Our experience applying to and interviewing with YC
Dec 19, 2021
Our YC journey already started in July of this year, when we joined YC’s Startup School program. It’s an online learning program including office hours, and virtual co-working sessions with other founders from all over the world. Until today we use their weekly update templates to check-in on our weekly goals and progress.
The written application (+ three updates to it)
A few weeks later we applied for the first time for the early deadline of the W22 batch. The idea of the early deadline is to allow founders to apply on their own schedule, whenever it suits them best. You will either get an interview right away, or you won’t hear back from them — meaning that there are no rejections sent out when applying for the early deadline. When you don’t hear back from them, they encourage startups to update their applications, as they are well aware that a lot can change in that timeframe. The number one advice about the written application we heard from YC alumni is: Be concise. Following the inverted pyramid writing structure, meaning presenting the most important information or conclusion first, we removed as much general and redundant information as possible.
In the following weeks and months, as we didn’t hear back from them, we updated our application three times in total, always after a significant change (when changing the direction of our product after (dis-)validating hypotheses, or reaching significant milestones).
We made the last version of our application public, you can find it here.
And this is the a little embarrassing one-minute-video that is also part of the application 🙈:
Preparing for the 10-minute interview
It honestly caught us by surprise, when 4 months after our initial application, we finally got an invitation for an interview. With so much time having passed, we no longer expected a positive response, so we were even more stoked when receiving the invitation.
The YC interview is only 10 minutes, where they apparently can ask up to 30 questions! So the answers need to be concise — as concise until it hurts. As a preparation for the interview, we researched and wrote down all the questions relevant to our stage (pre product-market fit) and tried to answer them with one sentence only (and remembered the inverted pyramid method). We conducted mock interviews with several YC alumni and iterated the answers based on their feedback. This was quite a time-consuming and sometimes painful process, but totally worth it as we were in the middle of talking to angel investors anyways.
We were quite nervous on the day of the interview, and while the first two minutes felt a bit bumpy, it got better and better and we ended the call with a positive feeling (well, to be honest, a little less positive when we re-watched the recording of the interview 😅).
Rejection never feels easy — but what can we learn from it?
Even though we knew that chances to get accepted are really slim, there is always a small hope. So when seeing the rejection email the next morning, we were of course disappointed. Nonetheless, we are grateful for having gotten this exciting opportunity. It’s just a small number of applications that get invited to the interview stage. And many startups apply more than once before they get accepted. So we consider this already a little success, next to the many other little successes we are achieving at the moment. And seeing that YC praises our technical skills, commitment and drive, is also a great confirmation that we are onto something.
The interesting thing about the feedback in this rejection email is that we are fully aligned on the notion that user feedback is the most valuable gift we can get and that is a key ingredient to build something of value — however we believe in the power of qualitative feedback at this early stage and think that launching publicly can also bring a lot of distraction.
We are currently in closed alpha, going into closed beta in Q1, as we believe in the power of qualitative feedback in the early days. We’ve been onboarding each and every one of our users manually with a video call, which allows us to establish a personal relationship with our users, share our vision and see how they interact with our product. As all of our users are also part of our Slack community, we can keep up this personal relationship and get direct and real-time feedback. We believe that keeping the number of users low allows us to be super-focussed on building a stellar product for them and not get distracted by growth activities.
We would love to get your opinion on this: Go public as soon as possible or focus on building a great product for a small number of users?
We would love to chat with you about this (feel free to write us at firstname.lastname@example.org).
And of course don’t forget to sign up to our waitlist here.