I Calculated Paul Graham’s Net Worth

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  • Post last modified:May 4, 2024

I was surprised to find out that my old article on Jordan Peterson’s net worth went around the Internet.

Since people have enjoyed this type of content, I’m coming back today with the calculation of the net worth of another “discreet” personality: Paul Graham.

Graham is a computer scientist and one of the founders of Y Combinator (YC), a startup accelerator based in San Francisco.

YC acts as a VC, investing half a million dollars into early-stage companies against a fixed ownership of 7%.

Paul Graham has never said how much money he had, he’s never bought anything expensive like a jet or a yacht, and he doesn’t wear more than $50 of clothes at once.

It also seems like he lives in a normal house in England, drives his sons to school when he’s not writing essays, and has no chefs, butlers, or living assistants like Neil Patel.

It’s frustrating to watch, but he seems to enjoy his simple lifestyle.

The only hint he gave regarding his net worth was when he tweeted he had given millions to the democratic party.

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Assuming he gave three million, he’d need to have at the very least 300 million in cash in his bank account.

At the very least.

So let’s calculate how much money Paul Graham has.

Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

NB: there isn’t much financial information about Paul Graham’s ventures, so I always remained conservative in my estimations.

Calculating Paul Graham’s Net Worth

Paul Graham was already rich before starting YC.

He was the co-founder of Viaweb, the equivalent of Shopify that was subsequently bought (and sunk) by Yahoo for $49 million in 1998.

Graham had two co-founders in Viaweb. Assuming he held just 10% of the company (he likely held more), this means he made $4.8 million selling it to Yahoo.

Now, the deal was done through a stock exchange. Yahoo paid 455,000 shares valued at $49 million, or $107 per share.

It’s hard to say how much those shares depreciated assuming that Paul sold after the Internet Bubble crashed because:

  1. Yahoo is no longer listed.
  2. The stock price was split several times and I couldn’t find much data about that.

From what I see, it seems the stock was ultimately split by four. This means that Paul Graham would have, after the split 45,500 shares X 4 (182,000) valued at $26 instead of $107.

The reason why I am calculating this is that I’m assuming Paul sold at the bottom, that is, $8 per share.

If he did sell his 182,000 shares for $8, he still made a decent $1,456,000 in 2001, the equivalent of $2,537,034 today.

Remember, this is the absolute minimum.

Considering this happened 25 years ago, even if he invested half of that in the S&P 500, he’d have much more than just $2.5 million today.

Let’s move on to YC.


Who Owns YC?

Paul Graham founded YC (which takes its name from a function) along with Jessica Livingston (his wife), Robert Tappan Morris, and Trevor Blackwell.

In the beginning, we must assume they each owned 25% although Paul and Jessica probably had more.

But then a bunch of other people likely received shares of the company when they joined the team, including Kirsty Nathoo, Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Michael Seibel, Peter Thiel, Harj Taggar, Alexis Ohanian, Jared Friedman, Paul Buchheit, Ali Rowghani, Qi Lu, Geoff Ralston and probably some other people I missed.

Or maybe they didn’t and were compensated with priority investment in YC companies.

For example, Sam Altman personally owns 8.7% of Reddit, more than its CEO.

We also need to take into account that Sequoia invested $2 million in YC in 2009, then $8.5 million in 2010.

So YC has at minima five shareholders (the four co-founders + Sequoia) and at maxima, many more.

I’ve decided to assume that Paul Graham owns 15% of YC along with his three co-founders, which leaves a good 40% to be distributed to other shareholders.

His real ownership in YC is probably more like 25–30% than 15%, but let’s remain conservative.

How Much Is YC Worth?

YC has invested in 4612 companies so far, and the failure rate seems to be between 20% and 40%.

So 2767 companies, at worst, are still running.

It’s easy to calculate the market cap of YC if we just take into account the market cap of public companies like Airbnb, but voila: not every YC company is a public company.

They claim on their website that the portfolio of the companies they’ve invested in has a combined valuation of $600 billion, but it cannot be.

Airbnb alone is worth $100 billion.

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I found on Hacker News that the valuation of that $600B portfolio was really $900B in May 2022 (a time when Coinbase was at $12B while it stands at $50B today).

If YC’s portfolio companies’ combined valuation was $900B in May 2022, it *must* have passed the trillion market cap in March 2024.

Just Airbnb, Stripe, and Coinbase are worth a combined $215 billion.

And YC invested in many more companies like Instacart, Doordash, Dropbox, OpenSea, Faire, Brex, Deel, Flexport, Scale AI, Zappier, Monzo, Webflow, Replit, etc.

So, I will settle for a YC portfolio valuation of $1 trillion, or $1,000 billion, even though it is likely more than that.

YC takes a fixed 7% in the companies it invests, which means that YC’s shares are worth $70B if we only consider that its valuation strictly comes from its ownership in companies, but of course, it’s not the case.

Since YC will keep on accepting companies that will be massive successes, its valuation is probably more along $150–$300 billion than $70. It is, after all, one of the most successful VCs of all time.

I’m assuming that YC has always taken 7% since the beginning and that they’ve never sold any shares (why would they).

Now, further assuming that Graham owns 15% of YC, his YC share is equal to 70 X 0.15 = $10.5 billion.

Even if he only owned 5% of YC, his shares would still be worth $3.5 billion at minima.

Yep, there’s no way Paul Graham is not a billionaire.

Neither Forbes nor Bloomberg is counting him as one though.


Putting It Together

Paul Graham earned $1,456,000 in 1998.

Since he probably invested that money, it’s probably much higher today, but I want to remain conservative.

Then his shares in YC are probably worth $10.5 billion.

I imagine, however, that he probably invested in companies directly as an investor like Sam Altman did, so it’s likely higher than that.

1,456,000 + 10,500,000,000 = 10,501,456,000


Graham is married to Jessica. Assuming they don’t have a prenup and assuming that Jessica owns 15% of YC as well, their combined net worth would be around 20,1 billion.


It’s paper money. They would have to sell their stakes in YC if they wanted to realize their gains.

I imagine that Graham must have sold some shares of some of the companies he owned, or he wouldn’t have given “millions” to the Democrats.

But who knows.


No matter how you calculate it, it is very unlikely that Paul Graham isn’t a billionaire, at least on paper.

He had founded YC before he met Sam Altman, and Sam Altman’s net worth is at least $2 billion, which he earned solely thanks to his connection to YC.

It is therefore not unreasonable to think that Paul Graham’s fortune is ten times that.

For more articles, head to auresnotes.com.

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