Advice for Y Combinator Interviewees

So Y Combinator has made their first decision and if you applied, you know by now whether or not you’ll be heading to Cambridge (or is it Mountain View?) for an interview. I remember that day well. For those of you who didn’t make it, don’t despair. As Jessica says here, it doesn’t mean a lot. You probably got more value out of just filling out the application than you would have doing anything else with the time.

I gave a few tips to applicants a couple months back, so I’ll continue with some thoughts for those who got the interview. I’m 1 and 0, but I’ve got a small sample size, so take it for what it’s worth.

1. Start working on your demo immediately. We actually didn’t even get a chance to show ours, but from talking to everyone else it turned out that that was an anomaly. It was a good thing too; ours was probably rather unimpressive, since it was more of a visualization than an actual demo. We made it only to help us explain exactly how different we would be than the competition.

2. Relax. You’ll get a lot of points if you aren’t nervous. And really, you have nothing to be nervous about. If their acceptance criteria are the same as last time, you have a really high chance of getting accepted. You’re basically in unless you mess it up, so just look at it as an enjoyable afternoon hanging out with Paul and Jessica.

They just kept all of the ones they liked last time. I think it was 19 out of 54, but I could wrong there. so you might think you only have roughly a 1 in 3 shot. But if they keep everyone they like, and they like you, then you have a 100% shot. So just go make them like you. Like most investors, they want to.

I had pretty much decided going in that it didn’t matter if I got accepted or not, it was well worth the trip either way. You’re going to get some valuable feedback on your idea, business model, etc. It’s well worth a plane ride. So just go enjoy meeting the guy whose essays you’ve been reading for years and getting some great feedback.

3. Be open minded but not a push over. This is just good business practice in general. Y Combinator looks at your idea only as proof that you’re capable of a good one, and since you got the interview, you’ve already got that box checked off.

It’s not set in stone though, you can work on it between now and then, let it evolve and improve. A few groups in our batch ended up doing something totally unrelated to what they interviewed with. In fact, my favorite of the other 18 did. Just show them the problem you’ve found and how you intend to fix it. If your solution isn’t fully developed yet that’s ok too, show them your new way of thinking about the problem and some of the potential fixes consistent with that.

But, while being flexible, don’t be weak. They’re going to put your idea, and you, through the mental wringer. They’re going to ask you questions you haven’t thought of before. I prepared very diligently for our interview, and left wondering what had hit me. I got asked whether I was worried about the mafia. Seriously.

Be prepared to defend the parts of your idea that you’re fairly certain of. Don’t be a pushover. In fact, I think one of the Xobnis told me beforehand to “push back” if you feel you’re being pushed around. Every person you meet over the next few years is going to tell you how they view your business and what direction you should go in, what features you should implement. If you changed your idea every time you’d never get anywhere, so you never want any investor to think you’re that guy. Don’t be obstinate, but don’t be a wimp.

4. Ignore the torrent of blog and Hacker News posts from the rejected. For some reason, much to Paul’s chagrin I think, Y Combinator has gained a cult-like following. And I don’t mean that like someone who says “Phish has a cult following”, I mean it more like “David Koresh has a cult following”.

As such, those who don’t get accepted often take it very badly. Hell may hath no fury like a woman scorned, but people who didn’t get an interview with Y Combinator are a close second.

You’ll see some hilarious stuff like this thread that says you’d be better off just emailing your business plan to Sequoia anyway. I can assure you, you’ve got a better shot of winning the lottery than getting funding by cold calling Sequoia. I’ve heard from the horse’s mouth that next to no deals are formed that way. They said they wanted to pay more attention to deals that come in over the transom, but they had the same tone of voice I do when I say I want to work out more.

You will also hear a lot of stuff like “Really, who wants to give up so much for a few dollars and a chance to give a presentation?” What’s funny is that it always comes from someone who got rejected, so the technical answer to the question is “You do.”

But beyond that, there’s a lot there other than the money. The presentation is enormously valuable and not to be overlooked, but there’s more still. The contacts and advice are priceless. And the incredible community of your Y C batch and alumni from prior ones may be the most valuable part of the entire experience. I’m still in contact regularly with many of both.

5. Change your name to Matt Maroon. I think we got in just because Jessica liked saying that. Also if you take my past suggestion of bribery, go with wine. And make sure to let ‘em know who sent ya so I get my finder’s fee.

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4 Responses to “Advice for Y Combinator Interviewees”

  1. Great advice, and thanks for taking the time to spell out your thoughts! I was luckily chosen for an interview this cycle, which will be in a couple weeks. Could you provide any more insight into what took place at your interview? Did they mainly ask questions about your startup, yourself, or other stuff? Thanks in advance!

  2. mattmaroon Says:

    Yes. I think i will post about that.

  3. It's “Maroon's 5″ !

  4. [...] I’ve proven conclusively enough to preach as gospel. And even when I do give advice, such as how to get accepted to Y Combinator, I always do so assuming it will be received as just helpful hints from someone who has been there, [...]

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