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Lessons Learned from our YC Interview (with Tips!) (pretheory.com)
52 points by bhb on Nov 7, 2007 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

The #1 lesson we learned from our interviews is to be prepared.

Pitch everybody you know on your idea, and have the smartest people you know poke as many holes as possible, and address them. Then do it over again.

I think that is good advice. If we had tried to show our demo to groups that had never seen the product before, we might have been better prepared. We'd be ready to anticipate and answer questions before they come up. We also would have probably learned about preparing our data so that anything not flattering isn't included.

My problem was worrying too much about being prepared. I felt like my life depended on it and got too nervous. I dont really show nervousness, just start saying stupid things that I wouldn't normally.

Had I walked in totally chill and hang loose I feel I would have at least done better. The more you can convince yourself that you really dont care the more relaxed you will likely be. At least that is my $.02.

In retrospect, I'm so thankful YC gave us an opportunity to interview though. The lessons learned on pitching to an investor were so valuable, as was the advice. Even not being funded by YC it is a win-win in one way or another.

To prepare for X ... err ... prepare for X.

Of course I agree with you, but it should hopefully go without saying.

Perhaps YC should start with a 1 minute elevator pitch. The point isn't to show off the project, but to get interviewees to understand you won't have more than a minute of the stage and things will be dominated by questions. If I understand it, the 1 minute should be a good test of how you can present at demo day with none of their coaching.

I'd add to this: When you are pitching to friends/family, ask them to pepper you with questions/objectives/concerns AS THEY OCCUR TO THEM... The flow of the interview is going to be decidedly outside of your control. If you can't gracefully handle rapid fire questions, it won't go as well.

My best piece of advice... 10 minutes goes by really fast.

I was very thrown off by the YC interview during Summer 07. The unfortunate side effect of the 10 minutes is you end up answering YC questions the whole time and not only delivering your vision for the application. So the whole interview either becomes a test of how well you can perform interview acrobatics or how close YC's questions and first impressions are to what you want to tell them.

>how close YC's questions and first impressions are to what you want to tell them.

This really upset me at the time... We spent a lot of time answering the question "We're going to compare you to yahoo.com" and were rejected because they didn't see how we solved the essential design problem of our product.

Yeah we never really had a chance to explain how we planned to solve the problem. They just compared us to Yahoo, yet we were completely different than yahoo or anything yahoo was trying to do. They seemed to think that we were just doing another portal with a more user friendly interface, and said that why would anyone switch from yahoo to us. It's unfortunate that we couldn't explain the real vision.

I thought you had a gene splicing product. Why did they comapre you to yahoo?

We switched products rather drastically. The original product was a web service operating system for old people.

For whatever it's worth to you, you will readily get more than 5 minutes of semi-solicited opinions about your prospects and strategy from any VC manager or partner you talk to. You may even score customer introductions.

The solid "yes" or "no" is a major feature of the YC process though.

awesome insight on the interview process - thanks for posting this

This seems to indicate that a fully-working demo is not what you want to present to YC. Since all you have is ten minutes, I would think you'd want a more focused form of presentation.

Put it this way -- are you a magician? If you present a demo that effectively says "pick a card, any card," you'd better be. If you're demoing Google (the site it is today) for YC, it's probably not the best sell to just let someone type anything they want into it.

When you only have ten minutes, you need to retain as much control as possible over your message. Present the article to sell the magazine.

Showing the sexiest, meatiest part of a working demo is probably a good compromise. Without a demo, you're left describing that same part, which is inferior, right?

You could of directed them to comics by explaining that it was the what your alpha users had worked on. I think demo's are much better than pp, lets face it a demo proves you can actually deliver a product. Just make sure you take control and not get side tracked on uncompleted stuff.

An interesting corollary might be "Lessons for YC". The extreme time crunch just doesn't seem conducive to making accurate evaluations.

Of course the people with the money make the rules; it's not a question of power, but every process can be improved.

A 10-minute interview tests presentation skills more than anything related to the idea, technology, or founders' other abilities. This skews in favor of quick impressions and existing YC bias (towards ideas they already were waiting for someone to present).

I wonder if the median application received even that much (10 minutes' worth) consideration. It seems like a continuous process would work better, with staggered starts; looking at 20 applications every week rather than 500 in one week would allow a more thorough review.

Then instead of going to the same 10 weekly dinners, it would be a sequence of 10; e.g. weeks 31-40. The only real trick would be Demo Day; but that could be rescheduled for every 3 months instead of every 6 months (or monthly, and investors who are vetted get a card that gets punched every time and on the 11th visit they get kicked out if they haven't invested in anyone yet).

Now the acceptees have a couple months before the "official" start; other people might be ready to apply now but it's a 6-month wait for the next batch to get in and 8 months to "start"! That's an eternity in Internet Time.

Another advantage would be allowing the continuous pool of acceptees to relocate to the #1 spot (Silicon Valley) regardless of the time of year. It's a little silly that the Bostonians have to move there afterward anyway -- it's like a conflict of interest for YC, "Help the individual start-ups by putting them in the #1 spot" or "Try to help the #2 start-up scene play catch-up via imports".

Of course I could be wrong about everything, it's up to you.

The YC interview doesn't test presentation skills, because YC interviews aren't presentations. We just ask questions.

We would not have guessed you could pick startups in 10 minutes either, at first. We realized this when interviews used to be longer. We noticed that we usually knew after 10 minutes whether we wanted to fund a group, and that in cases where we didn't we used to just have to sit there talking for another 10 or 20 minutes even though we'd already made up our minds.

I'm not saying we're always right; far from it; but more time would make surprisingly little difference.

Read "Blink"... Thin slicing can work REALLY well if you do it right.

> Thin slicing can work REALLY well if you do it right.

Any "X" can work REALLY well if you do it "right". Doing it right, now there's the trick...

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