Brandon: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
I'm glad you mentioned how you lost your work because of lack of a backup. There are quite a few snarky comments here about it, mine won't be one of them. Instead I thank you for your candor.
There are some cultures where mistakes and failures aren't explicitly mentioned; they're swept under the rug (wouldn't want to lose face!). I hate that. Instead I think we can all learn a great deal by reading someone say (in not quite as vulgar words): "I fucked up. I made a very simple, stupid mistake". It's of course implied the takeaway is "don't be as stupid as I was".
And then I stepped back for a second and remembered that just 4 months ago my laptop was stolen and I lost 6 months worth of photos... which of course I hadn't backed up anywhere.
We all make mistakes. We all forget things in a time crunch that don't seem so important until something really bad happens.
Then my phone and wallet got stolen and it was a massive mess as it had access to just about all my critical stuff (dropbox, google apps, email accounts etc) and I had no remote wipe and no password on it (yeah I know).
Now I have both remote wipe, a strong password and very little sensitive data on my new phone, far too easy to lose the keys to the kingdom.
If you are using remote wipe without encryption, all the thief needs to do is drop it in a foil bag.
You point out one of the most poisonous things about nerd culture. By pointing out when people are doing something that is in retrospect stupid, we train them to hide mistakes.
I've done it plenty myself, so I'm casting no stones here. But there's a giant gap between appearing smart and being smart. We rightly value smartness, which is great. But by playing Nelson to stupid mistakes and stupid questions, we encourage the appearance of smart over actual learning. To keep getting smarter, you have to be willing to look stupid sometimes.
Between Github, S3, Dropbox, etc., it just about takes effort to be in a position to lose data.
That said, I don't mean to fault the author as much as I want to encourage everybody to start using the tools available as part of their every day routine. If you're in a position now where catastrophe to a hard drive or a stolen laptop could affect your business in any way, you're doing it wrong, and it takes practice and regiment to correct, so start correcting it now, or you never will until it's too late.
I am constantly shocked how intelligent technology people frequently fail to make backups.
Backups are so easy today - USB sticks, cloud backup, server backup, etc. Why do so many people ignore this basic step?
You'll never lose money betting on aggregate laziness and lack of foresight.
Seriously, it's so easy. Every time you hit save, you'd have to try to lose the file. Pair this with git going to github or bitbucket and it would take several well placed nuclear explosions to destroy your work.
If my laptop instantaneously combusted at any point in time I would, at maximum, lose approximately 6 seconds of work (or the last time I hit "save"), and could set up a new laptop and be productive on it in about an hour (to install Dropbox and give it time to sync, Sublime, iTerm, Chrome, and custom keyboard hacks). Pet peeves, man.
Switch to GitHub/BitBucket
Dropbox isn't a backup solution, and you're doing two steps when you could just do one - install backup software.
Heck, without git how do I revert changes? How do I stay organised?
Back in Ye Olden Dayes, we trained everybody to back up. It was an important ritual: every once in a while you had to stop whatever you were actually trying to do, spend a bunch of time fucking around with odd, expensive media, and the store the media in complicated ways.
It was a giant pain. Most people didn't do it. But we programmers, wanting people to be as programmable as computers, told them they were doing it wrong, that they had to learn the rituals to pacify the machine gods, who would otherwise destroy their data.
I'm glad they ignored us, because without them we wouldn't have moved toward the correct solution, which is making the computers do the work to solve the problems created by computer use.
We still haven't reached the logical end, which is where every consumer computer is backed up by default on every change. But we'll get there eventually, thereby freeing up people to spend their time on what really matters. Which isn't wasting that intelligence on making backups.
My cofounder quit the day we got our email to interview and wouldn't budge no matter how much I tried to reason, cajole, or beg him to change his mind. At the time I played a weekly poker game hosted by a bunch of YC founders and I still remember walking in with two bottles of champagne in my hand that I bought before I got the breakup text and announcing "guys, I've good news and bad news and reason to drink either way".
