Interview Insider is not a new project, but has actually been up and running since March 1st, 2019. If it’s been up and running for 6 months, why wasn’t I always focusing on it? And if I didn’t think it was worth my attention before, what changed?
In The Beginning
When I originally came up with the idea, I was trying to find something that I actually cared about, and that I had an advantage in. Naturally, that led me to search in the tech industry for my next idea. A college student with no business experience and a relatively small network does not have many advantages. Because of my previous internships, tech was the only industry I understood, and I knew there was a lot of money lying around in the tech industry if I solved a problem there.
At the same time, tech people are the most likely to just solve their own problems, so it’s hard to find something that 83 other startups aren’t already solving.
Still, I went on to search for problems. There was one problem that had been on my mind for a while, but I knew it was unsolvable, so I never gave it much thought. That problem was the software engineer interview process. Many people have written about how bad tech interviews are, and it was unanimously agreed on that the interview process was broken.
What no one could agree on was how to fix it. If the entire tech industry already knew it was a problem, and couldn’t find a solution, obviously I couldn’t find a solution either.
As I thought about it more, I discovered smaller problems with the interview process. One of those problems was transparency. All over the popular CS forums, people would constantly be asking the question “What’s the interview process at X like?”. I knew their pain. There’s nothing more anxiety inducing than having a very important job interview coming up and having no idea what to expect.
But in some ways, I didn’t really know their pain, because whenever I had an interview, I knew I could just ask a friend who interviewed there, hunt around different forums, and get a good idea of the process. I wondered why they didn’t just do the same, then it occurred to me that not everyone has a bunch of friends in the industry. This would be especially true for minorities, and people from schools that weren’t “target schools”.
Interesting, I thought, maybe there’s something here. I looked into the discussions on various forums and also learned that a lot of people specifically hated “whiteboard interviews” where trivia style questions that had little to do with the actual job were asked.
I watched videos by April Wensel from Compassionate Coding and Zack Zlotnik, where they mentioned how transparency could improve the interview process. I began to think that maybe I could tackle the interview problem in a small way. Glassdoor and some other websites somewhat solved it, but I thought I might be able to do it better, or at least differently. Why not try?
With all of this in mind, I came up with the original concept for what was then called “Project Challenger” (In the days when I named my projects after failed space missions #optimism).
It would tag companies according to the type of interview they did, whether it was a whiteboard interview, pair programming, online challenge, or something else. Users would be able to filter companies by interview type so they could find companies with interviews they felt more comfortable with. There would also be a brief description of that company’s interview process.
Somewhere along the way, I discovered that some companies were ahead of the whole transparency game, and had already made their interview information public. I added the links to those guides on the website, and ranked those companies higher on the homepage.
It took me a week to build the website, and on March 1st, I was ready for my ProductHunt launch.
The launch ended up going fairly well, and it’s still my best product hunt launch to date. But there are more than enough PH launch debriefs in the world, and there is nothing particularly interesting about this one, so I will leave it at that.
The day after I launched, I received the following email:
Wow. A company cold emailing me? That’s crazy. That never happens. What’s going on?
I was so used to having failed launches, that the idea of success seemed strange.
I responded and told them what information they would need to give me for their company to be added. They continued to respond positively.
Paid? What? You’re trying to pay me already? What’s going on?
I told them it was free, but they could pay to be featured on top if they wanted.
What a weekend. I was off to a great start, with the clearest signs ever that I was going to succeed.
Then a week passed. No response.
Then 2 weeks passed. No response.
I sent a follow up email. No response.
I never heard from them again.
I wasn’t going to let one person’s ghosting be the end of me, so I carried on with a plan to do outreach to lots of companies, asking them to publish an interview guide on my website.
I managed to get a few big companies on board, and they all agreed to work with me to create a guide for the website. Things were looking up again.
With all of this momentum, I applied to Startup UCLA. I knew I would be more or less broke after graduation, so their funding would allow me to continue work on Interview Insider without needing to worry about immediate monetization.
Death by Bureaucracy
And it was only downhill from there. Startup UCLA rejected me, and my conversations with companies were stalling. Companies that had agreed to work with me were now taking *weeks* to respond to my emails, and that was only after I followed up 5 times. What was going on?
One company was 99% ready to publish their interview guide, which would make it the first official guide on the website. But right after telling me it was ready to go, they sent a follow up email saying the equivalent of “Hold up, let me check in with the higher ups.” That email made me realize why everyone else might be so slow to respond. These companies had so much bureaucracy that even if a recruiter or manager supported the idea, they probably needed many layers of approval to work with me.
After weeks of no response from any of the companies, and no progress, I decided to stop bothering with all of it and just enjoy my last few weeks as a college student.
When the Impossible Year started, I had lots of new ideas that I wanted to pursue, like SocialVault and Microgrant. So I left Interview Insider behind to pursue these new projects.
At the same time, in the background, I was rethinking Interview Insider. I realized one important thing, which was that I didn’t need to work with companies at all in order to solve the problem.
I didn’t need companies, I just needed to get information about the interview process. Instead of getting official information, I could rely on crowdsourcing, which would be more challenging in some ways but seemed to make more sense. After all, companies don’t have much of an incentive to be transparent so it doesn’t matter as much to them. Job applicants care about it a lot more, so maybe they would contribute their information and help each other out. Also, there might be people at the companies who want to help without dealing with bureaucracy, and with a crowdsourced model they could contribute too.
I read the forums more, and tried to identify what key data points people would be interested in. They cared a lot about the leetcode level of the questions, the topics, and the timeline of the interview, so those would be my first data points.
The crowdsourced version of the website would be harder in some ways, but it would be much faster than working with companies, and speed was important. I didn’t know if it would work, or if people would find it useful. Forums, Glassdoor, and everything else is also crowdsourced, so was I really doing anything new or useful? At the very least, I was putting the data into a better format, so it was worth a try to see if people liked it.
I also knew that of all my projects and ideas during July and August, Interview Insider had one of the highest potentials for profit. It could easily fail, but if it succeeded, it would make money a lot easier than something like SocialVault.
Interview Insider 2.0
So I rebuilt the website from scratch in a few days, got the initial data, and deployed it.
For the last 4 months, my chart looked like this.
In the month since I’ve rebuilt the website, the chart has looked like this.