How to Ace your Y Combinator Interview

Image Credit: Wired

So you just got your YC interview email: congratulations! I remember the feeling of thrill when we got the email for CoinTracker (YC W18):

YC interview request email

Excitement! Okay, wait, hundreds of people get interviews so how are we actually going to perform well on this? How do we even get started? After talking to 100+ YC alums and having gone through the experience myself, here is what I recommend:

  1. Practice explaining your company in simple words. The first thing you say in your interview should be a <10 word description of what you are building/doing/solving in specific terms such that your parents could understand.
  2. Draft 10-second answers to these questions with your co-founder(s) if applicable. Put them in a doc and keep them short & crisp. YC values concision. Questions largely fall into three categories: team, product, and users/market
  3. Keep practicing #1 over and over again until you can do it in your sleep. If you have co-founders, you want to pick different categories of types of questions that each person can tackle so that your teamwork comes through. Ideally, everyone speaks but it doesn’t have to be equal (e.g. one person can do 80% of the talking).
  4. Record yourself doing #1, watch the video and realize how painfully awkward you are. Improve, rinse, repeat. The tone you want to set is confident & formidable without being arrogant
  5. Pick the top 3–5 most impressive things about your application (e.g. team, market, traction, revenue, growth, customers, unique insight, etc.) and list them out in short bullet points. Make sure that you nail these points in your interview, ideally based on the questions that are asked but steer the conversation to these points even if they aren’t explicitly brought up. Pick wisely: would you invest $150,000 based on these bullet points?
  6. Read YC’s own guide on how to prepare
  7. Get in touch with YC alums and do mock interviews with as many of them as you can. Get in touch with them as early as possible

Other Tips

Do

  • Be concise
  • Speak quickly (but not too quickly)
  • Show enthusiasm & energy (passion is infectious)
  • Cite specific anecdotes from users
  • Practice body language. Interviewers pay attention to this
  • Know your metrics/numbers. The actual numbers probably don’t matter, but if you don’t know them, that’s a red flag. Also showing growth matters more than the absolute numbers
  • Have a demo prepared & ready to go. This saved us during our interview. Make sure it works offline in case there are WiFi problems

Don’t

  • Use jargon
  • Waste time (you have 10 minutes — use all of it to your advantage)
  • Assume that interviewers know anything about you or your company
  • Cut-off your co-founder(s). Instead build on each other
  • Be defensive. Have crisp explanations for weaker areas, acknowledge them, and bring back another point of strength
  • Use top-down market sizing (e.g. if we only capture 1% of this 100 trillion dollar market, then we’ll be rich!). Either do bottoms-up estimation or compare to a related industry
  • Get rattled. There may be elements of stress testing in the interview. From their perspective if they can trip you up in 10 minutes, how are you going to survive as a company for 10 years?

Other Resources

Good luck! It’s a stressful process, but absolutely worth the experience. If it doesn’t work out, no worries. Google, Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, etc. didn’t go through Y Combinator and they turned out fine. You can also always re-apply (my co-founder didn’t get in his first try).

Our experience was incredible, trajectory-changing, and we hope that yours is too!

My co-founder and me at YC W18 Demo Day

Have questions or feedback? Let me know on Twitter @cglodha