I was going to title this blog “Advice For A YC Interview”, but I thought that would be the wrong choice of words for what I want to write. I figured I’d tell the story of how things played out for me during the application process. I probably should have written something about the application process as well, but time seems to just slip away. This is totally from me and I’m not sure what Gee went through during this process, but maybe he’ll write something too.
After getting our interview email there was about a week and a half to actually prepare for it. We spent most of that time building a demo because we had heard that it was essential for a YC interview. When we applied all we had was an idea that we had been hashing out for a few months so when we got the interview we had 0 lines of code. The typical advice you’ll read is “if you don’t have a demo, YC wants to see what you can build in a week” and I’m a firm believer in this also, granted we didn’t even get to show what we created (more on this later). By working on your idea with every spare hour you have before the interview process you start to think about it all day and night … and that’s the way it should be.
So we built a little demo of Listia (which was completely different than what it is now) where we could showcase what we had in mind. Gee was actually going to be in Taiwan during the interview so we planned this great demo around him doing all the actions and connecting via Skype while I explained to YC what was going on. After a week and a half of coding, rehearsing and researching everything was perfect minus all the long nights without sleep. When I got to YC 30 minutes before our interview I had no idea what to expect. I walked into this orange room ( http://blog.listia.com/end-of-y-combinator-summer-09 ) and quietly took a seat at one of the tables. There were a few other groups there on their laptops or talking with each other, but I was so nervous I just wanted to sit down, get Skype up and make sure everything was ready.
Everything was working perfectly then Jessica came out:
“Are you the next time slot? We’re running a little late and taking our first break of the day, but we’ll be ready for you in 2 minutes.”
I tell Gee via Skype that we’re up in 2 and all of a sudden I can’t hear anything he’s saying. Fuck. Restart computer, Skype, etc. Still no go. Jessica comes out and says she’s ready for me. I IM Gee and say I can’t hear him, but have to go and just do it. Can we say “stress”?
The interview room is exactly how other people describe it. Jessica, Paul, Trevor and Robert on one side of a table and you on the other. 10 minutes flew by in what seemed like 30 seconds. We talked a little about everything … our past experience, our idea, how committed we are, etc. PG asked us if we had a demo and I said “yes” at which point all of them walked around to take a look. After a couple clicks and trying to explain what was going on PG says “did you just build this for the interview?” to which I said “yes” and everyone went back to their seats … so much for the demo. Haha. Even though they only looked at it for 5 seconds I still think building the demo the previous week helped us go through the product and figure out both answers and questions about our product. This is why I think it’s essential to start building something even if it won’t be permanent (all of our demo code was trashed). That week of concentrated work on your product will help you more than you know.
The rest of the interview time was spent just talking about the idea. It was like a concentrated brain storming session about our idea which was exactly the type of interview I was hoping for. Ideas were thrown around, questions were asked and answered. 1 minute left in the interview and my speakers started working. Gee had been listening to the whole thing, but couldn’t say anything until the end. Oh technology. I walked out feeling positive about the interview but still wasn’t sure how it would go. A couple hours later that day we got the call and the rest is history (maybe another post on my full YC experience later).
A few final bullets …
- Don’t be intimidated (as you should be) by the YC staff. They are some of the nicest people you will ever meet.
- Be proud that you got an interview. Not many get this opportunity and getting an interview is a huge accomplishment.
- Read as many essays as you can that PG has written. Watch any videos you can find as well. Get a sense of his style.
- Research previous YC companies. Take a look at the types of companies YC has funded and see where you could fit in.
- Build a demo.
- Be open to make changes to your idea. This says a lot more than one may think.
- Reread your application. The same questions may come up.
- Know the answers to the easy questions. “Would you be fully committed?”, “How many founders do you have?”, “What problems/hurdles are you anticipating?”, “Who would use your product?”, “Are you open to changing your idea?”
- Once you have an interview it means they like your idea! Now they’re looking for a few more things to justify their investment. Most likely they already know if they like your idea or not, but you just need to pass these final checks. a) Can you execute on the idea? They check this with your demo or previous apps/hacking. b) Are you a team player? A big part of YC is working well with others … especially your co founders. c) Are you open minded? Stubborness and cockyness need to be checked at the door.
- Most importantly, be genuine.