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Sunday, April 12, 2009

YC interview advice

I've been asked a few times what an applicant should know before walking into the YC offices for an interview. Here's a short list:

1) Build something
You should have a demo. It doesn't take more than 2-3 days to quickly mock something up that you can show the partners so there's no excuse not to.

This is actually great advice for the entire program. Start building your product early -- don't wait until that YC acceptance or the start of the program. I think the ideal time for a YC company to launch is in the first week of the batch.

2) Become an expert in your market (and your product)
Hard facts work. Have them available. What's the size of your market? What's the revenue of your closest competitor? What about their monthly traffic? How much time to visitors spend on your site?

3) Have a path to positive cash flow
It has become clear that in this market you should have revenue by demo day. Ideally you're ramen profitable. It'll be much harder to find investment if you're not. I am ABSOLUTELY positive that YC will be thinking about this when interviewing.

Be prepared for the question "how are you going to make money?" and the answer probably shouldn't involve ads.

3) Do mock interviews
Ask others to interview you. Ideally, practice with previous YC founders or someone that understands the hacker mentality.

4) Show some passion
Make it clear that you're excited about your product and that you're not going anywhere. If you don't believe in the idea/product, why should anyone else? One of YC's biggest problems is with founders that aren't in it for the long haul. You should communicate this both in the way you talk about your product and in the preparation you've done before the interview (see above).

5) Be humble
The last thing you want to do is argue with the partners. Accept criticism and show that you've thought about the objections they raise. If you don't have an answer, be honest. Offer to do the research and follow up later in the day.

6) Finally, find a cool place to crash
Don't get a hotel. Find other hackers to crash with on HN, craigslist, or airbnb. You can also stay at the hacker house. Getting an idea of what its like to be a hacker in the valley is almost important as the interview itself.

Edit 10:32 AM: I almost forgot another very important point: don't bring a deck. The 10 minute interview is going to mostly consist of the YC partners asking questions and you answering them. You won't be able to script the whole thing slide by slide.

In fact, anything the YC partners have to sit through won't go over well. This also includes a video of your product. From talking to PG, this is one of the most common mistakes. Don't do it.

Edit 11:04 AM: PG wants to clarify some of this advice. To avoid leading anyone astray I've reposted his comments below:

"the answer probably shouldn't involve ads"
Actually we're not as down on ads as other investors seem to be. We liked Heyzap, and they make money from ads.

"The last thing you want to do is argue with the partners."
That's an overstatement. We don't like people who supinely agree with everything we say. That's as bad as refusing to listen to anything we say. What we look for is a middle ground: people who respond intelligently to our suggestions.
Some of the suggestions we make are stupid. If people agree with those, we conclude they're stupid. (We don't do this on purpose to catch people. We just don't understand very well yet what each group is doing.)


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