You repeatedly express frustration that the interviewers were not intimately familiar with your application, but it doesn't seem if you put much into familiarizing yourself with YC and their flavour of logic.
YC: Why are you spending so much time developing this application?
Creo: It is not only an application, it is a compiler, a virtual machine, a new language and even a mobile operating system.
YC was asking why you ignored customer development and just jumped into boiling the ocean before doing anything to verify that there was an existing market opportunity in the form of real customers willing to pay you real money to solve a problem. It's not that they didn't understand what you were trying to do, or questioning whether you could do it. They were right to push you for proof that you had more than a few friends who were desperate to use it.
The answer that you gave to the question is just a hairball of red flags. You wrote half a million lines of code before validating your business case? Do you truly believe that your ability to see the future is so strong that you just don't need to back up your vision with data? That is not reassuring to a savvy investor who hears "500klc" and feels fear and/or pity.
Listen, it sounds like the experience was positive and that you are taking answering some of the hard questions seriously. However, I urge you not to move forward without questioning that your entire position that YC blew it on an obviously incredible opportunity might be significantly flawed.
As to your idea itself: I am deeply skeptical that a drag-and-drop UI for building mobile apps is going to turn non-developers into developers. You're not considering that 10% of writing code is syntax and 90% following a strong intuition of what to do first.
Perhaps the reason it doesn't exist is because nobody has that problem.
"What does it do?"
"Anything you can imagine!"
Most people don't understand what they are allowed to imagine. Sorry.
"Great, how much lemonade have you sold?"
"We have 50,000 lemons on backorder!"
One thing you're right about: we're not an incubator.
And that's not pejorative -- there's nothing wrong with that; you're not crying yourself to sleep at night.
Your whole application process reflects it: with tiny textboxes and the 10-minute interview time frame. It's perfect for saying "We're like MySpace for college students," but not at all appropriate for saying, "We use a new form of compiling search results that place ranking based on complex algorithm of reputation-based weighting."
A funny example was given by Noam Chomsky. A producer at CNN (IIRC) once told him they wouldn't feature him because "he is from Neptune and lacks concision." To which he replied something like that it was fair, because if you're saying something strikingly different, you look like you're from a different planet, and then you need to justify how you got there, and that means you have to talk a lot, so by definition you lack concision.
If these guys have spent years writing their own VM, they need a lot of time to talk about why they did that, the corner they turned and all of the complex differences their VM exhibits. A one-page application is fine if you're building Facebook for Cats but if you're doing something 'from Neptune', you can't have concision. They simply don't go together.
I suspect that a lot of that is because Drew actually went to the trouble of building a video and getting a few thousand signups before applying. Similarly, Google had significant traction at Stanford well before it became a company. While it takes years for world-changing ideas to become world-changing, it usually takes about 4 months for them to get an initial prototype out that can at least excite some users.
Now when Silicon Valley talks about innovation, it's about making it so much easier to store files on a server and metrics to gauge product/market fit. There is nothing about DropBox that changed the world. Simply and sadly nothing. But there is everything in that it's what is cited as "innovation" in 2015.
You don't actually use a mouse or web browser made by Doug Engelbart, do you? Do you get paid to program in Smalltalk? And I bet your laptop says "Apple" and not "Xerox".
It took 20-40 years for these innovations to actually "change the world". Check back in a couple decades on the status of YC companies and see what the world looks like then.
(A bit more personally - I used to think of Silicon Valley as the birthplace of the future in revolutionary terms. Then I realized that I was wrong - not about Silicon Valley, but about how innovation happens. There's no such thing as a revolutionary invention made by a lone technical genius, a priori. Instead, there are environmental changes, often years after the fact, that make the original tinkering of someone who dared to be a little different seem amazingly prescient. You can't predict what these changes will be, but you can tinker and you can capitalize on the tinkering of others.)
I made an effort to clarify there wasn't anything criminal about going from 1 to n, or with the companies that do that (such as Apple and potentially some of the YC companies). Sure, that can be part of the cycle. There's nothing wrong with "tinkering and ... capitalizing on the tinkering of others." There's a lot of money in that -- and YC is quite clear that that's what they're about. It's an accelerator for making money.
But it's not an incubator for innovation. It's not for those attempting to do something in the 0-to-1 space. But without those people, the 1-n's can't do much. Alan Kay famously asked on StackOverflow, "Has there been any new innovation since 1980?" and the answer was no.
Doug Englebart's kids found out about his innovation from newspapers. He never talked about it. He said it was never about money or fame. Alan Kay is relatively unknown and relatively poor compared to people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who invented nothing but were better at marketing, and I don't think Alan cares. And isn't that the adult way? You give kids rewards: "Clean your room and you get a cookie." But as an adult, you just clean your room.
