First-hand Advice from RDV founders who were accepted into Y Combinator
Each year, a number of Rough Draft founders apply, interview, and join Y Combinator’s (YC) accelerator program. YC is known for their rapid-fire interviews, so we help prepare our companies by connecting them with founders from the RDV network who have graduated from YC for sessions focused on mock interviews and general guidance on how to navigate the process. We’ve aggregated top advice and experiences and are excited to share this with the broader student founder community.
🛬 Landing an Interview:
After submitting an application, most founders will hear back in 2–3 weeks and all on the same day as to whether or not they’ve landed an interview with YC. YC posts information about when they will announce interviews on their website, so it is not a surprise.
The acceptance is a formal e-mail. In past years, the subject has been “Your Y Combinator Application” and the first line is “Thank you for applying to Y Combinator. Your application looks promising and we’d like to meet you in person.” In this email, you will be given an exact date for the interview, and asked to follow up with additional information about your company. There is also an online tool for booking a 10 minute interview slot within the next two weeks.
All interviews take place in YC’s Mountain View office in a conference room. You are asked to show up about 30 minutes before the interview and wait in the waiting area. The interview lasts a total of 10 minutes. After your interview, you leave the office. YC will pay for flights and a hotel room for one night.
❓ The Interview Questions:
The first question is typically “So what do you do?” This is your opportunity to pitch yourself and your company. It’s important to cover how you differ from competitors, why larger competitors won’t beat you in the market, why you’re the right team, and why your technology is long-term solution. If you have partnerships or customers, make sure to share details about who they are, how much they’re paying or will pay.
Here is a great list of questions you should have answers prepared for: Be Concise! — The Top Questions Asked At A Y-Combinator Interview
You can also test yourself by answering these questions live: https://jamescun.github.io/iPG/
🤷🏻 How did it go?
Most founders agree that the interview is so fast-paced that it’s hard to know if it’s going well or not and whether you will receive an offer. Don’t worry if you don’t feel that you got to share every detail of your company that had planned to cover. 10 minutes is very little time, so you can only focus on the most important aspects!
We walked out feeling like it went as well as possible and that we had good answers for their questions, however, we didn’t have any certainty whether we got it or not. — Ajay Patel, Co-founder of Plasticity
👟 Next steps:
You will hear back around 7–9 p.m. by phone (if accepted) or e-mail (if rejected) on the same day you do your in-person interview. It’s also possible to get a follow-up question via email before the decision. You will be asked to commit on the phone the same day as your interview should you be accepted.
💬 General Advice:
- Practice. Do a ton of mock interviews with YC alumni. YC interviews are unlike any other interviews: they are short, intense, and the goal is for you to give the partners as much information as possible concisely in 10 minutes. It’s hard to replicate the pace while practicing on your own.
Practice practice practice!! We reached out to YC founders and alums who ran us through mock interviews, which was by far the most helpful part of the process. — Nate Maslak, Co-founder of Healthwiz
- Make sure to have concise answers (10–15 seconds for almost all questions, and 30 seconds for a few questions when there’s more to explain).
- Know in advance which member of your team will answer each question and practice handing off from one team member to the next. Know everything about your company and the entire space inside out. Assert yourself as the expert and be confident.
- Bring a demo, even if you included this in your application. You can even bring a laptop with a demo loaded onto it, but we aware of timing and make sure the demo is ready to go if they ask to see one. The only downside of showing a demo is that it takes away from time that the interviewers could be interacting with you and your team. Unless your demo is mind-blowing, it’s likely you’d want to spend this time sharing information about the company instead.
If you’re a student founder, we’d love to hear any additional advice on interviewing at YC. If you’re a student looking to take your startup, company, or project to the next-level, drop us a line & let’s explore what we can build together. For more information about Rough Draft Ventures, visit our website or follow us on twitter!