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My Y Combinator Interview (areallybadidea.com)
186 points by justin on Nov 24, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 33 comments

Wow, some of this is even surprising to me. Interviews were 40 minutes? We only asked for 4%?

(Now that I think about it, the very first time we didn't think in terms of percent. Instead we decided on a valuation for each company, and the percent was whatever 6k per founder worked out to at that valuation. So it was probably 4 point something, not exactly 4.)

I still remember meeting Emmett and Justin quite well. What impressed us most was how good their demo looked. Also that they'd met in second grade. I remember thinking that Justin looked as if he'd just gotten out of bed, because his hair was standing on end and his eyes had that surprised look you have when you've been jolted awake. I didn't realize till later that he often looks that way.

Yeah, I remember that they were based on valuations. I'm almost positive the valuation you gave us was 300k (can't remember if that was pre or post though), so the 12k was 4%.

I knew the demo cinched in for us (remember, this was back when people didn't know if it was possible to write fancy web apps with things like calendar appointment dragging). Looking back on the emails and our application (thanks, Gmail) I was surprised how much better our application was than I had remembered.

Hmm, ok, in your case it would have been an integer percentage.

I notice there's a question about patentability, but some of your essays say to ignore software patents. What changed your mind?

It seems a stupid question now. I'm not sure when we dropped it. Patents do matter in a small subset of startups, but only if you first make the company work.

Great to see some posted content from Justin, as he represents my unofficial favorite YC company. The reason is the way justin.tv started out with him live-streaming every moment of his life (video and audio) wearing an always on camera. I still remember watching some of those times, with who knows how many other thousands of viewers from TechCrunch and elsewhere... By far the most memorable event for me was Justin, true to his commitment, taking the camera in with him to use the bathroom, and then watching a user's text come up in the chat room saying, "You just took a crap on live tv! That takes balls man!!!" I'll be able to look back on that part of Internet history and smile for a long time. :)

:) I was watching when Justin.tv jumped the shark, when Justin took the camera off just when his date was getting good.

I remember that! :) Justin always took the camera off to go to sleep, but still pointed it at himself. IIRC, he kept this protocol up with the date but darkened the room...or was it putting up a sheet? Hard to remember it was so long ago... So, yeah, a bit disappointing for the audience, but still pretty impressive IMO. Near the beginning of the date I posted in the chat "if he doesn't get a kiss I'm never watching again." Others concurred. Justin didn't disappoint. He walks back into his apartment/headquarters and the room explodes with cheers. Good times. :D

Should Google release a calendar along the lines of Gmail, they would be the competitor we would fear most by far.

Wow, that was prescient.

I'm curious whether this kind of application would stand a chance these days. It's hard to say obviously, as you'd have to ignore the product-specific answers.

We'd definitely invite this group to interviews today, if they were working on whatever was the equivalent idea for 2010. The answers are very thoughtful and concise.

If there's one thing applicants don't get, it's the value of being concise in the answers. Not brief, concise. Notice how concise Drew Houston's answers are too:


This is the first time I've looked at our app since we sent it in (that I can recall), and I was extremely surprised about how prescient we were on some things. Not only Google Calendar, but who would be potential acquirers (we were talking to them during Kiko and actually had a verbal offer that fell through, although that is a different story to tell), that social networking features would be important in all web applications, that javascript client applications would be actually a good thing to do.

The only thing we weren't good a predicting was our release schedule :)

The social/personalised advertising remark struck me as very forward-thinking too. It took Facebook a couple of years to get that one right, and now it's making them stacks of money (they may have been ignoring it deliberately to focus on expanding; I have no idea).

that social networking features would be important in all web applications

Just an FYI, social networking isn't even close to being important in "all" web applications.

If you are to redo it all over, I sure hope you won't reinvent the custom ad solution bit again.

You can thank the plethora of open RESTful APIs for that :)

I've just finished implementing the Trafficspaces ad server API and oh boy does it create all sorts of new possibilities.

I'm curious whether this kind of application would stand a chance these days.

Many of the applicants I've talked with or heard about lately already have actual paying customers. I wouldn't be surprised if that raises the bar a little ;)

You raise an interesting point.

PG: Do you find that you're encountering 'stage' creep in YC applications? Are the groups that you're funding (or even just interviewing) steadily becoming more fully developed businesses, or are lots (most?) still in the early/conceptual stages?

There's certainly stage creep, or more generally "legit creep." We get a lot more applications from startups with eminent founders, who are profitable or have already raised money, etc. But we are very wary of becoming conservative, so we make a conscious effort to make some risky bets too. The result is that batches end up becoming more and more diverse.

I'm struggling to think of an incentive for these more developed startups to apply to YC beyond association with the group in pursuit of larger investments. Have you identified any deeper motivators?

You mentioned receiving more applications from this pool. In terms of the application, do you weight in favor of these qualities?

I feel a bit awkward being the one to bring this up, but the idea is that we're supposed to give the startups useful advice. The need for that doesn't necessarily go away when e.g. you raise series A. I often give advice to post series A YC startups that they seem to think is useful.

My impressions are made from afar, but it is that YC is a high intensity immersion/sprint for founders to catapult themselves to the next level while having the support of experienced advisors and colleagues in the same situation around them. In other words, help shape and catalyze founders to become great with anything they touch (and recognize what to avoid). Strictly in the context of YC (or TechStars, Excelerate, etc.) it seems like that becomes lost when working with founders at a higher experience level.

There are a variety of "next levels" one can catapult oneself to. In the last batch we had one pair of founders who'd previously been CTO and VP of engineering at a public company, and another pair who were 19.

It's an interesting question where the limit of our utility is. As I said in another thread recently, I'm pretty sure we don't bump up against it in practice, because once startups raise sufficient money, their investors wouldn't let them do YC even if it would be a net win for them.

Do you think you'll have to choose at some point between the two types?

You had to bring it up because everyone was waiting for someone more qualified than themselves to answer the question.

In what way are the 'legit' applicants conservative? Normally that term would imply less risk combined with less reward, but I would think these applications merely offer less risk.

True. If notable founders are willing to do Y-Combinator even though they could secure financing elsewhere without giving up a percentage, then there are many cases in which YC should accept (HipMunk, for example). That also speaks volumes of YC, if established entrepreneurs will come back to YC for a second time.

When people ask why they should do YC, I always come back to this example: if Steve (of reddit and now hipmunk) took Y Combinator funding -- with his wealth, connections, and experience -- why wouldn't you?

The danger is that they might offer less variability, in both directions.

"Social networks have an abundance of data which they should be using to display context relevant advertising."

I wonder how the author feels about the way Facebook advertises, if that is what they imagined or if it's better/worse if it isn't.

We were specifically thinking in terms of time based contextual advertising. I.e. showing you an ad for a Taylor Swift concert if you had a free Friday night (because you didn't have any events on your calendar) and we knew you liked pop music. In retrospect, we might have been better off just creating the time based advertising platform and making an API available to other calendaring services.

I still think this is a cool idea and would be excited to see someone execute on it.

Especially if you have a patent! I kid, I kid. I really enjoyed reading that and I'm glad you have found success beyond Kiko. I remember when Gmail released their calendar and everyone was talking about how it would crush your project. If I remember correctly, someone bought your IP? I wonder what they did with it.

Tucows acquired Kiko in an eBay auction: http://gigaom.com/2006/09/05/tucows-bought-kiko/

I have added this to my list of links to blog entries about YC interviewees.

The list is here: http://ycuniverse.com/interviewees.php

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