I think that before 1980, we got 0-to-1 revolutionary innovation because it was done for the reasons we do true science or art. It's not about childish rewards of money or fame. Artists/scientists don't do it for glory or gold. They do it because the mountain stands before them. Because they see a better world, they see something beautiful, and it pulls them forward.
This seems narrow minded. Dropbox completely changed how I use my computer. I use it every day and it's incredibly valuable. None of the competitors I looked at offer a similarly simple experience.
It's like wheels on a suitcase. Not a large innovation, but completely changed how people travel.
Gigantic innovations are great too, but there's no need to disparage things which radically change how people use devices.
There are always some ways to test concept. I've done a fair bit of indirect testing in my business, as my products take years to develop. I always found a way to test the most central aspects of them, usually in a week or two.
I don't know how you'd do it for the product these guys are trying to build, because I'm not familiar with their space. But there must be a way.
In their case there are many rapid app builders so it isn't crazy talk to enter that market. What is crazy talk is they haven't entered the market but are forming up on the beachhead (waiting for what?) and (critically) applying for YC before they have tested the market.
I'll agree you need bold commitment, but the last thing you want is to commit to a concept that doesn't have any outlooks on whether or not people want it, much less, pay for it.
WATCH his videos about hydrogen cells and why he thinks they are way too complex and not useful. He didn't start SpaceX by starting with a complex theory. He started SpaceX by looking at the basic principles of cost of production and using that as a starting point
Instead of aiming for "Making a crazy complex spaceship that will have more features than those made by NASA", he's going in the other direction, namely "cutting corners and reducing complexity to come up with a simpler, cheaper spaceship".
Just a side note, I'm ALWAYS noticing lately that there's a certain segment of people like to use the word "honest" as a justification for spreading their negative predictions and negative feelings.
Whether selecting these founders would have worked out well in the future for YC? That's purely a prediction. But somehow people like to throw in the word "honest" for predictions and then suddenly they can give cheap criticism without putting any real effort into making specific suggestions for how to do better.
Plenty of successful entrepreneurs have honestly thought that their success is undeserved and the whole thing is a bad idea that will collapse at any minute. Honest isn't a synonym for useful, in fact it's usually just harmful, for successful startups where 90% of the time everyone feels terrible and confused - because that's just the nature of the business.
This is my actual job, not a vague promise. I have a demonstrable track record and since all of my business comes from referrals, I must not be entirely out to lunch.
I suspect that you are internally switching out my use of the word honest for [something like "prediction"] which has nothing to do with my feedback. I don't predict what any of my clients will do, although I do certainly run the numbers in my head before I take on a new client.
When I say that I give honest feedback, it means that I don't pull punches — no matter how awkward it is.
Humans are trained from birth to tell people what they think that they want to hear. They want to be encouraging. Unfortunately, that means that you've sacrificed telling someone that you can see flaws in their logic for telling them selective truths that will make them feel good. This gets you off the hook socially and gives them no useful information about the hard road ahead of them.
Next time you have an idea, run it past me. I'm happy to give you 15 minutes over Skype. You can decide if I'm negative. The feedback I usually get is "awesome" but I do approach every conversation with the assumption that they have something to teach me.
> YC: How many apps has been developed with your software?
> Creo: As I already said and as I clearly written in our apply, we are currently in pre-beta so we just developed apps for internal usage, nothing is on the market yet.
So that means that after all those efforts, you haven't even tried yourself to create an app with the beta you have?
If the Creo guys are reading (and I'm sure they are), take a look at how these guys (http://www.atomic.io) show off their product - https://vimeo.com/120035868
It's also not a brand new paradigm they're inventing. Look at Game Maker which is pretty commercially successful.
Some ideas do require a lot of risk in form of up-front development for a shaky idea, but that's the only way to find out if that particular idea works.
There are some ideas where you can simply throw shit on the wall until something sticks and iterate from there but there are also ideas that you have to go all in on.
If someone says they're going to develop a "revolutionary new programming language" that will obsolete java/c# (or something) I'd roll my eyes and call bullshit, and in 99.9% cases it will be true, except for the one that isn't.
Its up to every entrepreneur and venture capitalist to choose what kind of idea to bet on. I'd only hope that the entrepreneur picks something they're passionate about.
You could say that you should at least be aware of the risk and scope of the idea your pursuing, but is that even true? Some might be better of not knowing or they'd never attempt it.
As George Bernard Shaw famously said:
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
Heh, I'm saving this as a quotable quote. Very true.
I just want to see 10 new cool things every day and maybe buy some of them. So services like Meh and Massdrop make a lot more sense for my use case.
YC openly talks about how validating your idea and growing the business are big signals to them that you are worth the investment. But while that's the most common path, there are clearly alternatives. They are just giving advice on what might maximise your chances with them.
Your landing page (http://creolabs.com/) doesn't care about me (the user) at all. There is a big difference between being proud of your product and being self-aggrandizing, and you're on the latter end of that scale.
