Y Combinator’s Harj Taggar On Bad Pitches, Learning To Code, And The Power Of Hacker News [TCTV]

Paul Graham may be the most public face of Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator, but as the firm has grown so has its managing team. One of the first people to join YC as a partner besides its founders was Harjeet Taggar, an Oxford-educated entrepreneur who first came on the startup scene as the co-founder of Auctomatic, a company in YC’s 2007 class that went on to be acquired by Live Current Media in 2008.

Though he’s relatively young, once you hear Taggar speak for a few minutes you get why YC snapped him up as a partner — he’s got a great balance between being very smart and savvy while also having the humility to be curious and willing to learn above all else.

So, TechCrunch TV was happy to snag him for a talk backstage just after his fireside chat at the Disrupt NYC conference. You can watch the video in its entirety above, but here are a couple of key takeaways from the conversation:

Ideas Have Always Been Optional

Y Combinator made a splash a few months ago when it started allowing people to apply to the program without a specific idea, but according to Taggar it hasn’t made too much of an impact — only about 10 percent of the last class’ applications were entered without an idea, and YC accepted only a small fraction of those. And besides, he said:

“Often what happens is, we fund a company and we’ll even tell them explicitly, ‘Look. We’re not huge fans of the idea, it’s up to you guys if you want to work on it.’ And often the founders will independently turn up the first day of YC and be like, ‘We’re going to completely change what we’re working on.’ So they’re effectively [on the] ‘no idea’ track… This no idea track was already happening, we just formalized it.”

People Should Learn To Code

Taggar’s YC startup was the first to be accepted into the program with two non-technical co-founders — on the condition that one of them would learn to code. Taggar ended up being the one who took on that challenge, and he says that it was completely worth the time and effort — giving his own answer to the latest argument du jour in programming circles. “There are so many benefits. Believe it or not, I actually spend a good time of my time, even at YC now, programming. It turns out to be really useful.”

Hacker News Is Huge

Hacker News, the news site moderated by people at Y Combinator, has become a major force in the online news space — not just for reporting news, but for making it. “Hacker News is in an interesting position where it’s growing, and the traffic is just rocketing. An interesting phenomenon is it’s becoming a place where startups come to launch… there’s a good constructive vibe to it when people come to show projects.”