Nail your YC application

Hi I’m Chris, founder of Slite!

Slite is the new way to write in teams. It replaces Google Docs, making collaboration and sharing a breeze.

About five months ago, Slite was one year old, we were still in private beta and just preparing to launch. Around that time, we applied to Y Combinator’s W18 batch, got in, and are now one month to Demo Day. Applications for the next batch are open — if you’re thinking of applying, here are a few tips that I hope can help.

And in bonus, here is the application that got us in, check it out if you’re curious!

The written application

YC’s application form is a long process, but 100% worth it no matter the output — we got rejected twice with my first company, but every time the application process was helpful.

First, because it allows you to clarify your value proposition and makes you ask yourself the touchy questions: what are your key insights, what drives your team and so on.

Second, because most of the other applications you will send out will be based on a similar model — this is material you’ll be recycling in some way, shape, or form. Pro tip time: create a Slite channel, write an application template and duplicate it everytime you start a new application 😉 💪.

Some advice on writing your application:

  • Block at least half a day with your cofounders to work on it.
  • Be super synthetic and to the point, especially for the video.
  • Cut the crap. The best people in the valley have a tendency to avoid the BS, YC partners are part of those.
  • Get it reviewed by mentors and alumni, they’ll help you avoid some obvious pitfalls.
  • Send it a bit in advance: everybody sends it right at the cliff date, which causes useless stress. Plus, I’m pretty sure partners start reading through them before the limit date so you can give yourself a chance to be among their first reading.

The interview

Briefly after the end of applications, you’ll receive an email saying either that YC would like to meet with you or that you didn’t make it to the interviews.

(To be noted: a week before hearing the news, I actually received a message asking to have a video call. It was to talk about a few unclear bits, so I really don’t think these “edge cases” are worth any interpretation. In fact, our friends at Station didn’t get any call before the interview and also got in.)

Some advice on preparing the interview

You only have ten minutes with the YC partners: that’s very little room to express yourself. The only solution is to come incredibly prepared.

  • Rehearse the touchy questions over and over again (iPG can help)
  • Get mentors and alumni to challenge you for practice
  • Rinse & repeat, until you feel sharp and comfortable with every answer

The day of the interview:

  • The date you receive the response of the application is known in advance so be ready to pick the right slot for you (I’d recommend the earliest possible to avoid useless stress).
  • The interviews are conducted in small rooms of YC’s offices in Mountain View. You’re invited to wait in the big iconic orange rooms where dinners take place during the program. If you can, avoid waiting too long there: there are too many other nervous teams and it can feel contagious.
  • You’ll be interviewed by 3 to 5 partners. My best advice is: don’t interprete their behaviours. It’s pointless because ten minutes is way too little time, every partner has a different style and you have no way of knowing the output. I actually had this advice from an alumni having been interviewed 3 times, he never guessed right the output.
  • Be incredibly synthetic. You have only 10 minutes, and need to show you have clear vision on each relevant topics.
  • Stay in control of the conversation: you don’t want to spend 5 minutes talking about irrelevant points.
For Slite a frequent challenge is bringing up Evernote as a competitor as we brand ourselves frequently as “the note app for teams”. The thing Slite is not a replacement for Evernote as they focus mainly on personal usage, and Slite’s core focus is teams. The question did come up during the interview, and it was key to recenter the talk, by explaining that Slite is doing to content what Slack did to communication, and as a result replaces tools like Google docs and Confluence.
  • This doesn’t mean you should avoid your weaknesses: those are actually the ones you must have the clearest answers on.

Once the interview’s done, the awesome thing is you’ll get an answer the evening. You’ll receive an email if it’s a no, a call from a partner if it’s a yes.

If it’s a no: don’t overthink it, only 1% or so of companies get in. It was no twice for me and it only pushed me to do better and get a yes the third time.

If it’s a yes: celebrate and start defining your Demo Day goals, book your first office hours, YC just started!

Good luck and whatever the result is, keep it up!

Small perk: to give you a first taste of YC, we actually made a Slite template on how we experience YC as a team for our batchmates 😉 →