To quote Henry Ford, you can't build a reputation on what you're going to do. Apple can get away with saying "something big is going to happen" because they've already proved (over and over and over again) that they can deliver. They've earned our trust. You haven't (yet).
The landing page talks about rewriting things from scratch, and a custom compiler, and language influences, but it doesn't tell me what the product does, how it does it, how it fits into my life, and what it will enable me to do that I can't do right now. To put it differently, you're placing a demand on my time (by asking me to get social, or share my e-mail address, or even read the page), but you haven't thought through how to make me feel like I've spent my time on your site wisely.
Your product is important to you, I'm not. That's actually perfectly fine (I get the appeal of building beautiful systems more than anyone), but that's not a company (yet). It's somewhere between a hobby and a research project.
Your video demo has the same problem -- you show off random features of the environment, but you don't show me how I can build a real app. Again, you don't care about me, the user.
Based on what I could get from the demo, the system is actually ridiculously impressive, which is great; but you need to learn to look at the world through other people's eyes. That's way harder than building the most sophisticated of optimizing compilers.
second, we often ask questions that are already covered in your application. the way you explain what you do is incredibly important. if you can't clearly and concisely explain what you do, and get people excited, you will struggle to recruit, sell, raise money, retain people, etc.
third, we are happy to fund ideas with lots of technical risk. we have funded nuclear fusion companies, rocket companies, synthetic biology companies, etc that are years from a first sale. i don't know where this meme that we will only fund companies with traction came from, but it's not true. that said, we expect you to progress as quickly as you possibly can for whatever you're doing.
fourth, i believe i am the youngest YC partner and i am 29. there is no way you were interviewed by 3 young boys in their early 20s. however, i don't think the age of YC partners should matter, as long as they can evaluate and help companies.
That said, you might be missing a lot of interesting people and ideas with only 10 minutes to evaluate both.
the tradeoff we make for very quick evaluations is that we are able to look at every company that wants to be part of YC with no introduction or connection to us whatsoever.
Regardless of the selection criteria, would you say that as the batches have gotten larger, there is more of an advantage to having traction going into demo day? I can't help but feel like, at least for a consumer web startup, if you're just launching your product 4 - 6 weeks before demo day then you're probably not going to get as much value out of YC as you might otherwise.
I think you're looking at companies that would fail without sucking in every last bit of YC juice. Those kind of companies will fail anyway.
Given the same company before and after launch, it's hard to see why waiting until you have traction before doing YC would decrease your chances of being successful. At best you get a lot of interest on demo day and save a month you would have otherwise spent raising money, and at worst you're not really any worse off than before. (This is assuming you can figure out how to make a good product on your own, and that not doing YC earlier won't slow you down at all. Not true for all startups.)
There's no question that earlier companies still get a ton of value out of YC and that it's still worth doing even pre-traction, but that wasn't really my question.
Website is more a landing page that a real site. Product is not yet released to the general public. We plan to launch a public beta and a brand new website with more useful information in about a month.
I found the article really interesting, because it highlights what is clearly a huge gulf between what you expected of YC, and how they behave. You were looking for validation of what you think is a great idea, and to discuss an idea with people who have spent a long time thinking about it and perusing your carefully prepared documents. They don't really care about your idea, they care about you, how well you can sell any idea to them, how well you can sell yourself to them (and by extension customers) in limited time, how you deal with pressure, how much contact you have had with customers, and how you plan to make money. You didn't have convincing answers to those questions, because you were expecting entirely different questions and an impressed audience. YC are not even really interested in your idea, they're interested in whether you can execute. That's probably because most ideas do not survive contact with the harsh reality of customers and the market, but companies do if they can adapt.
In this sense YC is behaving far more like a potential customer of yours than you might imagine - most customers spend about 30 seconds evaluating your product, and if you can't sell them in that time, you have a problem. Most customers will never read your sales docs or understand your product at first, they might read the home page if you're lucky. From a customer point of view, there is a fundamental problem with your idea which I think you're going to have a lot of trouble with:
Who could have developed a new multiplatform programming language with a blazing fast virtual machine?
You're asking people to build a business on top of your platform and a new language. There are a lot of reasons why that's a terrible idea for customers (even if it is a great thing for you), but foremost among them is lock-in. This is not really a technical problem, it's an issue of trust, and these decisions are not even often made on a technical basis. IMO you need to open-source your platform (get rid of trust issues), show customers everything, and make money on support/bespoke development if the platform is good enough to actually attract users (that'll be a very tough sell, and not one based mostly on technical concerns).
Thanks for posting and I hope any criticism you find here will be useful to you.
I remember seeing Steve Jobs giving demos of Interface Builder at NeXT -- hey, drag and drop connections between objects! -- and, years later, nobody has solved it yet.
