Applying and Interviewing for Venture Capital



This page contains research about obtaining venture capital, including how to apply and the interview process. A collection of links to blog entries about real interview experiences is also provided.

Applying To Y Combinator

Doing Y Combinator starts with the application for funding. A username on Hacker News is required to apply. Each HN account may submit one application per upcoming batch.

Submit a separate application for each co-founder. Startup teams can submit multiple ideas by applying with a different startup idea on each co-founder’s application. For example, a startup with two co-founders can submit two applications each with a different idea (one application per co-founder). Each co-founder submitting an application also improves the likelihood of having at least one application noticed.

Apply as early as reasonably possible. The rate of submissions increases significantly as the deadline gets closer. Earlier applications are more noticeable because there’s less of them. Applying early also provides time for creating a dialog if YC has any questions.

About 3% of applicants get an interview. You’ll need a winning YC application before you get to the interview round. A good application gets you an invitation email (“We want to see you in Mountain View”) and a 10 minute interview. You’re still not in Y Combinator, though. An invitation email just gets you an in-person interview.

The “3% chance” means 3% of applicants have a great chance and 97% have no chance. It does not mean all applicants have a 3% chance. Your odds of getting an interview are either great or non-existent. I’m paraphrasing from Paul Graham’s essays.

The “1-minute introduction video” serves to quickly and succinctly introduce the founders and idea. Don’t waste time with transitions or production value. The most important thing is having all the founders in the video. If all your founders are not in the final one-minute video, the message you’re sending is that either the person didn’t care enough about the idea to attend or you didn’t care enough about the person to wait.

Every co-founder should be in the introduction video. There’s two options for handling a missing co-founder because of scheduling issues. One option is waiting until the person is available to make the video. Another option is making a separate video for each co-founder, editing them together as one, and making sure the final video is within the one-minute limit. Creating a separate video for each co-founder and editing them together is much smoother than having several co-founders together and then one person alone.

At least nineteen people decide Y Combinator applications, not just one.
“How to Apply”, by Paul Graham
“What We Look For In Founders”, by Paul Graham
“How To Prepare For The Y Combinator Interview”, by Paul Graham
Applying n times with n different ideas is better than applying n times with the same idea.

Rejection Email

About 97% of applicants get a rejection email. So it doesn’t come as a surprise when you get it, this is what it will say:

We’re sorry to say we couldn’t accept your proposal for funding. Please don’t take it personally. The applications we receive get better every funding cycle, and since there’s a limit on the number of startups we can interview in person, we had to turn away a lot of genuinely promising groups.

Another reason you shouldn’t take this personally is that we know we make lots of mistakes. It’s alarming how often the last group to make it over the threshold for interviews ends up being one that we fund. That means there are surely other good groups that fall just below the threshold and that we miss even interviewing.

We’re trying to get better at this, but the hard limit on the number of interviews means it’s practically certain that groups we rejected will go on to create successful startups. If you do, we’d appreciate it if you’d send us an email telling us about it; we want to learn from our mistakes.

Y Combinator Team

Questions By Investors Generally

  • A response to the comment “This seems more like a feature than a product.”
  • A response to the question “What if Google decides to do this?”
  • Know the names and business models of your most popular competitors prior to the meeting.
    Be prepared to answer “Why wouldn’t I just use [most popular competitor]”?
  • A response to the question “How are you going to get users/customers?”
  • Make a mock-up of however you plan to make money on your website. Even if you have a good answer for monetization, be prepared to actually show off at least a mock-up of a money-making feature on your site like a payment processing page.
  • Avoid using the word “passionate”. So many founders and interview candidates claim they are “passionate” about something that the expression is meaningless and lacks creativity.

Questions Likely From Y Combinator

Paul Graham’s essay How To Prepare lists the following questions likely at a Y Combinator interview.

  • Who needs what you’re making?
  • How do you know they need it?
  • What are they doing now?
  • What, exactly, makes you different from existing options?
  • Why isn’t someone already doing this?
  • What obstacles will you face and how will you overcome them?
  • How will customers and/or users find out about you?
  • What resistance will they have to trying you?
  • How will you overcome that resistance?
  • What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
  • What part of your project are you going to build first?
  • Who is going to be your first paying customer?
  • If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
  • Why did you choose this idea?
  • What have you learned so far from working on it?
  • Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
  • Have you considered various mutations of your idea?

Additional Likely Questions From YC If Your Start-Up Has Already Launched

  • Where do new users come from?
  • What is your growth like? (Bring a printout of a graph.)
  • What’s the conversion rate?
  • What makes new users try you?
  • Why do the reluctant ones hold back?
  • What are the top things users want?
  • What has surprised you about user behavior?

Bonus Links – “How are you going to make money?”

The question of “How are you going to make money” seems to always be a part of the interview. Y Combinator also doesn’t seem to like the answer “We’re going to sell ads”. So here’s a couple bonus links to help you prepare a better answer.

13 Ways To Get To $10 Million In Revenues (Part 1 of 2),
13 Ways To Get To $10 Million In Revenues (Part 2 of 2).

The Y Combinator interview is only 10 minutes.

That’s just long enough to make a fool out of yourself. Show up prepared by studying these experiences from others.

Round Author (Hacker News Username) Proposed Start-up Website / Description Related Hacker News Thread
2012-06 (YC S12) N/A Plumbr
Blog entry about YC interview
2011-06 (YC S11) TrevorBurnham Theoryville
Blog entry by people that got a YC interview
2011-06 (YC S11) vantran
Blog entry by people that got a YC interview that didn’t go well
2011-06 (YC S11) mystrous Calvetica
Blog entry by people that got a YC interview and turned it down
2011-06 (YC S11) tbull007
Blog entry about YC interview
2011-06 (YC S11) waxman Qomments
Good Q & A about team YC interview
2011-06 (YC S11) abelcuskelly pogoseat
Blog entry about YC interview
2011-06 (YC S11) n/a Pipedrive
Blog entry about YC interview
2011-01 (YC W11) eddylu GrubWith.Us
Blog entry by people that got a YC interview and perhaps took things too far
2011-01 (YC W11) kapilkale various
blog entry about 7 different YC interviewees
2011-01 (YC W11) nhashem Unknown
Blog entry about YC interview
2011-01 (YC W11) StavrosK
Blog entry about YC interview
2011-01 (YC W11) yesimahuman GoBuzz
Blog entry about YC interview
2010-06 (YC S10) NewMonarch Storenvy
Blog entry by people that got a YC interview and co-founders wouldn’t go
2010-01 (YC W10) nhashem
blog entry about YC interview
2010-01 (YC W10) screeley
Blog entry about YC interview
2010-01 (YC W10) Alex3917 Swagapalooza
Blog entry by person that got into YC as an individual non-technical founder
2010-01 (YC W10) Judson
Blog entry about YC interview
2009-06 (YC S09) N/A Listia
Blog entry about YC interview
2009-06 (YC S09) myoung8 CarWoo
Blog entry about YC interview
2009-06 (YC S09) j0ncc DailyBooth
Look inside the YC interview room
2009-06 (YC S09) randomwalker
Blog entry about YC interview
2009-06 (YC S09) coffeemug ReThinkDB
Blog entry about YC interview
2009-01 (YC W09) Sam_Odio DivvyShot
Blog entry about YC interview
2008-06 (YC S08) jvyduna Poll Everywhere
Blog entry about YC interview
2008-06 (YC S08) konsl BackType
Blog entry about YC interview
2008-06 (YC S08) tdavis TicketStumbler
Blog entry about YC interview
2008-01 (YC W08) bhb Devver
Blog entry about YC interview
2007-01 (YC W07) drusenko Weebly
Blog entry about YC interview
2007-01 (YC W07) rwalker Zenter
Blog entry about YC interview
2005-06 (YC S05) justin Kiko
Blog entry about YC interview
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