You got invited to interview with Y Combinator – time to celebrate a little and pat yourself on the back! Or is it?
Getting to this stage is an accomplishment, but it isn’t time to declare victory. It’s time to buckle down, prepare, and ace the interview.
These are the top mistakes you’re probably making, and suggestions for how to fix them.
The main problems
You’re talking too much: just answer the damn question
The YC interview is 10 minutes long. That is short.
When a partner asks you a question, just answer it directly and concisely. If they want more information, they’ll ask.
Suppose you get asked: “What’s your churn rate?”
It’s great to say: “It’s 5%.” If the partner needs more information, believe me: they’ll ask.
Don’t say: “It’s 5%, but we think it’s going to go even lower once we implement this new feature that we’re working on. We talked to one of our top customers and…”
You’re smart, you’re excited about your product, and you could talk about it all day long. But now’s not the time. Answer the question directly.
Answering concisely makes you look better, and helps the partners get through all their questions.
You don’t actually know your numbers
Say it with me: you need to know your numbers.
And this isn’t just an interview thing. This is a founder thing. This is a business operator thing.
If you don’t know your numbers, you don’t really know what’s going on in your business.
Table stakes: Revenue, growth, costs, profit, retention rates, churn rates, average sale prices, active users, website traffic, burn rate, conversion rates through your funnel, repeat buyer rate, customer acquisition cost, lifetime value per customer, total addressable market, industry growth rate.
Big brain: You know how those metrics have changed over time. You know the metrics for different subgroups (e.g. different customer types). You’re aware of industry averages and competitor metrics. You can talk about specific customers (and, if relevant, suppliers) in a numerical way.
Don’t do: Uhhh, uhhh, uhhh…
Your intro sucks and/or you don’t have it memorized
You need to have your intro down cold.
You intro should consist of who you are, what you’re working on, and what problem you’re solving. The goal is to be descriptive, but also a little exciting and thought-provoking.
Our intro was something along the lines of: “We’re Art in Res, an art rental marketplace for consumers. We let you try art before you buy it, and buy it off your own wall in installments.”
After we got in, we updated it: “We’re Art in Res. We lower the entry barriers to buying fine art by letting people try it before they buy it. Instead of paying upfront, you can buy art in installments and can return any time.”
We pivoted Art in Res during the W20 batch, but that’s what we did at the time.
Do: Introduce yourself, explain what your company does and why it matters.
Don’t: Ramble on after your intro, or wing the intro.
Other problems and optimizations
You’re not talking like a human being
One thing I love about YC is that “keeping it real” seems to be an important value. (As far as I know, this isn’t codified anywhere – just my observation.)
Don’t: Try to impress the partners with jargon, present rehearsed lines (other than your intro), or “pitch.”
Do: In plain language, talk about the problem you’re solving, why it’s relevant to you, why you care about it, and how you’re helping your customers with that problem.
You’re not talking about your users or customers enough
As a founder, you need to actually talk to your users (and prospective users). You need to listen to them, understand their problems, understand their psychology, and iterate based on what you learn.
And this stuff – the things you learned from your users and how you iterated based on that feedback – should come up organically throughout the interview over and over again.
You’re wasting time figuring out who will answer which questions
As discussed above, the YC interview is damn short, lasting only 10 minutes.
In order to reduce the friction around, “Hey, do you want to answer this question?” and “Oh, I can answer this question,” decide pre-interview which founders will be responsible for which questions.
A common strategy is for one founder to answer the majority of the questions, say 70-80%, and the other founders answer questions about specific topics (e.g. tech, sales, whatever).
You’re overselling what you do (or not being honest)
I feel like this is obvious, but don’t lie. Don’t fudge the truth. Don’t try to outwit the partners.
Firstly: lying (and its derivatives) just ain’t cool.
Secondly: there’s a very good chance it will end poorly for you. Getting caught in a lie is an automatic disqualification (and that goes for any investor).
Thirdly: there’s no shame in not having a ton of traction, having struggles, or not knowing certain answers yet. You’re running a startup, remember?
By all means, emphasize and highlight what’s going well. But if you’re hiding behind vanity metrics, getting cute with your numbers, or making product claims you can’t back up, you’re just playing yourself.
That’s it! Best of luck.
PS: If you’re gearing up for your YC interview, I published the questions we used to prep for our own YC interview here.posted 30 nov 2021