But as <grey-area> says, there may be many reasons why people could be reluctant to switch to your environment. You created a new programming language? I don't care about programming languages as much as having a good collection of libraries -- will I be able to find or convert the ones I need? How about the equivalent of ones like Beautiful Soup, or PIL, or even massaging UTF-8 strings? For reference, CPAN has over 144,000 Perl modules available.
Do I need your build servers to create an app, meaning if your company goes out of business, I'm out of luck? If Apple changes APIs, how long until you support them? Etc. Open sourcing will help.
I understand you're pre-release, and that the site is a placeholder. But you may want to address some of these questions in a FAQ. In any case, I applaud your effort. You're trying to create something new and powerful. Very few people have the courage and fortitude even to try.
UPDATE: I watched part of the video and it seems very GUI-based, so my question about programming languages and libraries doesn't seem relevant.
All the questions asked seemed pretty reasonable to me - after all the person asking the questions is looking at it from a business rather than a technical perspective. If someone who is running a company can't adapt to the type of person asking the question then I would see that as a pretty major weakness in the team.
I'd guess that never in these dev's rehearsals did they imagine they'd be defending their validity as a product over a product like Eclipse.
That's not to say that the question was wrong to ask; in fact, I think it was one of the most important questions asked at that interview because it gives the Creo team great insight into how people are trying to "fit" their product into the current market. I do think, however, that the question threw the Creo team for a loop because it doesn't allow them to highlight the benefits of Creo in a meaningful way.
Clearly eclipse has nothing to do with their technology or product - it just showed ignorance. He even said prior to the remark, it was a application builder for people who don't code - yet they persisted.
YC do admit they make mistakes, and I think this is one of them. It was a terrible interview on both sides.
People have been trying to build application builders for beginners who don't (yet) code at least since Kemeny and Kurtz invented BASIC in 1964. Successful intentional examples of this include BASIC, Logo, Hypercard, and PHP.
History shows that people are willing to use these until they realize that programming is hard, and then they hire someone to do it for them. History also shows that developers are completely oblivious to the actual challenges that end users will face until they put it in front of them. For a random example, most developers will hapilly expose the file system to users without realizing that in usability studies, most computer using college graduates do not understand the idea of a file system with directories inside of directories, files at every level, and two files named the same thing in two different directories actually being different files.
You can't develop something for people who don't code without putting it in front of people who don't code and accepting harsh feedback. By their own admission, they failed to do this basic thing. Without even looking, I can guarantee that their half-million lines of code and whiz bang technology is entirely unusable by their target audience. And anyone in their target audience who decides to stick with the technology will quickly want to hire a programmer. Whose first question will be whether they can rewrite the application in a more familiar environment. Which they will as soon as they dare. Therefore no matter how much you don't think you're in competition with mainstream programming environments, you really, really are.
Don't believe me? Excel has proven to be an insanely successful technology for getting non-programmers to write useful applications. Ever talked to a programmer who inherited a complex application written in Excel by a non-programmer? My point is made.
I am sure the YC person is as aware of this as I am. What do we have? We have a team that devoted an insane amount of time in creating a piece of cool technology which certainly is useless for its target purpose. This team clearly has no idea how to make something that customers want. Furthermore they don't show any sign of caring about how to make a successful business. They may be fun to talk to about technology, but is this a group you want to invest in?
YC made the obviously right choice here. And asked the right questions.
That claim seems hard to believe. Would you have a link to one of these usability studies?
Perhaps the interviewer noticed that they missed the point and tried again.
It's always possible that they wanted to see how the team would react to those types of questions. We had a very similar experience during our interview (asked questions that we thought were clearly explained in the application).
There was a bit of discussion on this topic yesterday here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9147252
Every question that YC asked (Eclipse after Xcode, for example) will be representative of what a potential customer thinks when they read the creator's web site.
All of the explanatory stuff was technical and waffly; the description is way too long. If it's "drag and drop app building", then say that and show examples of why this is the foray that will succeed where others failed.
A lot of the language in the write-up was heavily laced with attitude. Noting ages of the interviewees for example implies inexperience in my reading of it. "They must be wrong, not me."
I think you may be walking away with the wrong impression; it's your business and marketing talents they were concerned about.
Just because you're not on the market doesn't mean that you can't have users, whether friends, family, or trusted third parties; you must be testing with someone who isn't a core team member?
If you're not, I'd take this as a huge signal that you should do so ASAP.
Likewise, what are the apps that have been built with your system?
I'm sure you'll have various test apps, but have none of you built anything more in-depth? Or, again, have no family, friends, or trusted third parties built anything with it?
I think the Y combinator interviewers were worried about what sounds like a lack of market research.
It's not too late to fix that - if the market's after a solution like yours, and you can fix the "we built this without doing any research" red flag - just make sure that you start right this very second!
