mistakes you're probably making in the y combinator interview

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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