I don't blame him at all. We had built up a ton of great chemistry working together for 6+ months but it was on a startup that flamed out with a firesale acquisition and he wanted more stability, especially with his wife grueling away at a residency to pay for their mortgage.
I still think it was a mistake though and not just on his part. He was my Woz and I would've gone to greater lengths to get him to stay if I truly had the Jobs zeal.
Also, would love an opportunity for a seat at one of those poker games.
I happen to know of Sift Science and I feel its one of the stronger products in the valley today, but that said, even if I did not know your company at all I'd be rooting for you even more after reading this.
The good ones know exactly what to say ... The great ones say exactly what should be said, mostly without even knowing it.
Thanks for this post Brandon
Come on folks, one or two comments are probably enough. Lets move on.
> Six days before the interview, my laptop crashed and we lost our entire demo.
No backups, svn/git/vcs, Dropbox, a USB drive?
Losing a partner is a difficult thing in business. Losing your code is just silly.
Investors have seen it all. While I expected this setback to screw up our funding, it didn't make a difference in the end.
When this kind of shit happens, just carry on.
Miraculously a week later I was invited out to Silicon Valley to demo our novel tech, though not to Y Combinator but one the biggest tech firms out there. Not sure how that happened ... people talk, I guess.
So if you don't get in to Y or others I say send a reply making them doubt their decision. This worked for me this past April and more so in 2008 when I was accepted into another popular incubator program.
Being courted by one of the biggest tech firms two months into developing our technology was and always be a huge win for my team and I!
Not exactly an attitude that will impress VC's, and you'd be surprised at how small a world high tech is.
If you have car/health insurance then paying for backups should make sense to you... if it doesn't your data is clearly not very important (to you).
Thanks for sharing.
These are raw, rough notes -- we didn't bother to polish them much since they were only for our own usage. But hopefully they're still useful as an example of how one team prepared for the interview.
Obviously, practicing being put on the spot is also valuable - find ways to do things where you have to deliver even while nervous.
Notice, for example, how the top AI players are now pretty much unbeatable by humans. They don't make use of any psychological tricks but play purely rationally -- read up about min-max and decision/game theory for a general framework for how such AI is written.
Have you actually played more than a few games of chess?
Specifically, I'm more likely to lose the first (speed-chess) game of the day, especially if I have not played for a few days, than to lose subsequent games because until I have the cold water of reality splashed in my face, I tend not to put in enough mental effort!
Feeling confident, in other words, makes me relax, which is great at a party, but exactly the wrong thing when I am playing chess (or doing math or debugging a program).
(Specifically, I use the fear of losing or anger at just having lost a game to create enough tension for me to play chess well. By "tension" I refer to activation of my sympathetic nervous system, i.e., what is informally referred to as "adrenalin".)
When I am carrying enough tension to play chess to my potential, I tend to get pessimistic -- with the result that I resign a game every now and then that I should have continued, but that effect is very small compared to the (opposite) effect of my underestimating the amount of mental effort required to win.
I'd be interesting in hearing more about how chess is for you (or your 9-yo kid).
ALWAYS use source control!
git commit -m "Source control!"
Wow! Backup much?
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the qualities of the poster as a software engineer. You'd think that for a project that might change the rest of your life, you'd spend some time reading up about back ups or source control.
Do you think the author had never heard of svn/backups until it happened to him?
On the contrary, everybody knows backups are necessary, the problem is bothering to actually do it regularly, especially on a high-intensity time of pre-launch. Personally I forgot to eat at times when working on our Kickstarter campaign video...
If the OP had walked onto dog poo just before entering YC's offices and had brought an awful smell to the interview (which would belong to the same category of small catastrophes), would people point out that you really should watch your steps??
Besides, isn't it possible (not necessary, just possible) that successful entrepreneurs are the kind of people who don't have time to backup their stuff, make their bed in the morning, store 10 days of food in the fridge and buy stuff in pairs in case one breaks?
Guess who is a lot more conscientious about backups and source control than he used to be.
Being able to write some code doesn't make you know anything about the rest of the system.