I like your idea, and the vimeo video doesn't look bad BUT: You seem to make a mistake I often see with (being one myself) Dev/Tech people: Our own enthusiasm a product or idea prevents us from verifying the actual market need. Instead we start doing what we love: Building. Unfortunately the more we build the less we are open to criticism or potential customer's feedback. For this reason we start only talking to people who like our product (but aren't customers) and get stuck in a positive feedback loop that isolates us from the hard truth that we might move in a wrong direction. Wrong, not because the idea isn't good but wrong because without a market the idea won't be sustainable.
I wish you all the best guys. Revenge can be great motivator but don't fight wind mills.
Here's a tip for anyone who lands a YC interview: go in with the assumption that no one who is interviewing you has read your application form, and you'll have a much higher chance of success!
Think about this from the POV of YC partners. They're interviewing literally hundreds of companies over a few short days. At s guess, they're doing 4 interviews an hour for 5 hours a day = 20 per day (probably higher).
When are they going to read the applications in depth? If they read 20 applications at the start of the day they'll have real trouble remembering which one is yours by the time they get to you. If they read your application directly before your interview, they'll only have time to skim it (my guess is that this is what they do, I'm happy to be corrected).
For you, your application represents days of work, and your interview is the most important 10 minutes of your entrepreneurial life. For them, you are one in a thousand applications.
The application is the thing that gets you the interview, nothing more.
There is a BIG difference between painstakingly writing an answer on your application (refined over days? weeks? months?) and being able to quickly and concisely express that.
I don't think it's controversial to say that being able to concisely and persuasively talk about your idea is extremely important and likely highly correlated with success as a founder.
I might possibly await that kind of response if they were pitching people with little-to-no technical background, but from YC I would have expected questions which, if not insightful, were at least moderately appropriate.
From the few minutes I've spent looking at Creo, there were a lot of valid questions to be asked here, but from what I read, none of those were asked. They flew a long way to find out that YC wasn't what they thought it was.
My reading of it was that the HN interviewer was trying to give them opportunities to explain themselves whereas the answers were defensive and impatient.
Occam's razor suggests they simply didn't read the info, and were asking dumb shoot-from-the-hip technical questions.
Having said that, the 'Do you have any users and have you actually built an app with this?' questions were entirely apt, and Team Creo should have had better answers.
Basically the product is nowhere close to being developed enough for a funding round. It has potential, maybe, but so far it's a programming exercise, not a potential business.
The experience highlights the continuing mismatch between developer expectations and funder expectations.
1. Write lots of code
2. I have no idea what happens here
If you haven't thought seriously about step 2 you're going to have a hard time with funding - or even just turning your code into a viable business.
The creators should've treated YC like potential customers, not hoped for a technical endorsement or validation of their concept.
The author was annoyed by interviewers asking questions answered in their application. That's a natural reaction, but there are good reasons for this practice. Maybe some of your answers have changed since you applied. Maybe the interviewers want to get an idea of how much thought you've put into these questions. Maybe they're not satisfied with some of the answers in the application, and want you to flesh them out in person. My point is: the interviewers aren't trying to annoy you or waste your time. They want to understand you and your idea. Responding to their questioning with annoyance won't help them.
I found it very unusual that the author ignored the post-interview e-mail. Those e-mails typically contain tailored advice, or at least reasons why the partners passed. That information is extremely valuable. YC's reason for passing will probably be similar to many other potential investors. Even if you don't think it's a good reason, it's worth crafting a solid response to.
One more thing: If you have a demo, show it as early as possible! A demo can obviate the need for many "What are you making?" questions, since it shows the answer. That leaves more time to discuss your product or idea, instead of trying to explain it to the interviewers.
With that feedback out of the way: I wish Creo success and I'm glad they plan to apply again. Good luck!
Anyway, I also think it's great that you posted this in this detail, since it also shows once more that the interview will give you VC type questions and not YC type (well-informed) questions. If you can't explain it to a VC who is not up to date with everyday tech changes, then you're not ready for YC.
Finally, you sum up the feelings nicely - that mix of a feeling for redemption and the highly illogical feeling of a need for 'revenge'. I have felt that and it is so much unlike my personality, that I was really startled by it. Put that negative energy into something positive, right now I think your first priority is to make a non-tech person understand what it is you're building.
10 minutes is no time at all.
I applied once to YC. As I recall, my solo founder video included a puppet, so fair warning: I'm an idiot when it comes to startups. I only repeat what I've heard and read.
When they asked you guys all those questions, the proper answer wasn't to reply technically, it was to reply with something akin to "social proof"
So, for instance, when they asked "Why are you spending so much time developing this application?"
One good answer might be something like "Because we've talked to 50 people, and 10 of them tell us that if we can finish in the next six months, they want to use it. In fact, here's the money they deposited so they would be first in line"
The takeaway that YC is only interested in money may be at the same time true and misleading. As I understand those guys, they simply want proof from other humans that you are capable of doing something folks will like. Either you already have those humans and proof -- or they believe that you're the kind of guys that can go get them and then they'll take a flier on your ability. In either case, to say it's money is missing the point.
