Hera — How we got into YCS21

Bruno Vegreville
Aug 2 · 6 min read

The short version of this blog post is:

We’ve joined YCombinator’s latest batch (YCS21)!
We are 7 weeks in and YC has already been transformative for Hera, our product, our growth, and everything in between.

But we are building Hera in public, so we won’t announce a good news like this without telling you the backstory.

Besides, when we were prepping for YC’s application process, we wished we could read stories from companies at a similar stage.

Disclaimer: Our story of getting into YC will mostly resonate with 3–9 months old companies, post-prototype but pre-product/market fit. Besides, this is what worked for us; there is no one-size-fits all 🤷

For the new readers, Hera is a MacOS app to prepare, join and take notes in meetings. We help users have great meetings without the grunt work.

Step 1 — Apply, and now is probably the right time

We applied to YCombinator S21 batch on January 27th, exactly 20 days after creating Hera as a company.

The game is on

At that time, we had:

  • A prototype we were using internally
  • Around 100 user interviews conducted in January to refine our understanding of the problem we are tackling
  • A vision for the product and company we wanted to build.

We’ve applied using YC’s new Early Deadline track. I strongly advise to use this track, as your application will be reviewed before the pre-batch rush and you will have more time to prove your idea and team.

The questions provided by YC for the application are well designed and help you cover all the important topics of your company

The top three things we tried to keep in mind:

1. Be concise, until it hurts

YC partners are obsessed with conciseness. We made sure to go back on our draft several times to remove useless words and redundant concepts. A good exercise is to ultimately read it to someone outside of your company and check the person is bored after 30 seconds…

Retrospectively, I believe we should have been more concise.

2. Time-box yourself

Applying to YC won’t make your company successful, building a product people want will. We did not want to loose our focus for too long.

We dedicated 48 hours to craft our application.

3. Be memorable

YC reviews thousands of applications in a short time frame. Try to include a memorable element in your application. It can be through your video, product demo, founders story, or just a sharp tagline.

We have made our application public, feel free to check it out! Of course, we also share our now-awkward video:

It took us more than one shot, and it’s still awkward…

We were lucky to have our application referred by a long-time mentor of mine, but it’s definitely not a pre-requisite, as many companies get into YC without referrals.

Step 2 — Interview, and be concise

5 days later, we got a positive answer from YC, moving us to the next stage: the interview.

We stayed cool throughout the entire process

The rules of the interview with YC partners are dead simple:

  • 10 minutes in a Zoom with 3–5 partners. It’s short.
  • To kickstart the discussion, they will ask you questions about your product, problem, users etc.

The call was the next day, so we had 24 hours to prepare 😬.

The top three things we tried to keep in mind:

1. Be concise, until it hurts

Reminds you something?
What was true for the application is crucial for the interview.
9 questions out of 10 should be answered in one sentence.
YC partners will ask you to explain further if needed.

In my opinion, this is the toughest part of the interview, and we struggled to answer questions with one sharp sentence.

2. Project energy

You might be the first interview of the day, or the 20th. You want to give energy to the attendees.

Show that you are excited about your idea and about joining YC.

3. Don’t take advice irrelevant at your stage

Companies can apply to YC at any stage (pre-idea to 7 figures revenue).

From what we’ve seen, YC partners usually ask questions relevant to your company’s stage.
Make sure your preparation is centered around your current top challenges.

Is it validating that your problem is worth solving? or that your solution is working? or that you can scale your solution?

In hindsight, we tried to prepare too many topics and should have focused on those relevant to pre-PMF companies.

For start-ups with a first version of a product, I would recommend to make sure that you can describe what your product does in 2 sentences that everyone understands. That. everyone. understands. 😂

We’ve prepared common questions using this tool and we agreed beforehand on the broad categories of questions we were responsible for.
Louise would answer all questions related to user and growth and I would take questions on product and vision.

You don’t want to spend 40 seconds deciding who should take the answer. And this call is a great occasion to show that your founding team is cohesive!

Step 3 — It’s not over until it’s over

It’s hard to tell if the interview goes well because it’s so short.

12 hours later, we got an email from the YC partner, asking to try out our prototype.

It was not exactly a “good sign”

Hera was 1 month old, so our product was not exactly “self-serve” 😅.

We had nothing to loose so we hustled for 7 days to get a stable-ish version for them to install.

We tried to make it super easy for YC to try our product and love our company.

We had built a YC-special edition of our product, with a dedicated onboarding guide, to make sure the journey was smooth for them.

YC partners had to process all the other upcoming applications so it took time to hear back from them.

To show that we were not passively waiting, we would send an update every week to the YC partner to explain new features, new learnings, new milestones.

In May, we got a call to chat about the product with our YC partner and we got accepted shortly after.

In hindsight, I believe we got accepted mostly based on the momentum we’ve shown during the months between the interview and the final call.

Step 4a — Rejected, back to work

The same way being accepted into YC does not guarantee your company to be successful, being rejected does not inform much.

Hopefully the application process helped you get a clear overview of your company, which is always valuable.

Also, many companies in YC apply more than once. When you feel your product, your growth, or your understanding have changed significantly, apply again!

Step 4b— Accepted, back to work

If your company got accepted, congrats!

7 weeks into YCS21 batch, we can already assess that YC will have a strong positive impact on the Hera’s trajectory. We will cover in future blog posts what YCS21 meant for Hera.

Please leave a comment if you’d like a specific topic related to YC to be covered!

Demo Day in less than a month 😬

If you have any questions, feel free to shoot a DM on Twitter @bruvgr and @loubayss.

PS: If you want to take back control of your meetings, you should try Hera 🤝

Bruno & Louise

Hera HQ

Progress, mistakes and learnings at Hera