Y Combinator, how to nail the interview

Congrats on applying to Y Combinator, the top startup accelerator in the world. Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, Instacart, and a long list of companies with a valuation of more than $80B are all alums of the program. If you have a great startup and haven’t already applied, I highly recommend you do so ASAP. Most definitely, Y Combinator will be a life changing experience for you and your team and heres’s the link to apply: https://www.ycombinator.com/apply/

This is my guide on how to pass the Y Combinator face to face interview in Mountain View. It started from an email I wrote to friends who asked advice on how to prepare for the interview. After several such emails, I decided it’s a good idea to publish this guide to the benefit of the startups founders community.

The interview is the last stage to pass before you get accepted to Y Combinator. Below you’ll find the plan we used to prepare and pass the interview.

I’m Barak, CEO of Neema, YC W17. I’m starting with this because it’s critical to always get advice from folks who’ve done it themselves. This is actually a big part of the YC lore as you’ll always get talks and advice from people who’ve been in the trenches themselves.

As an international company, we’ve had to go through a video interview before the face to face one in Mountain View. The advice below is for the face to face interview, but it is also a good guideline for the video one. The entire MV interview lasts 10–15 minutes, during which you are bomarded with questions by four YC partners. Preparing to the Y Combinator interview is a great way to distill for yourself, your team, your users and potential investors, what you’re actually building and align you with the right questions. You will absolutely find that going through this process greatly improves your focus and clarity of thought.

Review the steps below and read every article linked there; i’ve collected the most useful ones for you.

  1. You first need to understand what Y Combinator is looking for in companies and the founders they accept. This is what Sam Altman, president of Y Comboinator wtote in his 2017 annual letter:
    Will this company build something lots of people really love?
    Will this company be easy to copy?
    Will these founders develop into “forces of nature”?
    Does this company have a clear and important mission?
    Basically, you need to be able to convince the partners that you’re building something people love — this is demonstrated by traction; that there are many such potential users — i.e, there is a large addressable market; that you guys are the right team, because you’re “forces of nature” — determined, able to block out noise, and have a sense of urgency — this is also best demonstrated by traction and past track record.
    Read more about this here: https://qz.com/913913/these-are-the-four-questions-y-combinator-uses-to-identify-the-next-unicorn/
  2. Understand the three basic question YC expects you to nail in any investor pitch, and prepare your answers accordingly :
    What your company does?
    How big is your market?
    How much traction do you have?
    Read more about those questions here: http://www.businessinsider.com/y-combinator-michael-seibel-on-how-to-pitch-investors-2014-12
  3. Those three questions are your sword, it should always need to be polished, honed and ready for battle. So now watch this video with Michael Seibel, CEO of YC, explaining how to pitch investors: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-YBCehpgpc . Michael is incredible, he is the Prof. Xavier of YC’s mutant startup school. You should always pay close attention to his advice and when he is explaining how to pitch investors, he is actually also saying how YC would like to get pitched; remember, YC itsels is an investor.
  4. Google “Practice Quetsions for Y Combinator Interview”. Then, go over the top results. There are tools with questions, there are good posts by Y Combinator, and there are great posts by YC alumnis.
  5. Collect those questions into a Google doc.
  6. Write your answers in the Google doc. This is an iterative process, where you keep coming back to the answers and removing everything that is not essential. The answers need to be simple, concise and accurate. Make sure you get to the point, ASAP. Remove the fluff, YC has really low tolerance to BS.
  7. Sit with your co-founders, determine who is going to answer which questions. Typically, the CEO answers most and CTO answers hardcore technical stuff. Founders dynamics is key, as YC teaches, one of the top reasons for startup failure is founders’ fighting. Don’t cut into each other and leave your ego aside. The CEO is the one who is in charge of meeting investors and answering the questions, so you need to demonstrate the CEO is formidable enough to perform that task effectively.
  8. Now, practice practice practice. Open the Google doc, go over the questions and let the CEO answer. Increase speed with time. This means speaking in a coherent accurate manner with no pause for thinking. You need to know you have the questions pertaining to your Product, KPIs, users and market locked and loaded. There’s also a nice tool with questions. I recommend you use the tool to add questions to your Google Doc, write the answers, practice the questions one by one from the Google doc, then use the tool to answer them in different sequence. http://ipaulgraham.herokuapp.com

I highlly recommend you read the Y Combinator Startups library and especially the articles in the ‘the basics’ section. This is the distilled wisdom of YC and you need to understand it. http://www.ycombinator.com/resources/

Please share in the comments if you find this guide hellpful and feel free to ask there any questions you feel were not addressed here. Questions about the program itself are more relevant after you pass. For now you need to focus on passing.

Good luck!

Barak