A lot of technical folks confuse the kinds of questions they are getting. When the question is along the lines of "Why don't I do X?", they're not asking you to argue that X is better than all other choices. Hell, X may be worse. They're asking you to explain to them how by talking to other people, you've learned that a significant percentage of them like X better, even if it sounds stupid. (In fact, if it sounds stupid and looks like something other people would not do, yet real people want it? That's a plus!)
I liked this. Thank you for posting. Sorry about the negative feedback.
ADD: There's nothing wrong with building something complex with a grand vision that might take months to put together. The trick is to do it in smaller chunks that get customer validation each step of the way. [Insert long discussion here about how it's easy to get emotionally attached to a codebase and solution that nobody else in the world would ever want]
Indeed. There are people who consider mentioning the money aspect to be indicative something lacking. Passion? Innovation?
Then there are those who know that buying your product is the true evidence of sincerity.
> I realized that Creo is an extraordinary technological challenge and we achieved unbelievable results so far. Who could have developed a new multiplatform programming language with a blazing fast virtual machine? Who could have rewritten from scratch a mobile operating system fully UIKit compatible? Who could have a product like ours? Nobody, probably nobody in the world… and if YC’s choice was driven by the product than we would had no rivals.
(I think your idea is cool. If no one went for the long-shot projects Silicon Valley would be full of copy-cat boring App companies. Imagine how that would be like)
If they have the courage to really examine what went wrong here they will come back much stronger.
Kudos to you for overcoming that bias. I'm still working on it.
What's the market size? Compatibility? Pricing? What apps have been built? How advanced? How long to learn a new language? What about the surrounding ecosystem (storage, analytics, notifications, etc)? Do you offer support? Training? What if you disappear in a year, what then?
There are already plenty of tools (as mentioned by the interviewers) for making mobile app development easier but there's a limit to how far you can go with non-developers. I think you're building into a niche of people who might be interested enough to dabble and but not enough to become serious, and that just doesn't sound like something you can build a company on.
Btw, maybe I'm alone in this but being someone in their 20s, it felt strange to read "3 young boys in their early twenties" as if they couldn't handle an interview. I strongly suggest reviewing everything you've done so far and asking more fundamental questions about the viability of the business, because at the end of the day, that's what matters.
You're just too early for YC. They have so many applications where the business/growth side of things are farther along than in your case, and they'd rather pick those companies for the finite amount of spots that they have at this time.
They wouldn't say they were impressed by your product unless they really truly were. They're just waiting for some more validation because they have had companies try to do this in the past and all (including mine) have failed.
I believe there is an opportunity here, but it's incredibly grueling to spend months developing only to realize after user testing that you've developed something that has significant problems that require months more development time. If there's a lighter-weight way of testing that what you're building is going to be easy to develop with, you should definitely do that and re-apply.
Btw, "Y Combinator has been created for one single purpose: to make money." That's definitely false. They do use this criteria to help them select companies, but it's definitely not the single reason it was created.
I also take exception to the comment "Y Combinator has been created for one single purpose: to make money." That's a pretty cynical view, but more important: it's not true at all.
Not sure why it's hidden in the footer.
If you want to impress people with the difference between your tech and something that you believe isn't as good you need to show off the differentiating factor as much as possible.
Amazing tech, though — for sure.
I think it should be possible to build very solid apps out of this. They just didn't bothered to develop a polished app as they reply to the YC guys suggests. But they should have, as well as providing video tutorials, documentation, etc...
Aside from that, good luck with your efforts from a fellow Italian :-)
For an outsider it looks like a classical "overengineering" kind of project. You say it's too complex a problem to test early but if you reapply keep this in mind "validate you're not heading down the wrong path as early as possible" is the mantra. You seem outraged that XCode was suggested for example but you should have had a very clear non-technical response. Maybe list stuff like Ionic or even rapid prototyping stuff like Quartz Composer with Origami. Then link them by saying you can essentially build apps as if using Origami but get close to native performance, better code etc (mind you the JS to native compilers and pure JS folks will make similar claims)
Who's your target audience. Programmers becuse it takes them less time, designers because they can get further without programming?
I think you (the devs) should sit down for a coffee and talk through your project without going technical. Think of it as hacking the application process if you want. Fill out a Lean Canvas for your product even if it seems silly. Grill each other as if reliving the interview.
tl;dr: Pretend you're talking to nontechnical people and ignore everything that feels like "did they even read our application". Just mentally imagine they have invited you because someone recognized this as a hard engineering problem and now they are mostly interested in the business side.
There are a lot of critics here and I really appreciate the "brutal" honestly in your answers, we'll do our best to treasured your advices.
I really think that there are some misunderstanding about the real intent of the article and since the website is just a landing page, the best answer is just to release an impressive product as soon as possible.
