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The Billionaires vs. BrandonM

Recently Dropbox became one of the latest companies to be worth billions of dollars without turning a profit, and Drew Houston became a billionaire.  I worked for Drew for a bit, and decided he was not the leader for me.  If you’d like to see why, take a look at this:

What’s the post he’s referring to?  Why it’s an 11 year old post that dared to question what Dropbox did by one BrandonM:

This comment, as BrandoM says, was from a 22 year old undergrad student who is now a 33 year old man and most likely a regular old working stiff.  BrandonM is not a billionaire while Drew most definitely is one.  BrandonM has absolutely zero power in this situation, and Drew has an infinite amount more by comparison.  Additionally, what BrandonM said does not deserve this level of retribution. He did not insult Drew, did not say anything actually bad about Dropbox, was even polite after Drew did this.

Think about that for a second.  A man who just became a billionaire (due to his large connections through MIT and his Fraternity) took time out of his day to hunt down a comment by a regular nobody 11 years later and throw his success back in that guy’s face, and this man can do nothing about it because he can’t delete his comment.

Now, let’s add a little bit more to this problem:

  1. Did you know YC startups have special privileges on Hacker News?  Nobody knows what they are, but rumor has it they can delete stories they don’t like, delete comments, and have the ability to get their stories to the front.  Again, this is based on statements from a few YC alums in passing, so I can’t confirm this, but you can already see how the JOB postings seem to have preferential treatment, so why not other things?
  2. There is no way for BrandonM to delete this.  For an entire decade he has been haunted by 3 paragraphs he wrote when he was 22.
  3. The moderators of HN frequently delete things they don’t like, but leave up quite a few abusive and slanderous posts.  HN has the right to delete something, but not BrandonM, the author.
  4. Nearly every YC founder backs the idea that everyone should be open to criticism and the “free market”, but this exchange shows the message is more:  “We can criticize you, but you better not criticize us.”
  5. This could possibly amount to an effective slander case by BrandonM against YC or Drew Houston given that, 11 years later, he claims he is still being quoted about it and cannot delete it even though his views have changed.
  6. The inability to delete your own profile or messages could amount to a violation of several EU laws regarding right to be forgotten and definitely violates the newer privacy laws in Europe.  It might also violate several US privacy laws as well, and I think this should be a slander case given the magnitude of the impact on BrandonM and the fact that he can’t delete his remarks.
  7. If you or I had done something similar to what Drew did here we most likely would be chastised by the moderator(s) or even banned.

What BrandonM wrote is not even abusive.  It’s just his viewpoint on what Dropbox does, and definitely not deserving of this kind of spiteful petty retribution 11 years later.  This kind of behavior is common from Silicon Valley companies.  They’re big fans of the whole “waiting for your body on the river Ganges” thing, and if you ever once doubted them they’ll hunt you down after their success just to shit on you.  Never mind that the only reason most of these companies succeed is because they go to the same “cuddle puddle” parties as VCs do and went to the same school with the same frat.  Nope, they totally made it on the glory of their shitty code and that’s why your technical comments deserve retribution.

That isn’t even the most abusive thing on HN that is still up.  There’s this gem from 9 years ago:

This cortesi fellow decided to call me a cock because…….I said I prefer to GPL my software because too many people abuse open source developers.  Nowhere in my writing did I mention cortesi, and I don’t even know him.  But here he is calling me a cock for no other reason than I feel my work should have value.  Did this get deleted?  Nope.  Moderators still have it up.  I bet if cortesi could he might remove it.  People change in 9 years.

Just not YCombinator.

No Delete Is Abusive

Everyone who runs YCombinator tries to pretend like they are decent liberal libertarian minded human beings.  They start charities, donate money, attempt basic income experiments, and a host of things that I and many other people would label “progressive” or nearly communist.

Yet, their behavior in actually running their company is not even close to the fake progressive values they project.  They have abysmal funding rates for minorities, women, people of color, coders over 40, and hell, anyone who didn’t go to Stanford or an Ivy League school even.  Their startups are constantly embroiled in the biggest sexual harassment abuse scandals we’ve ever seen.  They frequently allow people on their forums to slander and abuse others, with only the thinnest veneer of moderation.

