Is going to a Y Combinator interview worth it?

Alex Chernikov
Dec 20, 2018 · 4 min read

The short answer is yes. The long answer is also yes. Below, there are two reasons which aren’t mentioned in all those posts about succeeding or failing at YC you can find on the web.

A proof that I nearly became successful for my mum.

We applied with Reji which makes vocabulary learning 3x faster than notebooks and flashcards for classroom students. We got rejected, but at the end of the day it was an amazing experience. More the trip to the Bay Area and preparation itself rather than the interview.

‘Yes’ via phone call, ‘No’ via email. With a tiny bit of feedback. Either way, on the interview day.

The interview is just 10 minutes long, but your time in the Bay Area and preparation can turn out extremely useful:

1) You’ll get connected with a lot of interesting people

YC acts as sort of a pre-screening. If you make it there, you’ll be interesting to investors, media and other companies (that’s what others say, and YC itself). If you don’t make it, you’ll be interesting at least to other companies (our experience). If YC turned their attention to you, others get more curious about you, too.

Getting covered by TechCrunch obviously becomes easier if you’re YC-backed.

Leveraging this, we’ve met with founders of some amazing companies in the US, UK, Germany and Austria: Tandem, Swelly, Usergems, Cambly, Chatterbug, Gustav, Openland, pro.space, Blossom, The Frida Project.

They’d be a bit harder to approach if I didn’t do so with YC-related questions. It’s a golden rule of connecting, actually: research someone’s work and approach them with concrete questions.

A fresh look at your product, business or acquisition model is always good, especially from experienced people who’ve already done something similar. Always go for it.

In our case, we improved our D1 retention by 10%, learned a lot more about our market and streamlined the business model using that feedback.

2) You’ll sharpen your vision and streamline a lot of weak points

We were non-intensively preparing for the interview for around one month. Following numerous guides, we wrote down all the possible questions and used the iPaulGraham bot to keep answers concise.

However, what was super useful about the whole process is that we identified a lot of weak points of our immature business we were afraid to raise earlier.

A quote from Gabriel Weinberg’s Traction which perfectly describes us before YC:

“If you don’t have an acquisition strategy, you say it’s viral marketing.”

Our previous app, Mate, got a whopping 600K MAU organically without a lot of effort from our side, so we could afford ourselves a luxury of basically working only on the product.

Language learning market is competitive, so it didn’t work out that well with Reji just to push it out to the App Store and get users.

During the preparation, we’ve come up with a much stronger acquisition strategy and monetization options, learned a lot of new things about the market.

Most founders make a mistake of working on the product too much. We did it, too. YC interview forced us to get out of that loop and finally think about things, without which the product will most likely die.

YC partners (people who’ll interview you) are one of the most influential and successful people in the tech industry (we were interviewed by the Gmail creator Paul Buchheit, for instance). They identify weak points really fast and try to understand if you have a good plan on how to overcome them.

Regardless you’re going to YC or not, having answers on typical YC questions can help you better understand what you’re building and how you’ll become a successful business.

iPaulGraham will help you to stay concise.

Even though we had it all, we failed to concisely explain it in 10 minutes. So, be concise and straight-to-the-point, too.

A quick note on the interview

Most founders (at least we talked with) say the interview is intense — that partners interrupt you, bomb with questions. Be prepared that it can be the other way around. In our case, they were silent and were waiting for us to tell them everything.

A quick note on preparation

If you’re looking for a good guide on how to prepare for the interview, I’d recommend one from Yury, the Openland founder: https://hackernoon.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-ycombinator-interview-preparation-8372628154c3

And of course YC’s own one: http://old.ycombinator.com/howtoprepare.html


If you made it to the interview phase, you’re already making something interesting. You just need to leverage gained connections, feedback and insights to iterate again.


With questions ping me at alex@twopeople.co.

This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by +401,714 people.

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Alex Chernikov

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Maker of top-rated, award-winning iOS and macOS software with over 600,000 monthly users; CEO at Gikken.co | twitter.com/chernikovalexey

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