As I already wrote, a public beta version is expected by mid April.
I wonder if YC considers applicants' age when pairing them with the interviewers. Because if not, that's a very fertile soil for all sorts of interesting biases.
"the only thing that matters for them is the business model … I repeat here again: product has zero value."
The YC partners are pretty good at weeding out ideas that will never make money ... are you prepared for this project to be your hobby? There are a couple other red flags in your post such as the idea "you won't need programmers any more. This has been the holy grail of the business world for years because programmers tend to be (pick as many as needed):
It is clear that he is very passionate about the product that he has produced, which is a good thing. It must have been a very disappointing experience.
I'm glad they made use of their time there to visit the area and see different local places and to make the most of it.
Having visited the landing page I'm still a bit confused as to what it does as there are not specifics.
However, the closing list of YC frequently asked questions looks potentially useful:
Y Combinator’s FAQ
1.What are going to do?
3.Obstacles in your path?
4.What’s wrong with existing options?
5.How you’ll overcame the barriers that allow existing options to stay bad?
6.Who needs what you’re making?
7.How do you know they need it?
8.What are they doing now?
9.What makes you different from existing options?
10.Why isn’t someone already doing this?
11.What obstacles will you face and how will you overcame them?
12.How will customers/users find out about you?
13.What resistance will they have to trying you?
14.How will you overcome that resistance?
15.What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
16.What part of your project are you going to build first?
17.Who is going to be your first paying customers?
18.If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
19.Why did you choose this idea?
20.What have you learned so far from working on it?
21.Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
How I Crashed and Burned in Y Combinator
It seems interesting because the author of that post basically described how he came to YC without a developed product but only a vague and confused idea, and how his project was nonetheless accepted. He then moves on to describe how, having entered YC, he started frantically working on different projects that had nothing to do with the original idea, until he finally gave up.
Now, I wonder which could be the factors that make YC accept a non-existing project, so shaky to evaporate one hour after the interview, and reject people that at least produce and are entirely focused on a working prototype of a new product.
Well said - that was an incredibly painful lesson for me to learn as co-founder of a UK based startup in the first dot-com boom. We must have raised over £25 million and, to be honest, had very little market validation at any stage - and the revenues to prove it.
But I agree with you that a alfa stage built product tell more about a person capacity for execution than a good performance on a 10 minute interview. But maybe, both should be rejected.
Lemme air some clean laundry instead that might actually be useful to you guys.
2012 - am driving with a company co-founder who has just been accepted into YC. He points at an elephant logo on a building and says - "those guys! ridiculous! they have a billion dollar valuation! what did they do - put Notepad on the web ? what we are doing is a million times more complex."
He was ofcourse pointing to Evernote.
I gently told him that his company may be solving a problem million times more complex, but how many people wanted such a complicated solution ? 10 ? 1000 ? 1000 ? Maybe 10,000 ? There is a ceiling on any supercomplicated niche product you are building. Its now 2015, his company has about 5000 customers. So in 3 years they got to 5000. But Evernote has upwards of 100 million users, with its supersimple Notepad on the web product. So this yc company has now pivoted to building a specialized social network, and they already have a million+ users on that front. They'll probably keep the 5000-user supercomplicated business running, because its good money, but the focus will be on now growing the supersimple million user social network business.
A long time ago, we had a guest from Microsoft visiting our compiler theory class. He bemoaned that more people were using something called Microsoft Flight Simulator, which was just a stupid toy, compared to what his team was working on - the Microsoft Visual C Suite, which was such a sophisticated state of the art compiler.
Once again, how many people have a need for such a compiler, versus how many people want to just play video games ?
Focus also on customers, not just on the complexity of your technical problem space.
you really just said Eclipse?
This information was clearly written in our apply
As I already said
Fix these and you'll go a long way towards succeeding in meetings like this and impressing, "3 young boys" who, like it or not, are deciding your business fate at this stage.
1-Make something (a large enough number of) people want.
What YC wants to hear in the interview:
who are these people?(show us you made an effort to find them)
do they need what you are building?(show us you made an effort to find out)
what are they doing now to get what they need?(show us you made an effort to find out)
how is your solution much much better at helping them?(showing us who is begging you for your solution)
2-Make something that a small number of people absolutely love. (as apposed to something that a large number of people merely like)
What YC wants to hear in the interview:
-Show us a small set of users that would absolutely love to use your solution.(i.e. who would get upset if you stopped building your solution)
3-Teams (and execution) matter more than ideas
What YC wants to hear in the interview:
-Less focus on the technical merits of your idea/product and more focus on how you are getting users and the market you are targeting. If you did not give the right answers to items 1 and 2 above then clearly you are not the right team according to YC.(Note: If the product is highly technical you do need to show that you have a technical founder with the right skills. But that is not really the same thing as focusing on the technical details of the product)
Sorry, you don't get to call your product 'extraordinary' among a crowd of developers. Users may apply that label, and it's your job to try to convince them to do it.