I believe the most important sign that YC is an abusive company is the fact that–contrary to several laws–they refuse to allow people to delete comments even a decade later.  The entire combative nature of HN commenters means that people are going to make mistakes and those mistakes will haunt them, so preventing deletion is abusive.

It also contradicts the progressive values that they claim to have.  Wanting to fund an experiment in basic income means you believe that people make mistakes.  They take a wrong turn and need a reset to get back on their feet.  Their lives change in some way, but that life got derailed and can’t recover without help.  Not letting BrandonM delete his comment means they actually don’t believe this.  They don’t really believe that people make mistakes—oops sorry, founders make mistakes all the time and get away with it.  They just don’t believe me and you are allowed to make mistakes

The people running YCombinator have now demonstrated that they are not progressive or even good people.  Here’s Sam Altman–another incredibly rich man–again humiliating BrandonM years later:

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 5.02.18 PM

This is a wealthy man, running a very wealthy company, supporting a billionaire in his quest to humiliate a common working guy for a comment that worker made 11 years ago.  Sam has no idea how this will impact Brandon’s life.  He has no idea if this will hurt BrandonM, drive him to suicide, get him fired, yet he does it anyway.

Progressive or liberal people do not take advantage of their wealth and power to humiliate someone less powerful than they are over something this petty.

Defending BrandonM

I actually agree with the sentiment that most of the people who comment on HN are clueless losers who just love trading slander through throwaway2342343 accounts.  But, I also can’t stand it when someone with power abuses their power to shit on someone who’s just speaking their mind.  I don’t think BrandonM’s comments fit into the “I could do that in a weekend” bullshit comments you hear.  I think what he wrote was fairly valid…in 2007 for a Linux user.

In 2007 what BrandonM wrote is actually valid given the environment.  It was a total long shot that Dropbox would go anywhere, and hell it took a whole 11 fucking years for them to IPO.  Box did it in 2014 and competes rather well compared to Dropbox.  But let’s break down his comments from a 2007 perspective:

  1. Silicon Valley had been ravaged by the Dot Bomb era and Drew couldn’t even get funding in his home town.  It’s totally normal to be skeptical that he couldn’t pull this off.
  2. “For a Linux user….” right there he’s looking at this from a point of view that frankly doesn’t matter.  There’s a few Linux users in the world compared to everyone else, but when people criticize his comments they think he’s talking about Windows users.
  3. “curlftpfs”, “svn”, “cvs”, at the time, that was all we had that worked.  On linux this might work pretty well.  A simple rsync would work better, and that’s mostly how Dropbox works.  So, he wasn’t really wrong here either.  In 2007, what he wrote is a viable–although crap–option.
  4. “It doesn’t replace a USB drive…” this is a simple misunderstanding of how Dropbox works…which means Drew screwed up the marketing.  That’s not BrandonM’s fault or makes him stupid.  It’s Drew’s fault for not demonstrating that the files are kept locally so you don’t need a USB.  And, if you’re smart and you travel, you do keep your important stuff on an SD card or USB drive.
  5. “It does not seem very ‘viral’…”  At the time “viral” meant “I saw this video on YouTube and it got 1 million views.  It’s a Desktop app so how in the hell are you going to toss it to your friend and virus that shit up?  That’s why they had to create the web interface, so again, he was right.  The Desktop app is not viral at all.
  6. “or income-generating”….  If you define “income” as revenue then Dropbox brings in some decent revenue.  If you define “income” as profit, then he’s right, Dropbox does not make a profit.
  7. “is it reasonable to make money off of this?”  And here we have it, he means “income” as “profit”.  Making money means you keep the money.  If I have to spend 4 billion dollars to make 3 billion then I am not making money off of it.  I’m losing money on it.  So again, BrandonM was right.

In my mind what BrandonM wrote was actually true, but it was short sighted and didn’t take into account the value of going to MIT and being in the same frats as other guys who know really wealthy guys.  Next time you see someone shit all over this guy, remember that 11 years ago, he was right and it could have gone totally differently with just one wrong move.