Jason Brain

@jarombra

I applied, interviewed, and was turned down for the YC s2017 batch.

Standing outside the Y Combinator building in Mountain View at 10 a.m. the doors were still locked. After realizing there are better things to do than jiggle the doorknob or chew our fingernails for fifteen minutes, a few of us fashionably early founders got to talking.

Small business cyber security, machine learning colonoscopy robots, stuff like that was the soup du jour by and large. “So where are your cofounders, and what are you doing?” A few people asked me, at which point I would present several snapping block prototypes from my zipper breast pocket for my fellow interviewees’ amusement. “You’re a hardware guy!” someone exclaimed as if he was expecting me to physically drop a web app in his hand.

As they played with the pieces I’d soliloquize my elevator pitch: “Kible is a snapping block system in which anyone can design, share, and purchase their own model creations or those of other users from any phone or tablet.” One of the small business cyber security guys was vocally agape with awe, which we all laughed at when I said that I hope my YC panel of interviewers have half the enthusiasm he did. Eric Migicovsky (the founder of Pebble watches) emerged from a side door holding a Big Gulp sized stein of coffee and gingerly began playing with my prototypes. Mid-sentence, Eric accidentally plopped one into his morning brew. “OH SHIT!” He shouted, startling the taciturn cloisters of coordinated T-shirt wearing startup teams around him, “I knew that was going to happen!” The ice was broken to say the least and things were off to a great start.

Some of the hype of interviewing at YC was thankfully mellowed by what I overheard many residency candidates say amongst themselves, “Kind of an underwhelming facility, don’t you think?” Nothing to sneeze at, especially with the teaBOT over there in the corner, but the bowl of complimentary Nature Valley granola bars reminded me of middle school packed lunches and put to rest any outstanding nerves. When Verena Prescher called me on deck, I was very excited to make the most of what would invariably be a conversation that ends sooner than one wants.

“Where, what is it? When? How? Why!” A somewhat comical flurry of the Five-W’s emerged before I had even settled into my chair. I quickly tossed the baggy of prototypes onto the table like an apprehended dealer acquiescing to an interrogator, despite Michael Seibel’s advice in an email the night before, “Don’t try to demo first thing”. I put the iPhone and iPad on the table with the Kible modeling app loaded up as well. Everyone was silent as Daniel, Geoff, Karen, and Jon inspected, then played with the pieces. No one touched the app.

After practicing probably too much with the iPG (https://jamescun.github.io/iPG/) I was taken aback by the stillness in the room. Where were the rapid fire questions? Not at all what I anticipated, I found myself often leading the conversation, and perhaps more expected: never having enough time to hash out each topic discussed. Not to overemphasize this image of interrogation (it was ultimately a warm rapport), the panel struck me as a gradient of bad-cop to good-cop, with Daniel on my far left throwing the hardballs (bad-cop), and Jon on my far right doing not much other than striking an avuncular pose with arms crossed (good-cop). Right when it felt like everyone was beginning to understand the scope and potential of Kible, Verena banged on the door — the signal that it was time to wrap it up. Geoff quickly asked me to explain one final aspect of the product, after which he stood up and shook my hand and said, “I definitely think there’s a space for Kible.” Handshakes all around, a whirlwind of formalities then I was out the door back in the lobby.

“Oh no!” I thought, “I didn’t even walk them through the app!” Almost all of the interview was a conversation about why Kible is appealing, substantiated by answers that usually followed from questions I initially posed myself. I even tried to prove my sincere integrity as a sole founder by leading the conversation to what I thought would be the greatest challenges for Kible (i.e. inventory and fulfillment), even though they never asked me forthright about such issues.

Somewhat confused how any decision could be informed by the brevity of the interview, I asked Verena what the protocol was: should I wait around, or just go back to my hotel room? Start moving toward the airport? She told me to hold on a second and disappeared back into the interview room, presumably on my behalf. Moments later she reemerged with a smile and two thumbs up, “They’re definitely going to get back to you, you’re good to go!” I wasn’t going to get my hopes up, as getting back to me could mean either an email or a call, only the latter of which meant success. But I thought her cheer was a pretty good sign, especially with the two thumbs up that she sported.

Just before Geoff’s final affirmation for Kible at the end of the interview, someone did in fact ask one of the questions found in the iPG simulator (I don’t remember who posed it): “What are you going to do if we don’t fund you?” Easy. I told them my Kickstarter was already under construction and I’d prepare a press campaign and go straight to crowdfund-town. Somewhat surprising, eight hours after my interview as I sat on my hotel bed waiting for the Oren’s Hummus delivery (darn good rice bowl by the way), Jon sent me the dreaded email.

Despite having a slam dunk interview in my mind, I was told in short that Kible demanded too many disciplinary proficiencies than any sole founder could manage. I took it as a huge compliment that spoke to the magnitude of Kible. I thanked Jon for the opportunity to meet him along with everyone else and without hesitation set my sights on moving Kible forward regardless. As with any venture, relationships are at the core, and I’m honored to have had an opportunity to meet the YC partners and experience their application process. While I intend on reapplying to YC in the future, for now it’s head-down bum-up with Kickstarter, which we just launched yesterday morning:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1624680768/kible-snapping-blocks-for-the-21st-century

As an alumnus of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and as a certified Lego Master Builder, I’ve spent the last year and a half reengineering the snapping block toy as we know it for the aesthetic and experiential expectations of the 21st century. Kible is comprised of physical snapping pieces that can build out in all six orthogonal directions without impasse, and a mobile design app, the latter of which serves as interactive building instructions amongst many other features. Gone are the days when block enthusiasts had to wait for sets to arrive on a retail shelf! With Kible, you have complete creative control of your building ideas.

Feel free to ask my any questions about Kible here or via my email: jbrain@gsd.harvard.edu.

Thanks for checking it out everyone, “I can’t wait to see what you all build!”

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