sam Altman reveals that the site, commonly referred to by its initials “HN”, will be made into its own autonomous unit. It will be led by Daniel Gackle.

In addition, he also announced the launch of a new experiment called “Modnesty I” aimed at making HN more self-regulating.

Although HN had been functioning like it was separate from Y Combinator, it wasn’t officially. Now going forward, the organization will not associate HN as part of its investment branch. Altman writes:

“Everyone at YC knows that it’s vital for HN to have full editorial independence, and we have absolute trust in Dan’s decision-making in product, engineering, and moderation. Dan will report directly to me, though I don’t plan to be very involved — other than as an enthusiastic user (who would, however, prefer that it be easier to read on a phone) and someone who’s always happy to bounce around ideas. We’re also setting it up so that Dan will have the option of reporting directly to the YC Board of Overseers instead of he ever decides to.”

Gackle joined Y Combinator full-time in March 2014 where he was tasked with helping grow the HN community. Previously he was the cofounder of a startup called Skysheet, which sought to build a new spreadsheet.

On a different note, Altman also announced a new effort to improve community moderation to make sure that HN was as self-regulating as possible without needing human intervention. The experiment, called “Modnesty I”, relies on the community to make the final call on decisions made by HN moderators and its software.

As Altman explains: “Currently, when an account is banned, a software filter trips, or enough users flag a post, the post goes [dead], meaning only users with ‘showdead’ turned on in their profile can see it.” At issue are posts that are incorrectly labeled as [dead] when they shouldn’t.

What Modnesty does is recall the [dead] posts on a case by case basis. Users that have at least 30 karma points will see a ‘vouch’ link next to posts to revive them, but it will require support from the community. Just one vote won’t do anything. All vouched posts will be reviewed by the administrators to verify that they don’t violate HN guidelines.

Since Y Combinator is all about experimentation, Altman stressed that Modnesty is just another one of those tests. If it doesn’t work, he says that the community shouldn’t be surprised if it gets axed.

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Y Combinator spins out Hacker News to give it ‘full editorial independence’

Y Combinator sign

Y Combinator is making a pretty major organizational change and it has to do with its popular service called Hacker News. In a blog post, chief executive Sam Altman reveals that the site, commonly referred to by its initials “HN”, will be made into its own autonomous unit. It will be led by Daniel Gackle.

In addition, he also announced the launch of a new experiment called “Modnesty I” aimed at making HN more self-regulating.

Although HN had been functioning like it was separate from Y Combinator, it wasn’t officially. Now going forward, the organization will not associate HN as part of its investment branch. Altman writes:

“Everyone at YC knows that it’s vital for HN to have full editorial independence, and we have absolute trust in Dan’s decision-making in product, engineering, and moderation. Dan will report directly to me, though I don’t plan to be very involved — other than as an enthusiastic user (who would, however, prefer that it be easier to read on a phone) and someone who’s always happy to bounce around ideas. We’re also setting it up so that Dan will have the option of reporting directly to the YC Board of Overseers instead of he ever decides to.”

Gackle joined Y Combinator full-time in March 2014 where he was tasked with helping grow the HN community. Previously he was the cofounder of a startup called Skysheet, which sought to build a new spreadsheet.

On a different note, Altman also announced a new effort to improve community moderation to make sure that HN was as self-regulating as possible without needing human intervention. The experiment, called “Modnesty I”, relies on the community to make the final call on decisions made by HN moderators and its software.

As Altman explains: “Currently, when an account is banned, a software filter trips, or enough users flag a post, the post goes [dead], meaning only users with ‘showdead’ turned on in their profile can see it.” At issue are posts that are incorrectly labeled as [dead] when they shouldn’t.

What Modnesty does is recall the [dead] posts on a case by case basis. Users that have at least 30 karma points will see a ‘vouch’ link next to posts to revive them, but it will require support from the community. Just one vote won’t do anything. All vouched posts will be reviewed by the administrators to verify that they don’t violate HN guidelines.

Since Y Combinator is all about experimentation, Altman stressed that Modnesty is just another one of those tests. If it doesn’t work, he says that the community shouldn’t be surprised if it gets axed.

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Y Combinator adds Pinterest, Airbnb, and 23andMe cofounders as part-time partners

The Y Combinator partners at the program's summer 2015 demo day

Y Combinator is growing its partnership team with the additions of the chief executives and cofounders of 23andMe, Pinterest, and Airbnb. Anne Wojcicki, Ben Silbermann, and Joe Gebbia will be part-time partners with the firm.

In a blog post, president Sam Altman writes that Wojcicki’s addition will help contribute to more funding towards biotechnology and healthcare startups.

Silbermann and Gebbia are both alumni of the Y Combinator program, contributing to the growing tradition of having alumni become partners. They’re billed as being able to not only help establish company culture within startups, but also help with design — Gebbia is on the Board of Trustees at the Rhode Island School of Design.

