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