Interviewing at Y Combinator Part 2

“Someone just showed us an idea like this right before you guys. I don’t like it. What else do you have,” said Paul Graham sitting across from us. I could almost feel the air being sucked out of our collective lungs as we deflated in despair. This is not how it was supposed to go.

Two weeks earlier we had been notified that we were being invited to fly to Mountain View to interview with Y Combinator. With one caveat. Paul Graham, affectionately known as PG by Y Cominator faithful, had told us that he liked our team but not our idea.

Then he told us to come up with something new in the two weeks before the interview.

So in the frenzied days leading up to our interview we talked to everyone we could, brainstormed for hours on end, and finally settled on an idea. We built ReadStream in two nights, successfully got it on TechCrunch, and got on the plane thinking that we had it made.

YC always says that they look for teams that can execute and hustle quickly – and to us ReadStream was the epitome of that ethos.

Pulling up to the YC office was an unbelievably surreal experience. Here was this place that I had thought about, read about and dreamt about for what seemed like years and it was finally a real live thing in front of me.


We walked in the door, quickly found our way to the big open room where they hold their dinners and I pulled out my laptop. I loaded up a few different pages on ReadStream for our demo as we chatted with YC alums and other interviewees.

Then Jessica came out and said they were ready to talk to us. By the way, everyone says she’s the nicest person in the room and that is 100% true. Even though the whole experience is unbelievably stressful, a smile from Jessica is like an oasis of comfort in an otherwise crazy day.

They sat us down at a long thin conference table. YC partners on one side, us on the other. “So what are you working on?” said PG looking at some notes. Harj, Paul Bucheit, Sam Altman and the rest of the partners stared back at us. 

“So because you didn’t like the idea we applied with, we built this app called ReadStream in two days, got it on TechCrunch and have some early traction with it,” said Wesley launching in to our pitch. 

The partners gathered around our laptop and looked at what we had built.

30 seconds in PG stopped us in our tracks. “Someone just showed us an idea like this right before you guys. I don’t like it. What else do you have?”” 

Bravely we struggled to continue, and started to throw ideas out. That’s when the questions began.

People tell you that it’s impossible to prepare for a YC interview and it’s completely true. That’s because they ask you a bunch of different questions about you, your co-founders, your experience, and your idea. Then they figure out what your weakest answers are and hammer away at them. No, seriously, they just keep asking about your weakest areas and don’t let up. It’s an unbelievable experience.

“So you guys are students?” “Are you going to leave school?” “Why now?” “Why would you leave school it’s only freshman year?” “Are all of you going to leave?” “What happens if you get sued?”

The rest of the interview was a complete blur. At one point I remember PG pausing, scrunching his eyes and running his hands through his hair. “So does anyone have any other questions?”

The room was silent. And that was the end of our interview. 

And so concluded one of the craziest, most intense days of my life. Later that night we got the “you’re not getting funded” email, and we flew back to college. 

Good luck to everyone interviewing tomorrow, I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

You should follow me on Twitter here. You can see part 1 here.


12 Nov 2011, 4:38am | 5 comments


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