The three new part-time partners will be a part of another growing cadre within the Y Combinator organization. Adora Cheung, Stripe’s Patrick Collison, Elizabeth Iorns, former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason, Rick Morrison, Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian, former Twitter executive Ali Rowghani, Yuri Sagalov, Twitch.tv’s Emmett Shear, Parse cofounder Ilya Sukhar, and venture capitalist Peter Thiel are included in this group.

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Y Combinator is coming to 6 college campuses this fall

Y Combinator office

Y Combinator is hitting the road over the next few weeks and will be visiting six college campuses in both the U.S. and Canada. The goal seems to be to not only look for interesting startups, but also to pass along some knowledge to students eager to pursue a life of entrepreneurship and tech innovation.

Starting on September 19, the firm’s partners and select alumni will be visiting college campuses. Each one will have designated office hours where students can chat one-on-one and get advice or probably even pitch their idea for a startup.

It all begins at the University of Waterloo and continues on to the University of Michigan, Brown University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Columbia University, and finally wraps up at Carnegie Mellon University. The team will also be returning to its roots, of sorts, with a special two-day visit in Boston, Mass. where office hours will be held — Y Combinator was born in Cambridge.

This isn’t the first time that Y Combinator has been on a college campus. In fact, last year president Sam Altman taught a course entitled “How to Start a Startup” and brought in various guest lecturers to impart wisdom and knowledge on the students.

Passing along its knowledge beyond its accelerator-like program isn’t new for Y Combinator either. It’s always been looking to reach founders no matter their status and it’s apparent with Startup School, the Female Founders conference, and most recently the establishment of a fellowship program.

To get more insights into Y Combinator, read our interviews with Altman and cofounder Jessica Livingston here.

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Translation Startup Unbabel Unveils New Smartcheck Technology

Foreign language dictionaries on a keyboard to illustrate online translation. Unbabel, a startup backed by Y Combinator, that combines human editing and machine learning into an online translation platform, announced a new feature today called Smartcheck. The system consists of a translation service built on top of an intelligent translation engine. Translators sign up for work, then customers looking for translators can search by language, business skills and so forth.… Read More

Heroic Labs’s quest makes building mobile, HTML5, and Unity games easier and more social

Heroic Labs illustration

Years ago, it was probably easier for a developer to create a game: you just had to worry about building for game consoles — yes, you did have to deal with how it would play on the Nintendo, Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox, and maybe even the Sega Genesis and PC. But fast forward to today and it’s a much different world. How can developers find sanity in this complex environment?

Like a superhero, Heroic Labs arrives to save the day — or at least it certainly hopes it can give it a worthy shot. The Y Combinator-backed company is launching today with the belief it can be the Amazon Web Services (AWS) for game developers, helping them to not only scale, but also providing them the social functionality that they need to help their apps take off.

Started by engineers Chris Molozian, Andrei Mihu, and Mo Firouz, Heroic Labs offers an API that enables game developers to quickly add things like multiplayer capabilities, social and competitive features right into games (e.g. chat, asset delivery for live updates, shared storage for user-generated content, and more) without needing to deal with a server backend.


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The team says that it has analyzed 250 games across various app stores and identified social features that will help developers increase the number of players and maximize a game’s network effect.

If you’re interested in building games that work on Android and iOS devices, as well as on Unity, HTML5, and on Facebook, this company says it can give you multi-platform support.

dashboard-leaderboard

You might think that this is Parse for game developers, but Molozian says that is a bit of a mischaracterization. While Parse is very mobile focused, Heroic Labs specifically designs APIs that will work across any device, from game consoles to mobile devices to web-based games, and even to virtual reality headsets.

Heroic Labs’ long-term goal “is not to just have games that can be built across mobile platforms, but to have developers build games that start on the console, [and then] carry that same game-play experience to mobile and then to other devices and platforms,” Molozian explains.

There are over 500 developers that are using Heroic Labs for their games (all at different stages of development), but are said to be growing “pretty rapidly.” Molozian tells VentureBeat that around 40 are small game studios that are currently building titles for Xbox, Oculus Rift, mobile devices, and a couple of web-based games. There are also enterprise studios using the service with some titles planning to be released in October — Molozian declined to provide specifics.

“Our goal is to hit the bottom-up approach to the market. We want to build a game development community that loves us through a beautiful user experience,” he says.

Game developers interested in using the service can sign up for one of three payment tiers, all dependent on how many monthly active users (MAUs) they have. For up to 10,000 MAUs, it’s free with no feature-gating. After that, you’ll pay a fixed fee of $70 per month for the next 50,000 MAUs. After that, it’s just $0.02 per MAU more for anything beyond 50,000 users.

