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Y Combinator's cofounder got flamed for using Airbnb's founders as an example of why you don't have to be 'rich kids' to create a tech unicorn

Business Insider | May 20, 2019, 04.41PM IST

paul graham

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Paul Graham.

  • 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.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

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.

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.

"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:

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. 

Read more: How 3 guys turned renting an air mattress in their apartment into a $25 billion company

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:

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