Getting into Y Combinator (YC) is every entrepreneur’s dream. Startups such as Airbnb, Dropbox, Coinbase, Reddit, Brex were born from this startup school… and thousands of others not that well known but incredibly successful too. Joining YC does not guarantee the success of a startup, but it helps a lot in the beginnings.
Like to many other businesses, the pandemic forced Y Combinator to reinvent itself, eliminating the in-person program and converting it online. This has allowed YC to expand the number of startups per edition and accept for the first time entrepreneurs and startups from all over the world. Consequently, it has increased the options for many entrepreneurs, regardless of the geography from which they operate, to enter YC, which was previously virtually impossible.
Knowing this, you may be wondering: What do I have to do to get into Y Combinator? What is the process? What is the interview like?
First of all, it is important to clarify that YC invests in startups at all stages. From pre-idea, pre-product, launch, growth… We, at Snab were selected 1 month after starting, with only a very early version of the minimum viable product (MVP). In our experience, the ideal time to enter is just when the startup is in the launch phase, with a functional product and starting to sell and acquiring customers. But the experience will depend a lot on the industry, technology, type of sale etc.
The application is done online, and it is a standard form that has not changed in many years. The YC method is based on being direct, aggressive, and proactive. The application must reflect this, the shorter and more precise, the better. The application is where you have to demonstrate something DIFFERENT to others. Why the founders are special, what makes you different. Why are you launching this startup, what is your secret or differential value that allows you to know more than anyone else about the product, the sector, or the company you are building. In short, YC invests in people, and you must demonstrate in some way that you are special. They also want to see commitment, it is not enough to go halfway, they are looking for people who are “all in” with the project. In our case, both co-founders had left our jobs to launch and were 100% all in for Snab. That is highly valued.
In our experience, Y Combinator tries to invest in founders who are close to the YC network. In other words, if you want to get into YC, try to connect and meet other entrepreneurs who have been through YC. Ask them for advice, ask them for help. Try to surround yourself with as many YC founders as possible. This will help you get to know what YC is looking for in entrepreneurs. If you are lucky, try to get them to invest you as “angels”, this will give you a nice credential. The closer you are to the YC environment, the more chances there will be that they will consider your candidacy.
After several months without news, when you least expect it, suddenly one day you receive an email calling you for the interview. Big surprise. Bigger when they tell you that the interview is just in 2-3 days, with little time to prepare for it. Prepare yourself by doing “mock interviews” with other founders who have gone through YC, look for articles on the internet etc. The interview is again short, concise and to the point.
October 26, 2021, we started the interview. Ours was 8 minutes, they logged on 3 minutes late. The feeling is that you don’t have time for anything. Give short answers and to the point, this is what they are looking for. I remember there was not even a “hello”, not even a short introduction.
In the zoom meeting there were 4 people, and they started to bomb us with questions, without pauses.
1- What are you guys building at Snab?
2- Tell us about the latest progress since you did the application
3- Once you have the MVP, are you going to start charging your customers?
4- How will you acquire the first customers?
5- Tell us about how you met your co-founder
6- Please tell us how the product works
7- How are companies currently doing the process you are trying to solve?
8- Who is the actual user of your product?
At the end the feeling was strange, neither positive nor negative, it was just something quick and intense.
The same day they give you an answer. Either they call you to say yes, or they send you an email to say no. I was waiting tense until 5 o’clock in the morning and no one called. Unfortunately, we got the email. However, they didn’t tell us yes nor no, they communicated us that they would give us another month to make progress and interview again.
The YC program is very short, lasting 2-3 months, and every two weeks you meet with your group to discuss progress. That’s what YC is all about, progress. Show that you are making progress. That’s precisely why we got into YC, by demonstrating progress.
During the month after the first interview, every Friday, I sent out a long email giving an update on our progress that week. The first email was answered by YC, but the second, third, and fourth were not. I really thought we were out. Suddenly, a month later, by surprise and during a Friday night, an email arrived inviting us for the second interview but again with only 2 days notice.
The interview was very similar to the first one, the same 4 people and no introductions. Mainly focused on the progress we achieved during the last month. This time, the interview was even shorter, about 5 minutes.
That same night they called me, we were in!
All in all, we at Snab hope our story was helpful to you. Every story is different, every entrepreneur is different, every process to get into YC is different. But don’t hesitate, apply. It’s never too late, nor too early, whatever stage you are in, apply. The 3 months are intense, the experience is unforgettable, and the network is for life. Good luck and never forget the YC motto:
“Make something people want”.