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Advice for Your YC Interview (myoung8.posterous.com)
35 points by myoung8 on Nov 7, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 11 comments

My one piece of advice, and this is not confined to YC interviews but goes for any time you are selling (and make no mistake, you are selling), is to talk up the problem a little bit before you lead into your solution.

I expect PG and company are experts with regards to the needs of web startups and inexpert with regards to many fields of human endeavor. If you're going to be targeting one of those fields, mention the importance in ways which are easy for non-experts to understand. Our field is important: it employs X million, supports N companies on the Fortune 500, and did $ZZ billion in sales last year. Our problem keeps these people up at night -- they write journal articles about it, they spend hundreds of millions addressing it, it might even have killed a few thousand people they care about last year.

After you do that, people will be more inclined to view your solution in a positive light. Without the perspective of the problem, folks tend to latch onto things they understand about the solution: hmm, that button placement is off, this visualization lacks a bit of panache, I can't see myself ever really using this...

These are not the thoughts that typically precede writing big checks.

That's good advice in general, and I something companies interviewing would do well to be able to answer, but at least from what I've gathered from our interview and others we talked to is that you don't even get a chance to set up that sort of framing.

Yes. No prepared speeches please. It drives us nuts when we ask someone a question, and instead of just answering they launch into some long preamble they prepared in advance.

Interviews are only 10 minutes. We need random access; there is no time for sequential.

In our experience (Mixpanel), your goal should be conveying what you're doing in the most basic form (nothing convoluted), getting all of them behind your computer checking out your demo with pg interacting with it, having pg throw out suggestions on what your product could do, and having Jessica distracted about the time limit while telling you "we're already 2 minutes over guys."

If you can do that I think you've sold yourself reasonably well as long as market size is reasonably resolved as an issue.

I would say showing that you're passionate about your company is important but it's not something you can make up. Having an actual product with real customers can easily help you prove your case.

I don't know if we would've got in without Garry from Posterous' help, so Tim and I are happy to grab coffee just like Garry did with us right before your interview and hear the pitch. Just let us know: support@mixpanel.com (goes to Tim and I)

Did you even get a chance to explain, fundamentally, what your product was? I got the sense almost that it needed to be 80% self-explanatory from a 1 line description, and that already in that it had to set up the "this could be potentially big".

Thanks for being so supportive! I shot you an email from arthur@outspokes.com :)

This is right in line with the three things early stage investors look for in a company: technology, market and team.

While we're sharing, we interviewed and didn't get selected for S09 also. Leaving aside any flaws with the idea itself, I believe the main thing we should have done during the interview -- and didn't -- was coherently express how we were going to make a ton of money out of the idea. pg et al may totally disagree on that, of course, and there are other things that -- in retrospect -- could have a) been better or b) been communicated better. But that's my main 'I wish I'd said...' from our experience, anyway.

The other thing is demo. Ours really wasn't great - it was a screenshot walkthrough which didn't show the tech in action. We had to do a lot of talking to overcome that, which meant not enough time to talk about everything else. If your demo explains everything in 30 seconds, you'll have a way stronger foundation than we did.

I recently had a similar experience doing a 3-minute pitch for a startup competition. We didn't get it and assumed it was for all the wrong reasons. We later met with one of the judges and he said we had everything right, we just really didn't stress how we'd make money and that killed it for us. Lesson learned.

I enjoyed the bit about differentiation:

"Another way of approaching this challenge is to think: what's different about what you're doing? If the only thing that's different about what you're doing is that the product is easier to use, then you need to think long and hard about a better way to differentiate yourself."

I would also stress the value propositions and benefits of your solution and how those are exemplified in the features. It'll make for an excellent transition into the demo and not read like a boring feature list.

"they're looking to fund companies with IPO potential" - Is that correct ? Difficult to make that out from PG's essays, maybe some founders can clarify.

Every investor prefers companies with IPO potential. However, IPO potential is more a property of founders than ideas. In 1975, writing a Basic interpreter for the Altair was an idea with IPO potential, because Bill Gates had it.

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