Why Pitching Y Combinator Via Pornhub Doesn’t Work

When I first started getting linked to this I was positive I was being trolled, but it’s real. This is definitely one of those stories that can only really be described as interesting. A two-person team of entrepreneurs from Be A Cow Inc. who are applying for Y Combinator’s Fellowship program decided to get Y Combinator’s attention by buying ads on Pornhub. The ads asked people to pass on a video message to the incubator’s President, Sam Altman, to have him take an extra hard look at their application.

The video itself is casual and features the two founders. The male founder extols how Sam Altman is their hero while the female founder holds up cards with words reiterating what the male founder is saying, and the male founder declares that in exchange for reviewing their application he’ll show Altman a three second view of Manhattan. Then he literally proceeds to count to three as he directs the camera to gaze out onto the Manhattan skyline.

I actually get the idea behind this. The Fellowship’s first program has had 6,500 applicants; if anything, I’m not surprised it’s higher. I can certainly understand the incentive behind trying to stand out, and I’ve actually seen stories of people using targeted advertising to send messages for job applications. It’s an idea I won’t reject at face value, but let’s review my issues with this from one applicant to another.

It came across as trying way too hard. There’s something to be said about being irreverent and casual in a startup environment, but this video, at least to me, bordered on trying too hard to be delightfully quirky. The founders didn’t seem to be looking or acting like themselves; they just seemed to be putting on a show for the camera.  Being yourself isn’t just advice you see on dating columns. Any good incubator has a finely honed bullshit detector so authenticity matters when pitching.

They’re sending the wrong message. I’m sure that Sam Altman hears that he’s a hero fifteen times on any given day. Given that this actually got some press attention and Altman even responded to it (though he was unimpressed), say something about what makes your startup unique. Instead of showing Manhattan, use three seconds to explain why Y Combinator should accept you into the Fellowship. It was a missed opportunity.

Adblock. Any kind of PPC campaign needs to take Adblock in mind when there are 144 million Adblock users around the world. Adult websites are notoriously susceptible to being adblocked because of their propensity for the same shady advertising that made ad-blocking software so popular in the first place. This is especially worth noting when you remember that reputable advertisers are less likely to work for adult-oriented websites, so the ones more likely to resort to intrusive pop ups or auto-playing video ads are more likely to be on Pornhub.

It’s a PORN SITE. Even when users aren’t using Adblock, do you think passing on a video message to Sam Altman is going to be at the top of their list of priorities?

Why do people care? Even if you ignore the fact that this was on Pornhub, why are people going to feel motivated to forward the video? Or worse, this might actually encourage trolling on the part of people who do take notice.

The moral of the story: Don’t involve porn when pitching investors.