For the most part, it seems that Heroic Labs is simplifying the development process to maximize exposure and gameplay for developer apps. The end result is to have a game with a single codebase and then deploy it to multiple platforms. And while it may take time to constantly rebuild apps to work on different devices and platforms, now it’s more of a “build once” type approach.

But while this appears nice, it’s not the only game in town (pun slightly intended). It’s competing against the likes of Gamedonia and Playfab for a share of the market.










Y Combinator startups have raised $7B with a $65B total valuation; 8 are $1B unicorns

The Y Combinator partners at the program's summer 2015 demo day

Y Combinator (YC) the Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator and seed fund, has answered some questions it says it gets asked a lot: What is the fundraising and valuation status of all startups that have come through its doors?

Launched in 2005 by Paul Graham, Trevor Blackwell Jessica Livingston, and Robert Morris, YC initially ran two programs — one in California, and one in Massachusetts. The latter of these closed in 2009.

Over the past 10 years, YC has funded and helped kickstart 940 startups, including Airbnb, Dropbox, Reddit, Instacart, and Coinbase. Though many startups enter YC for the mentoring, the accelerator also invests $120,000 for 7 percent equity in the companies.


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Sam Altman, the Y Combinator president who replaced Paul Graham in 2014, has published some numbers that help demonstrate the role the accelerator has played in giving startups their big break. Though he is probably right when he says that “these are very imperfect indicators of success.”

Still, they make for an interesting read.

Though not included in the official dataset, Altman did take to Twitter to reveal that almost a third of the 940 companies it has funded have since closed.

Digging into the numbers, YC companies have raised $7 billion to date, with a combined total value of $65 billion. Eight of these companies are valued at more than $1 billion, which transports them into the much-coveted “unicorn” status, while 40 are valued at more than $100 million.

To have eight so-called “unicorns” out of a cohort of 940 is pretty impressive. And if you’re wondering what these companies are, well you’ll no doubt know most of them:

 


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Y Combinator-backed Tenjin helps developers identify ad campaigns with the best ROI

Tenjin homepage screenshot

There are a multitude of tools made available to marketers, but one annoying problem is that there’s too many tabs and applications to use. Is there a way to streamline everything and give brands the necessary data to make decisions about how effective their strategies are? Tenjin is launching today with the aim of solving this problem and helping marketers better discover their Return on Investment (ROI).

An member of Y Combinator’s summer 2014 batch, Tenjin automates the process that performance marketers have traditionally taken when dealing with multiple service, such as analytics platforms, attribution partners, ad servers, and others.

dashboard-overview

Typically, all of the data from these sources would be aggregated by marketers and place it into an Excel spreadsheet to determine the ROI. A complex process for sure, Tenjin will automate it and claims to be able to show that but also break-even points for campaigns.

This isn’t a middleman platform that lets you manage all of the other services. Instead, Tenjin is a consolidator — it takes some of the best (and commonly used) features across all aspects of ad-tech services and brings it into a single platform, such as ROI by source, 90-day lifetime value analytics, how long people spent in an app, and more. Additionally, the company says it can tell you how you’re making money from a specific source using actual data (not predictive) which will help define where your money is going.

dashboard-retention

Amir Manji and Christopher Farm are Tenjin’s cofounders and came up with their solution to this marketing problem during their time at app monetization and mobile advertising firm Tapjoy. Farm told VentureBeat that people at Tapjoy developed a customized dashboard to streamline performance marketing analytics, but wasn’t really using it. They were simply pulling the data and placing it onto a CSV file before importing it into their own systems for analysis.

Seeing this, Farm and Manji started Tenjin to simply focus on one objective: help marketers calculate the ROI from using all of these ad-tech services.

Tenjin hasn’t formalized its pricing model yet and says up to today, it’s been on a contract-by-contract situation. However, it’s looking to establish fees along monthly active users and could make it similar to analytic providers currently in the marketplace.

cost-per-retained-user-chart

While the service appears to offer a simplified model, it may not be suitable for all marketers. In fact, if your objectives include more than just determining ROI, then Tenjin may not be what you’re looking for. Additionally, although it supports 40 ad networks including Chartboost, Tapjoy, Supersonic, Google AdWords, and YouTube, along with Flurry and others, there may be additional services that your business may be focusing on, but not supported by Tenjin. Lastly, marketers may feel that Tenjin isn’t powerful enough for their needs, especially since Tenjin has duplicated only some features from various ad-tech platforms.

But what’s for those that really want to associate their revenue with specific campaigns, Tenjin’s offering may sound appealing. If you’re a developer, being able to track where every dollar is coming from is important and Tenjin provides that specialized approach.

Tenjin is funded by Y Combinator and Lightbank, and includes participation from various angel investors.


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