Aditya Agarwalla

@adi_agarwalla

Y Combinator Interview Advice for International Companies

First of all, I really appreciate the positive response I received to the previous post on “YC Application Advice for International Companies”. I hope most of you found the post and also my responses to all the queries I received useful while applying.

As promised, here’s the second (and last) post in this “series” that delves deep into the all important YC interview in Mountain View that the selected applicants are invited to. Like last time, besides this, there is a lot of advice available online for companies interviewing at YC. But last year this time, when we were preparing for the interview, we were hoping to find resources that kept in mind international companies. Since there weren’t many that dealt with their concerns / questions / doubts, I decided to write down a quick set of points for those who’ll be interviewing this year. I hope you find this useful!

Unlike the previous post on application advice, this post may also be relevant for all the companies interviewing, rather than only for international ones, as a lot of the points discussed below are valid irrespective of your location.

GENERAL ADVICE

I am repeating a few of these from the previous post for the benefit of those who have not gone over it.

  • Assume the interviewers do not know anything about the problem you’re trying to solve, the country you are based in, the existing players in the space etc. Nothing at all.
  • Be precise. Answer what is being asked in a particular question. If you try to provide context and extra info for each question, then you’ll just end up repeating yourself throughout the interview, and make each individual answer unnecessarily long.
  • You aren’t being judged by how well you speak, but if you speak poorly, you won’t be able to communicate what’s great about your company effectively. So keep it crisp. Even later on when you have to describe your company to a total stranger (like a new investor), you will need to communicate well and the effort put into this interview will come in handy then.
  • Get interviewed by others (preferably YC alums) so that the actual interview is not the first time you hear yourself out loud.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate each and every word as the partners may be unfamiliar with your accent.
  • Remember that it is not necessary that partners remember your application. So avoid referencing your responses from the application.

INTERVIEW FACTS

  • The interview is 10 minutes long (yes, only 10 minutes!) with multiple YC partners. You sit across the table from them. The format is not fixed — it could be a discussion or them just asking questions. They usually start off with a question and then the route the interview follows could be anything dependent on the company. But, the overarching objective of those few minutes is to understand you and your company better.
  • You are required to fly to Mountain View for the interview despite the fact that it is 10 minutes long. Though most applicants (including us last year) know this even before applying, it may still bother some of you when you receive the invitation. Just think of it this way — when you’re interviewing candidates for a position at your company, don’t you also prefer to meet them in person before making the final decision, despite all the online techniques of assessment that exist.
Similarly, YC values this interview a lot.
  • YC also really appreciates that you take time out from your schedule to fly all the way for the interview. They care deeply about founders focusing on the company only and not getting distracted. If they felt they could make a decision without meeting you in person, they wouldn’t have it in the first place, whether it be a local US or international company. Also, do keep in mind that if you’re selected for the program, you are going to spend a large part of the 3 months of the program in Mountain View. So if a few days of travel for the interview appears a bit much, then the program itself will not appeal much to you.
  • It is ideal if the entire founding team is able to attend the interview in person, rather than one or more of you opting to tune in via Skype. A lot of what YC is looking at during the interview is how the team works together in those 10 minutes. That is not possible to do (as effectively) if they have to talk to a person and a laptop screen beside him / her.
  • In some cases, you maybe interviewed twice, the second being with a different set of partners. This only happens if the YC partners from the first interview are not able to arrive at a mutual decision (whether positive or negative). As a result, do not schedule another commitment (like the return flight) right after your allotted interview time.
  • There is a Kickoff Meeting that follows each set of interviews that you are required to attend if you are selected. Hence, it makes sense to schedule your interview towards the end of each set of interviews so that you avoid having to spend the additional days (between your interview date and the Kickoff Meeting) in the US.
  • It is worth compiling a list of questions from all the unofficial guides available online and then going over them with your founders. This way you are not only prepared better, but also know who answers what sort of questions the best.

HOW TO EFFECTIVELY UTILIZE THE 10 MINUTES

  • The first question will inevitably be along the lines of “What does your company do?” Have a crisp and matter of fact 1–2 line answer ready for this. It should be what your company actually does and not what its vision is, what it intends to do in the future etc. Otherwise, it is possible that a large part of the interview will be spent on trying to decipher your complex / incomprehensible response.
I cannot stress how important it is to answer this properly, especially if you are an international company.
  • Don’t be surprised if most of the questions are repeated from the application itself. As I wrote in the previous post, the application is pretty comprehensive and knowing the answers to the questions in it, covers pretty much most of the important information one needs to know about any company. As a result, a lot of the advice in my previous post on how to write the application is valid even for this interview.
  • If you are asked questions from the application, do not answer as if the parnters remember your response from the application. Do not dive straight into more details based on that assumption. The partners have read thousands of applications and, while they liked yours and are interviewing you, it is not possible for them to go over each and every application once again prior to each company’s interview. So, be ready to repeat, if necessary, what you wrote in the application and then move onto more details.
  • Have a demo ready, but don’t be too excited to show it, unless asked for explicitly. In fact, we did not need it during ours and chances are that you would not need it either.
  • Have the important metrics at your fingertips and maybe even on graphs (if that helps explain better).
  • Don’t start to worry if all the partners aren’t getting involved in the interview. It is not a negative sign in any way and rest assured, everyone is paying attention. It may just be that one of them knows your space better or that the other is observing how you and your team react to tough questions, your body language, your ability to not talk over one another etc.
  • Finally, it is useful to have a set of 4–5 important points about your company that you would like to cover in the interview. You have to ensure that those are discussed in those 10 minutes as they communicate the most important aspects of your company. At times, the interview may get stuck on a point that is not very important or relevant and it is upto you to politely steer the conversation away from that point to those that you consider important. Do not be scared to communicate this and to propose another aspect of the business to discuss. Remember that you only have a few minutes for the interview and it is in your best interest to not let the conversation deviate. Just do not be rude about it and you should be fine.

Best of luck to all of those interviewing and once again, if you have any follow up questions, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @adi_agarwalla.

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