Y Combinator S14 Interview

August 10, 2014 / Start-up, Kash, AvidTap, AvidRetail, YC, YCombinator

Note that I originally wrote this on May 15 to capture my YC interview experience. This is not a how-to or tips on applying. This is just me capturing my memories and now sharing this verbose recollection of the events.

Application Process

Kaz, Geoff, and I have only considered applying to accelerators around Toronto until now, because Geoff is unable to be away from wife and baby. On March 14, Kaz brought up the option of YC again and asked us whether we’ll be willing to leave our wives behind for 3 months. The three of us met up that weekend to discuss more, and then held a team meeting the following Monday. We decided to go ahead and apply.

The decision to apply didn’t change our priorities at the company. All of us were still busy executing and validating what we have. We let Kaz take the first stab at coming up with a draft application. He and I then went back & forth couple times before we shared to the broader team for feedback.

We knew we’d stand a better chance if we don’t leave it till last minute to apply. We scheduled to tape our application video on March 22. We were also really grateful that Zak Homuth (Upverter W11) and Martin Drashkov (Kyte W12) gave us feedback on the application. Zak in particular cut out fluff in our application. The feedback from Martin was also to reduce confusion for the reader. YC Partners have thousands of applications to read so you have to be good at communicating key points.

The application deadline is March 28. We submitted ours on March 25 after more edits to incorporate feedbacks.

Not Waiting for Application Result

After we submitted the application we went right back to work. We knew that an accelerator doesn’t make or break a company. The most important thing to figure out is whether we’re making something people want, and whether the business makes sense. During the waiting period Kaz went on his honeymoon that was already scheduled. For me, I coordinated efforts with Pritesh and Ryan to execute on our marketing initiatives for AvidRegister.

After Kaz came back we started to get some promising signs. One of the YC partners asked for our growth chart. Our youtube video also had views other than us.

YC had said that April 16 is when they’ll let people know whether they get an interview or not. It’s really nice to have a date on which you know the result whether positive or negative. Kaz and I waited by our computers for the results that night. Once we found out we have an interview, Kaz and I immediately jump on Google Hangout and nailed the interview date before we had a chance to talk to Geoff. We figured there is nothing that can’t be pushed away for this.

The one thing about YC that’s really impressive is that they move fast, and they tell you exactly when decisions will be made. This is different than any other accelerators in Ontario.

Before the Interview

We bought tickets for April 26 and our interview was going to be on April 27 at 10:45AM.

There are lots of potential YC questions you can find online. We compiled a list and went through the questions writing down our responses.

We were really grateful that Martin (YC W12) again helped us by giving us a mock interview. He mentioned that we can go to SF earlier and get some YC alums to help with mock interviews. Too bad we already booked our flights but Martin’s advices were hugely helpful and steered us in the right direction.

Martin told us to have 1 person do most of the talking. We had planned to do what we’ve done for all other accelerator interviews we had before, which is to have different people answer different questions.

Martin also told us to get to the crucial points in the first sentence of our answers. There were answers that we prepared that weren’t going in the right direction. He told us that YC partners will cut you off and different partners might be asking rapid questions such that you don’t have time to finish answering fully. Therefore, getting crucial points out in the first sentence is important.

Then came time for us to fly to California. We grabbed dinner from In-N-Out Burger and drove to our Airbnb place in Burlingame to rest for the night.

Day of Interview

Because of the 3-hour timezone difference between Toronto and San Francisco, all of us were up super early. We practiced some more and rehearsed our demo routine in case YC partners want to see a demo.

We left the apartment at 9 something aiming to get to YC around 10:15. We didn’t see much the night before, but on our way to YC we drove by lots of well known company’s buildings. We got lost a little and drove past Facebook on our way to YC.

Finally we took some crazy turns off of the highway and arrived at the YC building. We registered with reception and waited in a big room that looks like a cafeteria with long benches. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos of the area. There were other people waiting for their turn and we also got to see some cool hardware startup’s product. One of which is this cool touch interactive display thing:

Things were a little delayed, I think we finally got our turn closer to 11. We were led to a smaller room to the left of the reception. I didn’t know the people at the time, but we shook hands with Kirsty Nathoo, Geoff Ralston, Aaron Harris, and Yuri Sagalov. We initially were going to stand in front of the table since that’s how things worked for HyperDrive and Extreme Startups. However, they invited us to sit down and it felt more like a discussion rather than interrogation.

We could tell the YC partners were experienced and smart right away. Geoff started off by asking what it is that we do. After we gave our pitch, all remaining questions focused on key parts of our business. They knew immediately what’s important to ask. At one point they asked for a demo, and they quickly walk around the table to get behind us to see the tablet we brought. We showed them what we’ve built in the last 1.5+ year and our progress on the Kash app.

The interview probably lasted more than 10 minutes but it felt like a great discussion. After the interview we could finally relax and take a group photo outside the building.

Waiting for Result

Again, one of the really impressive thing about YC is that they make decisions quickly and let you know when decisions will be made. We knew that the decision whether we get in or not will be delivered that night. We still had tons of time before then, so we decided to do a little sightseeing.

For the rest of the day we didn’t think about YC or the business at all. Us 3 founders just spent a fun afternoon at Pier 39. We probably got back to our Airbnb place closer to 5. I knew waiting for the interview result is going to be tough on top of being already tired, so I went to my room to sleep. Later I woke up and joined Kaz and Geoff in the living room watching the Raptors game as we waited.

Finally at about 9:43PM EST we got a call from Aaron Harris. It was a great feeling. We weren’t depending on getting into YC for our startup, because we’d keep executing on our vision regardless. But to hear that we were accepted was awesome. Kaz immediately sent an email to Steve and Pritesh to let them know the result, then we went out to grab dinner to celebrate. High fives all around as we walked down the street.

Our flights were originally scheduled on April 28, but we changed flights that night to delay by couple days so we could attend the YC kick off meeting.