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How not to Pitch To Y Combinator (2006) (damienkatz.net)
112 points by DanielRibeiro on Oct 23, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 22 comments

I don't remember this interview very well because it was several hundred interviews ago, but IIRC we were already sufficiently sold on CouchDB just based on its reputation, and the main thing we were trying to figure out was whether Damien would be able to survive as a single founder. Which would explain why our questions might have seemed random to someone who thought the point of the convo was to sell us on the technology.

In this type of situation, simply telling someone the concern you have and asking to address it may lessen the misunderstanding.

We probably did, though I can't remember for sure.

You wouldn't get to give a slick presentation even if you had one. We had a few bullet points on a piece of paper that we wanted to hit and I think we maybe hit one of five (and were accepted). We actually had a bunch of supporting materials that we never used. The starting point generally seems to be the demo and then your ability to talk about it. We did have various demo-y things on my laptop loaded up and ready to go, so when there was a question of, "Can you do..." I could just pull it up immediately.

But he's right that you should pitch lots of people. That gets you used to talking about what you're doing. It's really easy when you've been too close to an idea for a while to assume what you're saying makes sense, when it often doesn't without the right context.

I wrote some about our interview here:


Favorite line: "... This is just the first in a long string of rejections I have planned."

This is going on my wall of inspiring quotes.


Side note. I think this speech by Damien Katz is one of the most inspiring I've ever heard.


I am half way through it and couldn't wait to confirm this.

Damian Katz is a fine human being, and an artist. Never knew much about him before, but as of now, I consider him a role model.

I had a YC interview in 2008, and the experience was the same. We kept trying to give a demo, and they kept sidetracking us. I think they do it on purpose to see how you handle the situation. I didn't handle it well. I basically turned into an argument :)

"I think they do it on purpose to see how you handle the situation."

We do so many interviews a day that we don't have the energy to be tricky. The reason we keep asking questions is simply that we have questions.

I wonder how much things have changed. pg and co. now have 4 years of experience funding hundreds and interviewing probably 10s of thousands of startups, I assume they're much better at it.

Everything I've seen on HN leads me to believe YC would rather invest in a Woz than a Jobs.

You need both (or one person who has both characteristics).

Just curious, how often do you interview a founder that has both characteristics? I've met a few people like that, but it's definitely a rarity.

We often interview people who have both to some degree-- i.e. are both formidable people and good hackers. It is of course much rarer to meet someone who is as good as each of those two at the part they were best at.

I'm rather inexperienced in all this startup stuff, but I thought the main idea of YC was investing into people, not particular projects, since projects sidetrack, change and pivot all the time and people either rock or they don't.

Considering this, I think both of them would get accepted.

You're both assuming the point got across. Reading Damien's post, I got the impression he didn't really get to convey what he thought was the right points because he "kept getting sidetracked."

Doesn't matter how good of a hacker you are, if they haven't heard of you or what you do, you still have to impress. I've known a lot of gifted hackers that sound like buffoons when they get sidetracked and a lot of mediocre (but generally very successful) coders that don't get phased by anything.

I think Damien and crew can and will get their pitch down and find a funding source in the near future. My money's on this one being one of YC's shoulda's.

I believe Redpoint Ventures invested 2m in Couchio in 2009, the company Damien is CEO of.

We would have funded that company. Our problem with the company we saw in 2006 was that Damien didn't have any cofounders.

They did. It is said on this very blog: http://damienkatz.net/2009/12/relaxed_inc.html : I, Jan, and Chris are building a startup around Apache CouchDB and Redpoint Ventures has invested $2 million. Pretty cool huh?

I thought y combinator were nice people, and the investors were the bad guys, danielriberio you rule!

I'm sorry, but this is not a YC grievance comment by any stretch. And it is not mine. Damien Katz wrote it a long time ago, and he is not bitter.

I submitted to HN as I could not find it posted here, and wanted to know the community had to say. I had in mind it would foster a discussion on YC interview tips and experiences, which are sorely lacking arond the web (specially failed interviews, and these teach more than successful ones).

NOTE: There are some public YC interviews on the web, namely: Adioso's (http://tomhoward.co/our-y-combinator-interview-experience) and Directed Edge's (http://blog.directededge.com/2009/11/05/the-interview-with-y...)

This is also an old post (2006), and YC guys probably learned a lot in the mean time. About Damien's comment It's a Flawed Process. Tough Shit Fella, even pg admitted it can happen when talking about competing seeds on his recent interview to Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/1108/best-small-companies-...):

Graham welcomes the competition. "It's better for entrepreneurs," he says. "If we make a mistake and don't fund somebody great, they still have a chance."

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