". I realized that Creo is an extraordinary technological challenge and we achieved unbelievable results so far. Who could have developed a new multiplatform programming language with a blazing fast virtual machine? Who could have rewritten from scratch a mobile operating system fully UIKit compatible? Who could have a product like ours? Nobody, probably nobody in the world… and if YC’s choice was driven by the product than we would had no rivals."
Ok, you're amazing.
"I believe that our biggest mistake was to think that being able to develop such an extraordinary product could somehow give us an advantage against the thousand of other ideas presented at Y Combinator. We were wrong."
No, your biggest mistake was to think that you are somehow entitled to an investment and that YC was the lucky one. The opening sentence is indicative of that, according to you it started with a letter from YC to you, but in actual fact you applied first. So you're the seeker, you are the one initiating the relationship and you have to prove yourself worthy of the relationship.
"I really think that the complexity of the Creo project penalized us at YC."
Making something complex simple is a communications issue. If you can't step away from the complexity of the engine underneath your offering then you are not an effective person/entity to communicate with capital providers.
You state this as though it is a fact, but it is just your opinion. In order I think that for YC team comes first, product/market fit second and business model last.
Then, the actual interview:
" In few words it’s an app that is able to create other apps. We have developed a new programming language with a multiplatform virtual machine and we have rewritten from scratch a mobile operating system (100% UIKit source compatible), all exposed through a desktop application that makes incredibly fast and easy the creation of mobile applications. Development time is reduced from weeks and months to few hours or days."
This is an old story in IT circles, it comes back every time there is a new medium, sooner or later someone will do 'cross-platform', that's not unique in and of itself.
"OK, but there are other similar technologies . For example …"
Did you let them finish their sentence?
" Creo: Xcode? (Have you read our apply?)"
If they had not you would not have been invited.
" … those are solutions that can be used only by professional developers, our software is for everyone, even for those who are not a developer."
That's another thing that's been said since COBOL about every new language/platform.
" YC: OK got it… so why should not I install Eclipse?"
" Creo: (Eclipse Holy God, you really just said Eclipse??)"
Yes, he did, but so what? If you're so incredibly smart that YC alumni seem stupid in comparison why can't you explain in a simple and easy to understand blurb what it is that your product does so that such confusion does not arise in the first place?
And so on...
" We came out of the interview dazed … neither I nor Daniele wanted to talk. My impression was that it was a complete disaster … two years of work, two years spent fighting for an idea that seemed impossible to become reality and in 10 minutes they had not even bothered to understand what we had in our hands. "
No, they did bother, you failed to explain. It's a communications problem on the sender side, the receivers would have been happy to understand you if you had taken the time and the trouble to explain it in their language rather than to expect them to accept the explanation in your language.
That's a pretty common mistake but it is unusual to see such a condenscending and frankly insulting attitude on the part of the person exhibiting the mistake. Your whole rant comes across as though you are somehow entitled to a certain treatment because of your technical expertise when in the real world what matters is how well you manage to communicate your achievements to your target audience (potential investors in this case) whoever they may be.
A few tips:
- turn down the rhetoric about how awesome you are until you have real world results, and preferably have others say how awesome you are
- go and work with your target audience instead of doing all your work behind closed doors
- focus on the product/market fit before you do more work
- get a dose of humility somewhere
- keep your dirty laundry in-house
I hope this isn't a verbatim quote from the interview. Your interviewees were obviously very smart people, if they keep asking the same question (or what seems to be the same questions) it means you have not answered it properly. Therefore saying things like "As I already said" leaves an impression that you don't understand what they are asking.
Thanks for writing this up though. All too often we hear about the successful candidates. It's good to hear the other side of things.
Anyway by all means there was good advice on here but don't get discouraged if you are passionate about your product. Because that, beside product and Team and everything else, is still the most important factor in a startup imo.
It's no one else's job to understand what you're building. Even if you hand me an application saying what you built I still want to hear you explain it. I shouldn't have to work to understand your product. The fact that YC was trying very hard to get you to explain what you were building and you continued to repeat yourself tells me you still don't know entirely what you're building, and to an investor that's a huge red flag.
They seem to know their technical needs, but I would spend more time talking to possible early adopters... that would help the project itself and also their pitches for VCs and accelerators :)
i.e. translates as "so, why I am going to use this rather than an IDE? What's the demand here? What makes you different?"
as opposed to being a question to be taken literally.
These questions quite unambiguously pointed at YC never giving their application proper attention. Perhaps they skimmed it, but even then they should've picked up that the product was for non-developers. So to people who spent days writing the application and planning their life around the interview it would look like a half-ass effort on the YC part. It's only natural that they are pissed about the whole experience. One can hardly blame them.
An interview always has two sides, and my take-away from this is that YC looked, frankly, unqualified to hold the interview.