Imperfect Reflections Pt 3: Jessica Livingston

This was actually going to be Pt 4. But my series stalled for a long list of reasons. And then I saw this today: Y combinator, X chromosomes and I am on a tear. As I said in comments there:

Sounds like a great lead in for "Hey, didja know that one half of the original team that actually founded this is really a woman who kind of isn't getting the credit she really deserves while people run around talking overly much about Da Menz."

To be crystal clear, this isn't really about Jessica Livingston. This is about me and my ideas about my life. It has been delayed in part because I doubted the value of saying it in public. But after reading the above tripe, I think I am going to go ahead and put it out there and let the chips fall where they may.

What follows is an account of the unfolding understanding I had of who Jessica Livingston was and is and why that mattered to me, personally. Due to the subjective nature of the tale, it may well be filled with factual errors about her life. Please do not mistake this for a researched, fact checked history of her life. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a mixture of partial information, personal impression and opinion. If I could think of a way to tell the tale in a meaningful way and not identify her by name at all, I would do so -- because this is not really about her. It is about me. But I see no means to do anything of the sort.

When I first joined Hacker News, I already knew who Paul Graham was. I had not yet heard of Jessica Livingston.

Until he retired from Y Combinator, Paul served as the face of YC. He also was the face of Hacker News. Although there has long been a number of moderators who worked behind the scenes, Paul was the only one whose name was known until Dan Gackle took over that role.

Paul served as the face of both the company and of the forum through which I primarily knew of the company. So it should come as no real surprise that my impression at that time was that Paul and his co-founders from Via Web had gotten together and founded YC.

Somewhere along the way, I became aware there was some non-tech person woman involved as well for some reason. But I believed Paul to be the driving force behind YC. I thought it was "his baby."

I think I first heard of or became aware of Jessica in the context of learning that Paul had a small child at home. My understanding at that time was that he had gotten involved with one of his co-founders and they were now living together and had a child together.

I wondered how on earth that had happened -- specifically, how that seemed to be an okay situation. It seemed to me that if you were the only woman co-founder on a four person team, dating one of your other three co-founders was potentially disaster for the company and highly likely to be all kinds of drama.

If you can date one of them, you can potentially date any of them. If you break up with the first, do you say "yes" when the next co-founder asks for a date? Does that lead to jealousy and drama between the two men? Do you say "no" and then have drama for a different reason?

In short, as an outsider looking in who had no details of how this came about, I just saw all kinds of potentially company destroying scenarios growing out of that decision to date one of her three co-founders. Yet, YC seemed fine. This was intriguing, though, of course, I was in no position to ask how on earth that had been managed.

Much more recently, different things I have read have suggested that a) Jessica had been Paul's girlfriend before YC was founded, b) the two of them were the original founders and brought on Paul's cofounders after the fact and c) in an attempt to "be professional," Paul and Jessica initially tried to hide the fact that they were also romantically involved.

So, that clears that mystery up. My takeaway for me is that starting a company with a man you are romantically involved with can be a workable arrangement and lead to good things. This is not at all the scenario I had originally inferred. So, this explains the lack of drama.

I also think she gets too little credit for her role. The fact that Paul retired and she continues to work there and other details makes me think Y Combinator is really "her baby" not his. From what I gather, she has some kind of professional background having to do with finance and Paul never got around to financing other companies until he co-founded YC.

For me, one of the cautionary bits here is that Jessica seems to not really be given the credit she is due. This is something I don't have time to get into today. Also, I am still thinking it through.

I would like to find a path forward for myself and here is this woman who seems to be a self made billionaire. But people don't go "Wow, she cofounded one of the most influential companies of her age and it is doing good things to try to get more support to women founders." Nope, they are too busy just badmouthing Silicon Valley for its shortcomings. So, (if you are a woman) even if you become a self made billionaire, the world will find some means to treat you like The Also Ran or something.

I am posting this to HN because of the aforementioned post that inspired me to dust off the draft and try to get it done. I am ticked off about that, but, hey, I seem to be mad about a lot of things here lately.

Parts one and two:
Imperfect Reflections Pt 1: My Sister
Imperfect Reflections Pt 2: The Women of Aflac


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