Female Founders And Y Combinator

Paul Graham is back in the news, due in most part it now appears to unfortunate editing of some of his remarks. You can vet that controversy yourself. All that I will add is that Valleywag gets points in my book for giving Paul room to respond, and Paul as well for being upfront in the aftermath.

Discussing the issue on Twitter, @shanley (a digital friend of mine) asked me a few questions:

“@alex hey you should write a piece on what % of women founders YComb has funded compared to % of male founders. :)” Link

And:

“.@alex Why are no journalists writing about what percent of women Ycombinator and other VCs actually invest in?” Link

@Shanley objected to Paul’s response to the controversy, saying that “proof is in the $$$, not the comments,” regarding his investment decisions.

It’s an interesting point. We have access to data that allows us to look into Y Combinator a bit. Given the celebrity of the group, there is more public information on its efforts than it might otherwise warrant.

I pointed out to @Shanley that “you could map [a list of YC companies] against Crunchbase data and come up with a pretty good idea [of the gender breakdown in YC firms] in an hour.” I’m on staycation, but she encouraged me to do some digging, and since I can’t resist a spreadsheet, I looked into two Y Combinator classes.

As TechCrunch reported recently, Y Combinator’s Winter 2013 class founder makeup was more than 10% female (10.8%, if I am calculating properly). That’s a data point.

I pulled up the company lists for Y Combinator’s Summer classes of 2005 and 2006, and compiled a list of their founders by number and by number of women. (Caveat: This data was often a pain to track down, and in more than one case I am only mostly sure that I have it right. I am on vacation, so this is what you get. If you see an error, fire over a tweet.)

Here’s what I came up with:

Summer 2005

Founders: 17 - Female Founders: 0 - Percent Women: 0%

Summer 2006

Founders: 23 - Female Founders: 2 - Percent Women: 8.7%

The class size of Y Combinator has grown massively since. Winter 2013 for example had 111 founders, of which 12 were women.

The Summer 2006 class shows that one year into its life, Y Combinator was funding companies that had female founders, just not that many (20% of the companies in that class had a woman in their founding cadre). That percentage has likely both gone up and down since, given the natural fluctuation of founding teams’ makeup.

TechCrunch reported something in its piece on the Winter 2013 class that I liked to hear:

Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston told me today that this is not the result of any deliberate “affirmative action” type initiative on the part of its partners. YC is simply seeing a greater number of talented women apply for its program, she said. Also, Livingston said, more of the female founders in the Winter 2013 class are serving as team leaders in the CEO role than they’d seen in any other past class.

(I’m about as boring a person as they come here in SF (male, straight, non-religious: I’m a caricature of dull), but gender neutrality and equality are issues that matter very much to me. I was lucky enough to be raised in a family in which the same expectations were leveled on us kids regardless of our gender. I’m going to have kids some day, something that I’m very much looking forward to. I want at least one of each gender. And I want my daughter(s) to have the exact same shot in life as my son(s).

So even though I’m boring, I care about this.)

What should the percentage of female founders be in Y Combinator? Should it be 50-50? I think that that should be the goal. That said, I think that we should put more emphasis right now on the change in the ratio. If it’s becoming more balanced, that’s good thing and we’re making progress. The faster the better, in my view.

Do I think that it was due to sexism of its investors that in its first class, Y Combinator had no female founders? I don’t think that we have evidence to state that it was. Do I smile to hear that more women are applying, and that the ratio is changing? You bet I do.

 
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