Getting into Y Combinator is a dream for almost every founder, so was it for me. It is considered the world’s best accelerator for startups and there are many posts explaining “the benefits” of the program. However, I would consider it the best, just for the way it helped us while preparing to get into it.
We had our YC Interview this week. No, we did not get in. It may look disappointing. But surprisingly, it made me more enthusiastic than ever!
Part 1: The Tryst
I first wanted to get into YC last September when I read everything about it just before I had the office hours with Tim Brady in Bengaluru. Our application was rejected twice for W17 and S17 batches. Later that summer, we were selected for Startup School by Y Combinator and that program helped me to understand the entire thought process of building a startup ‘The YC Way’.
This time when we were applying, I badly wanted to get in. We did have a good traction: we doubled our revenues over the last 6 months, have a scalable sales process that was showing steady results and 20% of our customers were from direct referrals from existing customers. I had all my answers prepared very well and even the script for the founders’ video. At the back of my mind, I knew we would get the interview call and on the morning of Oct 25 2017, we did receive an email that read “ Your application looks promising and we’d like to meet you in person”. YC insists on meeting the founders in person. So, they reimburse the travel expenses of the founders to fly down to California.
We had 10 days to get our visas, prepare for our interview and get on the flight. Sanjeev’s passport had expired and he did not renew, may be he was not expecting a call. We were worried if he will be able to get it renewed on time to get to SF. However, he got a fresh one in just 2 days. Both our VISA interviews were scheduled for Monday, the 30th of October. We had booked our tickets to SF! We walked into the visa office happily, now that we were going to SF together. And then the thunder strikes! Our visa interviews happened on adjacent counters. While Sanjeev’s visa got approved, mine was denied. Yes, I was denied a Business Visa!
I felt very low. Strong emotions occupied my mind. It was like having to let go of something you dreamt of and worked really hard for because of a reason beyond your control. Though a bit devastated, I was clear. Sanjeev was to answer all the major questions and he has to prepare well. We had already started our interview preparation with the help of a friend and YC alum, Nalin, CEO of Auro Robotics.
I read every bit of information available on the VISA process online, spoke to a few people and a YC attorney and applied again. One day before our scheduled flight to SF, my VISA was denied for the second time. It wasn’t difficult this time. May be I was prepared for it. Sanjeev flew alone to California and I was to attend the interview via skype on the night of Nov 7th at 1 AM.
Next few days were packed and sleepless. Me and Sanjeev used to have calls multiple times a day and do interview mocks. We also did YC style mock interviews with 6 YC alums during the last 3 days. We were growing more confident with each mock interview. At this point, I must say that most of the YC alumni we connected to were very kind and took out time even while travelling to help us with our preparation.
The interview went well. It wasn’t very intense as we had thought. Sanjeev answered all the questions very well and 10 mins flew by before we knew. Those 10 minutes are probably the shortest 10 minutes of our lives. I just said “Hi” to YC partners, but I did not regret not being there. Sanjeev worked really hard and that made the interview look very easy!
Fingers crossed. Skype and email on. We waited for communication from, hoping it would be a call. And later in the night, we received a feedback email from a YC Partner.
Unfortunately, we decided not to fund Vaave this batch.
“We believe what you’re building should exist and at scale, this could be a LinkedIn killer. In the end, we are worried about the pace of your growth. We’d love to see you sell and onboard schools at a faster pace.
While not getting into YC could look disappointing, the feedback they provided was what we already knew. The best part is YC partners endorsing our belief. Though our growth is steady, we are definitely slower than what YC expects. The primary reason is the constraint of capital as we are majorly bootstrapped.
Getting into YC could have been a turning point for us after years of hard work. However, the entire process of preparing for YC itself was very helpful.
YC Application & Interview process is structured in such a way that unless you have really worked seriously on something, you would find it difficult to even answer the questions. You cannot fake, you cannot do Jumla, no BS, you ought to be the best!
The preparation itself gave us complete clarity on what we should be doing in the next 6 months and the next 3 years and more importantly “WHY”. I will soon also write a Part 2 of this post explaining how preparing for YC interview helped us and why we strongly recommend every serious entrepreneur to apply to YC. Even if you do not want to get in, the questions they ask are vital for your business.
The mail from the YC Partner also mentions:
I hope you prove we made a mistake by not funding you. Good luck as you continue to grow.
No, YC did not make a mistake by not funding us. It provided us with an opportunity to work with much more rigor. We know exactly what we need to do. We need to move faster, much faster!
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Do visit us at www.vaave.com