Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Theoryville's YC Interview (trevorburnham.posterous.com)
39 points by TrevorBurnham on Apr 25, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 24 comments

Occasionally, I share that there's a whole collection of links to blog entries by YC interviewees (now up to 14). Almost every time, I get down-voted as if I'm trying to sell something. Whatever. Here's the link for anybody interested: http://ycuniverse.com/interviewees.php

Thanks, that's a useful resource. (I spent a lot of time Googling and searching HN for posts about the enigmatic interview before mine.)

Could you kindly update the Theoryville link to point to http://databraid.com? I'm going to take down that old Posterous...

I find I learn more from those that didn't get in than those that do. There are many lessons to be learned from this post, even taking the whole YC-interview idea out of the equation. Team dynamics, different incentives for the founders, communicating a product strategy etc.

Great post Trevor.

I have a question. You say that PG was right in rejecting you because your team quarelled and broke up. Do you think the interviewers may have picked up on the tension within the team? Is there anything that may have made PG suspect you are not a good team?

It is possible that you are wrong about all the things you say were a problem with your presentation. It is possible that your presentation was fine, it just that your team was not fine and YC somehow picked up on that.

Good question. Although I was worried about the team, I think we did a good job of pulling together for the interview.

One of the concerns in our practice interviews (with YC alums) was that I was doing too much of the talking. In the YC interview, I did about half the talking, each of my cofounders about a quarter, which I think is about right for a team of three; you want there to be a leader, but you also want the other guys to have their own opinions and areas of expertise. We noted who did what on the demo, and one of my cofounders did the actual presentation on his laptop.

So I think the tension—or at least the lack of experience working together under pressure—came across in the application, but not the interview. If the application had said "We used to work on X, Y, and Z, and here are our complementary skill sets, and we worked together before on this other project," my hunch is that we would've been funded. Instead it boiled down to: "We're three students with little experience outside of academia. We're passionate about design, but we can't actually show you anything we've designed. We came together because Trevor sent out an email asking for cofounders." We would've had to absolutely knock the interview out of the park to overcome those things.

Great write-up, Trevor.

It was actually an eerie read for me because I'm the co-founder of BuzzData.com, and we're building something that could be fairly described as a superset of the app you demoed right now in Toronto.

So I guess the real question is whether you believe in the idea enough that you'd come and work with us on it? The primary difference between between BuzzData and TheoryVille appears to be that we're a funded, happy team of seven and we're getting a lot of traction from our soon-to-be launch partners.

Perhaps your vision doesn't die here.

I certainly can't claim to have been the first to have the idea behind Theoryville. What's now StatCrunch began as a project created by a stats professor in the ye olde mid-1990s. So the dream of moving data analysis and visualization onto the web is about as old as the consumer web. It's been kind of a graveyard for startups, though. Look at Swivel, which TechCrunch called "a YouTube for data" way back in '06, built some fairly impressive tech... and shut down completely a few months ago. Also, there was a stats PhD student who posted a "web-based SPSS" demo on HN shortly after I applied that was, from a technical standpoint, more impressive than the demo my team hacked together.

YC has since funded a more specialized web-based data analysis startup, aimed specifically at those running clinical drug trials: http://techcrunch.com/2011/02/27/comprehend-systems/

Anyway. I'm not really interested in moving to Toronto (though I am a fan of Scott Pilgrim...), but I wish you luck and look forward to beta-testing your service.

Right on, man. We'll keep you posted.

To be clear, we have more in common with GitHub or Quora than we do with Swivel, but I agree there are lots of bones on Everest.

You know what they say: too early, too early or too late?

Thanks for sharing. Have you thought about applying to Project Skyway? http://www.projectskyway.com

I'm guessing that you didn't read the post... I already did an accelerator, thanks. I wish you luck, though. :)

Would've loved to do Project Skyway back when I was at Carleton, though. Have you reached out to the Computer Science department there? Lots of really smart students, totally disproportionate to the college's size.

I see that you have Jon Dahl is a mentor. That's cool; he's a great guy. I actually met him and some of the fellow Zencoders in SF the day before the interview.

Why do they use nearly the same orange as HN? Isn't that bad for creating their own image?

Wha? Does being aikon3390 make it hard to differentiate yourself from Clay Aiken?

Haha, but Clay Aiken here does have a valid point, if you did not know that YC was using the same orange then you did not know your own market, if you did know then you're just trying to ride their coattails - neither one is a pleasant situation.

I think the color is irrelevant. Seriously.

Yes for our sakes and purposes it shouldn't be, the program might actually be better than YC, but it does not really give a good impression of the firm and really drives home the "knock off" argument.

I kind of think "how hard it is to sell YC to your cofounders" is a good test of both your own communications ability and their startup-mindedness. My two cofounders hadn't really heard of the details of YC before (although they knew of the general organization); it was pretty easy to convince them, although they did ask insightful questions about the value proposition.

Agreed. I blew it. I started the conversation by saying "So, YC is a summer program that gives you $20k for about 10% of the company..." From that point on, no matter what else I or the YC alums we talked to said, they seemed fixated on that part of the value proposition, which made other accelerators seem comparable. So they'd say things like "I don't really like Silicon Valley, I'd rather spend the summer in Providence," or "Why should we give 10% of our company to YC if this other accelerator will only take 6%?" or "YC doesn't even provide office space?"

At one point I said: "Look, giving 10% of the company to YC would be worth it even if they gave us $0." That didn't make sense to them—too much of a risk. That was about when it started to dawn on me that we had very different notions of what it means to be a cofounder.

This reminds me of an old essay called "What We Look for in Founders"[1]:

Startups do to the relationship between the founders what a dog does to a sock: if it can be pulled apart, it will be.

Hope that in your next enterprise you will have more luck.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/founders.html

Are teams allowed to audio (or video?) record their own interviews, to evaluate after?

I suspect that if you asked, the answer would be "no." But let me confess something: Just before the interview, I reached into my pocket and tried to surreptitiously start my iPhone's Voice Memo app recording. Just for my own reference, mind you. Unfortunately, I missed the button.

I did, however, type up some notes right after the interview, which most of the quotations in the post are pulled from. So it should be pretty accurate.

It's kind of rude to record people (especially in a YC style setting) without asking...

Rude, and in many places, illegal.

I wish YC would take notes and record as much of the process as possible so they could refine their investment process and maybe look for more companies like the winners to fund. They probably do this.

YC does? they record the interviews, I thought.

I took the liberty of emailing you; hope you don't mind. It's quite tough to explain what the School of Info actually does, and in fact one of the first lectures I heard there was about this problem.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact